The Start of a Long Journey: Yona of the Dawn Manga Volumes 1-3 || First Impressions

First impressions and loose thoughts on volumes 1-3 of Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga series “Yona of the Dawn,” initially published in 2016 by VIZ Media. Spoilers will be present.


A Terrible, Terrible Birthday

I’m no stranger to the beautiful and cruel world of Yona of the Dawn. I followed the anime when it first aired many years ago. Loved it. Since then, I decided to pick up the first NINE volumes of the manga to hopefully quench my thirst for a sequel we’ll probably never get. Wellll, you know how I do these things—the manga sat on my shelf for a good couple years, untouched, and the dust started to collect.

Until now! My rekindled love for manga has motivated me to tackle my shelves before buying new titles, which naturally placed volume one of this long-awaited read in my hands. And guys, what can I say that hasn’t been said already? Yona is a wonderful shoujo fantasy series with a compelling cast of characters living in an interesting Asian-inspired world. BANG. What more could you want?

But in case you know nothing about Yona, the shoujo manga follows the titular Princess Yona, whose bright red hair makes her the crown jewel of the Kohka Kingdom. After her doting father, the king, is murdered in cold blood by her childhood friend and lover, Su-won, Yona flees for her life with her faithful guard Hak. Now, Yona sets out on a journey to reclaim her country with hak, which includes tracking down the four dragon warriors of ancient lore.

Out on the Run

Right off the bat, I think the most striking thing about Yona’s world is the choice to use Korean-inspired names instead of the typical Japanese names. In fact, the series draws more inspiration from Korean culture than it does Japanese, making it an intriguing blend of both cultures. The series carries with it a heavy traditional feel, but also contains a surprising amount of fun and comedic moments despite the tragic start.

Following their flee, Hak seeks out his home village of Fuuga to avoid further pursuit from Su-won’s soldiers. The village’s chief (and Hak’s foster grandfather), Mundeok, is an admirable figure who I’m sure could’ve taken in Yona and raised her very well—but that wouldn’t be much of a story then, would it?

No, instead, Yona puts her foot down and decides to leave the village herself, demanding Hak continue to stay at her side. (The audacity, I know!!) Shortly after, Yona and Hak confront their pursers, and we get the powerful scene where Yona slashes her own hair—which she is adored for—to free herself from Kang Tae-Jun’s captivity. If that’s not symbolic of a woman choosing strength and independence over frailty and vanity, I’m not sure what is. The passing of Yona’s cut lock to Su-won leads him to believing that Yona has truly perished, which deeply hits him, interestingly enough. Like, Su-won isn’t a good guy, but, is he truly bad . . . ?

She with the Crimson Hair

Volume 3 is where we finally start to get a glimpse of the overall plot Yona is about to take up. Now that we’ve become acquainted with Yona’s rare fiery side as well as Hak’s reliability and loyalty on and off the battlefield, we are introduced to Ik-su, a lackadaisical priest who fled the capital when the regime changed years ago, and Yun, a haughty young pretty boy whose talents in cooking, fashion, and herbal remedies will prove incredibly useful on their journey going forward.

Ik-su tells Yona (and the reader) a great deal about the world, the legend of the dragon warriors, and Yona’s role in all of it. He prophesizes the assembly of the four dragon warriors, and how their coming together will awaken the monarch and resurrect the red dragon of dawn. The spirit of the dragons is passed down through four individual bloodlines, each of which still bear fealty to their beloved crimson dragon even to this day.

After a sad parting, we leave behind Ik-su, and Yun joins us in traveling to the White Dragon Village. There, in the land of the wind, we meet the first dragon warrior, a beautiful young man named Gija who possesses the “arm of a dragon,” scales and all. Although Gija bumps heads with Hak, the pain in Gija’s arm makes him realize that joining Yona is his life’s calling—and the destiny that has been passed down his family for generations. Another bittersweet parting between Gija and his grandmother sets us on the long quest to finding the other dragon warriors.

A Fantastic Historical Fiction Drama

Mizuho Kusanagi’s art style is the stuff of legends. Almost flawlessly, she recreates an era in time that dates back to the Three Kingdoms period of Korea. Mind you, it’s all historical fiction, so none of the setting is real, but Kusanagi reimagines this period from architecture and fashion style to customs traditional of this period. It’s such, SUCH, a gorgeous manga.

