It’s really tricky not to have the following post descend into an all-out fangirl treatise on “Why Yoh Is the Perfect Shoujo Manga Boyfriend.” In many ways, it still reads like that, so I apologize to the non-Yoh fans reading this blog.
This isn’t the first time that I’m reading these volumes of High School Debut; I think I’ve wanted to write about it even when I was reading it illegally back in the dinosaur age, and just never made the time to collect my thoughts on this series. I don’t know if I can call it my absolute favorite — maybe it’s on the Top 10? — but it’s a work that stands well to a re-read. It’s nice to experience the same happy feelings that I had just as I did the first time I read this manga.
Haruna, having learned the basics from her coach Yoh, is now prepped to put her newly-learned skills to work. With Yoh’s nudging, she asks out Fumi to visit the zoo on a date. The scenes that follow are sheer comedy gold, something that’s rare in shoujo manga. Haruna knows that she’s still not comfortable if it was just her and Fumi on the date, so Yoh follows them at a distance, texting her tips on what she should do next. It’s the 21st-century version of Cyrano de Bergerac, but Haruna’s awkwardness is embarrassing to watch yet so cute that the scene doesn’t seem so trite.
Unfortunately, Haruna’s first crush doesn’t work out for her… Yoh promises that he’ll find her another boyfriend, not realizing that he really won’t have to look so far. This manga dutifully follows the same tropes that it (kindly) mocks — but at the end of the day, not even this meta-awareness will change what the characters are going to do next. If they’re going to fall in love as per every stereotypical shoujo manga, then by god, they’ll do just that! Even as a reader, I don’t care if the author pulls out every tired cliche from her bag of tricks, it’s too late for me; I’ve already fallen in love with her characters and I’m in this for the long haul.
I knew that Yoh was a great character from the first volume, but what sealed the deal for me was how he accepted Haruna entirely for what she is. When the school was planning the teams for the intramural sports meet, Haruna was hesitant in joining the class softball team, afraid that if the boys see her going out all out in the competition, they may not want to go out with her. Yoh encourages her to play and even lets her know that it was all right for her to wear sweats, as long as it was just for playing sports. Yoh fully accepts Haruna as the softball jock that she is. Haruna is a generally confident and outgoing teenager, so if someone like her has moments of self-doubt, it is nice to have someone like Yoh to allay her fears. Being a teenager, you do feel like you’re being watched and judged constantly by your peer group, and Haruna is not immune to these feelings. And that’s where Yoh’s belief in her, reassuring her that she also has her “own good points,” that makes Haruna able to display her best self to everyone else.
Haruna: I can’t just do this without there being consequences. What if I lose the relationship that I have with him right now?
Yoh: Might happen. But do it anyway. After all, this is someone you really like, yeah?
Another quality that I like in Yoh is how direct he is, sometimes even to the point of rudeness. When his sister Asa starts dating Fumi, Yoh has no problem going to her room to confront her whether she really does like his friend. ‘Cause let’s admit it, Asa making the moves on Fumi even though she knows that Haruna had a crush on him was a dick move. Maybe her dating book has Machiavellian rules on courtship, but she deserved to be called out by her brother. I’m thinking that Kazune KAWAHARA made sure to draw that scene to show that Yoh actually has morals and isn’t afraid to call out bullshit, unlike his sister, who’s one of the best examples of a Japanese “mean girl” outside of Peach Girl. (I mean, did you really buy her alligator tears when she was standing up Fumi on purpose? Fumi, I’m so sorry, man.)
While Asa may have deserved it at that time, Yoh doesn’t hold his directness with Haruna either. He knows that Haruna tends to go overboard in her exuberance, so as her coach, and later as her boyfriend, he doesn’t hesitate to tell her when she’s nearing her limits. I personally don’t see this as being overbearing since it seems that Yoh picks the time and place when to contain Haruna’s excitement, yet he also knows that there are times when he has to stand back and let her go do what she needs to do.
The common shoujo boyfriend is mysterious and reserved. Since most series show the female lead’s point of view, the reader’s perception of the boy is colored by her feelings and her biases. Most of the panels of Yoh with a stoic, almost bored, countenance, yet any little movement in his face makes obvious that there’s been a change in his current emotional state. A small grin, a sideways glance, a furrowed brow: Yoh doesn’t give up a lot, so the small details count.
I think I should’ve mentioned this earlier, but Yoh and Haruna’s relationship fits several of the criteria that starsamaria mentions in her post “What makes a good couple?” I think it’s the last point that this couple exemplifies the best. In High School Debut, the love confession happens early on; what happens after they become a couple? How do they make the relationship work? Do they continue to fall in love even after the initial infatuation? All these questions are more interesting to me, and that High School Debut addresses them is yet another point in its favor.