SuBLime just released the first volume of their latest new series: Sachimo’s Black or White. The manga stars Shin and Shige, a pair of closeted actors struggling to advance in their careers while keeping their relationship a secret from the general public. They’ve both historically been typecast, with Shige perceived as being the likable heroic type and Shin being widely disliked and tasked with portraying villains. In truth his perceived rudeness is just due to his social anxiety. The couple must juggle career concerns with the limitations placed on them by straight society, and new opportunities only worsen the strain. Does Vol. 1 do a good job introducing these characters and their conflicts? Is Black or White good?
Artistically this manga isn’t poorly done but it’s not a standout either. On the plus side Sachimo’s fundamental visual storytelling skills are strong. Panels and pages move along seamlessly and establish effective pacing that helps reinforce the flow of drama. The line-work is largely clean and moments that are meant to be pivotal in the story are often emphasized in the art, i.e. when Shin lets go of his anxiousness a bit and smiles. Sachimo does an excellent job showcasing how, depending on the context, a character can look radically different yet still be clearly recognizable as themselves.
On the down side, there’s just not much of note in terms of creativity or uniqueness when it comes to style. The lines, inks, and shading are clean but not particularly evocative in their application. The shading and screen tone use in particular don’t shift much, giving the whole book a bit of a samey feel with regards to tone. The issue of sameness also extends to some of the character rendering. While Shin is consistently drawn and even shows impressive range of emotion, some of the other characters are easy to mix up due to their similarities in facial features. Most of the men in particular tend to adhere to similar visual templates without individual quirks to help differentiate them from one another. It’s not an issue to the extent of making events constantly confusing, but it is noticeable on several occasions.
Despite the art’s shortcomings, the character work throughout this volume is still very strong. Shin and Shige are both quickly and effectively introduced; their multifaceted personalities make them intriguing to read about both as individuals and as a couple. Shin’s awkwardness in social situations is especially well-written, and best epitomized in a scene where a child on the street confronts him under the belief that he’s really the villain he plays on TV. Sachimo does a great job juggling all the characters in the scene (Shin, the child, and the child’s angry mother) so that all of their reactions read believably and capture the reality of how well-intentioned but disastrous misunderstandings play out.
The meat of the character drama is Shin and Shige’s relationship, however. As changes in the plot force changes upon the pair’s dynamic, they pressure themselves into actions and frames of mind at odds with what they actually want because they think it’s what’s best for the other person. It’s a well-written interplay of gay desires, homophobic circumstances, and resultant gay coping.
The stakes of the conflict are clear and ever-present, and the characters’ actions never feel predictable because the issues they’re tackling are just too complicated to play out simply. The ratio of scenes set at the characters’ workplaces versus at home is also great, allowing ample depictions of how they’re coping all around. The question of sex and its implications for intimacy in the relationship is also sensitively handled.
On the whole, Black or White Vol. 1 is an enjoyable read that successfully introduces the series’ characters and core conflicts. The pacing and development of the character drama are excellent, with both Shin and Shige already being firmly established as multifaceted leads. The handling of the closet and its impacts on career success and personal intimacy is particularly poignant. The volume’s main issues stem from the art. While the visuals are nice and clean throughout, they’re ultimately just not very distinct or memorable. There are also some issues with characters being rendered similarly to the point of confusion. Regardless, this is still a strong start to the series.
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