“I don’t know what kind of history you two have got… but Anzai was really happy at the thought that he was going to get to play ball with you, Wakamiya.”
Ah, sports: hotbeds of drama, competition, and sublimated homoeroticism. Name a sport, and there’s probably a manga about it, if not more than one; in the case of basketball, one of those manga is The Object of My Affection, though as you might have guessed from the genre label, the basketball is less the focus of the stories than an excuse to bring the main characters together.
The collection begins with four linked one-shots, “Desolate Days”, “Favorite”, “Cellular Trap” and “Another Day With You”. These stories cover the beginnings of a romance between Wakamiya, an eager freshman and new member of Kanan University’s basketball team, and Anzai, a junior who was Wakamiya’s idol back when he was in middle school due to his outstanding basketball skills. Wakamiya discovers that Anzai never turns up for practice, and learns from Anzai’s childhood friend that Anzai has suffered an injury that will prevent him from ever playing basketball seriously again, which forces him to confront the true nature of his feelings for Anzai. If that “twist” sounds familiar to you, you’ve probably read Isaku Natsume’s Dash!; and if it’s not familiar but you predicted it anyway, you’ve probably read… well, any BL manga ever.
So the plot’s not original, which could be said of almost all BL manga, a genre whose artists apologise for deviating from the expected formula; and yet although it’s not winning any prizes for its plot and premise, this isn’t quite BL-by-numbers, either. Okuda has a low-key sense of humour, strong characterisation, and an eye for the kind of telling real-life detail that reveals the relationships between her characters indirectly rather than spelling it out. The one-shot “Chewing Gum Baby” showcases this in a nice light-hearted scene; there is a dramatic revelation, as you might expect, but it’s what happens afterwards that’s really telling, and that makes the story worth the price of admission.
The title story is the longest, and deals with a high school love triangle between Anzai, Anzai’s childhood friend Yoji, and Myojin, a third boy who joins their school and their basketball club. Yoji is pining in secret for the carefree Anzai, unwilling to risk their friendship by revealing how he feels, while Myojin keeps his eyes on Yoji, observing Yoji’s crush on Anzai while cultivating a crush of his own on Yoji. Typical teenage meanderings ensue, though Okuda has a lighter touch with the complications than most; and it’s refreshing to see a BL love triangle where the main characters actually communicate with each other and are careful of each other’s feelings.
There’s nothing spectacular on offer in The Object of My Affection, which is part of the appeal; it’s all very down to earth and realistic, and the events and emotions ring true.