There’s a balance that a writer needs to strike when they’re writing a romantic story. Include too many characters other than the main couple and you risk crowding out the romance plot; include too few and you risk making it seem that the lovers live in a bubble. The middle path between these extremes is a hard one to tread, especially in a relatively short span of pages, and I’ve seldom seen a more deft handling of the problem than in Ellie Mamahara’s Alley of First Love.
By: Mamahara Ellie
Rating: OT/older teen
The couple in this story are Atsushi and Shusuke, childhood friends who haven’t seen each other for years, since Atsushi went abroad to study and Shusuke stayed behind. Atsushi returns in unexplained circumstances, and Shusuke finds that his long-suppressed yearning for his old friend is resurfacing now that Atsushi is back in Japan. The usual soul-searching and social awkwardness ensues, with Atsushi trying to rekindle their friendship, and Shusuke blurting out revealing statements that he desperately tries to retract.
Mamahara’s art is bold, clean, and fresh, and her writing has the kind of light, sprightly plotting that looks effortless but is actually very hard to pull off well. The thing that gives Alley of First Love that extra little something is the large number of well-drawn secondary characters: Atsushi’s twin nieces Mimi and Momo, Shusuke’s father and brothers, even Shusuke’s girlfriend (who only appears in one scene) — they all get chances to shine, and all of them feel like real people, with lives of their own apart from Atsushi and Shusuke’s romance. Sometimes they get in the way, but there’s never a sense that they’re in the way because the author needed a plot obstacle. The families feel real, which makes the world feel real, which makes the story a great deal more compelling.
Mamahara’s got a slightly goofy sense of humour (the scenes with Shusuke in a panda suit are particularly choice) and a gift for creating character with a few strokes of the pen. Alley of First Love is a fun read — the kind of BL manga that makes me curious about what kind of non-BL stories the author might create (which is rare). (Indeed, I find I have a hankering for a spinoff manga about Momo and Mimi.) My one complaint, and it’s a minor one, is that the final confession is a little bit rushed. But that aside, Alley of First Love is a joy to read.