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

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

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

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

Candy Color Paradox: Sweet Yet Sour || First Impressions

First impressions for volume 1 of Isaku Natsume’s yaoi manga series “Candy Color Paradox,” initially published in 2019 by SuBLime Manga.


Pictures and Pride

Satoshi Onoe is an honest-to-goodness reporter at a weekly magazine company. He takes great pride in his writing and is valued for his ethical approach to reporting. In an industry that is all about chewing people up and spitting them out, it’s no wonder a total softy like Onoe would struggle with exploiting celebs and exposing back alley dealings.

Although he does well at his job, the one co-worker he can’t stand is Motoharu Kaburagi, an ill-mannered photographer who’s done nothing but steal Onoe’s time in the spotlight since day one. When the company chief decides to shuffle around the stakeout teams, Onoe is forced to partner with Kaburagi or let the man ruin his career. Kaburagi’s unethical reporting methods and his streak as a ladies’ man bother Onoe to no end. But, perhaps a little time and experience in the field will show Onoe a side to Kaburagi that’s a bit sweeter than anyone’s ever seen.

I love occupational romances. The office setting is one of the quickest ways to make your story relatable, and the drama is enhanced when our characters are trying to “make it work” while on the job. There may not be much explicit content until the last couple pages of this first volume, but I guarantee subsequent volumes will only get spicier.

What I don’t particularly love about Candy Color Paradox, however, is the nature of our main characters’ work. To me, news tabloids and articles that are only out to “expose” people are full of bullshit. I don’t like reading them, and I certainly don’t like reading about them. This kinda made both Onoe and Kaburagi difficult for me to like, as I find the work they’re doing—despite the tireless effort—to ultimately be full of crap. While the story isn’t about “what is right” or “what is wrong” per se, finding the “next big scoop” for their weekly magazine is a core element of the story, and often the segue for deepening Onoe and Kaburagi’s precarious relationship.

CCP intro

Writer x Photographer

Along with not loving this field of work, I immediately disliked how Natsume framed Onoe’s stance on attraction. The dude literally had a girlfriend and even proclaimed “I’m not gay!” in a bar, and I find that incredibly off-putting given that he’s supposed to be our MC. I get that this is a story from 2009, so Natsume is probably playing this off more as a joke, but c’mon, this is such a stereotypical thing to say. Unless it’s with the intent to explore one’s sexuality, I’m over characters that deny their sexual interests.

In typical uke style, Onoe gives us constant poutiness and confused gay crying. He’s full of pride in his work, and isn’t afraid to take a jab at Kaburagi whenever he can. Some will find his loud personality and flustered antics annoying—I know I did. But, despite his notoriously unscrupulous occupation, Onoe remains dedicated to his honest writing, and I can at least appreciate him for that.

On the flip side, Kaburagi can be a frustrating guy to get behind, both for Onoe and the reader. His scruffy appearance and initial attitude toward Onoe immediately leapt out at me as toxic masculine behavior. Unlike Onoe, Kaburagi uses his looks and charmed words to draw out the scoop he needs to land him the cover page story. As we quickly realize, he’s also an avid liar, which is a turn-off for me. The end of this first volume had me believing that there may be much more to Kaburagi than this initial assumption, but as it stands, I only really like Kaburagi because he seems just as lost in this newfound love as poor Onoe does.

CCP mid

Maybe it Gets Sweeter

As a license rescue release from 2009, Candy Color Paradox embodies the essence of yaoi rom-com workplace dramas popular during its time. Natsume’s art style also reflects this era of BL where tall skinny men and cartoonish expressions dominated the series. For me, it’s kinda bland to look at, but if you like the look of The World’s Greatest First Love or Junjou Romantica, you’ll probably enjoy this too. Also, I’m not the biggest fan of the rivals-to-lovers trope in my BL manga specifically, but Onoe and Kaburagi are quicker to admit their feelings to one another than most BL couples are, so I can bear it.

By the end of this first volume, our characters have made their way to the bedroom. The beginning may not be explicit, but I can see the next volumes being full of smut. So, if explicit BL is your thing, just know that you’ll want to pick up at least the first two volumes.

