A Girl on the Shore – Inio Asano

Koume is feeling pretty blue after her crush, the local playboy Misaki uses her for his own sexual pleasure then dumps her like a hot potato. She turns to Isobe, a boy who has always had a thing for her, looking for some rebound sex. In spite of Isobe’s declared intentions, Koume isn’t interested in a relationship with him, so the two step into uncharted waters of sexual exploration with each other instead.


Koume and Isobe’s relationship is dysfunctional from the outset as they navigate what is the first ongoing sexual relationship for both of them, complicated by their jealousy. Isobe also hides a dark secret which is compounded by Koume’s lack of regard for him into anger and destructive behaviour.

From reading the summary of this manga I had expected some kind of love story, so I was surprised to find more of an anti love story. Koume uses Isobe with no respect for his feelings at all, and Isobe is violent towards her when she angers him. I didn’t feel fully sympathetic for either character, which was jarring at first, but once I got used to it, it was also a refreshing change to read such flawed, selfish and complex characters.

Although this story wasn’t what I expected there is a lot to praise about this manga. I found it enjoyable to read a manga that neither puts sex on a pedestal of “that special perfect first time” as many shoujo manga are apt to do, but displays it with an openness that is never pushed to salaciousness, right down to the artwork even displaying pubic hair, a rare occurrence in manga and anime. The artwork style is also really interesting, and the photo realistic backdrops are impressive to pore over.

A Girl on the Shore is a great story, but the ending felt rushed for me in comparison to the emotional buildup. Isobe is shown to be struggling with depression to the point of suicidal thoughts, and yet after a pivotal moment when Koume worriedly searches for him in a rainstorm, he is revealed to be totally fine, with no satisfying emotional payoff for how he overcame his personal demons.

On the whole I enjoyed this story overall and would recommend it if you’re looking for a complex teen relationship story. Inio Asano presents a dark and flawed portrait of his characters, and it’s really something you can get stuck into.

Yaoi manga reviews (Even So, I Will Love You Tenderly/Ten Count/Flutter)

img_1794

Even So, I Will Love You Tenderly – Kou Yoneda 

Harumi falls hard and fast for Ryo when they meet at a bar. But Ryo is straight, or is he? When Ryo finds himself attracted to another man, Harumi realises he has a chance – and he has to take it.

I really enjoyed this manga’s style. The urban city life of late night bar conversations and falling asleep on the train richly evoke the life of young Japanese professionals, and Harumi is a great character, covering his emotional vulnerability with wit and self deprecating humour even when alone.

The dialogue is informal and flows easily, especially between Ryo and Harumi during the love confession. Their push and pull of feelings is really interesting and moving to read as they try and cross the divide of gay and straight. I even laughed out loud during the love scene as Ryo’s approach is hilariously awkward and feels refreshingly human. I would definitely like to read more manga from this author.

10/10

Ten Count (Volume 1) – Rihito Takari 

Don’t be fooled by the sexy cover art and “Explicit Content” warning, volume one of Ten Count is quite a refined, slow placed affair. The story follows polite and dedicated corporate secretary Shirotani whose life is turned upside down when he meets Kurose, a counsellor who accurately diagnoses him on the spot as a man struggling with germophobia and OCD.

I’m not sure if it was an intentional attempt to avoid controversy on the author’s part, but the manga seems to aim to skirt around the ethical issues of a counsellor and client falling in love as Kurose from the beginning decides to counsel Shirotani outside of a professional setting, not asking for any fees and stating that he wants to be Shirotani’s friend. All the same their relationship remains largely professional, with Kurose outlining a ten-step program for Shirotani to work through.

I found Ten Count to be in some respects almost as rigid as Shirotani’s secretarial suit and gloves. His mental illness felt well portrayed as the story nicely balanced his triumphs and setbacks, complete with the physical symptoms and traumatic flashbacks and his relationship with Kurose is well realised but both Kurose and Shirotani’s emotions and interactions are often subdued which makes it harder to connect with their characters and relationship at times. Nonetheless this a very elegantly drawn and told story and I would consider reading the next volume to see how Shirotani overcomes his condition.

