Our Dreams at Dusk: Ending Pride Month on a High Note || First Impressions

First impressions for volume 1 of the manga series “Shimanami Tasogare” or “Our Dreams at Dusk,” story and art by Yuhki Kamatani, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment. Minor spoilers will be present.


“My Life Probably Ended That Day”

As the new kid, high schooler Tasuku Kanama was able to slip by his first semester thanks to having friends in the table tennis club. But, his world quickly starts spiraling out of control when the other kids find out that he may be gay. Teased and outed for being found with gay porn on his phone, Tasuku prepares to commit suicide when he sees another woman off in the distance jump off a cliff. Panicked and startled beyond belief, what he find upon rushing to the sight of her fall was not what he expected . . .

At the peek of this steep countryside hill, Tasuku finds a “drop-in center” with a lounge open to all who enter. The people there are unusually friendly, but what catches Tasuku’s eye first is seeing woman who jumped off the cliff there, completely unharmed from her fall. The others introduce her as “Someone-san,” and remark how although she’s mysterious and keeps to herself, she is in fact the owner of this fine communal establishment.

Drawn to her presence, Someone-san offers him an ear only if he is willing to talk about his problems. Through speaking to her and reflecting on his own actions, Tasuku realizes that what hurts the most is his own inability to accept his sexuality. An emotional introduction to a much larger story, Our Dreams at Dusk follows Tasuku and all the other gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people he encounters as he tries to come to terms with his sexuality.

our dreams at dusk chapter 1

“Why am I Like This . . . ?”

This first volume does a beautiful job at illustrating Tasuku’s pain and anguish as a closeted gay kid. Anyone who’s ever been in his shoes know the frustrations of having to hid their sexuality from others. Whether to parents, friends, or even simple acquaintances, it doesn’t matter—in a society that shuns the notion of being gay, coming out can be the most relieving OR excruciatingly painful thing, and Tasuku knows this. He’s constantly weighing the relationships he’ll have to give up in order to gain what he wants, and it’s that toxic mindset that haunts Tasuku day-in and day-out.

Tasuku is gay, no doubt about it. He’s in love with a classmate on the volleyball team, or so we are led to believe in this first volume. I’m sure we’ll get more on this in the next volume. Until then, we just have Tasuku and his new friends at the drop-in center. We don’t know much about them either, except for Daichi Haruko, a young outgoing woman who greets Tasuku everyday with a smile. She invites him on her non-profit work, which involves tearing down dilapidated buildings and renovating them for the city.

He likes working out in the summer sun, and he likes Haruko, too. But what throws him into a bit of shock is finding out that she’s a lesbian. Not only that, but Haruko also has plans to marry her girlfriend, a kind gal named Saki, whom he meets one day during their outdoor work. I loved hearing Haruko’s story, especially how she left her old job and moved out to the countryside where she met Someone-san (and eventually created the drop-in center we know today). The place really is special, even down to its foundation.

our dreams at dusk haruko

“There’s a Guy I Like”

Yuhki Kamatani’s Our Dreams at Dusk is a highly expressive and emotional read. This first volume demonstrate’s Kamatani’s strong art style, including her stark use of black in blocking out spaces, using a warped lens view and dramatic lighting for effect, and emphasizing the power of eye contact. Eyes can tell a lot about people, and Kamatani uses strong gazes like such to convey mood and inner turmoil.

Kamatani’s panel construction is also genius; sounds, textures, and feelings carry from panel to panel seamlessly, as if this were a movie printed onto the page. The story moves, even in pages where there is no dialogue. Sometimes the most fantastic or simplest of gestures can be enhanced by the absence of dialogue, like when Tasuku daydreams about touching another man’s face. Even in silence, Kamatani’s magical realism invites supernatural imagery to convey intriguing feelings and ideas (like the sparks that fly whenever Someone-san leaps into the air). These really are some of the most impactful and striking images I’ve ever seen in a queer drama manga!

This is going to be a thought-provoking, psychological read—I can already tell. Looking at Tasuku, I am reminded of the same kind of self-torment that plagues Shinji Ikari of Evangelion fame (the two also look similar). Volume one alone is full of serious meditation and self-reflection, highlighting the importance of inclusivity with Tasuku finding the drop-in center and Haruko extending her job invitation to him. Where the story goes from here, I have no idea. But, I already know for a fact that Tasuku’s coming out will bring with it a powerful coming-of-age tale.

our dreams at dusk imagery


I’m a kid. I’m not brave. I’m always confused. But I felt pretty glad that I didn’t kill myself. I felt that at Someone-san’s drop-in center . . . as the heat of August scorched me. — Tasuku Kaname


Afterword

It’s a shame I didn’t get my rear in gear during the first week of June. Otherwise, I would have been able to provide for you a full series review of Shimanami Tasogare today instead of just a first impressions post. If and when I get around to writing that full review, I hope you will come back to see how my thoughts on this fantastic series have changed. Should my hunch prove correct, I definitely think Yuhki Kamatani’s Our Dreams at Dusk is a masterpiece in the making. Again, I’ll be able to confirm that later, but I DO have the other three volumes and plan on reading them ASAP! I’d love to hear your thoughts on these gorgeous publications, too—just no spoilers, please!

Well there you have it, friends. My Pride Month celebration has officially concluded with the publishing of this post. It’s been an absolutely incredible month full of amazing reads, and I’ve learned so much through reading all these different stories. I WILL be writing a follow-up post (and filming a video!) wrapping up all of June’s Pride reads and watches, so stay tuned for my proper reflections with that. Thanks for reading—it was a sprint to the finish, but we did it! Haha! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Our Dining Table: Growing Closer One Meal at a Time || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the standalone BL manga “Our Dining Table,” story and art by Mita Ori, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.


Boys’ Love for the Soul

Despite his excellent skills in the kitchen, salaryman Yutaka has always struggled with eating around others since he was little. This changes when he encounters a hungry little boy named Tane and his much older brother Minoru. Eager to eat more of his tasty onigiri, the two brothers invite Yutaka over to teach them how to make his delicious food. Slowly, Yutaka starts developing an appetite for their warmth and acceptance around the table—as well as feelings for Minoru and his little family. This is the story of love that starts at the stomach, and gradually grows more heartwarming one meal at a time.

This slice-of-life shounen ai manga made waves in the manga community when it was announced for release by Seven Seas Entertainment. At the time, I wasn’t reading much BL, but even I heard about this highly anticipated title and was eager to pre-order my own copy the minute it went on sale. As a one-shot BL manga, Our Dining Table reads quick, closing out the story in just eight chapters. It even includes a short epilogue that, well, I won’t spoil for you. But it’s great, and it brings adorable closure to a story that I otherwise could’ve kept reading for decades.

To make the deal even sweeter, Mita Ori’s art is stuff to drool over. She draws food well. Very well. Too well. I grew envious of Minoru and Tane whenever Yutaka brought his cooking supplies over to their house. Right off the page, you can practically smell the delectable dishes they make together. The characters themselves are also drawn with a soft aesthetic to them, Tane in particular being the cutest little rugrat I’ve ever seen in manga! The way his eyes light up upon seeing whatever they’re having for dinner is an image I’ll never forget. I also love how Mita Ori used Tane’s childish stick-figure drawings as a transition to telling Yutaka’s backstory. Very clever and effective.

yutaka meets tane

Bonding Over Food

In both his personal and professional lives, Yutaka is a character who seems deeply misunderstood by those around him. People can be shallow and selfish, not to mention non-inclusive, and over time, being an outcast just becomes commonplace. We should always care for our friends and family, but things happen, and sometimes you find yourself eating alone at the dinner table each night. This is Yutaka’s life. Or perhaps, I should say was, as now he has Tane and Minoru in his life, and they really do change everything for him. Tane and Minoru aren’t just good company for Yutaka—they’re companions, the kinds you’d want with you your whole life, and I’m so glad they met.