As to whether I will be getting more Candy Color Paradox or not, I’ll probably hold off for now. Between not caring for Onoe and Kaburagi’s field of work (which is essential to the plot) and finding Onoe a bit too over-reactive, I found myself rushing through this first volume just to finish it and read something else. Whenever next I’m feeling up for a steamy, less-than-serious workplace drama, I’ll consider picking this back up again. until that time, however, Candy Color Paradox just isn’t my taste.

CCP end


I wish that I really had been fooled by that charismatic mask he wears. Then I would be able to tell myself that I was just infatuated with a lie. — Satoshi Onoe


Afterword

I find that Candy Color Paradox is supposed to be a sophisticated read. It pokes fun at “being gay” whenever it can (e.g., Onoe getting overly flustered every time they have to do a stakeout from a love hotel room), but otherwise is just a fun and simple little BL title. I’ll pass on reading more for now, but don’t be surprised if I decide to pick this one back up again. If you’ve read Candy Color Paradox, what do you like about it? Let me know in the comments! My next Pride Month read, Claudine, will dip into the story of a transgender man and his struggle with identity and sexuality. You won’t want to miss it! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Seven Days: Will You Still Love Me When Monday Comes? || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 2-volume manga series “Seven Days – Monday to Sunday,” story by Venio Tachibana, art by Rihito Takarai, and re-licensed in English by SuBLime Manga.


What Started as a Joke . . .

One week. That is all the time any lucky girl who dates Seryou Touji will spend with him. You can’t hate the guy, though. After all, he supposedly makes you feel like the most special person in the world during that time. Rumor has it that at the start of the following week, he’ll date the first person to ask him out that Monday morning, no tricks—and no strings attached either.

Curious about the mysterious first-year playboy himself, equally attractive third-year Shino Yuzuru decides to jokingly ask Seryou out one morning. True to the rumors, however, Seryou takes Shino’s offer seriously, and thus begins Shino’s fleeting seven days with him.

Although license rescued and released by SuBLime Manga, a company typically known for grabbing some of the harder yaoi works on the BL market, Seven Days much more belongs in the shounen ai or even school romance genre. Nothing about the story is explicit, making it the perfect gateway BL for newcomers ready to wet their feet.

Within just 13 chapters (or one omnibus volume), the entire story wraps up well enough to not warrant a continuation. Shino and Seryou’s week of dating and hanging out is also well-paced. Each day is divided into chapters, which means we literally are getting the full play-by-play for this awkward dating situation that started out as a joke but turned into much more.

morning surrounded

Not Gay, But Gay Enough

What made the story somewhat difficult to get into was the fact that, technically, neither of our boys here are gay. That is, Shino and Seryou don’t actively seek males as a dating preference to females; if anything, they’re both well-known ladies’ men, and they know it, too.

So, how can two “straight” dudes fall for each other? For one, they’re both undeniably the hottest men in their school. Second, they share a pastime together—archery—which often leads to the start of many conversations (and playful teasing). Third, and this might just be me reading into it, but Seryou might actually have been gay from the start. The first-year can’t seem to fall in love with any of the many girls he dates. Yet, when approached by Shino that Monday morning, he doesn’t refute him. It could be that he was curious all along, and took the offer when it came to him.

It’s a little frustrating to cheer two guys on when neither is really into the same sex (unless . . . ), but at the same time, it’s amazing what dating one another allows the boys to see about themselves. Despite his graceful nature and pretty face, Shino is a pretty laid-back, impolite guy, not to mention being seriously blunt about everything he notices. Dating Seryou makes Shino realize that his worst traits really can hurt people—but also that they are what make Shino himself.

