~by Yaya Sakuragi
Stay Close to Me is the third of Yaya Sakuragi’s works to be licensed in English. I happen to be a fan of Sakuragi (Her Hey, Sensei? was the first yaoi manga that I ever read) and so I was very excited for the release of Stay Close to Me and hope to see even more of her titles available in English. Stay Close to Me, originally published in Japan in 2005, was translated and published by Digital Manga under its Juné imprint in 2010. (Hey, Sensei? was also released through Juné while Sakuragi’s series Tea for Two was published as part of Tokyopop’s Blu Manga line.) I preordered Stay Close to Me as soon as I was able, even before I knew what it was about, simply because it had Sakuragi’s name on it. Unfortunately, there was a distribution mix up and so I actually ended up getting my copy over a month late. I was very happy to see it finally arrive and was very happy to finally have the opportunity to read more of Sakuragi’s work.
Stay Close to Me contains two stories. The first is the four act title story “Stay Close to Me” and the second is the shorter, two part “Play to Win.” “Stay Close to Me” follows Yuzu who is absurdly tall for his age and towers over his classmates, something he is terribly self-conscious of since this includes Icchan, his heart’s desire and “prince.” Icchan has looked out for Yuzu ever since the two were in elementary school together. Although he would wish it otherwise, Yuzu is resigned to being decidedly un-princess like due to his size and so concentrates on becoming the best homemaker he can for Icchan. Unfortunately, his single-minded devotion to his prince means Yuzu can be a bit oblivious and easily flustered when it comes to other people seeking his affection. In “Play to Win,” Ohga unexpectedly runs into Takatsuki, a brilliant former classmate of his. It turns out that Takatsuki has a bit of a gambling problem and Ohga agrees to let him crash at his place for the rainy season. But despite the problems Takatsuki causes for him, Ohga comes to realize he doesn’t want him to leave.
I have always been fond of Sakuragi’s lanky character designs and in the case of Yuzu, her style is a perfect fit. Not only is he obviously tall, but Sakuragi is able to capture his self-consciousness and physical awkwardness in his facial expressions and posture. “Stay Close to Me” is a little different art-wise than much of Sakuragi’s other work. In the author’s note, she mentions that she kept thinking to herself “shoujo manga” while working on it, throwing in more sparkles and flowers than she normally uses but to great effect. Stay Close to Me is definitely played as comedy and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. This is particularly true of the title story, but “Play to Win” also has its goofy moments. The humor is also evident in Sakuragi’s art with overly dramatic poses and panels accompanied by groan-inducing, ridiculous (but in a good way) dialogue.
One of the things I appreciate most about Sakuragi’s work is how she plays around with yaoi tropes and stereotypes. “Stay Close to Me” has an obvious reversal with an uke being untypically taller than his seme. But at the same time, Yuzu is still sensitive and prone to blushing. However, the princess can still take care of himself and, when the situation calls for it, his prince. The approach in “Play to Win” is more subtly different with the portrayal of its characters' personalities and attitudes. Even though the story is short, Ohga and Takatsuki show a surprising amount of depth and come across as real people with both good and bad traits. At one point, Yuzu is described as being both hilarious and adorable, which I think is a pretty good description of the manga as well. Hilarious might be a little strong, but there is no denying that Stay Close to Me is funny, cute, and sweet. It is certainly the most comedic of Sakuragi’s work currently available in English. Stay Close to Me is not perfect, but I liked the story, loved the art, and adored the characters.