Minoru and Tane aren’t without their sad family story either, though. Their mother passed away when Tane was just a baby, and Minoru has had to step it up as a parental figure to raise Tane in her stead. He loves his baby brother, but not everyone takes kindly to a 23-year-old who drags his 4-year-old brother with him wherever he goes.

It’s a good thing Minoru isn’t alone in his efforts, however; the brothers also have their loving father who makes a living as a potter, and their grandmother who looks after them by sending them off with nutritious meals whenever she can. Not everyone accepts or respects each others’ family lives, so the fact that Minoru and Tane can come from a place of understanding and accept someone like Yutaka into their home really is a delightful thing. It’s like seeing two lost souls find each other in the dark—their own glimmering light complements the other, and as they grow closer, they only radiate with a brighter glow and comforting presence.

yutaka and minoru

A Gentle Foodie Read

Mita Ori’s story about food, family, and friendship takes pride in the little things. Enjoyed are the quiet moments of tender living and merely existing with others, but celebrated are the joys of cooking and the sheer happiness that can come from cuisine when it’s made from the heart. Although Japan’s winter draws closer and colder, the bond between Tane, Minoru, and Yutaka only grows warmer and more wholesome.

Our Dining Table is just about the sweetest, most gentle foodie manga you will ever read. Yes, it is BL, but don’t let that label send your mind down the gutter. Through soft gestures, Mita Ori’s story is wholly dedicated to building meaningful bonds that capture the day-to-day life of two men from very different families, and how they intersect at the crossroads of food.

From cover to cover, this standalone slice-of-life BL manga promises to deliver pleasant vibes and positive energy, even when addressing the loss of a loved one. This is BL manga for the soul, and easily one of the best stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. It is an honestly written manga with solely pure intentions, and however wonderful and filling the ending is, I assure you this—you will only be left hungry for more.

our dining table


I’m so happy. So stupidly, totally happy. To think eating with someone could bring me this much joy. — Yutaka Hozumi


Afterword

Guys, I’m speechless. Really, this is the fastest review I’ve ever written, and while it’s also one of the shortest, I can’t think of anymore praise that I can give this manga. THIS is what a “Cafe Mocha” manga title looks like. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t need to be. The story, characters, and art style just have to speak to me in a way that I not only connect with but love unconditionally, faults aside. Sure, Mita Ori could’ve elaborated more on Minoru’s father’s job, their mother, or Yutaka’s job. But she didn’t need to—the characters feel alive enough as-is, and the story speaks for itself. I really, really loved this manga, and if you did too, please let me know your favorite part about this endearing little title! I honestly can’t recommend this book enough!!

We’re almost at the very end. Tomorrow, I will at last be diving into Yuhki Kamatani’s critically acclaimed Our Dreams at Dusk. Although it will likely not be a full series review (due to time restraints), I hope nonetheless that you will enjoy my final Pride Month post. Besides, I’ll probably return and do a full review anyway, just not in June. ‘Till then, friends, I’ll be looking forward to it!

– Takuto

Goodbye, My Rose Garden – A Poignant Victorian Romance Between Women || First Impressions

First impressions for volume 1 of the yuri manga series “Goodbye, My Rose Garden,” story and art by Dr. Pepperco, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment. Minor spoilers will be present. 


A Victorian Romance

England, the early 1900s. Hanako traverses the great seas to England to follow her dream of becoming a novelist. Things don’t work out quite as planned, however, and she finds herself saved by Lady Alice Douglas. The noblewoman offers Hanako a position as a personal maid, and their relationship is fairly normal . . . until the day Alice asks Hanako to kill her. Confused and distraught by her fair lady’s most unusual request, Hanako tries to figure out why her mistress would make such a shocking plea. As she reads deeper into the situation, Hanako and Alice grow closer until something miraculous begins to blossom between them.

Goodbye, My Rose Garden is a historical shoujo-ai drama that is certainly more than your average Victorian romance. Contained within this first volume are the initial attempts made by Hanako to understand her mistress, the reasons for Alice’s wish, and the struggles the two face living in 20th century England. Even with her bountiful library of books, vast intelligence, and enviable presence, Lady Alice still feels a pain that few other upper-class woman could even begin to understand. It is a pain of the heart, feelings of forbidden love: Alice likes women, but she cannot let anyone know or else risk tarnishing her entire family’s distinguished name.

Dr. Pepperco (interesting pen name) handles Alice’s situation with wonderful delicacy and respect. We see not only how Alice’s hidden desires stretch her to the breaking point, but also how her stress starts to take a toll on those who care about her, namely Hanako. One can tell just by the first few pages alone that creation of this manga was also incredibly well-researched. Dr. Pepperco nails the social nuances and public affairs of the time, down to the very stitch styling of the maid outfit’s shoulder fabric. I love the Victorian era for its aesthetics, but I would agree that it wasn’t the best time in history to desire a same-sex relationship.

Alice hug

A Passion For Literature, And Also . . .

The maids of Rosebarrow House are each fun and quirky on their own, but Japanese-born Hanako is by far the most interesting asset to Alice’s fine staff—it’s no wonder Alice takes a liking to her. What drew Alice to Hanako in the first place were her golden eyes. If Hanako’s eyes shine like the sun, Alice’s eyes reflect the deep sapphire blue of the endless sky. I love their character designs so much. (I’m a particular sucker for long blonde hair, so . . . ) Alice and Hanako really do make a cute, complete couple.

Throughout this first volume, we come to see some of Hanako’s hobbies and character traits. For one, she’s an avid reader of English literature, and aspires to be a novelist despite the limitations of the language barrier. Hanako is also innocent, hardworking, and very grateful to Alice for giving her a home in this foreign land. She may be a little naive (as in when she proclaims that “love is free” to a local bookshop owner after Alice tells her that first), but she means well, and only wishes for Alice to be free from her own pain.

To me, though, Alice carries the true heart of this series. To the public eye, she is everything a gentleman would want out of a mistress—what they don’t see is how lonely and sad her expressions become whenever her heart pains her. She calls herself a sinner, but her soul is beautiful and kind. Alice is well-read, well-respected, and highly valued within her elite circle of noblemen and women. But, she’s nothing like those greedy, wealthy pricks who think of nothing but their own reputation. Alice extends her grace to those in need, as she did Hanako, and always holds the value of others before her own well-being. I mean, she would rather choose death than risk ruining her family name. Always holding her head high, Alice is the rarest breed of royal, exhibiting authority and integrity just as much as she does compassion and empathy.

Alice library

Love Among the Thorns

Surprising things can blossom in the garden. Dr. Pepperco paints a vivid, highly detailed painting of Victorian England where, naturally, not all flowers are allowed to bloom under the sun. Historically, things like same-sex love must be kept in the dark. It’s unfortunate, and it’s sad. But it’s true to life, and whatever ending Dr. Pepperco has in store for Lady Alice and her handmaid Hanako, I’ll be in this one until the very end.