Then there’s Seryou, also a pretty boy but drastically bad at reading people. Unlike Shino, Seryou wears his expressions on his face, and even though he thinks he’s being transparent, Seryou isn’t as good at knowing others as he might believe. In fact, he’s kind of shallow in his romantic encounters, which Shino quickly picks up on. Even though he can let girl after girl live their high school fantasy, at the end of the day, Seryou doesn’t even save their contact information on his phone. He sure was quick to memorize Shino’s number and email by heart, though . . .

seryou charming

The Look of Early 2000s BL

Although Ten Count was the first yaoi series I’ve ever read, I’m definitely no stranger to the BL genre. I’ve seen plenty of screenshots of early 2000s BL manga on the internet and have flipped through my own fair share of yaoi manga at used bookstores. It’s nice to finally have purchased my own copy of one of these works, and I feel even more pride in having it displayed on my shelves. Seven Days is a nice little title to have for sure.

Aside from the license rescue stirring news in the manga community, however, what initially pushed me to buy and read Seven Days was because it shared the artist of Ten Count, Rihito Takarai. Having recently been acquainted with her series work, I wanted to see how her older art held up. Boy, has she improved. But also, WOW, she’s been this good from the start!?

Takarai knows how to draw pretty boys. Both donning that signature uke and seme look with their tall, lanky, yet athletically built figure, Shino and Seryou walk like gods among men. Their chiseled features, large eyes, and pointy noses hold all the indications of desirable beauty, especially of BL characters in pre-2010 works. Perhaps you could call Seven Days an early 2000s time capsule that most would still love and enjoy today.

It was probably the hair styling, however, that first caught my eye and stays in my mind now. Shino’s medium-long chestnut hair creates an elegant, almost foreign bowl-cut look. Similarly, Seryou’s longer black hair would make anyone who had it look like a thug, but on him serves to make him look dashing and poised. The use of scenery (LOTS of fences), while modest, also sets the scene for this cute slice-of-life romance. Also, likable female characters are present in this manga—and they’re NOT evil, hooray!

seven days seryou and shino

The Perfect Gateway BL

I swear, this really is one of those stories where a whole week of “not knowing how the other feels” could’ve been resolved by Tuesday night had Shino and Seryou sat down for five freakin’ minutes and just talked it out like any normal couple would. It’s annoying how characters can feel like they’re just being strung along, only to find out by the end that their partner was “madly in love with them the whole time.” Especially in this story where the reader can be unconvinced of author Venio Tachibana’s intentions, it can come across as a strange case of queerbaiting. Trust me when I say it that Shino and Seryou are falling for each other, though—they just might not know it yet.

And that’s the huge draw of Seven Days: Shino and Seryou aren’t your typical BL pairing. Neither knows what they want, both in themselves and in relationships, and that makes finding love all the more difficult. While I bite back and wish Tachibana was more transparent about their love, I also find myself realizing that, yeah, I’m not sure I could so easily admit my own feelings if I were in their situation either.

Surprisingly full of more introspection than it’d have you believing, every single chapter of Seven Days was a gift. Force yourself through this playful senpai-kohai shtick and it’ll be the longest week of your life. However, with a little patience, you might unexpectedly find yourself relating to this drama that spans just seven short-lived, transient days.

shino seryou sleep


I wonder how many girls stood right here and closed their eyes just like this? And when they did, how did Seryou respond? — Shino Yuzuru


Afterword

I had to flip back at some of the chapters to write this review and, ahhhh, it’s such a cute story! I wish I could read more stories with Takarai’s art in it, but that’s all I’ve got for now. Seven Days was definitely stronger than Ten Count, but I think I still like it about the same, if not slightly more. With very little to complain about, Seven Days is a wonderful “Cafe Mocha” title here at the cafe! If you only get to read one shounen ai story, this is my go-to rec for the time being. Have you read Seven Days? I’d love to hear your thoughts down in the comments! My next Pride Month post will likely be a first impressions on Candy Color Paradox, so please look forward to that. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Ten Count: My First Yaoi Manga Series || Review

A brief review of the 6-volume manga series “Ten Count,” story and art by Rihito Takarai, and licensed in English by SuBLime Manga. MINOR SPOILERS WILL BE PRESENT.


Counseled into Love

Tadaomi Shirotani suffers from extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder wherever germs are concerned. While he manages to get his corporate secretary work done efficiently enough, his social life is practically nonexistent as a result of his condition. Upon saving Shirotani’s boss from a fatal car accident, behavior therapist Riku Kurose takes an interest in helping Shirotani overcome his germophobia. As Shirotani navigates through Kurose’s proposed ten-step program designed to cure his compulsion, the patient’s attraction to his therapist grows.

As far as romance dramas go, Ten Count starts off relatively tame, especially for a BL series. In fact, there’s nothing really explicit until the end of the second volume, of which there are only six. This relatively slower-burn intro allows us to really understand the position Shirotani is in, his feelings and his frustrations with his condition. Although Shirotani’s list of ten self-chosen tasks seems like an excuse to up the sexual tension step-by-step, I assure you that the series has more twists in store than finding out what Shirotani’s final tenth step is (even if they’re a bit more controversial).

One of my favorite aspects of the series is how, foundationally, Kurose’s psychological techniques (namely the titular “ten count”) are rooted in actual behavior therapy practices. (Trust me—I took a class for this!) Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) is a real therapy designed to treat anxiety disorders. By gradually introducing stimuli to the patient and slowly increasing the strength of the stimulus, an individual undergoing ERP therapy can hope to see at least some relief from their OCD symptoms. It doesn’t suddenly cure all—which Rihito Takarai respectfully acknowledges—but it can help relieve some of the stresses that come with anxiety or PTSD.

ten count list

The Patient-Therapist Relationship

From the start, Shirotani is a man bogged down by the pressures of society. His signature gloves may seem like a fashion choice, but they actually serve to shield his hands from potential germs. If he just wore the gloves, he’d see himself as looking foolish, though. Thus, he also dons a suit for both his job and personal life to seem less odd. I thought this was a sad detail, if not a pertinent one to telling us what kind of person Shirotani is: an extremely cautious and self-conscious individual. His condition interferes with his daily life, clearly, and he’s in dire need of help even if he refuses to admit it.

Kurose comes off as a little standoffish and weirdly intimate, and that’s also a result of a troubled past, no doubt. While he’s able to comfort Shirotani and make him feel good about himself, Kurose also has this aura of being impossible to read. For a corporate office guy with crippling OCD, this can pose major problems. Understandably, Shirotani fears the unpredictable, and even more so when it concerns human contact. What Kurose wants out of Shirotani might not be what he expects. At the same time, perhaps Kurose’s guidance and friendship are the exact things Shirotani wants out of this unconventional patient-therapist relationship.

shirotani kiss

To Fetishize Another’s Pain

Let me start this part by saying that Rihito Takari’s art is divine. Her characters are beautifully drawn, the panel construction serves to capture Shirotani’s feelings of isolation and anxiety, and the sex is hot, straight up. (I mean, Kurose’s jawline, C’MON.) Takarai also has an eye for aesthetic, her characters living clean, realistic lives, although on the lighter side. I cannot deny that reading this manga was enjoyable, if only for the art alone. It’s great. If explicit BL is your thing, Ten Count will serve you wonderfully.

Ok, now I can nitpick. SPOILERS for one of the later narrative twists, but WTF Kurose?? The dude likes—no, prefers—“people like” Shirotani because they have a germophobic condition . . . and he likes making them dirty . . . and corrupt like him?? I’m sorry, I just couldn’t with this reveal. It’s a shame, too, cause the series really started strong when it was just Shirotani meeting up with Kurose at their usual coffee shop to celebrate Shirotani’s progress.

The fetishization of mysophobia in Ten Count made the last couple volumes a struggle to get past. I really disliked finding out that, rather than love out of personality or charm, Kurose’s biggest draw to Shirotani was because of his suffering. It only confirmed my suspicions about Kurose from the beginning that the guy was a little messed up. While I appreciate the backstories for both of these characters (and can understand the effects that childhood neglect or trauma can have on someone), I couldn’t really find myself appreciating Kurose after discovering his kink.

kurose

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

As a BL manga, Ten Count starts strong but falls into some of the unfortunate schemes of the genre that I’ve become aware of thanks to fellow bloggers and booktubers. It comes across as realistic and understanding of people with anxiety disorders, yet eventually succumbs to a somewhat insulting case of deception. I wanted Shirotani and Kurose to end up together out of a deep fondness and caring for one another, and it only feels halfway satisfying.

With any type of behavior therapy, it can often feel like you’re making leaps and strides one day, only to wake up the next feeling like you haven’t progressed past start—and that’s absolutely normal. For Shirotani, his lowest lows caused him to skip work, neglect his social life, and even turn down potential relationships. But on his best days, he stepped outside his comfort zone and took risks he normally wouldn’t have. Simply, he tried to live a better, more fulfilling life, and I can commend him for that.

Looking back, I find my liking for Ten Count to be the same way. The chapters where Kurose was genuinely trying to encourage Shirotani to go to the book store, buy a new suit, or actually drink the coffee at a coffee shop—those were great! When it just seemed like Kurose was trying to get his hands down Shirotani’s pants, however, I wasn’t quite rooting for either of them (which is kinda opposite of the intent the fanservice is supposed to do in this series).

As my first yaoi manga series, I don’t hate Ten Count, though. Rihitio Takarai’s plot has its problems, sure, but her art and character designs really are appealing. There’s a lot of self-torment going on throughout the series, but I do believe that in itself is a huge part of life. If the romantic story of a therapist and his patient sounds enticing, go ahead and give the first volume a shot. Just don’t be surprised when certain characters start revealing their true nature in the bedroom—unwonted fetishes and all.

ten count color


It’s because I finally realized that I love you and you reciprocated that love that I’m learning to love myself. — Tadaomi Shirotani


Afterword

I feel I could talk at length about Ten Count, but I’m honestly not sure whether I’d be saying primarily bad things or good things. Probably a mix of both, because despite its problematic concerns with trauma and sexual arousal, I did enjoy reading about Shirotani and Kurose’s relationship (and the many, many back-and-forth turns it takes). I know this series stirred a lot of buzz when it was first brought over in 2018, but what are your thoughts on Ten Count? For my first yaoi manga series, I feel like I picked a decent one, but you be the judge of that.

I’ll pass Ten Count as a “Cake” title here at the cafe if only for the fact that Shirotani’s story is fleshed out in a lovely six volumes and not just two or three. If you’ve got any BL recommendations, I’d also love to hear those. I’ve got more Pride Month content coming soon, so if BL is your thing, you’re in luck! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Pride Month 2020 Celebration Announcement: Anime & Manga Edition!

Hello all!

I realize that these are some of the most important times we are currently living in. Crazy times, but crucial nonetheless. However, it would be a crime to forget the importance of June to the LGBT+ community. After all, they make up a huge part of our own anime and manga community, as well as include some of my dearest friends.

In honor and celebration of gay pride and equality, I’ve decided to dedicate the entire month of June to posts about BL manga and anime! These posts will range from soft shounen-ai to some of the, well, harder subjects in yaoi and BL. Such posts may be full series/book reviews, first impressions, or anything in between. Really, I haven’t figured out how I want to talk about all these works. But, I do know some of the titles I want to recognize on my blog.

I’ve never celebrated pride month in such full capacity. Truly, though, I owe it to the LGBT community for being a pillar for acceptance and visibility of all people on the sex and gender spectrums. I want to highlight some of the prominent works being discussed, not only because I have a lot of BL manga sitting on my shelf just waiting to be talked about, but also because I love and support this community and what it stands for 100%.

I also want to recognize all the people and companies working their butts off to bring these works to us. Really, I’m thankful to be able to buy these kinds of books and be part of a discussion that is much larger than myself.

So, in addition to my usual reviews and shenanigans, please look forward to this exciting month of content ahead of us! If you’re also doing some pride month posts, feel free to link those below or tag me on social media so I can share them.

Stay wonderful, and stay safe, my friends.

– Taku

Given: Broken Heartstrings & Unforgettable Sounds || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode summer 2019 anime series “Given,” animated by Lerche, directed by Hikaru Yamaguchi, and based on Natsuki Kizu’s manga of the same name.

starry mafuyu.PNG


Rocky Starts, Aching Hearts

Between playing basketball at high school and dabbling on the guitar in his small band, Ritsuka Uenoyama has found himself stuck wandering the lonely desert of academic boredom. He dozes off in class, sleeps during break, and only looks forward to jamming out with a couple of upperclassmen college friends in the evening.

One day, he sees a classmate of his, Mafuyu Sato, cradling a broken guitar on a secluded staircase. Although Uenoyama makes nothing of restringing Mafuyu’s red guitar for him, Mafuyu becomes completely attached to the dark-haired musician and insists Uenoyama teach him how to play it. Uenoyama initially shrugs him off, but when he hears Mafuyu singing for the first time, his voice leaves a deep impression on him. He can’t get it out of his head, and eventually finds himself drawn to Mafuyu’s aloof yet mysterious allure.

Given is a single story split among four separate narratives, each with their own unique perceptions of the conflicts presented throughout the series. Equal parts slice of life and drama, the series follows four students in an amateur rock band and the dual romantic relationships that form among them: between shy vocalist Mafuyu and passionate guitarist Uenoyama, and between the caring bassist Haruki and stoic yet silly drummer Akihiko.

uenoyama and mafuyu stare.PNG

Given is also a BL adaptation, and it doesn’t ever stray from that intent (which I respect). But hear me out. At most, the series presents its shounen ai relationships with genuine care and realism. It’s far less sugarcoated than most BL anime out there, and frankly just a really good romantic drama about curious feelings and the closet. This particular set of 11 episodes tells the story of the band coming together, their complex feelings toward one another, and specifically the growing relationship between Uenoyama and Mafuyu leading up to their first performance. The series never felt rushed, nor does it end too optimistically to be true, which is probably what I appreciated most out of the series—aside for the characters themselves, of course.

Complicated Feelings, Complex Characters

The main focal point of this series is around Uenoyama and Mafuyu’s relationship, which admittedly has a rocky start and is only littered with more misunderstandings as they go along. But somehow, like with most love stories, the two make it work.

From the get-go, Uenoyama is about as relatable as they come. Uncomfortable with relationships (in general), unsure of how to express his feelings, questioning what these sudden emotions of his are and where they come from—the whole confused teen-sexuality shebang. We see jealousy build up in Uenoyama as he unravels Mafuyu’s past relationship with another boy, and how this jealousy and regret slow down his performance both on the court and in the practice room. His declining musicianship is called into question by Haruki and Akihiko, and from there the upperclassmen work to help out his love life (and in their own unique ways). I just love Uenoyama’s character arc, and I’m really satisfied with how he grows from a dense lump of laziness to a person who actively seeks to understand both himself and his partner.

mafuyu and uenoyama hallway.PNG

Mafuyu. Oh lost little Mafuyu. Cute little Mafuyu. This kid really does resemble a puppy, no lie! Introverted, quiet, and reserved, Mafuyu is on a quest to reconnect with a person from his past, unbeknownst to any of his new band mates. He’s never picked up an instrument before, yet seems to have a talent for singing. This secret agenda AND hidden talent of his are what guide him to Uenoyama and the band. Little does he know that through their mutual love for music, Mafuyu’s past is dragged out into the open and exposed—but also cared for and carried together with his newfound friends. While I personally found the plot spinning him in some moments that were a bit too melodramatic, I still like Mafuyu a lot, even if he isn’t the one I identify with most.

Haruki and Akihiko, bassist and drummer, are the other pairing in this story. While doomed with an obsessive, unrequited love, Haruki secretly fawns over Akihiko, even if the guy’s a big musclehead. It’s unfortunate that Akihiko just might already have a partner, but manbun can’t help himself anyway. The way Akihiko sleeps, the way Akihiko compliments him in practice—Haruki just can’t get enough. But as the band’s “leader,” he is torn between resisting his urges and pursuing his own happiness in love, despite this directly violating his philosophy that relationships between band members just doesn’t work out in the long run.

haruki and akihiko.PNG

More of Haruki and Akihiko’s relationship will be explored in the 2020 Given film, but I really like these two dorks a lot (especially manbun) and how they make the effort to support one another and their band mates. Such bros.

Iridescence in Motion

Lerche really is my favorite animation studio, without a doubt. Given boasts a visually bright style to highlight the beauty of youth and the joys of love in this series about those two very concepts. While the screen is light and colorful nearly all the time, we see color drain as winter sets in towards the end of the series—the pivotal climax where potential heartbreak lies. I use the term iridescence because, like emotions, these luminous yellow, tangerine, and turquoise filters shift when we see the same set from a different angle. It’s clean. And it’s aesthetically pleasing.

mafuyu sings to uenoyama.PNG

Giving new meaning to the phrase “lighting design,” Hikaru Yamaguchi’s strong direction really shines in both the intense moments and those of tranquility or thoughtfulness. And the attention to detail in the instruments is NUTS, not to mention the studio painting a timeless picture of modern day Tokyo. The guitars, amps, and drums look AND sound incredibly authentic, and the detailed city backgrounds are delicately crafted with architecture that mirrors real life Shibuya and Machida, down to the last little street sign and business advertisement. Lerche makes anime reality look even better than REAL life in this beautifully made series.

mafuyu guitar.PNG

Character designs also glow with this attractive and cute aura while maintaining respective ages. (It’s nice to see college dudes that LOOK like college dudes and not 40-year-old men!) Speaking of characters, I don’t really give shoutouts to seiyuus unless they particularly stand out to me, but wow, here we’ve got four fantastic leads! Shougo Yano brings to Mafuyu a high-pitched innocence that has made characters (and fans) fall for his charm left and right. Yuuma Uchida gives Uenoyama a grumpiness and stubbornness that suits his character so very well. Masatomo Nakazawa makes hearts swoon as Haruki, and I just adore his sass whenever Akihiko requests something of him. And none other than Takuya Eguchi brings this lovable lug to life, perfectly capturing Akihiko’s serious and goofy sides.

got the flashdrive.PNG

A music anime has to have good music in it, obviously, and Given does not disappoint. Michiru provides a musical score full of chill blues guitar, casual jam session rifts, and delicate melodies to make any grown man cry. My favorite piece of music from the show is the energetic yet wistful OP “Kizuato” by Centimilimental. Mafuyu’s VA sings for us the tender ED, “Marutsuke,” which appropriately features animation of a puppy rolling around during the theme. Mafuyu also gets his own little song that I won’t spoil for you, so all-in-all, you’re in for a real treat with the music this time around!

A Given from the Start

Is it okay to be happy when you know someone you loved had to suffer for it? The answer, of course, is yes. So long as we are alive, we will always have the chance to be happy. What matters most is whether you are able to accept what has passed and move on for yourself. That’s what Mafuyu has to find out for himself; Uenoyama just nudges in the right direction, and even gives him happiness in the present.

Having watched the series, there’s still lots I want to know about. What happens to the characters from here? Does the band go on to perform more concerts? Does Uenoyama still write music for Mafuyu to sing? For now, however, this is a strong step forward for BL anime, and incredible representation for the genre as a whole.

I like music anime, great romance stories, and studio Lerche. Perhaps it was a given from the start that I’d love this show, but the series has proven that if you surround yourself with positive influences, good things will surely come your way. At times painfully resonant, other times light-hearted and fun, Given will continue to pluck at your heartstrings both throughout each emotional episode and long after the series is over.

mafuyu at the mic 2


Hearts are like guitar strings. They won’t play sound if they’re too loose. You have to wind them up until they’re about to break, and that’s when they become a wave the hit your eardrums. — Ritsuka Uenoyama


Afterword

Yeah, I liked this one a lot. No surprise here, but Given is certified “Caffe Mocha” stuff, and easily one of my favorite titles from 2019. I wonder who will pick up the license for this gem and give it the physical release (and dub!) it deserves. Until then, I’ll keep recommending this title through Crunchyroll—as all of you should be doing! I’m happy the reception for this series was so overwhelmingly positive, but I’d still love to hear your thoughts on Given or this review down in the comments. (Plz, I’m lonely and need someone to love this show with!) Until the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host