This review will contain spoilers for the manga and anime series Mr. Mini Mart. While the manga may vary slightly from all other forms of media, it may have similar story elements and could be considered spoilers.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to bullying, homomisia, implied statutory rape, the inappropriate relationship between student and teacher, toxic relationships, and imbalanced power dynamics, as it appears in the manga.
Nakaba has become a NEET. He dropped out of school due to intense bullying and has spent every day at home ever since. He would be in high school right now, but the thought of returning to that situation is too much to bear. But being stuck in his room for the rest of his life is neither feasible nor ideal. So when the opportunity to work at a relative's convenience store comes up, he takes this chance to get back out into the world and start a new life for himself.
Unfortunately, it isn't all that simple. His coworker, Yamai, is a big tough guy, and even though they are close in age, Nakaba can't help feeling intimidated by him. Nakaba also can't help hating him, even just a little bit. That is until he catches Yamai saving a kitten in a busy street. Yamai smiles so gently and tucks the kitten into his jacket. Nakaba isn't sure he's looking at the same person. Now that he knows that prickly exterior is hiding a much softer inside, Nakaba wants to get to know this sweet Yamai. But will getting close to another person lead him to a devastating end like his school life had?
There's only one way to find out.
I have only read one thing from Junko in the past (Kiss Him, Not Me), which I enjoyed for the most part. I had no idea that Junko had also written a little bundle of BL, which was translated and officially licensed. To say I was pumped is an understatement because I loved the storytelling in Kiss Him, Not Me. However, I wasn't a fan of the art style, which is very, very unique. To my surprise, I actually really like the style in this story! It's hard to believe this came out before Kiss Him, Not Me because I find the art to be better here. They are, of course, similar because it's the same artist, but the mouths weren't as exaggerated, which was my main issue. The eyes were also much more proportionate, which was awesome. It isn't perfect by any means, but it falls much more in line with my tastes.
While I was really happy with the art in this one, where this really shines is in the story. These have some of my favorite stereotypes in this one. Our love interest, Yamai, acts big and bad, but he is actually a big softy at heart and is uber-romantic. We all deserve a Yamai, and you'll understand why. On the other hand, we have Nakaba, who is shy and hurt but wants to improve his life. It's full of hope, pain, love, and growth. It's got everything one could want in a high school-age romance.
The best part is undoubtedly Yamai defending Nakaba, though. Rather than being a silent bystander, he jumps in to help Nakaba when Nakaba is unable to protect himself. It's so refreshing. I mean, he straight-up hops over the counter and kicks the bullies. It's incredible retribution that I wish we got to see more against assholes like this. And he has no problem being physically affectionate with Nakaba, even after finding out he likes men, which is so great. He's a fantastic friend to start with and becomes an even better boyfriend for Nakaba. Nakaba deserves that sweet love and kindness. We all do.
While the main story is lovely and gives me all those hurt/comfort feelings, the additional story (separate, not part of the main storyline) is less than my fave. It's between a high school student and his former cram school teacher, which is already a dynamic I am not a fan of. Very statutory rape and pedo vibes. Then, it's made worse when the teacher, Nari, is super cold to Mahiro, the student. Mahiro desperately wants to feel loved, and he isn't shy about expressing that, but Nari is very dismissive and cold, making Mahiro's insecurities and needs seem like an annoyance. In a relationship that is already rough due to the power imbalance between them, Nari's personality is doing it no favors by acting like an uncommunicative asshole. I was hoping something would happen to show Nari how he should be thankful that he has someone like Mahiro, but the opposite happens. Nari gets sick due to overwork, Mahiro comes by to take care of him, and then Mahiro apologizes to Nari. It is so frustrating, and I hate it.
I've decided this is a favorite of mine, minus the unfortunate additional story shoehorned toward the end of the volume. If that hadn't been included, this would have been perfection, and I'd hate not to recommend this just for that super short story that has nothing to do with the main story. So, I'm just going to pretend that the side story doesn't exist and just say I highly recommend the main story of this volume. It's refreshing and hopeful, with a happy ever after so sweet it will make your teeth ache. Definitely one of my favorites.
Have you read Mr. Mini Mart? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!