This is perhaps one of the most compelling and sincere historical dramas I’ve ever been invested in, and I can’t wait to see what feelings may unfold as the story goes on. Will it end as tragically as its dire, foreboding title tells, or will we perhaps be blessed with a saccharine sweet conclusion? Only time will tell for this poignant tale about two women falling in love in historical Britain.

alice umbrella


You have nothing to thank me for. I merely wish to believe that love is free. — Alice Douglas


Afterword

The first volume of Goodbye, My Rose Garden was even more lovely than I thought it’d be. And yet, it would seem to me that no one is talking about this yuri manga! Why is that?? It’s a wonderful title, even from this volume alone, and I can’t wait for the second to be released in July. If you’re one of the few who have decided to pick up this book, please do let me know what you thought about it in the comments. Surely I’m not the only one reading this marvelous series!

My next Pride Month post will be over Mita Ori’s highly anticipated Our Dining Table, which has been recommended to me like no other these past couple months! I look forward to reading it, and I hope you will stick around to read my thoughts. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Hitorijime My Hero: Unrequited Feelings & Forbidden Love || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode Summer 2017 anime “Hitorijime My Hero,” animated by Encourage Films, directed by Yukina Hiiro, and based on the manga by Memeco Arii.


Forbidden Love

Few teenagers are more hopeless than Masahiro Setagawa. The poor kid got roped in with the wrong crowd from a young age and now serves neighborhood thugs as their errand boy. He may have believed in heroes as a kid, but not anymore. His life takes a drastic turn one day when Kousuke Ooshiba, a local menace dubbed the “Bear Killer,” swoops in to take down the other gang members, saving Masahiro from their grueling low-life ways.

Time passes for Masahiro, and as he and his former friend Kensuke Ooshiba start attending high school, Masahiro is once again reunited with Kousuke—only this time, Masahiro is a student and his childhood hero has become his math teacher! First a hero, then a best friend’s older brother, and now “Mr. Ooshiba!?” To make matters even more complicated, Kensuke’s childhood friend, Asaya Hasekura, returns to his life with the request to be more than just friends this time around.

It’s starting to look busy in the Ooshiba household, and while Kousuke’s own feelings urge him to protect Masahiro like he once did, this sudden entanglement of the boys’ lives creates quite a complex web of relationships. As Kousuke’s lover, Masahiro will eventually have to decide for himself: to resign himself to his unrequited feelings, or to pursue a forbidden love.

This is one of those anime where the 3-episode rule most definitely doesn’t apply. The opening episodes of this shounen-ai school drama hone in on the relationship between Kensuke and Asaya, which is actually the parent story of Memeco Arii’s manga. After that quickly gets resolved, we shift the focus back to Kousuke and Masahiro’s “Teacher X Student” romance for the remainder of the series, which is significantly messier. Obviously, it’s an age-gap romance, which isn’t my thing personally, but at least the characters carry the weight of the show well . . . I mean, they do, right?

masahiro and kensuke

Poor, Poor Masahiro

I really need a shirt that says “Masahiro did nothing wrong, y’all are just bullies,” cause MAN, this guy has it rough. Living alone (save for his prostitute mother), Masahiro is one of those kids who was forced to grow up fast. While he cooks fantastic meals for Kensuke and his school friends and diligently cleans the Ooshiba household better than momma Ooshiba even could, these are conditioned responses. With his mother out every night, Masahiro has to cook for himself, and when she comes home a drunken mess, it’s Masahiro cleaning it all up the next morning. He doesn’t belong out on the streets with those thugs, but he doesn’t belong in his own home, either.

AND THEN you have a dude like Kousuke who comes in all grown-up and “mature” just to toy with Masahiro’s heart and throw him into gay panic mode. I don’t really know how to feel about Kousuke. Like, he knows Masahiro is immature in life and in love, and yet Kousuke continues to mislead Masahiro with his words episode, after episode, after episode. He’s supposed to be the “hot teacher seme,” I get it, but I couldn’t help but find some of his actions to be somewhat disrespectful.

The other couple of Hitorijime My Hero doesn’t make things much better for Masahiro. Kensuke is your typical fluffy uke who enjoys snacks and fun, innocently going about his friendships with the youthful naivete of a shounen protagonist. I suppose he is the first to accept Masahiro and his older brother’s forbidden love, which is heartwarming cause #family. And Asaya may be the best-looking boy in this series, but DAMN, the dude is HEARTLESS. I think it was supposed to be funny how Asaya would adamantly give Masahiro the cold shoulder and instead demand he cook for him, but I never laughed. (The other male classmates also used him like this, umm, the heck??) All the guys in Hitorijime My Hero besides Masahiro just felt so selfish. Fear not, there’s a happy ending waiting for everyone, but the road to getting a smiling Masahiro has its fair share of irritating bumps.

hitorijime school

Big-Chill BL Energy

Let’s talk art. Encourage Films is a new studio for me, but Hitorijime My Hero appears to be their leading title—and that’d make sense, because the series is one good-looking BL anime. Seeing Memeco Arii’s original character designs fully animated and chasing after their lovers is really something special. Had I watched this series years ago, I probably would’ve fell even harder for the characters. If you’re wanting a more down-to-earth shounen-ai romance, I would pass Hitorijime My Hero based solely on animation alone.

The entire soundtrack is also fits the mellow vibe of the series. Takeshi Senoo (most notably known for his work on the equally chill Aria the Animation) provides amazing orchestral magic to accompany the drama of the series. He balances the slice-of-life energy of quiet lo-fi beats with the more intense romantic pull of gentle string harmonies, almost as if the OST were for a feature film and not a series. It’s simply wonderful, just like the aesthetically pleasing OP “Heart Signal” by Wataru Hatano and the soft ED theme “TRUE LOVE,” which is sung by the various seiyuus from the series.

Now, it IS Pride Month, and it’d be a crime if I didn’t give special praise to the incredible dub directed by none other than David Wald! (He also directed the Love Stage!! dub and voices the bartender in this show!) Austin Tindle’s Masahiro is just a friggin’ gem, I love how nervous and klutzy he sounds all the time! David Matranga’s Kousuke is BIG SEXY energy (the way he said the F word, woah), which feels surprisingly natural for his character. Hearing Daman Mills as pretty boy Asaya was the biggest surprise for me, and I love how he kept the guy so snide and cruel towards others but would call Kensuke nicknames like “babe” and “Kenny” like it was nothing. Speaking of, Alejandro Saab can do NO WRONG as Kensuke, the purest boi!! Even if the characters were hit-or-miss for me at times, I cannot deny that they had superb VAs behind the mic with excellent scripts to follow, too.

masahiro crying

Not the Best, But a Huge Step Up

While I seem to be pulling these LGBT titles out left and right, I actually haven’t watched that many BL anime. Maybe that’s because I know that BL anime kinda have a rep for not being nearly as good (or respectful) as their manga counterparts. That said, I’m not trashing BL anime (if anything, we can only use more!), but Hitorijime My Hero feels like a huge step in the right direction.

