“He’s a total thug.”
Kyosuke Honda and his friends are in awe of – but keeping their distance from – classmate Ryo Kaido with his dyed blond hair, pierced ears and scary aura. But when highschooler Honda gets paid work helping out at a Sentai show ‘for kids’ one weekend, who should he run into backstage but Kaido. And his scary classmate is in a Ranger costume, clutching a helmet. It doesn’t take much guesswork from Honda to figure out what’s going on – and Kaido, horribly embarrassed, admits that his part-time job is being a suit actor, doing all the stunts in the live shows. He’s still a fan of those kids’ Sunday morning shows too. He’s kept it a secret up till now and he wants to keep it a secret from the rest of the class, even though when they go to a café together after the show has finished, Honda is bubbling over with admiration and curiosity. “You’ve got a dream and you’re doing this job to make it come true. That’s amazing!” He also encourages Kaido to become ‘a little friendlier’ in school. And they start hanging out together.
Super Morning Star© Kara Aomiya/Kodansha Ltd.
However, Honda is the kind of guy that just can’t keep his mouth shut. Having learned Kaido’s secret, and getting on so well with him, why does he start blabbing to his friends that Kaido is appearing in a tokusatsu event and “not even grade schoolers watch those shows any more”? He knows that he shouldn’t be saying these things but once he starts, he isn’t able to stop. When he realizes that Kaido is in the room and has heard him, it’s too late to unsay the words; the damage is done. And his expression haunts Honda, even appearing in his dreams. It’s only when one of his other friends observes, “It sounds like… you’re some jealous guy afraid of getting his crush stolen” that a lightbulb goes on in Honda’s mind. Where’d I go wrong in my eighteen years?
The Kodansha blurb claims that ‘BL rom-com’ Super Morning Star ‘will appeal to fans of Hitorijime, My Hero and Sasaki and Miyano’ but I beg to differ! Yes, the protagonists are high school students but that’s almost all they have in common because Kara Aomiya is a very different mangaka with a very different story to tell. The first volume – her first published manga – covers more in these few chapters in terms of relationship development than Sasaki and Miyano achieves in nine+ volumes (much though I love Sasaki and Miyano, it’s a very different animal from this series).
The mangaka’s graphic style varies from rather rough and ready (which, ironically, suits her subject rather well) to intense reaction shots that bring home to the reader what a turmoil of emotions have been churned up in both young men. By the end, the feelings are really raw and painful – and relatable. What began as a simple misunderstanding on Honda’s part has grown into a genuine friendship that Honda then effectively ruins because he’s so impulsive and incapable of engaging his brain before opening his mouth. Kaido might be athletic (and buff because of all the training he does) but underneath his tough exterior, he’s a quiet and sensitive young man, something of a dreamer. He’s probably attracted to Honda because his lively, garrulous classmate is everything that he isn’t: a true case of opposites attract. But that also means his feelings of betrayal go so much deeper when Honda carelessly blabs out all his secrets in class.
Honda is a fascinating character; I don’t think I’ve read another Boys’ Love high school manga in which one of the main protagonists is quite so complicated (except for Like Two Peas in a Pod by Gorou Kanbe) and it’s Honda’s viewpoint that dominates in this first volume. Time and again he sets out with good intentions to mend the damage that he’s done to his friendship with Kaido – and at each opportunity he messes up again, even when his two oldest friends try to counsel him. Which leaves so many questions with the reader: why is he so self-destructive? Is he just too immature and inexperienced? Or is he subconsciously unwilling to let himself participate in a relationship, killing it before it goes too deep so that he won’t risk being the one that’s rejected? It’s obvious to his friends that he really likes Kaido… but Kaido is hurt and walks away.
If this makes the first volume of Super Morning Star sound in no way like the BL rom-com promised by the blurb, it’s because it’s so much more than a fluffy, light-hearted yet superficial comedy. It earns its 16+ rating by the end of this volume and the bonus story at the end ‘Together’ was, I imagine, added by the mangaka in case the series ended at that moment to round everything off. But it’s in no way rounded off, it’s only just getting under way and Volume 2 of the 4-volume series is due out from Kodansha in late December 2023.
The translation for Kodansha is by Andria McKnight and works well – except for one crucial instance in Chapter 4 when Honda’s friends are telling him that he’s messed up. “Oh, is this about yesterday after P.E.? When you said all those mean things to Honda?” This should be “to Kaido” (as the French edition from Taifu has it) – unfortunately no one noticed this at the proofing stage and it does cause some initial confusion for the reader. Other than that, there are two helpful pages of translation notes and the lettering is splendidly done by EK Weaver, dealing expertly with what Honda says as opposed to what he’s thinking as he says it. There are 4-koma panels between chapters, often showing Kaido’s point of view, some cute chibi splash pages and a couple of early character sketches for the two protagonists as well as an amusingly self-deprecating couple of pages of afterword from the mangaka.
All in all, this is a heartfelt BL that stands out from the crowd – and art that makes its two protagonists come vividly alive on the page (and not just when Kaido is in Super Sentai mode!).
Our review copy from Kodansha was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.