All of Kusanagi’s characters are beautiful (as one might expect in a shoujo manga), but also brazen and fierce. There’s a fire in Yona’s eyes that is unmatched; in Hak’s, a gaze of strength and familiarity; and in Su-won, a dark, melancholic sadness. Each cover piece alone is a work of art, as the coloring is so pretty and vibrant, much like Yona’s captivating red hair.

So, will I be reading more Yona of the Dawn in the future? Well, duh—I already bought the first nine volumes, or did you already forget? Haha! Seriously though, if I didn’t already have them, I would’ve placed an order immediately following the second volume. Yona has a lot of promise, which comes as little surprise given how highly talked about this series is. I’m excited to embark on this long journey with Yona, and I do hope you’ll be tagging along for the ride.


If it were a person . . . if this were a battlefield . . . I’d need my arrow to fly true. Drawing your bow means taking a life—or letting someone take yours.Yona


Afterword

I could talk on end for how much I love Hak, how much I love Yun, and how endearing of a protagonist I find Yona to be growing into. But, I’ll save that for future manga write-ups. After all, this is only the first three volumes, and there are well over 20 volumes available in English! I do hope you’ll continue with my reading of Yona of the Dawn. What are your thoughts on this highly beloved series? Let me know down in the comments! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

The Fires of Revelation: Fire Force Manga Volumes 10-12

Loose thoughts on volumes 10-12 of Atsushi Ohkubo’s manga series “Fire Force,” initially published in 2016 by Kodansha Comics. Spoilers will be present.

CLICK HERE TO READ MY THOUGHTS ON VOLUMES 7-9


Shinra vs. Sho

Ok, ok, so I take back everything I previously said about Sho’s powers just being boosted speed. The kid can stop time. STOP TIME. WITH FIRE. THE PHYSICS. MAKE LITTLE SENSE. BUT I LOVE YOU ANYWAY OHKUBO. For real though, this is going down as one of my favorite fights in manga EVER. (Which doesn’t say much saying that I don’t read much shounen manga, but whatever, it’s freaking cool as hell.) And, having seen it all animated, I can confirm that the fight is even more glorious in the anime, WOWZA.

More than the combat, we also get a glimpse of the other side—the world that the White Hoods are given permission to see. This is the stark landscape that the Evangelist resides in, which is hell itself. Words cannot describe how ethereal the Evangelist looks. Like, she/it feels divine through the panels. Certainly, the Evangelist is an otherworldy being capable of great and terrifying powers. I mean, if the Evangelist is where Sho gets his spark from, there’s NO WAY in hell that Company 8 will be able to stand up to this deity of the flame.

Shinra accelerating to the point of self-destruction and then reconstructing himself thanks to his link to Sho (who is blessed by the Evangelist) is also SUCH an intriguing concept. Having Viktor off to the side rambling on the physics of Shinra’s and Sho’s abilities is helpful, but only so far in the way of a scientist trying to rationalize ridiculous phenomenon in a super-powered shounen action series. Children with Adolla links really are on a whole ‘nother level, you know?

I love how this climactic, highly anticipated fight ends with the introduction of a new trickster-type character, Haumea, who supposedly possesses powers on par with Shinra and Sho. It really gives us a peak into what the second “season” of Fire Force will bring. As Captain Burns approaches Shinra with the truth, suddenly, everything comes to light.

The Truth Revealed

If volume 10 wasn’t full of enough revelation, volume 11 shatters the illusion Shinra has held since the terrible accident that scarred his youth: not only his brother, but his mom is also alive and somewhere in the world. I kinda figured she was the horned infernal from his memories, but to think that she’s lived this whole time, it’s crazy. We also get another peak into the Evangelist’s world and more haunting imagery of Adolla. Oh, and Captain Burns’ abilities are also revealed in a weirdly timed fight with Shinra (who was just HOSPITALIZED)! If he is constantly controlling a flame from deep within his being, it would make sense why he’s so strong and revered—really, the dude’s flexing 24/7!

This is also a transitional volume for the series. At this point, the world and story are entirely different from the first volume’s humble origins. We are onto a new story now with different goals and new faces to encounter. And it starts with a  . . . nude calendar shoot!? BAHAHAHA!!! This shit had me CRACKIN’, yo, I kid you not. I love how Ohkubo still includes customs like this that are part of the normal firefighter tradition. Obi’s cobra/gun show arm flex left me gasping for air, and seeing all the other companies engage in this stupid calendar was hilarious. As for Company 8’s picture for this year, LOL, I’m deceased.

We also get more Hinawa getting made fun of for his nonexistent fashion sense, which even Obi acknowledges. The girls dress him up in a ridiculous bunny suit, and Shinra pays the price for mocking the lieutenant. It’s fun stuff like this that make transitioning to the next big story easier. Speaking of . . .

Ohkubo continues to expand the world by revisiting Shinra’s academy days at Company 4, the branch which focuses on training new recruits to be deployed out in the force. Some old faces to Shinra (but new to us) make their debut, but most odd of all is the Company 4 Captain Hague, who is so obsessed with Adolla to the point of begging Shinra to burn him alive just to feel the flames of the Evangelist. He’s an oddball, but an ally for sure, and a valuable resource for intelligence on this world of fire and ash. Just when things get interesting, however, Haumea brainwashes Shinra and sends him into a demonic frenzy!

The First Pillar

A lot happens in volumes 10-12 of Fire Force, which includes wrapping up the first big story arc and developing the beginning of the second. Volume 12 opens with Arthur’s attempt to quell Shinra’s scary brainwashing. We finally get Arthur’s backstory, how his parents raised him loving knights and castles, and how they eventually abandoned him, leaving the house behind with him in it as its sole king. WHAT THE FUCK OHKUBO, I’m crying FR. This was so, so sad—and not to Arthur, my poor onion baby. ;__;

Once Shinra finally snaps himself out of Haumea’s spell, Shinra remembers a mysterious girl trying to take over his urges and desires—the “First Pillar,” whatever that means. She whispers that a fifth Adolla burster is about to awaken, which sets Company 8’s sights on recovering the “Fifth Pillar” and protecting them from the Evangelist. As Obi tries to reason with the chief of the fire defense agency—the very man who created Company 8 under Obi’s command—Obi spills some incredible truth about what it means to be an adult. I’ll leave it below.

As always, though, things move fast in Fire Force, and Inca—a young girl who can sense flames before they erupt—bursts onto the scene. She pilfers from fire sites out of a thrill for danger, and that puts her in inevitable contact with the Haumea, her dangerous partner Charon, and the enigmatic First Pillar. As Shinra fends off Charon’s unbelievable strength, the Fire Force companies begin to assemble. But for how long will Tokyo burn? Perhaps Inca’s powers hold the key to mankind’s salvation . . .


[What does being a grown-up mean to you?] It means caring more broadly and deeply. I will never give up on protecting this world. — Akitaru Obi


Afterword

This shit only gets better. MAN, who would’ve thought that this is the kind of ride Ohkubo would be stringing us along for? If it keeps up this consistent quality and world-building intrigue, I have absolute confidence that we’re looking at the next Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood right here with Fire Force. What do you guys think of these new developments? Oh, and since this overlaps with the latest couple episodes, what do you think of the Fire Force sequel anime that is currently airing? Let me know down in the comments! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Projects, Projects, Projects || Quarterly Update (Summer 2020)

Hey guys,

I’d been blogging non-stop all of June that I nearly forgot to do another quarterly reflection on my 2020 blogging goals, as well as update you on what I’ve been up to in my personal life. I teach a few weekly cello lessons as a side hustle, but I’m still technically unemployed for the the next month. It’s not all bad, however, as this time has allowed me to read more, watch more, and of course, write more. (I’m just trying to look on the bright side.) I also did a huge unhauling of parts of my collection that I knew I wasn’t going to re-read or re-watch, so that gave me a little extra cash. But let’s check in on those goals again, shall we?

Goal Reflection


#1 – Read More Posts

This one comes and goes for me. Naja recently gave me a shoutout in the OWLS livestream for loving the way I come in and read all her posts at once (LOL). It’s not exactly my preferred method of keeping up with everyone’s posts, but it’s easy for the days to get ahead of me. I’ll try harder still!

#2 – Write More Succinct Posts

I CAN say that most of my recent posts have been shorter. However, that could come as a matter of subject, as it’s generally easier to write manga reviews (or first impressions) than it is to write anime reviews. From creation to production, a lot more goes into anime. Naturally, it takes longer to capture the entire essence of a show than it does a single book. So yeah, I win this time, but we’ll see how things turn out in the coming months.

#3 – Read & Review More Books

Ummm, have you been around my blog the past month? Hahaha! Well, in case you genuinely haven’t, I spent ALL of June writing about manga—and even then I’ve started doing manga recap posts for some of my fave ongoing series (like Fire Force) that I hope becomes a regular thing. I’ll have links for everything in the section below!

#4 – Write More About Me

I WAS responding to blog reward and nomination posts to fulfill this goal, but have since fallen off the track (except for that fun light novel challenge post). I’ll get back to those. In the meantime, I did address some of the new anime I picked up for my collection, as well as share the joys of having new shelves. Then I talked about my first experiences with EVA foam in the making of a cosplay sword. Lastly, I celebrated 600 blog followers with a month of giveaway codes (thank you to all who joined me). Still, I’ll try to post more about my personal life with some short loose-thoughts posts. Thoughts?

#5 – Build Up My “Personal Brand”

I’ve tried to shift this goal to my YouTube channel, Takuto. I’ve posted eight videos and already have 40 subs (largely thanks to my blog community following me there), but you should totally subscribe if you want to see me face-to-face! I do much of the same stuff there that I do here, but there’s more focus on hauls, collecting, and K-pop, whereas the blog is more for reviews and random musings. I hope you’ll continue to support me on both platforms. ^ . ^

What I’ve Read


Let’s talk manga! As previously stated, I’m trying to chronicle my rekindled manga-reading experience here on the blog, starting with a second “first impressions” of Haruko Ichikawa’s Land of the Lustrous. I was actually planning on selling off the first five volumes, but thanks to an analysis vid I saw on YT, I decided to not only keep the series, but also buy the next FIVE volumes, haha! I’ll get back to the series here soon.

Then we’ve got Atsushi Ohkubo’s Fire Force, which hardly needs an introduction thanks to the anime’s explosive popularity. I did post recapping my thoughts on volumes 1-3, volumes 4-6, volumes 7-9, and I’ve got volumes 10-12 coming very soon. Fire Force started off as a generic shounen action series with a little bit of flare, but quickly grew into a wild story full of conspiracies and hidden intentions not unlike that of Fulllmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. Fire Force is seriously kickass, so be sure to check those out if you’re also reading the series!

All the other manga I’ve covered thus far fell under my Pride Month celebration. Also included in the month were a couple LGBTQ anime. June was incredible for me, as I’m sure you all read about from this post. Here again are those links just in case you missed something:

Ten Count: My First Yaoi Manga Series || Review

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

Candy Color Paradox: Sweet Yet Sour || First Impressions

Claudine: Sexuality, Tragedy, & Growing Up Transgender || Review

Melting Lover: The Shadowy Side of Affection || Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’ve Watched


Aside from the couple Pride Month anime, Love Stage!! and Hitorijime My Hero, we do have a couple throwback watches to this past spring. I was feeling in the mood to tackle my backlog (and watch something mediocre, apparently), which led me to watching Karneval. I thought it was meh, but I can easily see why some may like it. I probably won’t review this one, though. One that I am sitting on a review for still is Princess Principal, however, the epic steampunk spy series starring a cast of young English girl. This series was GOOD.

I also turned my energy to review Shirobako into April’s OWLS post, and while I may not end up reviewing it now, just know that it gets the full recommendation from me! Speaking of OWLS, I decided to rewatch ID:INVADED immediately after finishing it because it’s a super neat sci-fi series. It ended up becoming the subject of May’s OWLS post, so check that out if you haven’t. In a similar vain, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was my OWLS spotlight for the June tour, which I still need to finish!!

The only other anime I have watched AND reviewed this summer was Netflix’s Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, which was alright at best. I passed it with the “Coffee” rating, but only if the second half (whenever we get it) will be better than the first half.

As for anime I watched but have yet to talk about, I did tackle a huge backlog title with Mawaru Penguindrum! I feel weird for saying this, but did anyone else think it was . . . just ok? (PLEASE don’t hit me!) Maybe I’ll need to watch it again sometime, but I thought the second half was waaay too melodramatic. IDK, y’all let me know.

On the subject of beloved anime, I DID watch the first half of My Hero Academia Season 4 and EVERYONE LIED TO ME. THIS SHIT WAS SO GOOD, WHY WERE YOU ALL COMPLAINING??? Aside for the first halves of seasons 2 and 3, I thought this was EASILY the strongest arc yet. Sir Nighteye is a legend, and Mirio continues to be KING. Looking forward to the second half. Oh, and I watched the first half of Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld as a refresher before reading the last volume of the light novel, which I also completed! It didn’t end exactly how I thought it would . . . but I am totally hyped to see how the anime decides to handle this epic finale!

That just leaves me with what I’m currently watching. When I have free time, I’ve been slowly going through the final season of Sailor Moon, Sailor Stars, now that I have all of the DVDs. Such a beautiful, timeless story, even if the production can be so-so sometimes. I’ll always love Sailor Moon, and FYI I’ll probably be an emotional wreck once I’ve finished Stars because that’ll mean I’ve finally seen ALL of it!!

If you’re interested in my summer simulcast line-up, I’ll be posting that here shortly!

Summer Projects Never End


I dedicated all of June to Pride Month content and posted just about every day for the cause. After taking a week off to refresh myself, I’m back for some odds and ins (like this update) before I back off again to work on my OWLS Mini Con project. (Did you peep the teaser?) I’m absolutely looking forward to it, but it’ll take time, so expect another potential silence before I return on the 22nd.

Following my OWLS project’s completion, I’ll be moving into the final phase of this summer. I can’t say much now, but let’s just say it’ll be BIG. Like, two weeks long, bridging July and August. I’m SO excited for this as well! But again, it’s gonna take a lot of work and time to put together. If I go quiet, just know that it’s because I’m giving my all to this amazing summer project! 🙂

When I’m not working on projects or filming new videos for my channel, I’m either reading manga, tackling backlog anime, or playing Persona 5 again. Yeah, I took a year or two off the game (whoops), but I’m back, and I’ve already burned through a couple chapters since starting a week ago. Loving it now that I’m back into the swing of things.

It sounds like things are well and good on my end—and they are for the most part. But, being stuck at home with family due to the pandemic and suffering from unemployment haven’t gone without their mental toll. Some days I’m exhausted even after waking up, and I just want to take this moment to remind you that your mental health matters just as much as your physical health does during this global pandemic. Don’t neglect yourself. Take time for yourself. Play games, read books, watch movies—whatever makes you happy. Please make sure you’re getting adequate sleep, too, and don’t forget to stay hydrated—your body needs it!!

Peak summer weather is here. It’s hot, some days scorching my skin in the triple digits. As I continue to work hard on my blog and YouTube, I also hope you are enjoying the summer season and some of the good things a warm breeze can bring. Let’s keep in touch, ok? Until the next post, friends, stay well. Much love for all your support. ❤

– Takuto

Pride Month 2020 Recap + Aftermath (WE DID IT!)

Hey guys!

I decided to take a week off following my last Pride Month post to refresh myself after reading and writing for 30 days straight! While on my little holiday, I also filmed, edited, re-filmed, and re-edited a YouTube video recapping my month’s reads and watches for you all. YES, after much exporting headache, WE DID IT, and I can finally rest having delivered on my promises! If you haven’t seen it yet, you totally should! 😉

I’ve had a lot of fun recording videos this past month. To think that 39 people have already subscribed makes me so happy! I put a good deal of work into this one, so if you have watched it, I’m extremely grateful. (Thank you!!!)

What started off as a small feat of tackling my shelves (mainly to validate having bought all this LGBTQ manga) ended up becoming a journey of self-searching and enlightenment. This past month brought with it lots to read, of course, but also lots to learn. These characters and mangaka come from all different walks of life, and as such tackle LGBTQ themes in slightly different lights. No two stories were the same; similarly, I found that all of these reads were worth having on your shelf. Truly, I had an amazing time!

Here is a list of everything I reviewed for Pride Month 2020:


Ten Count: My First Yaoi Manga Series || Review

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

Candy Color Paradox: Sweet Yet Sour || First Impressions

Claudine: Sexuality, Tragedy, & Growing Up Transgender || Review

Melting Lover: The Shadowy Side of Affection || Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Every like, comment, share, and follow gained over the last month became fuel for me to try my best and to not give up. Some days I just woke up not wanting to write, but it was reading your kind and supportive words that encouraged me to get the next post out. Really, we did this together. THANK YOU for following me on this journey!

Lastly, I want to let you know that I’ll be archiving these works (in addition to their respective review category in the menu) under the “Projects” tab for future reference. (I mean, it is a series of 13 posts PLUS a 28-minute recap video!)

While I’m here, what can you expect next? Well, I’ll be posting my big quarterly update in the next day or two, which will tell you everything that I’ve been doing behind the scenes, as well as what big things I have coming right around the corner. It would seem that now, at the end of a wonderfully long month, new things can finally start to take root. Please look forward to it, as you have my June Pride Month posts! Thank you again for reading this, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

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

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

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