Story and Art by Hiroyuki
Translated by Ed Ayes
Lettered, Compiled, & Formatted by Mercedes McGarry
Quality Assurance by Charles Wilson & Joseph Barr
This doujinshi’s title is a bit misleading; this certainly ain’t no NTR manga. The male protagonist, Naoya, is not “two-timing” in the sense of cheating on his girlfriend, which is where the “fair and square” part of the title comes in. The reason he wants to date Tomomi is because he’s moved by her confession and doesn’t want to reject her feelings. His immediate thoughts are to get the consent of his girlfriend, Saki, to date Tomomi as well. He has Tomomi accompanying him and has the three of them spend time together before asking the question, so they can get to know each other before making a decision. Naoya doesn’t intend to have secret, separate relationships with either girl; he hopes to make both of them happy through a consensual relationship between all three of them. So rather than being a manga about cheating, it’s really about three people exploring a polyamorous relationship.
It’s rare to see polyamory explored in manga, perhaps because the idea isn’t often seriously considered in rom-com stories. It’s telling that even in this doujinshi, the characters act as if they’ve never heard of the concept before, with Saki proclaiming “relationships are supposed to be exclusive” because “everyone knows that!” In spite of side-stepping the term, what’s great about this story is that it challenges the normalcy of monogamy by depicting a functional and loving relationship between three people. We see that the trio have a lot of fun spending time together, to the point where Saki says she wouldn’t mind dating Tomomi, and Naoya genuinely believes that their relationship could be even happier with more than just him and Saki.
Naoya’s intentions and earnest desire to make both of these girls happy always feels sincere thanks to his enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. He’s honest about his feelings every step of the way and considerate of the feelings of both girls. How he proposes the relationship to Saki and then treats her afterward is particularly mindful. He never tries to force her to accept the relationship, only making his case and clearly explaining his feelings. When they start doing housework, Naoya tells Saki to relax and leave the chores to him, being considerate of the whirlwind of a day she’s just had. They even make sure to get the permission of both Naoya and Saki’s mothers before they start living together, and neither parent casts aspersions, trusting that because their kids agreed to this relationship there’s nothing wrong with it. Perhaps the most impressive conversations in the story are the characters working out towards their feelings towards sex. All three characters communicate their desires to each other clearly, and when boundaries are drawn they are accepted and respected. When Saki ultimately confesses her worries about being forgotten by Naoya as they get swept up in the relationship, he makes sure to clearly reaffirm how he feels about her and reassure her of his commitment to both her and Tomomi. There are no misunderstandings between the characters that aren’t immediately discussed and no problems that aren’t worked out through conversation and compromise.
Hiroyuki has a knack for fast-paced storytelling with punctual comedic timing. Much of his comedy involves the beat between panels or lack of. A great example is a page in which our characters agree to their new relationship. After a huge panel to emphasize the bold declaration, we have a small wordless panel that distances us from the characters as they process what is happening, with the perspective pulled back in such a way where we don’t see their faces. The reaction is given a much smaller panel space than the two sandwiching it, emphasizing the speed of the decision made between beats. So the punchline really lands when we see them shake hands, with the girl’s smile and both characters’ enthusiastic attitudes selling this perfunctory reaction to a bold proposal.
This is one example, but regardless of whether characters are taken aback or nonchalantly react to comedic beats, the principles behind Hiroyuki’s comedy remains the same. The time communicated within and between panels is integral to the comedy, and Hiroyuki’s mastery of this art allows him to pace his punchlines appropriately, for maximal effect. It certainly helps that his expressions are incredibly cute and communicative, no matter whether the emotion displayed is understated or exaggerated. Also, a cool plus is McGarry’s lettering used for certain sound effects, which is an interesting brushstroke-like aesthetic that accents the action being depicted well. I particularly love her unique “m’s,” whose heart-like shape helps embellish the moment where Saki coos “mmmm!!!” while enjoying Tomomi’s yummy food. On the whole, Hiroyuki’s art plays a big part in developing the story and comedy.
While both the art and lettering are generally strong, they aren’t free of issues. Despite the pacing of Hiroyuki’s paneling being very strong, the continuity between them can occasionally be inconsistent. For example, when Saki punches Naoya, she is clearly throwing her right fist in the build-up panel, but the action panel depicts her hitting him with her left instead. Additionally, her pose in the reaction panel reads kind of stiff, and the proximity between her and Naoya is to close and constrained to sell the idea that he’s knocked off his feet by the blow. As far as lettering issues go, there are at least two panels that seem to have the last word missing, as demonstrated below. Also, while I personally like the inky fonts for certain sound effects, I do feel like the ones with spotty edges like in the panels depicting Saki’s punch are distracting when contrasted with other lettering fonts that have cleaner outlines. All of these issues seem to just be oversights, and they don’t terribly affect comprehension of the story, but felt like noteworthy errors to highlight nonetheless.
Honestly, my biggest problem with this doujinshi is that it’s not a longer and more complete story, because I’d love to read more! Romantic comedies are so often burdened by tropes built around insecurities, poor communication, and misunderstandings. It’s refreshing to read a story where the characters consistently share their feelings with one another to curb those issues. What’s more, it focuses on a trio working through a polyamorous relationship, which is also incredibly atypical in media, and tells a story with so much sincerity and heart that it’s as irresistibly cute as Tomomi herself. If you’re looking for a sweet and charming rom-com short story to read this holiday season, Two-Timing is a good time and highly recommended for everyone to try!