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

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


Boys’ Love for the Soul

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

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

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

yutaka meets tane

Bonding Over Food

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

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

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

yutaka and minoru

A Gentle Foodie Read

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

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

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

our dining table


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


Afterword

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

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

– Takuto

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

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


Forbidden Love

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

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

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

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

masahiro and kensuke

Poor, Poor Masahiro

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

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

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

hitorijime school

Big-Chill BL Energy

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

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

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

masahiro crying

Not the Best, But a Huge Step Up

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

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

masahiro and kousuke night


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


Afterword

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

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

– Takuto

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

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


A Sham Marriage

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

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

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

morimoto and hana bed

From Roommates to Something More

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

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

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

hana

A Sweet, Simple Yuri Read

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

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

morimoto and hana hug


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


Afterword

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

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

– Takuto

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

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


A Rough Ride

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

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

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

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

escape journey bike

Friends for Life

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

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

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

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

escape journey aquarium

What Comes After Love . . . ?

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

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

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

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

escape journey riding


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


Afterword

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

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

– Takuto

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

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


A Shocking Reunion

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

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

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

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

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

izumi and ryouma romance

Lovable Leads, Hilarious Heart

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

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

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

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

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

izumi rei shougo

The Best-Looking (and Sounding) BL Anime

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

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

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

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

izumi ryouma young

A Coming Out to Celebrate

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

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

izumi and ryouma close up


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


Afterword

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

– Takuto

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

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

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