7/10 (but there’s room to grow in later volumes)

Flutter – Momoko Tenzen

Asada is always spellbound by a handsome coworker he sees every morning on his way into work. When the two are paired up on a project, he can’t believe his luck. The manga is quick to blur the lines of their professional relationship when Asada goes drinking with Mizuki and wakes up at his house the next morning, and then ends up going to see a movie with him.

Flutter unfolds as a pretty standard romance, with the obstacle to Asada and Mizuki’s relationship being one of Mizuki’s old flames, a university professor. The art style is also very typical for yaoi with angular faces and large broad bodies, but the expressions are well conveyed and the story flows well with no panel ever feeling flat.

Flutter doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary for a yaoi manga, but it does it well so if you’re looking for a typical boy’s love read, give it a go.

8/10

 

N.B. Another thing I enjoyed about all of these manga is they all steered clear of the seme/uke stereotypes yaoi is known for in which an older/more masculine man pursues and seduces a younger/more feminine man often in a disturbingly non-consensual way (Junjou Romantica, I’m looking at you).

Orange by Ichigo Takano (Volume 2)

IMG_0945

Shortly after receiving a letter from her 26 year old self warning her to protect and look out for the new boy Kakeru in her class, 16 year old Naho learns that her friends also received letters from their future selves, also with the protection of Kakeru in mind.

Now that she is able to be honest and open with her friends, they band together in their motivation to help and watch over Kakeru. Having learnt that Naho’s letter contains over twice as much detail as their own, the gang insist that Naho clearly means more to Kakeru than they do, and alongside helping him they want to push Naho and Kakeru together, with a romantic ulterior motive.

Naho determines to support Kakeru every step of the way
Naho is determined to support Kakeru every step of the way

Takano ups the dramatic stakes of Orange in a way that had me increasingly gripped while reading this volume. Gradually she uncovers the full extent of Kakeru’s struggle with depression and grief, and the bond he shares with his friends and Naho in particular make it easy to root them as they work desperately to support him and offer him moments of happiness. This is all too painfully paralleled against the friends aged 26 paying tribute to Kakeru and praying that their letters somehow reached their past selves and saved him in an alternate world.

At 26, Naho and her friends
At 26, Naho and her friends hope to save Kakeru in another world

As Kakeru’s grief and depression is gradually brought to the forefront, Takano portrays a mind lost in despair and sadness with realism and ease. Kakeru’s depression is never shown to be something that is either impossible to fix or all too easy to fix. Rather, Takano emphasises the importance of emotional support as Naho and her friends continue to reach out to Kakeru in small ways, and attempt to prevent him from cutting himself off from everyone else. Takano neatly captures the nuances of what can and cannot be altered when it comes to depression – for instance, Naho attempts to avoid saying something that the letter tells her would make Kakeru lash out at her, but he lashes out anyway. This is clearly shown to be a part of his mental state at the time that could not have been changed, and reflects the complexity of depression in that sometimes kind words can help, and sometimes they can’t.

Kakeru struggles with his depression
Kakeru struggles with his depression

Kakeru’s struggle is brought to the forefront in this volume, but we also see Naho’s own journey as she realises what it means to help Kakeru, and that platitudes no matter how well meaning, aren’t always the solution. She remains a kind and sweet person, so it’s easy to feel for her happiness and pain when Kakeru lets her in or shuts her out.

x
Naho comes to understand mental wellbeing is more complex than she first thought

Orange is a wonderful, emotionally resonant manga series that any romance fan should make sure to add to their collection. Tackling themes of depression and suicide in a mature and heartrending way, it offers a balanced and moving look at what it means to support someone in the throes of grief and unwaveringly be their friend.