Out drinking one night with his best friend, young businessman Mitsugu runs into a naive college freshman, Tomoe. He is blindsided when he realizes that he is falling for Tomoe, but the boy is not a very emotional person, so he’s not sure that he can return Mitsugu’s feelings. Mitsugu’s best friend, Isogai, is very accepting of their (possible) relationship, but Tomoe’s brother, Souichi, hates homosexuals with a fiery passion, is extremely overprotective of his brother, and will do anything to keep the Mitsugu away from Tomoe.
Challengers was Takanaga-sensei’s first series and shows her early skill at crafting interesting, sympathetic characters set in realistic situations. The first volume has some hysterically funny scenes, especially those involving the droll best friend Isogai, and there are some seriously quotable lines (“…I’m not the one making hungry eyes at the yum-yum.”). Later volumes tone down the humor in favor of plot development, but this series is not angsty, even in its serious moments. Takanaga’s characters are well-developed, though Mitsugu does seem to fall in love rather hastily. I liked that Tomoe has to take his time to figure out his feelings. It’s a believable element for a boy with a scientific mind.
One nice part about Challengers is that it addresses the issue of family acceptance. Mitsugu’s mother is a serial monogamist who doesn’t know how to keep a relationship healthy, but she is determined to force her acceptance of his lifestyle on Mitsugu, whether he wants it or not. Her love for her son and pride in him shine through her clueless and nutty behavior. With some characters it helps to have a twisted sense of humor, especially during Souichi’s anti-homosexual rantings. But there is a reason for his hatred, explained in volume two. In a related, though more explicit, series (The Tyrant Falls in Love, published by Digital Manga), Souichi himself ends up beginning a relationship with a man. Two other characters, an openly gay American with atrocious grammar and his stalker, are very over the top and rather stereotypical, but obviously drawn that way for comic relief.
Another interesting scene is in volume 3—Mitsugu and Tomoe have sex for the first time, but, unlike in many romances, it’s not successful or enjoyable and they have to try to figure out why. Their journey to figure out the mechanics of gay sex is sweetly written and not as explicit as it could have been. Indeed none of volumes of Challengers are explicit in terms of drawings, though the language used and topics discussed make the series more appropriate for older teens and adults.
DramaQueen has done a nice job with these volumes. The covers are attractive, though slightly misleading, as they were drawn more recently and reflect Takanaga’s newer art style. The art, especially in volume one, might be slightly jarring for fans used to Takanaga’s newer books, but even its slightly old fashioned feel doesn’t diminish the blushing sweetness of her boys. Her panels are chock-full of action, text, and flowery backgrounds in keeping with the rather wacky story; however, the movement of the action is always clear and easy to follow. A highly recommended series for anyone who likes their boys love extra romantic with a big helping of humor.
Challengers, vol. 1-4
Volume 1, ISBN: 978-0-9766045-3-2
Volume 2, ISBN: 978-0-9766045-4-9
Volume 3, ISBN: 978-0-9766045-5-6
Volume 4, ISBN: 978-0-9766045-6-3