Despite the rudeness of the characters towards poor Masahiro, Hitorijime My Hero feels like a very real, human story (unlike the absurd comedy that is Love Stage!!). I know friends who have gone through exactly what Masahiro did, and maybe that’s why I felt so strongly for this kid. He’s a real boy. Fictional, but also just like that one confused, caring, love-struck individual we may know in our own lives—and even through smiles, that person doesn’t actually have the happiest life. It happens, but if we can be there for people like Masahiro—much as how Kousuke, Kensuke, and everyone else was there for him—hopefully we can become our own kind of hero for these people.

masahiro and kousuke night


Don’t worry about what the world wants from you–worry about the world you want. Sometimes, when your heart is telling you what it wants, you just have to listen. — Kousuke Ooshiba


Afterword

I feel like I did this one dirty, but sometimes you just gotta call ’em out when you see it. (I mean, I get that Kousuke was a “bad boy,” but he literally BROKE A GLASS DOOR to enter Masahiro’s apartment JUST because he didn’t answer his phone, I can’t with this guy.) But what did you think of Hitorijime My Hero? Do you also stan Masahiro or did you think he had it coming for him? Let me know down in the comments. I welcome Hitorijime My Hero as a “Coffee” title, and recommend it if you’re looking for a BL anime that’s probably better than most, but still not as good as Love Stage!! IMO. Maybe I’m wrong—you tell me!

My next Pride Month post will be over another yuri manga, the first volume of Dr. Pepperco’s Goodbye, My Rose Garden, so please look forward to that! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up: Gentle Romance & Silly Humor || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the standalone yuri manga “I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up,” story and art by Kodama Naoko, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.


A Sham Marriage

Young Japanese professional woman Morimoto wishes nothing more than for her parents to stop trying to get her to marry a man and settle down. Out of no where, her friend from high school, Hana (whom she’s been rooming with), offers to be her wife in a sham marriage. Certainly, this will be enough to deter Morimoto’s parents, right? Well, it works, but this “fake” marriage could now end up drawing out something very real between Morimoto and Hana.

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up is just as absurd as it sounds. Two adult women (one of which is out as a lesbian) decide to enter a sham marriage by obtaining a same-sex partnership certificate, and all with the intent of warding off Morimoto’s very traditional parents. The way Morimoto and Hana cohabitate is very peaceful and heartwarming, and I like to think that this one’s a round of “josei justice” what with the way these ladies decide to counter the obstacles in their life (including Morimoto’s homophobic parents and the return of Hana’s ex) by showing the world their love. It’s a simple little story that is resolved in three short chapters, but I found it to be a nice showcase of genuine love between two women.

Also simple is Kodama Naoko’s art that accompanies Morimoto and Hana’s story. The manga paneling is spacious and flows well, making it not only easy to read but also a pretty quick one, too. Minimalist backgrounds allows the characters to pop off the page very well. While I do personally prefer more detailed art, Kodama Naoko’s character designs (most notably the hair styling) create a memorable impression of the characters, even if chibi expressions are used for half the book.

morimoto and hana bed

From Roommates to Something More

On the surface, there’s not much that makes Morimoto stand out from the average businesswoman working long hours in the office. A deeper look shows that she really tries hard at her job, however, and that she’s determined to not let being a woman stop her from turning out better numbers than any of her coworkers. Kodama Naoko just barely dips into this sexist workplace commentary enough to make the reader feel for Morimoto’s position.

Her personal life is even more depressing. Morimoto is awkward in dating as a result of being raised by parents who neglected the importance of forming close, meaningful relationships that weren’t based solely on achieving success later in life. This is why having someone like Hana to welcome her home every day is so important—for all we know, these two only have each other to look out for and care for. In fact, there’s a scene where Morimoto stands up to her mom that I thought was very cool, but the best part was that she didn’t do it for herself. She stood up for Hana, for their relationship, and for their mutual love as women. Slowly, Morimoto starts to surprise herself with the amount of control she is finally exerting in her own life, and it’s satisfying to see.

As for Hana, she’s a funny lesbian who doesn’t take no for an answer. But she’s definitely more than a fluffy girl. Hana is just as hardworking and determined as Morimoto can be, and she works tirelessly all day maintaining the apartment and working on her freelance art. She never forces her love on Morimoto, and I appreciated her because of the way she truly cares for her. Maybe one of these days her roommate will come home and Hana can hear from Morimoto’s lips the words she’s been longing to hear since high school: “I like you, too.”

hana

A Sweet, Simple Yuri Read

Short and sweet, I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up accomplished exactly what it set out to do. I suppose it is worth mentioning that also included with Seven Seas’ release is a one-off chapter (also by Kodama) titled “Anaerobic Love,” which features two entirely different girls and their budding romance as elite athletes. It ain’t much, but it’s alright. The real meat of this book lies with Morimoto and Hana’s relationship, and even that isn’t anything too serious.

As yuri title about a straight businesswoman and her gay roommate, I couldn’t help but feel that the story needed more realism to truly stand out against the crowd (that or more chapters). But, I suppose that would defeat the purpose of it being a light shoujo-ai read. If you’re looking for a yuri romance with gentle romance and silly humor, I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up may be just the manga you’ve been looking for.

morimoto and hana hug


I’ve spent my whole life obsessing over the “right answer.” Maybe that’s why I’ve never really considered my own desires . . . my job . . . who I like . . . — Morimoto Machi


Afterword

This was such a pleasant read, and I’m glad I picked something on the lighter side for my first yuri manga. It does help that I’m already biased towards the josei demographic, and that this is a story about adult women and not high school kids, though. I’ll happily welcome I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up as a “Coffee” title here at the cafe, as it’s nothing super substantial, but it’s still sweet enough to recommend to people. You’ll have to let me know your thoughts on this new Seven Seas title down in the comments!

Pride Month is coming to a close, but we’re not done yet! My next read will be over the anime Hitorijime My Hero, so please look forward to it. Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Escape Journey: Chasing After Love in a Heteronormative World || Review

A brief review of the 3-volume BL manga series “Escape Journey,” story and art by Ogeretsu Tanaka, and licensed in English by SuBLime Manga. MINOR SPOILERS for Volume 1 will be present.


A Rough Ride

Naoto’s first day of college was turning up roses—until he unexpectedly comes across his high school ex, Taichi, whom he’d dumped after a huge argument. Even though time has healed some wounds, not all scars fade, and Naoto slowly finds himself irresistibly drawn to Taichi once again after seeing just how much he has matured. When another girl, Fumi, starts to take an interest in Taichi, however, the secret bond between two men is tested.

Most of this yaoi drama’s main story is resolved by the first volume. Volume one takes us through Naoto and Taichi’s reunion into each other’s life, the push and pull of their churning relationship, and, of course, several rounds of make-up sex. In fact, Taichi always seems so ready to get dick-down that it leads Naoto to believe that all he wants from their relationship now is sexual satisfaction. We know that’s not true, but it takes several chapters (and meeting Fumi) to get Taichi to open up about his family situation.

By the end of the first volume, Naoto and Taichi have made up, and all’s well that ends well. You could even stop here if you feel satisfied enough with Escape Journey. What are volumes two and three about, then? The second volume introduces Nishina, an in-the-closet art student, whose unfortunate experiences with a past love causes envy of Naoto and Taichi’s relationship (and lots of trouble, no doubt).

Lastly, the third volume completes the story with the last couple chapters, ending their school festival and providing an aftermath for our characters. Despite all the heartache leading up to this volume, the ending is lovely and highly satisfying. If you’re in this one for all three volumes, just make sure to buckle up—this one’s a bit of a rough ride!

escape journey bike

Friends for Life

For most readers, Naoto (the one wearing glasses) will be a mixed bag of a protagonist. On one hand, he’s sweet, extroverted, and cares deeply about his friendships (which are essential to the story). On the other, he’s a cheeky, obnoxious brat and totally a little shit towards his peers. I will admit that I didn’t appreciate Naoto at first, but he did grow on me as the series went on. Perhaps that’s because other characters (notably Taichi and Nishina) start to notice what they like about Naoto, which becomes apparent to the reader. Or, maybe it’s due to the immense character growth that Naoto undergoes. The kid really comes far, and it’s nice to see him learn when it’s appropriate to joke around and when a guy should take a person’s feelings seriously.

About Taichi, he’ll also be a toss-up for most readers. To fully appreciate him, it took A LOT of getting to know Taichi’s home life situation, which can be frustrating to wait for. It sure doesn’t help that his introduction is a flashback where he calls Naoto just a “fuck buddy” he used to blow off steam with, and that he mistakenly forces himself onto Naoto in the middle of the first book (which he regrets, but still). Whereas Naoto is a well-known ladies’ man, Taichi is the popular, handsome, stoic dude that all the girls look up to. Even though all his friends would choose Taichi, I still find Naoto to be the cutest character in the series.

One last annoying character quirk that I found with these two was how, like most BL written by women, none of the men actually claim to be gay. That is, they’re in denial of liking other men, but make exceptions for their one true love. It’s whatever at this point, but especially with this manga, Naoto can seem unconvincingly “straight” at times.

On the good side, however, I really, reeaaallly like Naoto’s friends, specifically the female characters. Fumi turns out to be such a sweetheart who ends up supporting Naoto and Taichi’s relationship, and Mika-rin is ABSOLUTELY every gay’s best friend. I loved every scene with Mika-rin and Naoto getting loud and drunk together, and her finding out about Naoto and Taichi’s relationship in the final volume made my heart completely melt. Even Nishina, though a disruption, isn’t wholly a bad guy. So yeah, Escape Journey has friends for life!

escape journey aquarium

What Comes After Love . . . ?

Despite having only three volumes, Escape Journey is densely packed with text bubbles and hyper-detailed backgrounds. Ogeretsu Tanaka also draws her tall, beautiful bishounens (and their sex) with an amazing range of expressions. If smut is all you want, you won’t be disappointed, trust me. But, there’s so much more to Escape Journey than pretty boys and steamy sex scenes. Naoto and Taichi come a long way, both as a couple and as human beings trying to understand people better.

What I found even more enjoyable about this read, however, was how Ogeretsu Tanaka confronts the issue of gay lovers wanting to run away from their heteronormative society (hence the name, Escape Journey). She explores options for gay couples in Japan, including buying an apartment together, getting married, and adopting a child, but also the rejection (or acceptance) an individual can face by coming out to their family. Some musings are more bleak than others, but the ending is a powerful and satisfying one. More than obsessing over creating a positive outlook for Naoto and Taichi’s future together, Tanaka’s story feels very real, and I respect it for that.

For most gay lovers in this heteronormative world, the road to happiness is lined with bumps, divots, and many rough patches. Not all people will expect or accept this kind of relationship, and that’s just something you’ll have to move past. Even if the journey is a hard one, the destination can be incredibly satisfying when the right people come along for the ride.

Naoto and Taichi’s love will continue to spur on their little fights, but like most old married couples, I’m sure the two will be able to work things out so long as they remember why they set out on this emotional journey together in the first place. As to what comes after love, who really cares—Naoto and Taichi have an entire lifetime ahead of them to figure that out.

escape journey riding


I know that our relationship isn’t something that will be universally accepted. We should expected people to wish us well . . . But deep down inside, I can’t help but wish people would just see us and accept us for who we are. — Taichi Hase


Afterword

And there’s another phenomenal BL read about self-acceptance and coming out that I ended up enjoying much more than I thought I would. This recommendation came from Simply Gee over on YouTube, so I really have her to thank for this little series. In case you’re wondering if you should read it too, Escape Journey is a “Cake” title here at the cafe. I found the main characters to be annoying at times, especially when they’d get into little spats (which is part of their flaw, I realize). Still, you should read it if you’re searching for a solid [EXPLICIT] yaoi series that looks at relationships beyond the dating phase. It’s great, especially for a college romance.

For my next Pride Month post, I’ll be diving into some yuri with I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up, so please look forward to that. Be sure to share your thoughts on Escape Journey with me down in the comments, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Love Stage!! – A Coming-Out Worth Celebrating || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode Summer 2014 anime “Love Stage!!,” animated by J.C.Staff, directed by Kenichi Kasai, and based on the manga by Eiki Eiki.


A Shocking Reunion

Izumi Sena comes from noble blood. Not the stuff of knights and kings, but family fame. His mom’s a famous actress, his father’s a successful producer, and his loud, obnoxious older brother is currently Tokyo’s biggest rockstar. It would surprise anyone to hear that the youngest Sena wasn’t in showbiz. But Izumi didn’t ask for any of this. Instead, Izumi aims to become a manga artist, despite possessing no talent for the craft! In fact, the only way he’s been able to completely avoid the limelight is thanks to his reclusive otaku hobbies.

I suppose “completely” isn’t the right word, though. Technically, Izumi cross-dressed as a girl for a wedding commercial skit ten years ago, which still haunts him to this day. But, a decade after the shoot, the same wedding company wishes to put together a 10th anniversary ad—and staring the original child actors for the project, no less!

This reunites Izumi with Ryouma Ichijou, who’s gone on to become a popular actor. Little does Izumi know that Ryouma’s been looking forward to this day ever since he fell in love the first time they met! As he did then, however, Izumi’s feminine appearance and unisex name still have Ryouma believing that little boy was actually a girl. BUT, even after discovering the truth, Ryouma can’t seem to shake off his feelings. Thus kicks off a series of troubles for Izumi’s big coming out—and in more ways than one.

Love Stage!! is a short romance comedy series based off the original BL manga. Most of the fun in watching comes from the hilarious drama that ensues between Izumi and Ryouma. Whether you’re a fan of BL or not, these two idiots will make you squirm and squeal—and I mean that in a good way. They’re genuinely funny and good-natured, as well as have an amazing chemistry together (even if their initial meeting would technically be viewed as an assault).

Even then, Ryouma spends the entire series redeeming himself and righting this wrong by actively trying to support Izumi and his personal endeavors. Ryouma loves Izumi, no two ways about it. It now becomes a matter of whether Izumi is willing to return that affection or deny the country’s favorite rising star actor.

izumi and ryouma romance

Lovable Leads, Hilarious Heart

As I mentioned above, the leads of Love Stage!! are easily what make this series so enjoyable and accessible, too. Izumi is a lovable character. His earnest dreams of being a mangaka (when clearly he has no skill whatsoever) probably ring true to many fellow otaku. Izumi just wants to give back to the medium that has given him so much, and his pursuit is a noble one, if not a tad far-fetched. Still, he works tirelessly and dedicates his entire being to making the manga of his dreams, and I admire his unwavering perseverance.

In contrast to Izumi’s cute appearance and large round eyes, Ryouma’s leading features are his charm and captivating presence. The guy is straight SEXY, no doubt about it. But, as we get to know him beyond his actor persona, we see that he’s also just as hardworking and determined to achieve his dreams as Izumi. This includes, of course, getting together with the crush of his childhood.

There’s this ongoing gag in the series that Ryouma is bad at everything he does for the first time, but quickly improves with dedication and experience. Whether allowing people to meet his true self, making friends, or moving things to the bedroom (heh heh), you can only imagine the hilarious outcomes from Ryouma’s “first time” with anything!

