What if we got together at the park every day just to beat the s--t out of each other…and we were both boys? Shoowa and Hiromasu Okujima’s Bad Boys, Happy Home Vol. 1 is out this week from SuBLime, and it follows this delightful premise. Akamatsu is a delinquent student living on his own because of family troubles, and Seven is an apparently homeless man he decides to pick a fight with one day to blow off steam. This becomes a habit, and the two quickly develop a unique relationship that results in their moving in together. So, does this very literal enemies-to-lovers story make a good first impression?
The opening scene provides a great and speedy introduction to the main couple, particularly Akamatsu. We see him walk up to Seven in the park, boasting verbally as well as in his thought narration, and he’s immediately charming. This is thanks partially due to the humorous outcome of his taunting (he immediately gets his ass kicked), but also due to the unflappable way with which he carries himself. He has a sort of hardened outer shell and inner spirit that, despite all the rejection in his life, keeps him going.
Given later exploration of his family issues and his actual explicit identification as a gay man (always a nice acknowledgement to see in BL), his delinquent status and overall bravado take on a whole new layer. It’s one I imagine many gay men reading will be able to relate to, and even if you don’t personally it’s still easy to see where Akamatsu is coming from. The pacing with which more details about his life are unveiled is quite well-done, making him all the more endearing as the volume progresses.
Pivotal to these developments is his somewhat slow-burn relationship with Seven. Seven is the older and seemingly more mature of the two, somewhat paradoxically so when you remember that he fistfights Akamatsu any time the younger man asks for it. All in all he hasn’t received much personal development yet as he primarily serves to facilitate growth and familial reconciliation on the younger boy’s part. With that said there are repeated indications that he has a checkered past we’re sure to learn more about in future volumes.
For the time being he’s a solid foil to Akamatsu, and their overall dynamic is interesting to watch unfold. Akamatsu begins the book as the much more invested party in their brawls with Seven seeming ambivalent, but they both grow more invested in different ways as the story progresses. There’s a notable contradiction in the way they develop, with Seven initially standing out as the more emotionally open of the pair but then actually revealing far less about his past than Akamatsu does. All in all the two bring out new sides of each other, though hopefully Seven will benefit from more fleshing out going forward. The allusions we do get to his past don’t hit particularly interestingly, largely due to how vague they remain throughout.
Artistically this volume is very well-done. The sense of Akamatsu as a multifaceted, conflicted young man is established largely via the grand variety in his facial expressions and the styles in which they’re rendered. Depending on the panel in question he might be aggressive and raring to fight, slowly letting his guard down and displaying vulnerability, or just looking around himself with a relatable display of disbelief. The differences in the furrowing of his eyebrows are pronounced, as are shifts in his body language. There are a few facial expressions throughout the volume that exaggerate the usual art style to a degree that feels more unnerving than effectively comical, but these are the exception, not the rule.
These individualized quirks of body as personality extend beyond just the core couple. We meet Akamatsu’s brother and mother, both of whom are likable and whom we get a great sense of personality-wise despite their limited page-time. The brother is especially notable since, being Akamatsu’s twin, he looks just like him, but certain quirks in posture and general bodily reactions make him easily distinguishable. Akamatsu’s mother’s first appearance on-panel— seen through the peephole in Akamatsu’s front door— immediately communicates her core role in the story: that of a concerned, disheartened mother.
The manga also shows skilled handling of the ways characters interact within finite physical spaces. One particularly great series of panels depicts Akamatsu and Seven shifting around in a shared futon one night, maintaining clear distance then drawing closer to one another and generally contorting their bodies in various ways to achieve comfort individually and as a unit. Even when committing the same physical actions, they do so differently, such as when they’re shown to have differentiated running stances. All of this bodily individualization combined with well-detailed backgrounds and effective establishment of physical settings results in the further development of characters both in relation to their environments and to one another.
All in all, Bad Boys, Happy Home Vol. 1 kicks the manga off to a very promising start. Even for a fairly slice-of-life series it has enough unique aspects to its premise to stand out on a conceptual level. Then add in the nearly flawless visuals in and you’ve got a powerhouse of a debut volume. There aren’t many individual scenes that seem to cry out with fully heightened intensity, but the drama sizzles effectively at its current pace of a low broil. Time will tell how Seven’s backstory and the couple’s romance will be developed in the future, but I’ll definitely be checking in to find out.
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