The story of the bullied, closeted gay high-schooler in a small town is a clichéd (but relevant) one in American media, and yet seeing this brand of narrative in the context of BL is refreshing. BL is considered to be the sphere of fantasy. Much of it is character-driven and chooses to place less emphasis on plot and setting, placing the main couple into a bubble. Nagai Saburou’s Smells Like Green Spirit is unique in that it explores both the characters’ impact on their environment, and how the small town and its inhabitants have molded the characters and their decisions.
Some of the characters and
scenarios feel familiar at face value: the beautiful boy, the aggressively closeted teen feigning homophobia. However, the attention given to their presentation allows them to feel realistic rather than worn-out.
Facial expressions are Nagai Saburou’s strong suit and serve to set the mood of the narrative. Manic laughter, comically absurd faces that might be more suited to a gag manga, the poignant holding back of tears, blushing young love, and eerie smiles that slowly dig a pit of dread in one’s stomach: all are illustrated with equal effectiveness. The animated expressions breathe life into everyone from the troubled antagonists to the gossiping aunties of the town. The overlapping and shifting of emotions lends to an element of the unexpected that keeps the story engaging.
At its heart, this story is about love. Rather than the oft-glorified romantic love, it places equal if not more importance on friendship, familial love, self-acceptance, and the ways in which they conflict. Will placing your own happiness over that of your loved ones ultimately make you happy? To what lengths should you go to hide your true self to fit in and live life in a way that society dictates, and who will be hurt by this? What values should be prioritized and what sacrifices are necessary to have a life that you’re satisfied with? The main characters wrestle through the process of discovering their personal answers to these questions, while other characters suffer from the consequences of past choices.
This manga presents the different ways in which those who don’t conform can be themselves and exist in an environment that isn’t always accepting of them. It’s an amalgamation of humor, intense discomfort, romance, fear of the unknown, the joy of newfound friendship, and a bittersweet coming-of-age story. By drawing parallels between and contrasting the lives of the various inhabitants of one small town, Smells Like Green Spirit shows that navigating the convoluted branches of the journey of life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect or desire. But maybe there isn’t just one answer to finding your place in the world.
I randomly saw this manga without seeing the comments or the ratings it had. Thank goodness I didn't, because the story was unexpected in all kinds of ways.
At first, the impression I got from the story was that it seemed like it's centered around comedy. But then, there'd be glimpses of really depressing and realistic issues. One moment, I was laughing, but then, I also felt like crying; the characters' misery was very realistic, and even though I am not homosexual, I could feel the pain they were going through.
The mangaka did a really good job for the art. The characters'
expressions were very well-portrayed. When it was supposed to be funny, they had those really fun faces on. But most of the times, they had that serious, deep, longing gaze... It felt very melancholic. Even the scenery was giving off that melancholy. I love the art, it was very beautiful and befitting for the story. More importantly, the guys all looked very nice. I have a feeling the author improved her art style throughout the story, or maybe it's the characters that turned even more handsome as they grew up.
All the characters in the manga had great character development, especially considering how short the story felt. They all grew from being immature, curious guys, to mature guys who think for themselves and do their utmost best for their family. In fact, the story touches a lot of family issues, so that was another part that hit me right in the feels. The main characters of the story were all lovable, and even the character that felt like an antagonist was quite interesting himself. I also think most readers couldn't help but to somewhat empathize with him a little... And I truly want to read a story about him, hopefully the mangaka will give us his own story one day.
I laughed a lot during the story. Actually, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laugh during many moments; I usually ended up laughing more, but I was pretty much crying towards the end. If a story makes me laugh and cry, then it's definitely something amazing and worth the read, I believe. I would definitely reread this again one day, and I will cry again for sure, but it's absolutely a wonderful read. I think this might be among my favourite BL mangas, now.