Imagine your typical buddy cop show: one detective, blunt to a fault and with a high opinion of himself, is saddled with a naive but well-meaning partner. After the expected whining about rookies and rank, the two men maneuver through their new partnership and their work, tracking down clues, puzzling through evidence, and wading through office politics. Now, add to that the fact that our lead detective ends up with more than a little crush on his new cohort, and you’ve got Fake.

One of the first shonen-ai, or “boys love,” titles published in English, Fake is also one of the best of the subgenre currently available. Make no mistake, Fake is a romance, and can get as silly as any such genre title out of Japan, but rather than concentrating only on romance, Fake actually has plot– a good bit of plot. In tangling with a variety of cases, from minor cranks to serial killers, our heroes confront a variety of issues. There’s the daily struggle of how to track rumors and read people fast enough to keep one step ahead of fleeing criminals. On top of that, trying to keep a sense of humor in a job that makes you confront death and cruelty daily is not easy, not to mention all too often being forced to face personal demons.

This all makes the series sound very serious– but never fear, the slapstick humor so often present in manga is far from absent. Everyone seems to scream a little hysterically, weep a little more frequently, cackle a little devilishly, and blush way more in manga than anyone in reality (I’d be rather alarmed if my friends ever acted in such a manner). Everyone is just on a more melodramatic emotional scale. All of this is indicated in the artwork– characters’ faces distort or take on animal characteristics to indicate attitude (wolfishness, for example) and it’s not meant to be taken literally but to instead show emotions. For a new reader, the shifting from serious conversations to comical whining, fighting, and tussling at the drop of a hat feels a bit strange, but if you just go with the flow it all begins to fall into place in your heart.

Dee Laetner, rogue that he is, proves that despite his arrogance, he is an excellent and loyal investigator while the more fragile-seeming Randy “Ryo” McClaine has an iron will when pushed too far. Neither fall completely into stereotypes, and display conflicting traits that are unusual in romance comics– Ryo, admittedly more effeminate, when provoked can be the more violent of the two, while the more masculine Dee is the one who preens over his hair. Opposites attract and the key to this series is the fine working partnership, full of respect and loyalty, which slowly shifts into a more romantic synchronicity. On top of all that, kudos for the translators– they have a lot of fun making sure the dialog works, both as being correct to New York and as being realistic to a cop’s, and a man’s, world. Though there is the occasional odd word or two, the casual slang, insults and bragging make the whole environment feel that much more real.

Sanami Matoh’s art is clean and beautiful– I confess Dee is totally my type, if cartoons came to life– and her dynamic use of line, grey tones, and panels give all her scenes great energy, whether featuring an emotional confession or a chase through the streets of New York. Speaking of New York, the author readily admits that she knows little of NYC or police procedure, so don’t expect the legal or geographical details to hold up under scrutiny. Also, both Dee and Ryo wear, shall we say, creative outfits that might be a bit out of place in a NYPD precinct, never mind the impracticality of those snazzy high-heeled dress shoes. Just go with the fashion– it’s more fun that way.

One note: Dee and Ryo are both adults, and thus the story level is best suited to older teens or adults. The romantic entanglements throughout the series consist mainly of intense kisses and groping– until the final seventh volume. This volume’s scenes of (ahem) consummation are more explicit than most teen romances and thus firmly pushes the series into the adult content category. If you’re purchasing this for a library, and are unsure about the content, the safest bet would be to put the whole series in your adult section where interested teens can still find them. That being said, volumes one to six are just the kind of teasing will-they, won’t-they romances teens (and adults) crave.

  • Robin B.

    | She/Her Teen Librarian, Public Library of Brookline

    Editor in Chief

    Robin E. Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. She has chaired the American Library Association Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection List Committee, the Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee, and served on the Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She is currently the President of the Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table for ALA. She was a judge for the 2007 Eisner awards, helped judge the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards in 2011, and contributes to the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal. She regularly gives lectures and workshops on graphic novels, manga, and anime at comics conventions including New York and San Diego Comic-Con and at the American Library Association’s conferences. Her guide, Understanding Manga and Anime (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award.

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