The two also have their own family, friends, and industry rivals that spark plenty of entertaining dialogue. For instance, the Sena family manager, Rei Sagara, has a no-nonsense tolerance for anyone’s shit (except when he’s willing to let cute little Izumi slide past him). As a caretaker of sorts, Rei acts more as a doting mother than his own mom, which I suppose doesn’t say much since she’s so full of herself (in the most fabulous way possible). As he realizes his own feelings, Izumi slowly starts coming to Rei with all his questions about life, love, and sex with another man. Their relationship is adorable and handled with surprisingly good guidance.

Rei also helps manage the relationships between Izumi and his brash brother, Shougo, Ryouma’s own manager Shino, and even Ryouma himself sometimes! He’s seriously great, and as the series progresses, we find that many of the cast actually share relationships with one another behind closed doors. Such developments really up the character drama and intrigue!

izumi rei shougo

The Best-Looking (and Sounding) BL Anime

I admittedly haven’t seen much BL anime, but from what I understand, this has got to be one of the best currently out on the market. J.C.Staff really went ham on this one. Bright colors constantly dominate the screen, enhancing the light romantic feel for the series. The characters themselves look very attractive, what with their bold expressions, blushy cheeks, and rainbow-colored hair and eyes. It’s nice to see a simple BL anime adaptation look just as amazing as most other high quality rom-com titles.

A lot of people don’t talk about it, but the music is also shockingly good. Yes, the ED “CLICK YOUR HEART!!” by Kazutomi Yamamoto is an absolute bop, but I’m talking about the OST. Composer Ryousuke Nakanishi is probably most famous for his work on The Devil is a Part-Timer!, so you already know he’s got the balance between comedy and drama down pat. I often found the music to carry the emotions almost better than the dazzling visuals did—but then again, I would be remissed if I didn’t talk about the fantastic English dub performances.

This is probably THE best Sentai Filmworks Dub I’ve ever listened to, PERIOD. (Ok, maybe one of them. They’ve really knocked it outta the park recently!) Even with his squeaky voice, Greg Ayres does a fantastic Izumi, providing just the right tinge of embarrassment and self-pride for each of Izumi’s little stunts. Adam Gibbs’ Ryouma is the real winner here, though, cause MY GOD, this man made even me all hot and bothered. Gibbs sounds just as brash and big-headed when he should, but also shows off a softer, more innocent side to Ryouma that is just as captivating as his ambitious, energetic side. Izumi and Ryouma were perfectly cast!

But it doesn’t stop there. David Wald—who graciously lent his own experience as a gay man to bring this dub to life—not only directed Love Stage!!, but also voices Rei Sagara with a snappy, matter-of-fact voice that only he could bring. It’s also always a pleasure to hear John Swasey doing the dad thing as the illustrious Seiya Sena, and the very same to Monica Rial’s lovely (if not hilariously self-absorbed) Nagisa Sena. Lastly, Tia Ballard is sprinkled around as various voices, and she’s always a pleasure to hear in any capacity!

izumi ryouma young

A Coming Out to Celebrate

I honestly came into Love Stage!! thinking it’d be a lot more problematic than it was. Thankfully, I found the series to be one of the most fun watches I’ve enjoyed in quite some time. While it has a somewhat rough start, Love Stage!! only gets better as the plot progresses. Almost everyone in the cast means well to one another, and it’s heartwarming to see so many icons watching each others’ backs. My only wish was that we got a second season to complete the story, as these 10 episodes (plus the hysterical OVA) adapt half the completed manga story.

Whether you’re gay, straight, or somewhere in between, you’ll probably love this series if anime rom-coms in general are your thing. The visuals are extremely pretty, the music’s wonderful, and the English dub is cooked to gay perfection (should you choose to eat your anime this way). I know it was a fight to get this thing dubbed, but BOY did they it to ’em, and for that reason alone I find that Love Stage!! is a coming out worth celebrating.

izumi and ryouma close up


Somewhere in this world, there is a door that leads me to my dreams. I don’t know where that door is. I may not find it in my entire life. And even if I do find it, it may be locked to me . . . — Izumi Sena


Afterword

As a blossoming adult, a budding actor, and definitely a gay man, Izumi’s big coming out story is full of ups and downs. I really cannot recommend this series enough, especially now that I’ve finally seen it! So cute, and sooo good!! Because the story has yet to truly finish, I’ll welcome Love Stage!! as a “Cake” here at the cafe, a title too sweet to miss out on—and especially that dub though, wow, we’re really making history! I’m late to the party, but you should let me know your thoughts on the series down in the comments for sure! I think this would make a great intro title to anyone new to BL. My next Pride Month post will be over Ogeretsu Tanaka’s Escape Journey, so please look forward to that. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

That Blue Sky Feeling: Preciously Queer & Wholeheartedly Delightful || Review

A brief review of the 3-volume manga series “That Blue Sky Feeling,” story by Okura, art by Coma Hashii,, and licensed in English by Viz Media. MINOR SPOILERS for Volume 1 will be present.


Have You Heard the Rumors?

High school transfer student Noshiro may seem like a cool and outgoing guy to his new classmates, but Noshiro’s big, bumbling heart is his best feature. Although he’s inexperienced in love, he finds himself drawn to Sanada, the school outcast, who is rumored to be gay. While most would get squeamish at the thought, the rumor only further fuels Noshiro’s interest and determination to get close to Sanada. Set in motion is a bittersweet tale of self-discovery, friendship, and first love.

Marketed under the shounen demographic, this school romance drew a lot of its appeal from the relatable character drama presented and Coma Hashii’s soft and cute character designs. With only three volumes, the story reads quickly, but methodically guides us through Noshiro and Sanada’s entire first year together as classmates. Showcased are the attempts made by Noshiro to become friends with Sanada, all of the ups and downs of this rocky relationship, the misunderstandings, and the persistent efforts to grow closer.

From the start, this seemingly simple story of exploring a rumor opens up to much larger contexts, including social pressures and the meaning of “being gay” itself. Using Noshiro’s naivete as a lens for self-questioning, Okura has carefully crafted a cast of characters that investigate the notions of sexuality, attraction, and “liking”—and largely without even being aware of it! This is the kind of title that doesn’t break boundaries so much as explore how these boundaries form, why they do, and how people are affected by them.

noshiro and sanada

Straight, Gay, and Curious

Dai Noshiro is the open-book kind of character. He’s silly, easily approachable, and loud, which (often to Sanada’s dismay) attracts a huge crowd wherever he goes. It’s refreshing to have a lead character in this type of story who isn’t some tall and skinny bishounen. If anything, being built and a little on the round side (or as Sanada calls him, a “country potato”) is celebrated in That Blue Sky Feeling as a body type that characters like Sanada and energetic underclassman Morinaga actually hold as a preference. This definitely met my approval!

Having a guy like Noshiro who knows virtually nothing about the LGBT community (or relationships for that matter) makes him the perfect voice for Okura’s discussion on what it means to be a closeted gay kid—or being gay in general. Noshiro is new to this kind of thing. He straight . . . or, at least, he thinks so—he hasn’t ever given relationships much thought. But we know he’s uneasy, curious even, and I can’t blame him. This really is a smart move on Okura’s part, as now Noshiro functions both as a likable MC and a subtle proxy for self-exploration. Nothing in That Blue Sky Feeling is forced. Like clouds, these musings come and go, occasionally bringing a little rain or blocking out the sun.

Then there’s Kou Sanada. As the quiet closeted kid, Sanada strays away from anything that would draw attention: sports, clubs, even leisurely activities like swimming. He’s standoffish, dismissive, and get’s irritated easily. Sounds like no one would like him, right? Well, that’s where I was wrong, too. Sanada is just misunderstood. He doesn’t fit in with the other boys because he often can’t relate to any of them without fearing they’d leave him for thinking he’s weird. I mean, how regularly do you see gay people hanging out alone with their straight friends of the same gender? I suppose it’s different for everybody, but I get why Sanada distances himself. (I JUST WANT MY SLEEPY BOY TO BE HAPPY.)

If any part of Sanada will be a mixed bag, it’s his past relationship . . . with a 26-year-old man named Hide. I don’t think Okura is trying to condone pedophilia, but Sanada and Hide really did go out, and Hide’s not afraid to poke fun at their past together. Now, hear me when I say that Hide is genuinely a good guy. He serves as a mentor of sorts to Noshiro when it comes to gay stuff, and he only aims to help, not harm. I was uneasy about Hide at first, but—thankfully—I ended up being wrong about him.

dai pushing chair

Subtlety is Blue Sky‘s Greatest Strength

Okura’s story is wonderful, truly, but the biggest draw to That Blue Sky Feeling would easily be Coma Hashii’s art. The series has this wondrously soft aura to it, which is in no surprise thanks to Hashii’s character designs. Fun fact: The Blue Sky I am able to enjoy now is actually a remake of Okura’s original web comic series. When a book publication was announced, Okura brought on Hashii to redraw the entire series with greater quality art and the gentle touch Blue Sky is now beloved for.

Sanada and his dear childhood friend and classmate, a girl named Ayumi Yamamoto, are drawn with a slimmer build and bigger eyes. (Sanada’s cat-like design really accentuates his sleepy aura.) Other characters like Noshiro and Hide are noticably more rotund but still very cute. Like the story itself, the character expressions are never overdone, and that subtlety works to Okura’s writing immensely. I mean, a character turning away from someone—only to reveal bright blush marks on their cheeks—can speak where words wouldn’t quite do those feelings justice.

kou blushing

Unexpectedly Falling in Love

What does it mean to be normal? What does it mean to be weird? Navigating through the complexities of making friends as a young homosexual in a heteronormative world, That Blue Sky Feeling handles first love and the notion of “inexperience” with surprising delicacy and innocence. Even when things get heated, the characters try to better themselves by digging deep within and honestly asking what it is they want, and how they can present their truest self to others.

Everyone in That Blue Sky Feeling has an unbelievably pure heart. Just as prominent as the exploration into friendship, liking, and being gay is the theme of unrequited feelings. For a series to have such a tangled web of complex feelings, Blue Sky‘s characters hold their heads high and continue to remain friends despite all odds. This kind of content is the exact opposite of “toxic,” and is the reason I fell in love with Noshiro, Sanada, Ayumi, and everyone else.

As the gap between Noshiro and Sanada slowly shrinks, we come to see how two very different high school boys can find themselves unexpectedly falling for one another. Noshiro quickly finds that, perhaps, labels aren’t suited for everything, especially people and relationships. Wishing only for the happiness of these kids, That Blue Sky Feeling is preciously queer and wholeheartedly delightful.

sanada whisper


What does it mean to like someone? Going out. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. I never thought about it, never worried about it. Until I met Kou Sanada — Dai Noshiro


Afterword

Guys, I love this manga with all my heart. ALL MY HEART. If you couldn’t already tell, that means That Blue Sky Feeling is another certified “Cafe Mocha” for me! I can see why people may find Hide and the age gap to be a turn-off, but that kind of stuff happens in real life, too, and we eventually have to move past it. I love Noshiro’s loudness, Ayumi’s sweetness, and grew quite fond of Sanada’s character. (He really is charming when you get to know him!) Viz’s releases of this series are also pretty in pastel colors, I’m so thankful to them for such pleasant publications!

But I’ve talked enough, what did you think of That Blue Sky Feeling? Let me know in the comments. To shake things up, my next Pride Month post will be over the anime Love Stage!!, so please look forward to it! Thanks for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

Melting Lover: The Shadowy Side of Affection || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the standalone yaoi anthology manga “Melting Lover,” stories and art by Bukuro Yamada, and licensed in English by KUMA.


Four Short Supernatural Stories

“A bond of love is a beautiful thing, but what happens when outside pressures force it into forms both strange and strained?”

The first story of this anthology, “Melting Lover,” puts us in the apartment of a young man who encounters a shape-shifting blob that can take the form of his high school beloved. An energetic uke, Riku does whatever he can to perfectly imitate Keisuke’s lover for his pleasure. However, Riku’s personal love for Keisuke also leads him to acting on his own, which angers Keisuke. It’s a relationship that seems broken from the start, but actually ends with pleasant messages of moving on. (And, you know, a cute and steamy bonus chapter.)

Yamada’s second story, “Bottom of Heaven,” walks us through the life of Ezaki, a mafia hitman who swore off pleasure but can’t seem to leave behind the fun-loving angel, Sylvan, who follows him on his jobs. This story definitely had the most character depth, as well as one of the more interesting character dynamics. Although it’s kind of a sad story, the surprising twist at the ending imparts a wholesome feeling of redemption. It’s great, even if it makes you think a bit.

The most divisive story here would easily be the third, “The Circus After Midnight.” Divided into two chapters, we follow young Luce, a new circus recruit who trains to become a dancer for their ringmaster. Luce eagerly awaits his new life, including getting to know his circus roommate and resident beast-tamer Yan. Unbeknownst to Yan (who holds his own deadly secret), Luce has been serving the ringmaster in other ways against his will. Grim yet compelling, this loss of innocence tale shows how two men grow as they struggle to understand one another’s unfortunate circumstances. (NOTE that while it’s pretty ok, it does include themes of rape and abuse.)

Lastly, “Noisy Jungle” takes us to the far future with a kind android, Yumeo, and his human pet, Pochi. Despite being the shortest and most shallow (and most explicit), I probably enjoyed the premise of this one the most. Especially coming out of the dark circus setting, Yumeo and Pochi’s sci-fi world is clean and bright. I was reminded of No. 6, another shounen-ai series that I really love. The relationship here is also super cute, as Yumeo’s practical android self finds his programming malfunctioning whenever Pochi looks at him with his big round eyes. It’s explicit, it’s sci-fi, and I only wish it was longer!

melting lover

Dark Subjects with a Gentle Touch

Melting Lover is special to me because it serves as my first yaoi manga anthology read. Bukuro Yamada is able to explore these darker topics (obsession, anhedonia, abuse) in relation to love without feeling too heavy thanks to her soft, sketch-style art. While I found some panels to be a bit too loosely drawn to comprehend what they were, all of Yamada’s characters are drawn sweetly and with a gentle touch.

Also noteworthy is the publication itself. As their first official release, KUMA’s publication of Melting Lover features an aesthetically pleasing matte sleeve and quality printing on sturdy paper. It’s a thick, weighty little book, and the cover art was what drew me to buying it in the first place!

