- Mangaka : Comedy, School Life, Seinen, Slice of Life
- Publisher : Wayama Yama
- Genre : Yen Press
- Published : April 2022 – Present
Japan’s Rising Star Hits A High Note
Mangaka Wayama Yama has certainly caught a fair bit of media attention in the last few years. She won the 23rd Japan Media Arts Festival’s “New Face Award” for the manga Division in 2020, and she also took home the 25th Japan Media Arts Festival’s “Social Impact Award” for manga in 2022. With Karaoke Iko (Let’s Go Karaoke), Wayama has once again produced another almost-boys-love school drama that is profoundly emotional and thoughtful.
In its simplest terms, Karaoke Iko (Let’s Go Karaoke) is the story of Satomi Oka — a middle-school-aged choirboy on the cusp of high school — who becomes the reluctant vocal coach to a charming yakuza member desperate to improve his own singing ability. But there’s so much more beneath the surface of that basic plot summary, and a story that will stick with you long after the final pages.
Today on Honey’s Anime, we’re exploring the fine art of the manga world, and reviewing this fresh release from one of Japan’s rising stars, Wayama Yama.
The absurdist plot of Karaoke Iko (Let’s Go Karaoke) strikes a deeper, more personal chord than you might expect. Satomi’s voice is cracking as he struggles through puberty, meaning his third year of middle school will be his last as a choirboy. As the president of his choir, he faces not only the pressure of performing, but the pressure of representing his entire school at their competitions.
Meanwhile, well-mannered and sharply-dressed Kyouji Narita is an assistant lieutenant of a yakuza family, and he faces a somewhat dire threat of his own — the family’s quarterly karaoke competition, where their ruthless family head bestows punishment upon the “Sucky-Song King”. The punishment? A terribly drawn tattoo of that person’s greatest dislike (and done with the significantly more painful hands of a beginner tattooist, no less).
As usual with Wayama’s work, there’s an underlying Boys Love (BL) thread that never quite reaches an actual romance, but instead settles for an Achillean overtone of male camaraderie and platonic love. And it’s the strange relationship between these two men that forms the crux of the story, with the singing lessons and karaoke acting as a mere wrapper for their emotional transition.
In that regard, Karaoke Iko (Let’s Go Karaoke) is truly a “fine art” type of manga — this is not your common trade paperback, nor does it pretend to be that. Reading Karaoke Iko (Let’s Go Karaoke) means reading a Wayama Yama work — and that entails an emotional journey into male bonds, the murky border between ‘child’ and ‘adult’, and the discovery of one’s true purpose and desires.
1. Impactful and Memorable
As we mentioned earlier, Wayama Yama has won multiple Media Arts Festival awards, and been nominated many other times. Her work sits quite far apart from the usual manga we cover on Honey’s Anime, but that doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to the casual reader.
Karaoke Iko (Let’s Go Karaoke) is the type of manga that sits in the back of your mind long after reading, allowing your subconscious to mull over the subtleties of the narrative. The relationship between Kyouji and Satomi is uncommon, since their worlds are miles apart, yet each of the men acts as a foil to the other, enabling their respective self-reflections and changes.
Satomi benefits most from this strange experience, and over the course of this standalone, he grows from a timid choirboy to a confident young man, all with the help of a mobster and a karaoke booth.
1. Fine Art Doesn’t Mean Great Art
At the risk of sounding like an action-movie fan sitting through the Cannes Film Festival, fine art doesn’t always make visually impressive art. Though it may sound crass to level complaints against such a star-studded mangaka, we’ll be honest in saying that Wayama’s art is ... rough. Fans of older BL or josei-targeted artwork will feel at home with her style, but for anyone used to the exaggerated designs of modern manga, Karaoke Iko! (Let’s Go Karaoke!) is hard on the eyes.
Much like literary fiction feeling inaccessible to a genre reader, or independent French films feeling inaccessible to a casual cinema-goer, Karaoke Iko! (Let’s Go Karaoke!) is the type of “artsy” manga that will turn off anyone only looking at the surface-level artwork. That, in our opinion, would be a mistake — but regardless, it may be enough to completely turn away some readers.
We spend most of our time at Honey’s Anime reading and reviewing “trade” manga — the big hits from serialized shounen magazines destined to appear on your TV as an anime. In doing so, it’s easy to forget that this medium — like all forms of art — has a multitude of stories to tell, in a multitude of ways. The biggest, shiniest shounen might have a hollow, tired plot; and on the opposite hand, a roughly drawn standalone like Karaoke Iko! (Let’s Go Karaoke!) can offer profoundly emotional character development.
While Wayama Yama’s art style isn’t for everyone, the fact remains that Karaoke Iko! (Let’s Go Karaoke!) is a surprisingly accessible example of manga’s potential as an artistic medium. While our Japanese-fluent readers might get to indulge in this more often, it’s rarer to see translated in English, so if you’re curious to know what Japan considers to be award-winning manga, Karaoke Iko! (Let’s Go Karaoke!) is an excellent place to start.
Have you read Karaoke Iko! (Let’s Go Karaoke!)? Leave your thoughts on this manga in the comments below.