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

Melting Lover: The Shadowy Side of Affection || Review

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


Four Short Supernatural Stories

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

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

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

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

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

melting lover

Dark Subjects with a Gentle Touch

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

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

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

melting lover color


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


Afterword

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

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

– Takuto

Candy Color Paradox: Sweet Yet Sour || First Impressions

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


Pictures and Pride

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

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

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

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

CCP intro

Writer x Photographer

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

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

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

CCP mid

Maybe it Gets Sweeter

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

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

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

CCP end


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


Afterword

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

– Takuto

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