Super Morning Star Volume 2 Review

“Why… won’t you tell me anything?!” Honda to Kaido. “Not a single word! Is it because it has to do with me?”

Schoolfriends Kyosuke Honda (now in his final year at university) and Ryo Kaido (a professional tokusatsu suits actor) have been living together for three years since they graduated high school. But the physical side of their relationship has not progressed beyond kissing so far for… reasons, the most obvious one being that they’re both extremely busy with work and, in Honda’s case, clubs at college. Kaido is now with an agency that’s promoting him, so he’s going on fashion shoots and doing more acting even though he’s quite diffident about this, although Honda is enthusiastic and supportive. However, Honda’s friends at uni have been expressing their incredulity about the lack of progress in their relationship and Honda arrives home one night, fired up because they’ve been on his case. Kaido doesn’t want to reject Honda’s advances but this sudden dramatic escalation (and the possible physical toll it will exact) stirs up even more tensions within the couple.

Things are not easy for Kaido at work, either. The agency want to do a photo-shoot for a magazine profiling the home lives of their up-and-coming stars. Kaido, aware that this could mean revealing that he’s in a single-sex relationship, firmly but politely refuses. Matsubara, another young agency actor/model that the agency have been pairing with Kaido, objects – as do the older agency actors. Suddenly, just as Honda is plunged into job-hunting and final third-year projects, the two are secretly snapped out together by the magazine’s photographer. Then Kaido finds himself at the centre of some very unpleasant bullying by his fellow actors. And he doesn’t want to tell Honda because it’s such an important time for him in his career-planning but Honda, who wants to support Kaido’s dream career in acting, feels that he’s letting him down…

‘Our couple’s love nest has turned into a comedy of errors!’ the publisher’s blurb says cheerily. Don’t be taken in. This isn’t a comedy. The second volume of Super Morning Star is surprisingly, sometimes excruciatingly clear-sighted in its depiction of the two protagonists attempting to keep their relationship going as the demands of their very different career paths get in the way. The fact that the publisher has added a content warning of ‘homophobic bigotry and violence’ on the contents page should alert potential readers that, in spite of the bright colours on the cover, this isn’t going to be all hearts and roses. Of the two, Kaido (who is often the one narrating) is the more emotionally mature but also the more sensitive and vulnerable. The irony is that he’s the one who was thought to be a delinquent at high school (because of his looks) and he now earns his living as a superhero stunt actor. As their relationship runs into rocky territory and other people interfere (and worse) it’s genuinely painful to see how bemused Kaido is by Honda’s earnest but misguided attempts to fix their situation. And the ending – on such a heart-stopping cliffhanger – leaves readers having to wait till late March (2024) to find out what the outcome is. Let’s hope the publication of Volume 3 isn’t delayed!

There’s a more light-hearted bonus chapter at the end which takes us back to high school and Kaido and Honda pitted against each other in opposing teams at the school fall sports festival.

Kara Aomiya, in choosing to portray a relationship between two such different people who nevertheless love each other very much, is also to be applauded for the realism she brings to this Boys’ Love manga. In the amusing self-deprecating and illustrated two-page afterword, she even addresses some of the practical issues when it comes to the physical realities that other BL mangaka often like to draw a discreet veil over: ‘I consulted expert doctors about cleansing kits and the proper etiquette,’ she tells us. (Yes, there is a Parental Advisory because of Explicit Content and the book comes shrink-wrapped.)

However, there are also some slight but important issues with the clarity of the graphic storytelling in Chapter 10 that even the trade paperback format doesn’t quite overcome. Events that are really important but which are not all shown in real time, mostly in Kaido’s memories, are quite difficult to make out – so as readers, we have to interpret some dark and hazy, grayscale panels. It’s left to us to work out, based on conversations and reactions, exactly what might – or might not – have happened. There are times when subtly hinting at what’s transpired isn’t enough and in order for the characters’ reactions to make sense to the reader, they need to be made very clear in the text, graphically as well as verbally (as it’s a manga).

This issue aside, however, where Kara Aomiya shines is in portraying her characters and showing how difficult it is to keep a relationship going in your early twenties when life gets in the way. And when you’re in a same-sex relationship, there are even more difficulties to overcome. Both Kaido and Honda are endearing, even if sometimes you feel the urge to bang their heads together and insist that they have a long talk. The mangaka is especially good at portraying what her characters are feeling (Kaido, in spite of his ‘tough’ exterior, still blushes charmingly). And this is what makes Super Morning Star stand out from many other Boys’ Love manga; it’s rough and realistic and it doesn’t sugar-coat its depiction of being in love/lust.

The translation for Kodansha is again by Andria McKnight and works well as does the lettering by EK Weaver. There’s a colour page at the front, showcasing Kara Aomiya’s exuberant art; the energy fizzing off the page is so right for this story!

Our review copy from Kodansha was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.

9 / 10


Sarah's been writing about her love of manga and anime since Whenever - and first started watching via Le Club Dorothée in France...

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