One of my favorite genres of manga is yaoi, more affectionately known as Boy Love or BL for short. These titles focus on the romance between male characters and can take on a variety of forms from supernatural or action to workplace and high school. In the high school romances, you often see a large focus put on the two leads, often childhood friends, discovering their feelings for each, and struggling to define their emotions. However, in RePlay, a manga from TOKYOPOP’s Love X Love collection, that isn’t the case. Instead, we see two teammates, who are also best friends, grow into a name given to them on the baseball field and learn how to make it into a relationship of their own.
In RePlay, from mangaka Saki Tsukahara, we follow Yuta and Ritsu, two characters who have been playing baseball together since they were children. After being defeated in a local tournament over the summer, they must retire from the high school team to study for university entrance exams. Still, Yuta finds himself unable to give up his lingering attachment to baseball, and his battery, a term in baseball referring to the catcher and pitcher as one unit. As a pitcher, the one person who can truly understand him is Ritsu, the catcher. But, Ritsu has been acting worryingly distant since they quit the team and joyful Yuta begins to question if their connection will last off the field.
Known to their teammates as the “married couple,” their connection is immediately recognizable as love. While elements turn the story’s plot from the standard “will they or won’t they” into a narrative question of a matter of when, the heart of RePlay is how Yuta and Ritsu navigate their changing dynamic and how they build a relationship outside of baseball. While Ritsu is the character who knows what he wants from the beginning of the story, Yuta doesn’t quite understand that his want for their “married couple” status to continue after their battery has ended is actually love. Or rather, Yuta is naive when it comes to the very concept of relationships so he has to work at detaching his love of Ritsu as a pitcher to a person who he loves.
This dynamic is not only wholesome but presents readers with a dynamic that breaks the usual yaoi narratives. Seeing Yuta’s naivete as he navigates his own emotions and finds his path is balanced perfectly by learning that Ritsu has had a plan all along. Seeing their love develop because they’re both naturally open to the progression of their relationship is meaningful from a storytelling element and makes the intimate romantic payoff at the end of the one-shot worth it.
Additionally, RePlay’s art is perfection. Tsukahara’s ability to draw the sports, emotional, and intimate scenes should be applauded. Yuta and Ritsu’s personalities are visible in their character designs and how they show their emotions along with how they don’t.
While the story itself is stellar, some emotional scenes suffer because of the dialogue. The innuendos from their pitcher and catcher designations are inescapable but they tend to land on the cheesy side of the fence instead of the endearing. That said, their growth as individuals outshines that and their ending is well-worth reading even with some immersion-breaking dialogue between them.
Overall though, RePlay is a stellar romance, yaoi or otherwise. It’s a story that truly explores how friendship becomes more than and deals with growing out of your high school self to become an adult with different priorities and responsibilities. This is a must-read for fans of the genre.
RePlay is available from booksellers now.
RePlay is a stellar romance, yaoi or otherwise. It’s a story that truly explores how friendship becomes more than and deals with growing out of your high school self to become an adult with different priorities and responsibilities. This is a must-read for fans of the genre.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.