‘You Can Be Anyone You Want to Be in the Film Club.’
At Midorigaoka High School, there’s a strong rivalry in the film club between the second and the third years. Red-haired Jin Kikuchihara, the club president and charismatic director/lead actor finds himself constantly challenged by second-year director Giichi Ichikawa, who is passionate about film and has impossibly high standards which he expects everyone else to live up to. The two are constantly butting heads and their fellow club members often have to intervene, even physically pulling them apart when tempers rise (usually because of Giichi’s intransigence). So when Jin (who, as a third year, has a room all to himself in the dorm) is asked if he doesn’t mind sharing for a while, he’s somewhat nonplussed when he learns that his new roommate is none other than Giichi. Until now Giichi has been living with his grandfather and attending school as a day student but his grandfather has been hospitalized and won’t be discharged for some while. Jin can’t say no in the circumstances but wonders how this unfortunate situation will play out. To his surprise, however, Giichi turns out to be unexpectedly calm and quiet in his downtime.
Both students are hard at work leading their teams in making their latest film productions to compete in the upcoming school festival and the third years are attempting a technically challenging sci-fi project with special effects. Whereas Giichi has been reading his younger sister’s BL manga and has written (as we already know from Volume 1) a BL screenplay set in a high school (so much easier to stage and film than sci-fi). It’s when Giichi shares some of his sister’s BL with Jin that the barriers begin to break down between them (Jin has never read any before). Suddenly Jin begins to see Giichi in a very different light… could it be that he’s fallen for his stubborn, awkward, over-opinionated rival?
However, some of the third years in the club, burdened with examinations and university entrance, begin to feel conflicted about putting so much time into the film club. Jin can’t understand why – and again, he and Giichi clash as to how he should handle the situation. Meanwhile time is ticking away and as the end of year approaches, there’s only so much time left to complete their films and for Jin and Giichi to bury their differences. Soon the third years will be leaving; it’s an emotional time for them but also for the second years who’ll be left behind. And there’s something Jin hasn’t told Giichi…
Readers first met Giichi through the eyes of Mao, his camera-man in the first volume of Twilight Out of Focus, so we already know that – in spite of his frequent rages and overreactions – he’s a good director and screenwriter who cares about his cast and crew. But it’s fascinating to get the chance to see him away from the film club. Although Jyanome is good at creating believable and intense relationships between her protagonists, she’s also good at lightening the narrative with unexpected touches of humour. In this volume there’s an incident which will remind Naruto fans of an iconic incident early on in the manga/anime (a homage perhaps to the creator of Naruto and Sasuke?). As for Jin, he comes across at first as totally egocentric, shamelessly flaunting his star appeal but later on we get to see there’s another side to him too – and why. Along the way, there are also some nicely ironic touches in which Jin envisages himself as the central character of a film, or graphic novel maybe, ‘The King of Ye Film Club-landia’ and several chapters are headed ‘Last Time, on the Me Show’ (even if one is told from Giichi’s point of view).
The second in Jyanome’s four-volume series about the lively film club at Midorigaoka High School has been published in English translation by Kodansha as a Vertical Book about the same time as the welcome news that a TV anime series has been confirmed. It’s immediately apparent from the subject matter that this manga with its colourful and appealing cast of characters and its film club setting should make the transition to anime really well (or so I fondly hope!). Jyanome’s striking and attractive character designs and elegant artwork plays on unusual camera angles to convey the drama of her story and to underline the links to the medium of film. But she’s also good at making her characters come to life through their interactions and in this volume, the sparks certainly fly between awkward yet intense Giichi and laid-back, self-confident Jin. At first (as in Volume 1) Giichi’s body language is often contorted, his arms tightly folded, and so are his facial expressions as he tries and fails to control his feelings. But she also shows us the gradual change in him as he comes to know Jin better through their mutual love of film and film-making. And when there are sensuous scenes (this volume is rated 18+) her art portrays the lovers very expressively. Above all, it’s refreshing to have a Boys’ Love series that isn’t hung up over whether it’s wrong to be in a same-sex relationship. Things develop quite naturally between the protagonists, leading to conversations such as when Jin says, “And fair warning, I will make a move on you again” Giichi’s right back in there with, “I know. I expect you to” even though the second the words are out of his mouth, you see him mentally kicking himself.
The translation for Volume 2 of Twilight Out of Focus is by Caroline Winzenried (Jacqueline Fung translated Volume 1) and it reads well; the lettering again is by Nicole Roderick. There are two full-page character bios of the lead players by Jyanome at the back as well as an extra story; two attractive colour illustrations are to be found at the beginning. After Volume 1 concentrated on the second years, this volume introduces all the third-year club members – some of whom will turn up again in later volumes (especially Rei Inaba, the vice president). Volume 3: Overlap, which returns to Mao and Hisashi, is due out in September 2023.
This series is proving itself to be one of the best BL series around at the moment; beautifully drawn, with a believable, sympathetic (although far from flawless!) cast or characters, all bonding through a mutual love of making films.
Our review copy from Kodansha (Vertical Books) was supplied by Turnaround Comics (Turnaround Publisher Services).