Hero Heel--Manga

Okay, Hero Heel, by Yellow writer/illustrator (favorite of mine) Makoto Tateno, completely deserves it's adult themed rating...because it has VERY adult themes. I'm not just talking about the sex, because there is sex (graphic sex, actually), but the complexities of the plot, character interactions, and emotions are anything but easy to process. I like angst. I like, as Ms. Shakespeare likes to point out, suffering and insecurity and long-standing secret loves. So, I like Hero Heel. This three volume manga series is brutal at points, so if you are an empathetic person this might not be for you...unless you want (like me) to feel that sort of extended tension and pain. Tateno is fantastic at extended tension and pain. Stunning at it, actually! The dialog is loaded with it, the illustrations are taut with it. OH, and it's about actors on a kid's superhero program.

Don't shake your head just yet, us ladies of a certain age remember the hotness of Power Rangers...this is something similar, and yet possibly hotter. Although, man, a few of those Power Rangers...daaaammmnn!
Hero Heel is the story of first time television actor, Minami, who lands the lead role of Oreas in a special effects, fighting program called Air Guard. His co-star, Sawada, is a veteran of these programs and takes an immediate dislike to Minami's attitude. Sawada is a consummate professional, and is playing Gadriel, Oreas's rival in the program. Minami and Sawada are both proud and stubborn on and off the camera. Their rivalry heats up, but Minami learns from Sawada as well, and comes to realize that his feelings of deep admiration for Sawada's acting and fighting skills may be hiding true affection for the man.

Okay, tame enough, a little co-worker love interest, but then it gets really, really uncomfortable. Sawada claims to have no interest in Minami at all, in fact he treats him with scorn which only seems to make Minami want him more. Desperate for any scrap of affection, and drowning in unrequited love, Minami blackmails Sawada into sleeping with him. In one of the most painful, regret-laden scenes of any manga I've ever read (and I read a lot of painful, regret-laden manga) Minami breaks down. The intensity of the sorrow in the final chapter of volume one nearly crosses the line to intolerable for me. I'll admit it...I may have cried a little. And, as I keep saying, that's not my M.O. Something has to be very powerful to move me to tears, and yet the last silent panels of Hero Heel volume one did just that.

In trying to forget Sawada, Minami smothers his feelings with a new relationship with yet another co-worker. And Sawada rekindles an old relationship with a former co-star in an earlier program, who looks remarkably like an older Minami. Could Sawada be hiding the truth about his feelings for Minami? Let's ask him.

Sawada, are you hiding your attraction to Minami behind a facade of scorn in order to save yourself from potential heartbreak?

Oh, Sawada-san, you make me so sad in my heart.
You are absolutely the kind of cruel and passionate character that makes me want to squee!

Um...yeah, I guess he is...oh, right, spoiler or whatnot! So, once we know this, as readers, the plot gets even more complex, and painful, and bitter, and...all those things I love to read about. Each of the characters deals with their own insecurities, and any hope for a relationship seems defeated by a combination of insecurity and defensive pride. When the characters do break down, succumbing to their emotions in sometimes drastic ways, it is poignant and heart-wrenching because we as readers are privy to the whole story rather than just the one-sided suppositions the characters make about one another's motivations and intentions. This is heavy stuff. As such, it isn't for everyone. There are certainly points where each of the characters crosses into uncomfortable (and sometimes even dislikable) territory. There are moments of assertiveness that do border on violence, and reactions that seem at the time completely this one:

"Eh?" Indeed! (Also.."Aw, yeah!")

It looks sweet and passionate, but it turns out in the very next panel Minami (blond) punches Sawada in the face, tells him to quit messing with him, and then runs off into the night to sob in his bedroom until he passes out while Sawada avoids his boyfriend and drinks himself into a stupor. Hooray! What a light-hearted romp through candy-canes and gumdrops! Or, did I mean what a painfully (three bonus chapters are actually entitled "Pain") drawn-out, spiral into despair that seems to have no hopes of redemption? Maybe I meant the second one. Oh, delicious pain! Oh, Sawada! (Seriously, I may be madly in love with Sawada myself...maybe I'll steal him from Minami?) Oh, Minami!

The good news is there is (sort of) a happy ending to this one--the payoff is worth it once these two idiots realize that they can't deny their disturbing love for one another. Plus, the show is a hit, so everyone wins (except the people who were dragged into the bizarre love-conflict and ultimately dumped in cruel ways...they lost, completely).

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