~by Yaya Sakuragi
It is almost entirely the fault of Yaya Sakuragi's Hey, Sensei? that I am now gladly suffering from an addiction to yaoi. Before Hey, Sensei?, I had never read yaoi. I had a basic understanding of the genre, but for whatever reason I had never tried it. (It actually really surprises me how long it took me to get around to ready any.) So, when I came across a review on Graphic Novel Reporter praising Hey, Sensei?, especially for not falling into some of the traps of the genre, I figured "Hey, why not? I gotta start somewhere." I tracked down a copy with a little bit of difficulty and when it finally arrived I only allowed myself one chapter a day to make it last. Since then I've read plenty more yaoi and continue to do so but Hey, Sensei? remains one of my favorites--not just because it was my first yaoi manga, but because it is really quite good.
Hey, Sensei? actually contains two stories: the main story "Hey, Sensei?" which is four acts and an epilogue, and "Unbreakable Bones," which is a one-shot. In "Hey, Sensei?", high school math teacher Isa is taken aback when his ex-girlfriend's younger brother, now one of his students, makes a pass at him during a review lesson. Isa can hardly take the situation seriously--what could Homura possibly see in a guy ten years older than him? The age difference will cause some difficulties, and they communicate terribly, but the two men have fallen hard for each other. In "Unbreakable Bones" two childhood friends are unexpectedly reunited after fourteen years. After growing apart, Yuji became a juvenile delinquent although he's turned his life around and is now working in a ramen shop, while Manabu has become the small town's local policeman. Yuji hates the idealized memories Manabu has of him, only to realize that he's the one stuck in the past.
I really enjoy Sakuragi's art style. Her men are distinctive and handsome and are unmistakably male. Her figures are elongated and angular, particularly noticeable in the hands and fingers and in the long, lanky legs when standing. These slightly odd proportions may bother some people, but I quite like the effect and love her character designs. Sakuragi also does a fantastic job with facial expressions, especially with the eyes; the characters don't always come out and say what they're feeling but it's pretty apparent just by looking at them. She is also skilled in showing the same character at different ages and make the changes look natural while still being identifiable. One issue that I did have with the art was that the genitals were blurred out or erased. However, I'm not sure if this is the case in the original Japanese version or if the art has been censored for the United States which does happen. Either way, I found it distracting and feel that it calls more attention to itself that way.
While the stories in Hey, Sensei? may not be particularly original, Sakuragi makes up for it with the depth of her characters and their feelings for one another. Homura is immature, hot-tempered and brash but ultimately very sincere while Isa is inexperienced, sensitive and reserved but very capable of being stern when necessary; Yuji and Manabu's relationship is also very sweet. The translation has an occasional awkward moment but overall is very good. In addition to Hey, Sensei? becoming a favorite, I have also become a huge fan of Yaya Sakuragi--I've also read and loved her Tea for Two series--and will pick up anything that she has worked on. However, Hey, Sensei? will always hold a special place for me. It's one manga, yaoi or not, that I come back to again and again.