As far as boys’ love manga go, there are few I’ve loved as much as Kazuma Kodaka’s Border. Queue then my interest in reading more of her works. Bad Teacher’s Equation is the only other one of her series currently available in English from Juné Manga. It’s about a decade older than Border and stars Atsushi, a first-year high school student hoping to reconnect with his old crush. Of course, things don’t go as planned whatsoever. Does the series get off to a good start with its first volume?
This series’s characters are a mixed bag. Atsushi himself is easily the most likable and least troubling. He’s a naive teenager who falls head over heels for people and makes bad choices, but those interactions are often well-written and make sense for the character. With that said, his actual arc here is a bit awkwardly paced and his major shifts in attitude toward others don’t feel properly built up. It’s perfectly believable for such a young protagonist to be fickle of course, but some of his decisions lack major context.
Almost every other character in the manga is insufferable, largely because of how they highlight one of this volume’s biggest cons: its handling of sexual violence and associated issues. There’s attempted rape, groping, and predatory flirting abound. Unfortunately, Kodaka doesn’t analyze the characters’ behaviors or tell any sort of story about the victims’ trauma or coping processes. Rather, there’s virtually no trauma as the story just moves on from each instance of sexual predation after barely commenting on it of at all. It’s frequently played for laughs as well, destroying the lighthearted mood set by Atsushi’s antics and other less disturbing scenes. This is a manga that frequently tries to give off feel-good vibes but that also shoots itself in the foot by breaking said vibes up with some of the yaoi genre’s worst tropes. To make matters worse much of the plot is simply boring and awkwardly paced, with the story as a whole moving glacially while some subplots still feel rushed.
Thankfully the art here is solid even if it is much rougher than in Border. Many elements of Kodaka’s style are already clearly evident including dramatic motion lines and page layouts, expressive facial expressions, and a penchant for over-the-top presentation. Characters’ entrances can be particularly great as they explode onto the page with energy. On the downside the cleanliness of the line-work can get rather rough, and there are some clarity issues as well as stilted group shots. The orientation of characters within their settings can sometimes feel a bit cramped and unnatural as well.
Overall, Bad Teacher’s Equation Vol. 1 is a letdown. The pacing is awkward, with some aspects of the manga seeming rushed while others feel extremely slow. Atsushi is a decent protagonist but the rest of the characters around him are deeply unnerving, and few of their predatory behaviors are actually addressed. This is a manga that gets in its own way on multiple fronts, and not one I’d recommend to most readers besides fans of the mangaka. With that said some of the hallmarks of Kodaka’s style are already present, and it’s interesting to see how her work has developed over time.