Complex is a yaoi that, over the course of four volumes, attempts to chronicle the lives of a couple, Tatsuya Fujoika and Junichi Shinozaki. The manga follows the boys from childhood to death, looking at the various trials and triumphs the two experience throughout their relationship, with each chapter typically focusing on a different year in the boys’ lives. At a four volume length, it’s an ambitious story, a bit too ambitious if you ask me. I’ll get it out of the way now and say that this isn’t a manga that I’d recommend to anyone. Though the story does have some standout moments, those are often overshadowed by the manga’s numerous problems, most of which revolve around the handling of the story and characters.
The storytelling method is unique, no doubt, but it also creates a bit of a disjointed story. Admittedly, the nice thing about the time skips is that the focus on the “jucier” stuff rather than the mundane day to day events. It also allows us to see how the characters grow over the years which is nice because it fills in the blank that we’re often left with at the end of most romance manga once the couple finally hooks up. On the other hand, the problem that arises from choosing to focus on the majority of these people’s lives is that the manga is only a measly four volumes. There were several points in the manga where a time skip occurred and I was left wanting to see more of a particular period, especially when the boys were younger. I would have liked for the manga to slow down a bit and show me more of the “good” times, especially since once the couple decided they were going to stay together for good, the story shifted focus to Tatsuya’s son.
The pacing issues, annoying as they were, are outshone by other, more pressing problems, the most frustrating of which is how some of the more serious subject matter is handled. The manga, despite its cutesy cover, really deals with some heavy stuff like molestation and societal reactions to the relationship. The latter isn’t handled too poorly and is something I appreciated since it rarely pops up in the yaoi/shounen-ai I’ve read thus far. Though somewhat exaggerated, I liked how we saw their coming out in college and other’s reactions, both good and bad. In fact when it came to Kenta, Tatsuya’s son, and his struggle in drawing a line between love and friendship, as well as dealing with having two fathers, the manga also did a good job.
The handling of the former issue (molestation), on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. The manga starts out rather grimly with Tatsuya nearly raped by a teacher at his elementary school and Junichi threatened with rape by the same guy. Besides the odd decision to open a manga with the near rape of a kid, what rubs me the wrong way about this chapter is how it played out. First off, it was another kid who lured her classmates into getting near the teacher (all for a gift, I might add). I’m sorry, but that strikes me as a tad unrealistic; not to mention afterwards, she was laughing about it like it was a joke which was irritating. Additionally, the teacher is portrayed in a bit of a comical light before the attempt which I wasn’t a fan of. Another slightly irksome thing about this event is how little coverage it got later on in the story. Tatsuya was actually affected by what almost happened to him, but what could have possibly been an interesting facet for character development is forgotten for the rest of the manga after he brings it up…once. Personally, I would have loved to see more regarding how he was affected psychologically and how he healed over the years.
The next incident pops up randomly in a chapter that interrupts the main story to provide what I can only assume was maybe comic relief. The only problem with that is the molestation of child isn’t all that funny. The chapter centers around a guy who has been hooking up with a woman in order to eventually find an opportunity to have his own fun with her small son. Simply put, he gets what he wants, and I’m forced to flip through every damn page of it. The most frustrating and disgusting aspect of this is it’s the same freaking guy from chapter one; again, he is portrayed in a comical light, except this time around, he never becomes a real villain. He stays a “funny” character, despite what he does and despite his intention to go after an even younger kid. I really want to know what exactly I was supposed to do with this chapter. Was I supposed to “HaHa” my way through it? Why was this guy even brought back? What the hell is even funny about the situation? I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t care if I’m reading BL or shounen, molestation/rape, especially that of a kid, that’s treated like a joke isn’t funny and never will be. The poor treatment of the pedophile character and the frivolous way the molestation of this child was presented stayed with me throughout the rest of the manga, souring my overall impression. It was a dumb decision to put that chapter in.
The sad thing about Complex is that for all its problems and sloppy plot developments, it does tell an intriguing story with characters that aren’t too bad. I became quite fond of Junichi because of how he grows over the course of his life. Though he starts out not quite sure of his feelings toward Tatsuya, he turns out to be the one most devastated when the relationship ends for several years. At the same time, he doesn’t hold anything against Tatsuya which I think is really admirable considering the circumstances under which they broke up. Even when he reenters Tatsuya’s life, he doesn’t push for a relationship, but is content to simply be with him again, regardless of whether or not they would ever go back to how they used to be. Tatsuya’s also an interesting guy, though I think his decision to try and live the conventional wife-and-child life because of a mistake didn’t make much sense. His relationship with his son was sweet, and I liked his role as the occasional advice giver.
Speaking of the son, as I mentioned before I really did like how the manga-ka decided to handle his part. Though he and his best friend who has a crush on him start out with a relationship that mirrors Tatsuya and Junichi in their youth, Kenta turns out to not be gay. However, he doesn’t shun his friend because of his feelings and the two even live together for a few years before said friend decides he can move on. What I liked about this is that he didn’t turn out to be gay which sounds weird but hear me out; I didn’t really want another, slightly different version of the same story and the small twists to Kenta’s story made it more engaging than his dad’s at times. Seeing Kenta struggle with how he really feels about his friend and about their relationship as friends was a good example of how well the manga could handle its character development when it wanted too.
The one character who was probably the least utilized was Kenta’s mother, Takako Nakagawa. The saddest thing about her is that she was forced to take on the role of the loving wife and mother despite being a proclaimed lesbian. By sticking her into this marriage that neither she or Tatsuya was truly happy with, I think the manga cheated itself a bit. I think it would have been more interesting to see Kenta grow up with gay parents who didn’t decide to get hitched because they felt they had to. Now, I’m sure I’m probably missing out on grander societal reasons for said marriage, but I honestly doubt that knowing them would change how I feel.
And as if her being stuck in this marriage wasn’t enough of a blow, a few chapters later, the poor woman ends up dying of cancer. The most infuriating about this is that it felt like a convenient plot device. It was like the manga-ka said, “Well, it’s about time Tatsuya came back into Junichi’s life. This wife character’s standing in the way, though. Probably time to kill her off for the sake of Junichi and Tatsuya getting back together.” The manga had run itself into a hole and getting rid of her was the only way to run itself back out which is a shame. Takako is a character that I would have liked to see developed more in terms of her sexual orientation, but the manga chickened out and wasted what I think would have been a great addition to the story.
In terms of art, Complex is alright. It’s not the cutest or the most detailed, but it’s not terrible either. Though some sex is shown, it’s not particularly graphic save for the child molestation chapter. Watching the character grow up and seeing their character designs gradually change is of one of my favorite aspects of the art because you rarely see it happen. The final chapter was among my favorite parts both story-wise and artistically because almost everything about this literal final chapter of Junichi and Tatsuya’s lives allows the manga end to, at least, end on a high note in terms of execution.
After reading a few positive reviews, I went into Complex thinking that I would be getting a serious tale about two boys and their lifetime love story. Unfortunately, the manga shoots itself in the foot with some of the decisions that it decides to make. I don’t hate it, but it’s hard to say if I even like it that much either. Sure it had its really good moments, but those only served to leave me disappointed because they showed what kind of manga Complex had the potential to be. If you’re looking for good BL, take your search elsewhere; don’t bother with this one.