Yamada Yugi: Seinen 14 Sai

Seinen 14 Sai is a collection of stories by one of my favorite mangaka. The title story runs several chapters and is about two guys clumsily navigating their way from friends to lovers. The remainder of the volume contains stories about a landlord and tenant with a steamy bathroom scene; two friends and the morning and days after; a widower who slowly gives up his body to his younger cousin, piece by piece (this is definitely an early work; the art reminds me of Ima Ichiko’s, so I’m guessing this may even predate her time with Takaguchi Satosumi, but that’s just speculation); and lastly, a video game butt-kicking obaasan, friendship and secret family ties. It’s a volume full of laughs and tears and lots of heart, but my favorite is the title story, hands down, so I’m going to talk a bit about that.

What starts out as two friends fumbling around for the sake of sexual exploration and satisfaction, with the help of some bondage, fisticuffs, and some time apart, turns into a great love.

“Let me do you” is certainly the last phrase Itou expected Machida to direct at him. And even though Machida recounts the events that lead up to such a demand so matter-of-factly, he’s still coming to terms with it. Poor Itou, he’s probably more confused because he didn’t feel or experience what Machida did and thus he has no real perspective. For a while, they approach the issue as one of carnal desire, only occasionally considering whether or not love comes into play, because their primary focus is who’s on top. Machida and Itou have been in the same class since the 4th grade; they are friends through and through, but when they advance to the end of their middle school career, they find themselves separated into different classes.

With distance comes perspective. Compared to Machida, Itou’s awareness of love and other things is late to bloom; however, soon his understanding of his relationship with Machida rapidly takes shape while Machida’s still vying for supremacy. Funny enough, the only thing Machida notices at first is Itou’s growth spurt. The difference perfectly suits their personalities. For the most part, Itou takes things as they come and his main objective is simply to be with his friend, but he still doesn’t want to be “the woman.” On the other hand, the competitive Machida is all about being the last man standing and he just can’t sit still when he thinks he’s coming up short. Even after Itou voices his take on things, Machida still doesn’t get it.

It’s all fun and games until Machida’s “manhood” is challenged (however indirectly) by someone other than Itou. Unfortunately, it’s still Itou who catches flack for it, but this time, he’s not having it. After knocking each other around a bit, they retreat to their respective corners. While Machida’s off reflecting on his actions, Itou’s revisiting the question of love. Shortly after that they reconcile and it all ends with a “big” joke.

The story in the original release stopped there, but the 2010 reissue graced readers with a new chapter, “Seinen 18 Sai” and a sweet and hilarious extra “Seinen ?? Sai.” I’m not going to talk about what happens in those because they add a depth and charm to the story that was missing in the original. That isn’t a negative; they were middle schoolers so, it would have seemed out of place for this kind tone to be present.

Yamada Yugi is great. She never disappoints; even her lesser works are more solid than the greatest efforts of many others. I always need more of whatever she’s putting out.

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