It's always a big letdown when highly-anticipated sequels end up being less than what you were hoping for. Such is the case with O.B., also called Occupation to Beloved, by Nakamura Asumiko. This manga is the sequel to Sotsugyousei, which is the sequel to Doukyuusei, and it starts off with the full expectation that you have read these previous works. Thus, it's advised that you do.
Why, exactly, am I so disillusioned by O.B.? Its prequels were slice of life manga, detailing the growth of the two main characters as they came to terms with their relationships and their desires for the future. O.B. promised,
in some regard, to be something similar. I don't mind fluff, and I don't mind a lack of drama. What I do mind, however, is cliches and silliness in a manga that I had come to know did not contain any of them.
What lack of originality am I speaking of? Well, for one thing, of course one of Sajou's presumably straight male classmates develops a crush on him. Of course. Now, this isn't something that is hard for me to believe; what is merely annoying is that of course every vaguely important character is gay even if they didn't realize it at first. Not only is this trope overused in the yaoi genre, it's also predictable and boring. I wouldn't have been half as annoyed if the character brought to focus had been female, and I wouldn't have been annoyed about this at all if this plot aspect wasn't used in the first place. It literally does nothing to further the story whatsoever and ends up feeling like filler.
What's worse is that O.B. doesn't even focus on its previous main characters all that much. I like one shots as much as the next person; they can often be cute, interesting, or just plain good. That is not the case if I don't care about the characters or like them at all. The manga's only saving grace regarding this aspect is the fact that it brings in characters from previous volumes that I actually was curious about. However, the one shots also bring completely minor characters into focus – characters I had utterly forgotten about and, to make matters worse, did not come to enjoy reading about.
The thing that makes reading O.B. worth it is the sprinkles of sugary sweetness that Sajou and Kusakabe haul about with them. However, it's a pretty bad sign if the side characters get more development and insight than the main characters. We leave O.B. knowing nothing new about either Sajou or Kusakabe; but we do get to know Satoshi and Hibiki a little more intimately. Other than that, that's pretty much it. I will give O.B. credit for giving Sajou and Kusakabe's side of the story a bright conclusion – although it's somewhat similar to Sotsugyousei's ending, anyway.
One positive is that, at least, I've finally figured out what word I want to use for Nakamura-sensei's art style: minimalist would be a grand adjective for it. It's still the same, stylistic, wispy art we grew familiar with in the previous instalments of the series. Backgrounds are generally minimal. There are some panels where it's difficult to figure out what is going on. There are occasions where the anatomy just looks really, really off.
In the end, O.B. is disappointing if you're hoping for anything new regarding the previous series' main characters, but if you're interested in Hibiki and Satoshi, who made brief appearances in the spin-off Sora to Hara, it might just be worth the time spent.
DO NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE: You need to read "Sora to Hara" BEFORE reading O.B. otherwise you'll end up like myself and some others confused as to who these new characters are.
Occupation To Beloved is a continuation/epilogue of sorts for not just Kusakabe and Sajou, but many of the side characters as well. What always keeps me coming back to the series is the realism it treats to the fact these characters are gay. All these small moments like talking about sexual orientation with a classmate, or how a family member can lovingly expect their sexuality or for the family of another character not so
much. They're instances that previous made me fall in love with the series and they are still to be found here in O.B. which certainly I couldn't be happier about. (Seriously though, I can't think of another BL that has a casual conversation about coming out.)
As far as the main two characters, we at long last get a glimpse of the couple as they maintain university and work, and a long distance relationship. I especially liked the portrayal of Sajou's growth. He was discribed as someone not particularly popular and in Sotsugousei his mom already mentioned he was smiling more for the first time in a long while. But the positive effects Kusakabe has had on him really shine through, and together they still make subtle yet significant steps forward.
While Kusakabe and Sajou are the highlights with their steady development and heartwarming interactions, this time we also get to see different sides of love through other characters. We can wish to have love as sweet as those two, but life isn't always so nice. From Koma's rather toxic ex boyfriend (a precaution if you're someone who would find seeing that unpleasant) to Arisaka's feelings of guilt towards his ex wife and kid, O.B. encompasses a wider snapshot of life and love. I think O.B. succeeds better in that regard rather than the traditional sequel you'd expect. Unrequited middle school love, relationships with bad people you met at a gay bar, dating the opposite sex out of social pressures; you wouldn't be able to see those different takes on the gay experience with just the main duo.
Lastly, the one negative aspect is the panels/page layout. Some chapters switch back and forth from past to present. Not a bad thematic devise, but it's hard to catch the change and made more sense after a reread. And perhaps it's due to O.B. being more anthology-like and the fact we're past the adolescent days of high school, but the panel layouts seemed more flat and didn't strike me as much as before. They serve the job just fine but I started to miss the charm of that sometimes whimsical flow from the previous series.
I'd also complain how this left me wishing to see more of Kusakabe and Sajou, but now there's been several one-shots since and another current ongoing manga to fill that void instead.