Some stories featured in Melting Lover were clearly stronger than others for me, and I can easily understand why someone may find the whole book to be a turn-off. It really comes down to a matter of subject and, of course, whether you like reading explicit BL. For as short a book as it was, however, I’d say it was a worthwhile read. Just know what you’re getting into with each short story, and you’ll probably end up enjoying Bukuro Yamada’s musings on love—as well as the shadowy side of affection. Oddly engrossing and reflective, Melting Lover includes four short BL stories, each dark and lovely in their own way.

melting lover color


I’m a hedonist. I choose what makes me feel best. And I want to be with you. — Sylvan


Afterword

I think this is one of the shortest reviews I’ve ever written, but oh well, shorter reads are good sometimes. KUMA’s first physical publication of Melting Lover is exceptionally wonderful, and Bukuro Yamada’s stories themselves are decent. I’ll welcome Melting Lover as a “Coffee” title here at the cafe and recommend it only if you’re looking for some darker supernatural BL (and don’t mind short story format, of course). There isn’t much talk about Melting Lover these days, so if you’re one of the few who’ve read it, definitely let me know your thoughts!

June is halfway done, can you believe it? My next Pride Month post will be over the highly anticipated That Sky Blue Feeling, so please look forward to that. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid & Coping With Reality || OWLS “Mindfulness”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s sixth monthly topic of 2020, “Mindfulness,” I wanted to take a breather and share some of my loose thoughts on a title that I’m quite late to the game to, but am enjoying nonetheless: the much-beloved Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. 

If we don’t take care of our minds and souls, we will always be in pain.

For the past few months, things have been pretty hectic. Everyone’s lives have changed to some degree, and we can’t help but feel anxious, nervous, and overwhelmed. This month we will be focusing on ourselves and keeping a strong peace of mind with our theme, “Mindfulness.” We will be analyzing characters that have crafted and practiced their own philosophy on life and have spread their beliefs to others. We will also be talking about habits, hobbies, and things that are keeping us sane, positive, and peace within our souls.

I find that mindfulness can apply to many other wonderful shows out there, so it was tough picking just one. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

kobayashi tooru teeth


A brief discussion of the 13-episode Winter 2017 anime series “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid,” animated by Kyoto Animation, directed by Yasuhiro Takemoto, and based on the manga of the same name by Coolkyousinnjya.

Bound by Love and Servitude

It’s another hangover kind of morning for stoic programmer Kobayashi, only on this particular day, she is greeted at the front door of her apartment by a giant green dragon with shiny scales and sharp, saliva-drenched teeth. The dragon suddenly changes to the form of a young busty woman in a maid outfit, and aside from her horns and the green tail behind her, she appears relatively normal. The energetic maid’s name is Tooru, and she’s come to work for Kobayashi for free.

A trip down memory lane has Kobayashi recalling that—in a drunken stupor the previous night—she had invited Tooru to stay at her place. Kobayashi was the first to show Tooru kindness since entering the human world, and Tooru plans to serve her savior with a genuine love to return that compassion. Although plenty hesitant, Kobayashi decides to welcome the energetic maidservant out of both guilt and a curiosity for Tooru’s superior dragon powers.

Tooru’s unconventional powers prove astonishingly useful in Kobayashi’s average Japanese life. What Kobayashi wasn’t expecting was, however, was for Tooru’s dragon powers to attract other mythical beings from the world of magic. A cute dragon, a fun dragon, a stern dragon, and surely more to come, Kobayashi’s little apartment slowly starts to feel more crammed—and yet, a little more like home, too.

tooru and kobayashi meet

Coping at Kobayashi’s Place

A bunch of magical creatures may have crashed her apartment, but Kobayashi doesn’t stop that from throwing off her day. She tries to end her long days in the office with a round of drinks, which usually entails her otaku co-worker Takiya joining her. Together they engage in playful arguments that serve to vent stress. Afterwards, she crashes, and leaves the repercussions of her binge drinking for tomorrow’s problems. Unlike most, drinking doesn’t leave Kobayashi overly grumpy and hangry, which is good for her new roommates and friends!

Speaking of, Tooru manages pretty well as a dragon maid. There’s always plenty to clean, and with guests coming and going from the apartment, Tooru’s diligent maid service comes in handy. Often, she is able to express her love for Kobayashi by finding unorthodox solutions to common problems. Whether rinsing the laundry with her stain-removing saliva or clearing rainy skies with a terrifying burst of fire power, Tooru only serves to please Kobayashi in any way she can. Tooru also looks past the gender norms of same-sex couples and loves her master with all her heart, to which Kobayashi returns with warm affection. (Happy Pride Month, y’all!)

Kanna is the third to join Kobayashi’s growing family, and arguably undergoes the most change as a result of being such a young dragon. She enjoys people-watching, fighting to the death with Tooru playing, and sleeping. Kanna also takes an interest in making new friends, to which Kobayashi and Tooru help her enroll in elementary school. Attending class with the other kids makes Kanna feel like she has a place to belong outside Tooru’s wingspan. The poor kid was (temporarily) kicked out of the magical world for pulling a harmless prank, after all, so any chance she can play again with others she takes. Coloring, crafting, and running around with her classmates is a way for Kanna to momentarily forget the pain of her banishment.

Lastly, there’s Tooru’s mentor friends from back home, Lucoa and Fafnir. The dragon goddess from legend itself who got drunk and caused a scandal, Quetzalcoatl “Lucoa” takes a liking to a young chuuni boy after he “summons her” from the other realm. Lucoa plays along, enjoying both his company and the fact that she’s only a short flight away from the girls Kobayashi’s apartment. Fafnir winds up rooming with Takiya after they bond over video games, and although he’s still cautious around humans, Takiya seems alright enough. Through the gaming community, Fafnir learns to relax a bit and accept that not all humans should be burnt to cinders (which trust me—it’s a big step for him)!

fafnir and takiya

A House Becomes a Home

As a slice-of-life comedy with a splash of fantasy, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is just as fun as it sounds. The characters get themselves wrapped up in all kinds of daily matters as they try to adjust to their new home on Earth, and the results are as heartwarming as they are hilarious. It’s great, and I get why everyone loves this series.

While I’ve only seen the first seven episodes, I can tell that this is one of those “healing” shows people would turn to during stressful times. To keep their own sanity in this new way of life, our characters gradually start to develop unique coping mechanisms fit just for themselves. For our dragon friends, this involves bonding with humans and learning about their world. As for Kobayashi, it’s about realizing for the first time that life is a lot more enjoyable when you can spend it with others. Certainly, building a family is far more complex than programming for Kobayashi, but it sure is an invaluable, incomparable gain.

tooru kobayashi sleep


The more I treasure what I have right now, the sadder I’ll be when I lose it. But, as sad as I may feel, I’m sure I won’t regret it. — Tooru


Afterword

Guys, I absolutely cannot wait to finish watching this series! I totally get why you all have been recommending it to one another like crazy ever since it aired three years ago. I’m enjoying Tooru’s antics so much, and Kobayashi is such an unenthusiastic queen, I love it. Who’s your favorite character from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid? Let me know in the comments. I may end up doing a full series review later down the line, but just in case, I’ll go ahead and pass it with the recommendation to watch this one—especially if you’re seeking a more chill watch to ease these stressful days we’ve recently had.

This concludes my June 13th entry in the OWLS “Mindfulness” blog tour. My good friend Hikari (Hikari Otaku Station) went right before me with a post covering some of the shows she’s been watching that have helped with her mental health, which you can read right here! Now, look out for Aria (The AniManga Spellbook) with a post coming Tuesday, June 16th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto