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

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

A brief spoiler-free review of the standalone manga title “Claudine,” story and art by Riyoko Ikeda, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.


19th Century French Romance

Since he was eight, Claudine was convinced he was born into the wrong gender. He grows up beautifully, more so than any of the men and women in Vernon, yet struggles through life with a series of depressing relationships. Only a handful of people reach out to Claudine and see him for who he is, but no one truly understands his heart. Claudine simply wishes to find true love, yet his efforts continue to end in tragedy as he is unable to be accepted as a man by society and his peers.

As a piece of historical fiction, Claudine offers a timeless story full of heartbreak. Riyoko Ikeda of The Rose of Versailles fame paints a picture of France that is rich in culture, but also a bit too melodramatic at times. Characters overreact to the smallest things with vivid expressions that can dominate several panels, which can make the read feel overwrought with agitation.

Without spoiling anything, some characters even dare dedicate their entire lives to destroying the hearts of others—an unfortunate trend which feels straight out of a wild telenovela or K-drama. Or, you know, The Rose of Versailles. This kind of thing might work well with a long-running series. But as a single volume work, the repetition of shocking reveals can feel overwhelming and excessive.

All that said, however, very few manga can make a drama feel as compelling as Riyoko Ikeda does, and to that I applaud Claudine. As a standalone piece, this is the kind of artistic mastery that most short story mangaka may struggle with. Here, the romance feels real, but so does the grief and misery that comes with rejection. Claudine explores sex and gender identity in a way that is poignant, respectful, and anything but forgettable.

young claudine

“But Claudine, You’re a Girl”

Not sure of what to do with her own child, Claudine’s mother takes him to a psychiatrist who reappears at a few major junctions in Claudine’s life. This was customary for the time, as being gay or trans was considered an illness, and thus treated as something that would eventually “go away” just as it came. We know now that this is far from fact. However, this is the best Claudine’s mother could do, and I believe she meant well by it.

Claudine’s father Auguste, on the other hand, was a mostly good man. A “large-hearted, manly dilettante with a variety of interests,” Claudine’s father was the only one willing to raise the child as he saw himself. Claudine expressed interested in equestrianism, hunting, sports, literature, and world history, to which his father only helped to provide the best resources to raise Claudine just as well as his other three accomplished sons. Loving Claudine wholly, Auguste says it himself: “That she doe not have a man’s body is honestly a mistake on God’s part.”

We follow Claudine through childhood flings, teenage romance, and relationships in adulthood. The women he encounters transform his life, although whether these interactions are for the better or not is definitely up for question. There’s one particular childhood lover, Rosemarie, who annoyingly clings to Claudine and causes him nothing but trouble. As he navigates through life, Claudine finds that it isn’t wrong of him to be a transgender person so much as that being trans is just highly ill-advised when no one can accept you for it. His emotions are understandable, and his actions are largely respectable.

Friends, strangers, and even his own family turn Claudine away from them on account of their own ignorance. A deeply seeded disgust for gay and transgender people plagues the populace of 19th century France, and—as it has continues to do today—only serves to ruin Claudine’s life. Despite his graceful air, his love of knowledge, and his deep compassion for helping others in need, Claudine is dejected again, and again, and again by women who have mixed love and kindness with lust and sin.

we are both girls

Why We Have To Do Better

This is a breathtaking manga. Although it was published way back in 1978, so much of this shoujo-ai drama can speak for the view of transgender individuals held by most conservative-minded people today. The story is highly relevant, and I’m so thankful Seven Seas was able to publish it when they did. Their restoration of this vintage shoujo manga is gorgeous, and the large trim format is greatly appreciated.

More than feeling upset, frustrated, or annoyed at the terrible ways Claudine was betrayed, I can only really sum up my thoughts on the ending with this: Claudine’s story is a sad one. It’s tragic, it hurts, and yet it’s an unfortunate end many transgender people find themselves meeting. Guys, it’s tragedies like this that remind me we still have a long way to go. For people like Claudine, for people who are confused or still in the closet, for people who are out and proud of it—We have to do better. So. Much. Better. And that begins with accepting these identities—NOT just acknowledging them.

From cover to cover, Riyoko Ikeda explores gender and sexuality, identity, culture, and self-acceptance in a coming-of-age tale so sorrowful and heartfelt that I can only want to express how important Claudine’s story is. It is works like this that can easily impact people, and even leave behind impressions that can hopefully change lives for the better. Certainly, I won’t be forgetting Claudine anytime soon.

claudine art page


They lived together, deceiving the world, behind the backs of their friends. But like a flower waiting for rain, their caged love finally surged out, shining. I believe this was a true love, surpassing all preconceived notions, entirely moving.Claudine’s doctor


Afterword

What a great read this was. Riyoko Ikeda’s art style is not only iconic, but truly emblematic of early 70s and 80s shoujo manga. Sure, it’s a bit over-the-top at times, but what would a Riyoko Ikeda manga be without her signature dramatic twists and sparkling style? For telling an admirable albeit tragic tale about a respectable transgender man and his struggles with finding love and self-acceptance, I welcome Claudine as a “Cafe Mocha” title, a rating reserved only for the bests out there. Did I mention that the dad is actually a GOOD guy in this one? Normally it’s the other way around, so this was quite a pleasant surprise!

Anyone else read Claudine? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this old but classic shoujo read. I’m so glad I got to include a manga with a transgender focus this month with something like Claudine. My next Pride Month post will be over something much more modern, Bukuro Yamada’s Melting Lover, 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

Into the Abyss: Fire Force Manga Volumes 7-9

Loose thoughts on volumes 7-9 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 4-6


Enter the Forge

Coming off the shocking ending of volume six with the introduction of *assumed villain* Viktor Licht to Company 8, volume seven opens with new knowledge of Shinra’s world. As it turns out, much of the habitable land known to mankind was burned to a crisp at the dawn of the Solar Era. Countries that we are familiar with now no longer exist in this period as a result of spacial distortions. The planet is quite literally falling apart. Although the actual history is still unknown to us, Viktor isn’t afraid to confirm with the reader now that Amaterasu and the Tokyo Empire are definitely fishy in origin.

Taking on the other companies will prove difficult with their current team. Thus, Obi sends the innocent trio of Shinra, Arthur, and Sister Iris to try and talk a legendary blacksmith and mechanic over to their side: Vulcan, aptly named after the god of the forge. I appreciate the way Ohkubo quickly yet thoroughly introduced Vulcan and his “family” to us; unlike most other additions Ohkubo would make this late in the game, Vulcan isn’t an annoying guy.

Vulcan’s goal of bringing back animal life to the world—another detail I had yet to realize until now—is a noble one, and his frustrations with Haijima Industries is well understood thanks to his backstory. It was honestly moving to see that underwater projection, reminding us of how hot and dry the landscape often seems. I can totally see the anime dragging Vulcan’s history to the point of tedium, but the manga remains quick on its feet and moves past his angst.

Volume seven doesn’t stop there. The drama escalates when Shinra realizes that the White Hoods set a trap for Company 8 and Vulcan. It was an ABSOLUTE double-whammy to find that not only was the WHOLE Company 3 working for the Evangelist, but also that Lisa, a member of Vulcan’s “new family,” was also an Evangelist spy. Really, this caught me off guard. I had my sneaking suspicions that Company 3’s captain, Dr. Giovanni, was actually Vulcan’s grandfather, but this conspiracy was quickly snuffed out—and probably for the better.

Oh yeah, and Princess Hibana joins the fray with some SERIOUS heat. Glad Ohkubo is keeping her relevant both off and on the battlefield.

Shinra Meets Sho

THE CONFRONTATION WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR. And honestly, it was just as short as I thought it’d be. So far, it would seem that the only edge Sho has over Shinra is his extreme speed, which is kinda lame cause I thought he’d have real nasty fire abilities. I suppose we have yet to see those, though, so for all I know Sho’s fire is just as potent as Shinra’s can be. Anyway, Sho has no wishes of joining our heroes, which was kinda already expected, just not as bitter.

To finish out the battle at Vulcan’s workshop, I found it perhaps most odd that Joker jumped in to fight off Sho from catching up to Shinra’s escape. Even more surprising was that Joker appears to be no match for Sho’s deadly speed. What is Joker’s aim? I thought he was with the Evangelist. Is he just a terrorist, or perhaps an anti-hero? I’m sure his story will come to light before too long.

As with Princess Hibana’s efforts in the previous volume, Ohkubo is really trying to keep all the characters he introduces on the table—which is fantastic. The majority of this eighth volume is spent on a mini training excursion in Asakusa. That’s right, Benimaru is back, BITCHES. I love this man, WOW, and I still don’t even know why. I just wish he’d join Company 8 more on their quests already cause y’all already know he can take Sho down.

Just as Shinra learns from Benimaru to focus his fire with traditional meditation techniques, Arthur also learns a thing or two about how to sense life on the battlefield. Arthur is such a ditz, but Ohkubo’s made this guy impossible to hate at this point. Benimaru’s wise teachings will already prove helpful as Obi takes the fight to the White Hoods in Fire Force‘s next big arc.

The Nether, a land of darkness that remains untouched by Sol’s holy light. In other words, the Tokyo subway ruins following the cataclysm many years ago. Man, Ohkubo’s world-building continues to astonish. Just when I think I have Fire Force‘s world all figured out, Ohkubo gently places new information to throw the reader off. He’s been slowly, carefully fleshing out this universe of fire and brimstone, and the results pay off when the reader can look at the lower gates to an ordinary subway and a chill runs up their spine. There’s definitely something wrong with this place . . .

Now that we’re here in the depths of the earth, it finally occurs to me that, yeah, there really aren’t that many scenes where our characters are exploring any subterranean location. Again, this obviously carries intent. The stress on Sol as a deity is really questioned throughout this volume and the end of the previous. Company 3’s Dr. Giovanni goes on a religious tirade praising the glory of the Evangelist and diminishing the light of Sol, but really, who is this Evangelist—and who or what is Sol? This self-inquisition adds so much to a world that, apparently, we still know very little about.

A Light in the Dark

At the end of volume eight we get our first fight: Maki vs. Flail. I CANNOT wait to see this shit animated, cause wow, Maki’s new gear is so freakin’ cool. Thanks to Vulcan’s handy-work, Maki’s able to utilize her little fire sputters in a much more advantageous way: they are the fuel for a set of giant floating armored hammers that can both attack AND defend with ease. The staggered armor plating on these pile-bunker-esque arms also matches Obi’s signature full-body shield, which is nice for consistency. In all, it’s just nice to see Maki shine on her own.

My favorite confrontation, however, was the explosive sniper duel of Hinawa vs. Arrow. Hinawa may just be the coolest guy in the company. His backstory is solidly written. His purpose and ties to the other characters makes absolute sense. And his abilities as a Second Generation, WOW, so fitting for him and useful on the field. Both snipers were almost willing to destroy themselves just to hit their target, which lends to itself humorous commentary in Arthur vs. Mirage (also a pleasant rematch, it’s nice to see how much Arthur has grown). The stark use of black and white during these panels also accentuates the flash of their bullets and arrows—the clash between two sharp, diligent minds.

The weakest fight was by far Tamaki vs. Assault. As opposed to her flame ability taking out her opponent, that damned “lucky lecher lure” or whatever ended up being Assault’s downfall. Gosh, my eyes cannot roll hard enough. It’s bad enough that I don’t care for Tamaki at all, but to see her fighting like this really degrades her character. I sincerely thought this was going to be redemption for the cat girl. Oh well, at least Sister Iris came in with that lead pipe to Assault’s head.

Lastly, there’s Obi and Vulcan vs. Dr. Giovanni and Lisa. This fight really shows off Dr. Giovanni’s cunning ways, but also Obi’s raw human strength as a non-powered soldier. Vulcan and Lisa do little aside from playing Romeo and Juliet, so the main draw of this fight is definitely on the ideology clash between the company captains. I just can’t wait ’till Obi rips that obscene mask off Giovanni’s head.

As Shinra frees Viktor Licht from the White Hoods, it quickly becomes apparent that something isn’t right here. Shinra has sensed Sho’s presence in the Nether since the beginning, but a strange vision of ashen demonic skeletons has me scared for Shinra’s life. I have a hunch that the grand conflict awaiting us in volume ten will not only prove hard on Shinra because of Sho, but because his own powers may decide to reveal their true colors.


We are forever beseeching the rising sun. Grant thy light to the undefiled souls.Sister Iris


Afterword

Lots of stuff happened in these past three Fire Force volumes. I have no doubt that the story is only to get a lot darker with the reveal of certain truths about the world in the volumes to come. I went ahead and ordered the next nine volumes (I know, I should moderate myself better), but I’ll be taking a break from the series until they arrive. Until then, what are your thoughts on the series so far? I’d love to hear, but no spoilers please! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

CLICK HERE TO READ MY THOUGHTS ON VOLUMES 10-12

The Flame Expands: Fire Force Manga Volumes 4-6

Loose thoughts on volumes 4-6 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 1-3


A Bug in the System

Continuing where the third volume left off, volume four reveals the presence of a traitor in the Tokyo Fire Force. We also find that the secrets to spontaneous human combustion don’t lie in a fault with the Sun God, but rather are caused by man himself. Specifically, followers of the “Evangelist” are trying to track down people who are blessed by the Sun God by injecting random men, women, and children with a strange insect born from the ashes of Infernals.

Although we don’t know much, these wanted individuals supposedly possess an “Adolla Burst,” or “pure, undefiled flame,” and a great aptitude to wield their pyrokinetic abilities. Shinra just so happens to have one of these Adolla Bursts.

Enter Rekka Hoshimiya, the Company 1 traitor and a devout follower of the Evangelist. I distinctly remember disliking this part of the anime most, as it also happens to center around Tamaki and her allegiance to this terrible man. While nice character growth for her (what with the shattering of her greatest role model and her overcoming this sad reveal), Shinra’s fierce encounter with Rekka is unfortunately bogged down by more awkward fanservice pandering.

In a couple of action stunts, Shinra is thrown off balance and rolls into an abused Tamaki’s chest while she is propped sitting against a pillar of the abandoned factory setting. I get that Ohkubo likes this kind of thing in his manga and that he finds it funny, but I just think it’s awkward—and in a bad way. For one, it ruins the tension built up in this serious fight. Secondly, of all the places to land, OF COURSE Shinra has to fall into her bosom—and more than one time!

But the best part of this little setback is how it ironically propels the story forward immensely. Suddenly we know a lot more about SHC, as well as a taste of what the true enemy looks like—and it ain’t pretty.

In Good Company

I really like volume five. The book opens with the history of Company 8’s formation told from Hinawa’s sharp perspective, as well as the backstories of Hinawa, Obi, and Maki’s relation to one another. Hinawa was a diligent soldier in the Imperial Army; Maki was a general’s daughter but also worked hard as a rookie soldier; and Obi was an honest-to-goodness firefighter (and he still is, really).

This backstory serves to flesh out Hinawa’s rigid character, answering why he’s so punctual towards his company but also compassionate towards victims of SHC. His story is a sad one, but is brought into great care thanks to Obi. On that note . . .

God I admire Obi so much. What a great guy. Finding out that the reason he was kicked out of the job was because he decided to release the soul of an Infernal (despite shitty orders from the Fire Force) was totally a thing he’d do. And the fact that Hinawa was the one who pulled the trigger just SENDS me. These two really do have each other’s back.

Volume five’s second half shifts gears to the next big development: the attack on Asakusa. We meet the annoying, foul-mouthed lolita twins of Company 7, Hikaga and Hinata, as well as the stubborn dude simultaneously protecting and destroying this region of Tokyo: Benimaru Shinmon. 

A tough nut to crack, Benimaru is the exact kind of guy I CANNOT STAND in shounen anime. EXCEPT, for some reason I like him a lot. Maybe it’s because of Ohkubo’s character design, or because I remember his dub voice from the anime, but everytime Benimaru flexes his gifted pyrokinetic skills, I just gawk at the pages for hours. His signature final move, Nichirin (“The Sun Wheel”), adds a super neat oriental flavor to the different types of fire power in this series.

The world also starts to open up a lot in this volume. Like with Hibana’s Company 5, we see how Company 7 handles the Infernal cases, and it’s shockingly touching. Honoring the spirit an unsuspecting person who goes Infernal, Company 7—with their savior Benimaru at the front—parades Asakusa with cheers and destruction, celebrating their life and death in the process by lighting up the town and rebuilding from the ashes. I like the Company 7 way of things.

The Flowers of Edo

If volume five provided the build up to this invasion of Asakusa, the sixth volume adds the climax. The White Hoods have set a trap for Company 8, and it would seem that Benimaru’s poor leadership has caused his own Company 7 to fall for it as well. As citizens start mistaking one another for various crimes, a citywide spell of doppelganger sets in on Asakusa. We find that one especially potent servant of the Evangelist, Yona, has the power to reshape the human face, and boy are its effects nasty.

Even though there’s this new typed of horned Infernal revealed—which is appropriately called a Demon—the White Hoods themselves really shine as the action set piece on this one. The archer with the gorgeous yet deadly crescent-shaped bow made of flames makes HER reappearance from Rekka’s shocking death in volume four. As villains, the character designs for the White Hoods seem just as well thought out as the MCs themselves, and it’s always nice to have a badass-looking villain cloaked in white. We know very little of Arrow’s personality, but the motivation is clear: to return mankind to the inferno. 

Growing from his learned failures, Benimaru pulls off a fantastic victory thanks to Shinra’s backup. Lieutenant Konro shows more pathos than I’d have imagined a guy like him would, and it’s because of Konro’s backstory reveal that Benimaru comes across as a tired man looking for atonement. This duo nicely parallels Hinawa’s dedication to Obi from the previous volume. Perhaps the two companies aren’t so different after all.

Most interesting of all was Shinra’s strange tingling sensation in his foot when he heard Konro’s shout. Does the Adolla Link allow him to sense the passionate flames of others? I’m sure we’ll find out soon. What I did like about Shinra from this volume was his cooperation with Arthur in the White Hoods fight, but also how he literally leapt into action before he could even think when Konro screamed his name. (The acceleration shots were bursting with an energy I could feel!!)

I was reminded of Deku from My Hero Academia, and how the one thing that drew All Might to Izuku was how his legs moved before he thought about the dangers ahead. Given Shinra’s aspirations to be a hero (and the importance of his feet!), I wouldn’t be surprised if this is how they were tying it all together.

Last but certainly not least was the final page reveal: the man who was working with the Joker has made his way into Company 8 as their chief scientist. I think I got actual chills from that scene! Also, does this creep really serve Shinra’s now-evil brother Sho??? I’m not sure where this is going, but I have a feeling that Shinra and the rest of Company 8 are gonna have to really watch themselves around this eerie dude.

After all, it is always darkest beneath the lamp.


The spirit of Company 8 hasn’t changed since the day it was formed! To the dying, we give our prayers and respect . . . and to the living, we give release from the flames. We value human life . . . that’s what we’re about. —- Akitaru Obi


Afterword

Is anyone else reading Fire Force? Well, I hope you either are or weren’t planning to because I just spoiled a huge part of this developing story! Did you like this type of post where I sat down and just freely wrote about the manga I’ve been reading? I’d love to hear your thoughts—both on the series and on the post—in the comments. If a couple of you enjoyed it, I’d be happy to do reflections like this for future Fire Force volumes as well as other series I’m reading, just let me know! The story only continues to expand, and I’m eager to explore past what I’ve seen in the anime. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

CLICK HERE TO READ MY THOUGHTS ON VOLUMES 7-9

Fire Force MANGA Vol. 1-3 || First Impressions

First impressions for volumes 1-3 of Atsushi Ohkubo’s manga series “Fire Force,” initially published in 2016 by Kodansha Comics.


Heroes, Devils, and the Inferno

Shinra Kusakabe’s enlistment in the Tokyo Fire Force was by no means an accident. After losing his mom and brother to a household fire, Shinra sets his sights on becoming a hero of the flames so others do not have to go through what he did. It’s a noble goal for sure, but not one without its difficulties. For one, he’s got a creepy little smile that appears whenever things get too intense, which often sends mixed signals to the people he saves. Additionally, his unique pyrokinetic ability shoots fire straight from his feet, leaving behind a literal wicked streak wherever he goes, the so-called “devil’s footprints.”

The Fire Force isn’t just responsible for squelching household fires, though. To fight the inferno in this elite force also means releasing the souls of those who ignite from spontaneous human combustion, a rare dysfunction that can cause an ordinary person to burst into flames on the spot. It can be hard to purge someone who was perfectly fine and healthy just a moment ago, but better to put out the flames quickly than to draw out their suffering. Thankfully, the special force is equipped with many other talented pyrokinetics who also use their powers for good.

The concept of spontaneous human combustion certainly brings with it its pathos, which the Fire Force respects with a humble prayer, “látom,” and a swift, efficient termination of the victim. However, it is certainly odd that the Sun God would punish his own subjects with the flame. As Shinra and his Company 8 comrades start investigating the other companies and their research, they quickly find that while fire brings light, it can also cast terrifying shadows.

Explosive From the Start

While the world and story of Fire Force is full of potential, it’s the quirky characters that make the series shine. From the same mind that created the equally wacky Soul Eater (which I thought was mediocre at best), I honestly love everyone I’ve met in these first three volumes. Shinra’s got this natural charisma to him, a chiseled edge that I find more captivating compared to other shounen protagonists. At the same time, he’s a little doughy boy whose just trying to do his best, and I like him for that.

His friendly fire rival and bunk-mate Arthur Boyle is a delusional dunce who’s convinced he’s a knight. Arthur’s antics get a little annoying at times (HOW DOES A MAN NOT KNOW WHICH HAND TO HOLD HIS SWORD IN I–), but like Shinra, he’s a lovable idiot, even if stupid to the core.

The rest of Company 8 is shaping up to be an entertaining and endearing bunch. Obi commands the squad with overwhelming authority and love for his crew, despite not possessing any fire abilities himself. (Perhaps that makes him even more commendable.) I’m sure we’ll find out more about him as the series goes on. His second in command, the sharp-eyed Lieutenant Hinawa, seems to share a past with Obi. The same goes for Maki, a talented second generation pyrokinetic who can manipulate the flames into cute little fire sputters, but could also squat Shinra and Arthur with her strength. I hope we learn more about Company 8 as the series goes on.

Lastly for noteworthy characters, the first three volumes conclude the Princess Hibana arc. A leading research force into human combustion, Hibana rules over her subjects with a much colder hand than Obi does. Ohkubo has this tendency to give characters certain speech quirks that get annoying fast, and Hibana’s use of the word “gravel” to describe every single human she comes across gets old quick. However, Hibana’s encounter with Shinra changes her perspective a little, and as she joins Company 8’s goal of uncovering the secrets of human combustion, Hibana becomes a beautiful ally worth having.

Saved by the Flame

My only big gripe with the series so far is the strange fanservice timing. I know it was an apparent problem for those watching the anime, but the manga has it too. Most of these unfortunate scenes revolve around a Company 1 cat girl named Tamaki, whom which Shinra or Arthur constantly stumble into through weird action stunts. For example, Shinra goes to raise his hand for a greeting, but “accidentally” slips it IN HER BRA. Like, WHAT?? I don’t get the appeal, but thankfully it doesn’t happen too often.

Where this quirky fanservice has be annoyed, I can at least admire Ohkubo’s iconic character art style. Again, maybe it’s just a matter of subject, but I am enjoying this series TEN times more than I did Soul Eater. With their shimmering blue reflective tape and puffy coat, the signature Fire Force uniforms are what first caught my eye. This design choice has me absolutely LIVING, and I can’t wait to cosplay it someday soon!

Fun, intense, and fast-paced, Fire Force depicts the great wonder of the flame with artistic fury and creativity. The world is crafted with immense intrigue, and I’m dying to know what secrets the top dogs in Company 1 are holding. Given Shinra’s fiery spirit and determination, I bet it won’t be too long before we find out.


It doesn’t matter who you are–it doesn’t matter if you broke the law. If someone’s in trouble, we go to help. The Fire Force isn’t like the military. Isn’t that what heroes do? — Shinra Kusakabe


Afterword

So, where do I stand on Fire Force after three volumes? Guys, it’s great. Tons of fun. My only concern is whether to continue reading the manga or to just watch the anime. I had impulsively bought the first NINE volumes in a sale a while back (I know, you’d think I’d learn . . .) but I did this because I didn’t think we’d get a second season. Well, now it’s a thing, and from what I understand, the anime does a pretty good job at staying faithful to the source. If anyone who has dabbled in both has any recommendations, I’d love to hear them. For now, though, I’ll read what I have, and who knows, maybe I’ll find the answer for myself! Thanks for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

Click here to read my thoughts on volumes 4-6!

A Second Chance to Shine: Land of the Lustrous MANGA || “First” Impressions

First impressions for volume one of Haruko Ichikawa’s manga series “Land of the Lustrous,” published in 2017 by Kodansha Comics.


So, I Was Wrong . . .

This is a bit of a weird post, but hear me out. The story goes like this: I’m sitting here ready to sell the first five volumes of Land of the Lustrous that I own because I wasn’t going to continue reading it. Ever since the anime enchanted me back in late 2017, I have been eager to find out what happens in the story beyond the adaptation. Everyone online is always hyping up the manga each time a new volume is released, and I wanted to join in on the fun. (This all began when the manga started being released in English, of course.)

But as soon as I flipped open the cover, I didn’t understand any of it. The characters all looked the same, the art style was visually attractive but hard to follow. None of it made sense to me. I couldn’t even get past the first chapter. So, I put the book(s) back on my shelf, thinking I just wasn’t in the right head space for reading manga.

Months pass. I distinctly recall trying out that first volume again, but didn’t get beyond the opening act. A year goes by, and this series is still sitting there looking pretty. Before I know it, 2020 is here. At some point I tried again—couldn’t do it. What was I not understanding? Was the writing beyond what I could contemplate? Why was everyone raving about this series each time a new volume was released when I couldn’t even get past the first fifty pages?

“A Perfect Adaptation”

Just the other day, Jack of Under the Scope over on YouTube put out this video titled “Land Of The Lustrous: A PERFECT Adaptation.” Now, I know Jack to be a pretty smart and reasonable guy. But this was a pretty big claim, even for him. So I watched it, eager to hear what he had to say—and what I, apparently, was not picking up.

Through his tight-knit, formal analysis comparing the anime and the manga, I walked away having entirely different thoughts about Land of the Lustrous than I held going in. I was reminded of all the wonderful things the anime series did, and why I wanted to pick up the manga in the first place. Really, my kudos go out to Jack and his editor.

I’m only writing this post now because, as you can imagine by the title, I finally completed volume one of the series—and all in a single sitting, no less! Thanks to watching Jack break down how Haruko Ichikawa constructed the manga (even if it was only his interpretation), I was able to understand so many new things about this book I had neglected for the past couple years.

For one, the panel composition is brilliant. (And no, I’m not just saying that because Jack did.) I get why it’s intelligent compositing; the word bubbles naturally guide the reader through the page, following the action, emotions, and anticipation built up before flipping to the next one. Some of Phos’s dialogue actually had me grinning, whereas many of the comments made by Cinnabar and Diamond made my heart ache with sympathy.

And the fights between the Lunarians and the Gems are unbelievably gorgeous and fluid, nightmarish and dreamlike. Ichikawa’s mastered a strong eye and steady hand for crafting all kinds of tectures: glossy hair and glassy eyes, brittle arms and blowing fields, viscous liquids and vile substances. I seen now that Land of the Lustrous is a tactile experience as it is a narrative one. Much of this is accomplished by the stark use of flat black vs. round white shapes to catch the reader’s eye, but it’s also the Gems themselves that carry the weight of this unique story.

It Was Always This Good

As graceful as the action and writing may be, a common criticism of the manga series is that it’s hard to tell characters apart. But, as YouTube friend Simply Gee pointed out, perhaps that’s part of the point. Phos lives in a world where their individuality is a stunningly hard thing to achieve, despite there only being 27 other Gems to compete against for Kongo-sensei’s attention. They all have the same body shape, wear the same clothes, and live in the same construct. Thus, it’d only be natural for characters to gradually become more defined—physically and emotionally for themselves AND the viewer—as the story progresses. Everyone will have their chance to shine eventually.

I realize this post was less of a “first” impressions and more of a commentary on the series as a whole, but the bottom line I’m getting at here is that Land of the Lustrous is very intelligently designed—and that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying to enjoy it. Heck, still I don’t know a thing about mineral hardness and Moh’s scale, but I love Dia’s caring personality and Jade’s stern, no-nonsense attitude nonetheless.

Elegant, unique, and bizarrely stylish, Land of the Lustrous is about searching for purpose in life. However, as one might expect, the book reads very different than the adaptation. In this instance, it took me needing a little push to understand why the manga is so beloved by others. But I believe learning what makes a work of art “good” will always be worth it. After all, I’d certainly rather be in the club that enjoys reading Land of the Lustrous than not—because it’s very good. Then again, I suppose it always has been.


What if you tried making a big change in yourself? Maybe try something you never do would help? — Diamond


Afterword

I can’t recall if I’ve ever written a manga first impressions before, given that I don’t read much manga. If this is the first, however, I’d love to hear what you thought, as well as whether you’d be interested in more of these! I’m definitely keeping Land of the Lustrous on my shelves, and will continue reading until at least until I’ve read those five volumes I bought a while back. After that, well, I suppose we’ll see! I imagine the series only gets better, though. Thanks for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto