Age Rating: Mature (18+)
"You really do have a thing for me!"
"I... I have a thing for judo!"
"Hah! So do I."
Ah, the high school romance. There are times when I can get utterly sick of the high school romance, as I'm confronted by yet another formulaic swoonfest churned out by a mangaka who seems to believe that a) romances begun in your teenage years are the only ones that really matter; and b) acne is a myth. But every so often I come across a high school story that's actually good, and that's enough to keep me from giving on the genre.
Dash! includes two more or less equally-long stories, "Dash!" and "Cheeky"; "Dash!" is the high school story, and "Cheeky" is about a long-lost cousin. As you can probably guess from that brief descrption, Isaku Natsume is winning no awards for originality of concept here. But original concepts can be badly executed; and conversely, clichés can have new life breathed into them. Both the stories in this book are examples of just that.
In "Dash!", Akimoto chooses his high school based on the knowledge that Saitou, a judo player he greatly admires, is a student there. When he joins the school judo club, he finds that Saitou never practises -- just hangs around the gym making sarcastic remarks -- and he doesn't know what to make of his idol's odd behaviour. Saitou's teasing half-acknowledgement of Akimoto's crush just frustrates Akimoto further. The boys come together in a way that feels natural and unforced, with all the awkwardness you might expect of two teenagers who haven't quite figured out their feelings yet -- and yet at no point did I feel the urge to bang their heads together. For a BL high school romance, that's high praise.
In "Cheeky", college student Ohyama finds himself lumbered with his younger cousin Yoshirou, who turns out to have changed a lot in the ten years since they've seen each other last: far from the sweet-faced kid he once was, Yoshirou is now a smooth-talking seducer with a trail of broken hearts behind him. Ohyama doesn't know what to make of him, but he takes him in and tries, vaguely, to look after him. The gap between Ohyama's idea of what Yoshirou's like and what Yoshirou's actually like causes problems as Ohyama fails to see the depth of the trouble Yoshirou's gotten himself into, but love finds a way, as it usually does.
Both of the stories in Dash! are funny and charming, with endearing and well-realised characters whose relationships are believable and touching. As I said, neither is going to win points for originality, but wit and characterisation make up for a lot.