Kore wa Kitto Yume no Naka no Kiss / Surely the Kiss of My Dreams by Kazao

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I came across Kore wa Kitto Yume no Naka no Kiss  / Surely the Kiss of My Dreams by searching for yaoi about “waiters.”

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Minato Atsuma normally has terrible luck with men. I can kind of relate. My early girlfriends weren’t abusive the way his lovers are, but they were… a little bit crazy, in their own ways. Minato explains his problem with men being that he figures that with an average face like he has, he has to take what he can get. I think we all feel like that to some extent, you know? Plus, in the early days, when I was first out, I had a tendency to be very “Oh? You are also queer and single? Let’s DATE!” without a lot of consideration beyond that.

Hence the crazy ex-girlfriends.

But, back to the story.

Minato is also highly relatable because all he really wants is someone to be nice to him–someone he can come home to and be loved by.

It initially seems pretty hopeless, despite Minato’s best efforts. But, one day, he ends up making friends with a sculptor. Completely innocently, he ends up telling this artist that the sculpture in the garden across from the restaurant where he works makes him happy. Just looking at it, helps him get through the tough shifts.

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Of course, the artist is the very one who created this sculpture and is deeply moved by this praise. So, he invites Minato back to his studio to show off his other work.

For the longest time, they’re just friends. Minato keeps trying to make his sh*tty boyfriend (who remains mostly off-screen) happy and he keeps getting hit and hurt.

Eventually things come to a head on Minato’s birthday, when the boyfriend not only forgets about Minato completely but Minato finds him in bed with another guy. They break up, and Minato ends up at the artist’s studio, looking for a little tea and sympathy.

He ends up with much more than that.

Minato and the artist, Takumi Kaga, start up a relationship. And, for the next several chapters it’s all pretty blissful. Takumi has no trouble figuring out the gay sex thing, despite having been completely straight previous to falling in love with Minato.

In fact, Takumi’s previous exclusive straightness becomes a plot point when his agent reveals that there may be a love child and an ex looking for support. Of course, Minato overhears this conversation and waits for Takumi to tell him about it. When he doesn’t, Minato assumes that’s probably a sign that he’s not as loved as he thought he was.

Which… isn’t necessarily bad thinking for a guy who previously couldn’t tell the difference between bickering and abuse.

But so, especially after hearing from some of Takumi’s other exes that Takumi broke up with them because he wanted a “complete” family, drama ensues.

I don’t know why, but I found this particular story very queer.

Maybe because my wife is bisexual, like the love interest in this one, and we had some ‘but I can’t give you the traditional family things’ drama ourselves?

But, whatever the reason, I enjoyed this one on a storytelling level. The art is good, and the sex is present, though not super-kinky or hugely plentiful. (There is one random tying up scene, though, which I–and our hero–enjoyed.)

If you go looking to read it via scanlations, be warned: most of the sites are actually missing a middle chapter–right after they break-up–and have replaced it with chapters from something else.  So, please use the link I provided above.

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Honestly?  Yes, the way you’re written, you do seem ACTUALLY gay.

 

Alrighty then, on to more smut / gay romance involving waiters…!

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Renai-rubi no Tadashii Furikata/ The Proper Way to Write Love by Ogeretsu Tanaka

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So, at the suggestion of a friend, I’m going to try listening to an Audio Drama/Drama CD. I have heard about these a lot, but, since they are in Japanese, I never really thought they’d be of much interest to me.

An audio drama (a formal description I linked to above,) is exactly what it sounds like, a kind of ‘radio show,’ though produced for individual sale. If you read manga about manga, you’ve probably at least heard about these, as they’re often considered bonus material–akin to getting an anime made of one’s manga.

At any rate, that’s the long way around explaining why I ended up reading Renai-Rubi no Tadashii Furikata/ The Proper Way to Write Love.

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The manga is actually a collection of stories. The first are “Renai-rubi no Tadashii Furikata” (the titular chapters 1 and 2,) which are completed in chapter 3, “Renai-Rubi no Yarashii Furikata”/”The Sexy Way to Write Love.” The story follows Suzuki Hiromu, a nerd turned hairstylist who takes revenge on his high school “tormenter,” Washizawa Natsuo, by… (drum roll, please)…. dating him.

I also had to put “tormentor” in quotes, because, despite what Suzuki seems to think of his past, it was pretty clear to me that the attention that Washizawa was giving him was actually just awkward affection. Washizawa’s biggest crime was apparently being a delinquent and tough-looking, and so Suzuki spent his time with him feeling terrorized despite the fact that all Washizawa seemed to want was to know the names of various plants that Suzuki was caring for in the Garden Club’s garden.

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The reason this revenge plan woks, however, is because after spending high school as a plant nerd, our hero decides to become fashionable. He goes to cosmology school and becomes a hairstylist. He changes his look so much, that, when Washizawa shows up at the salon for a haircut, he no longer recognizes Suzuki.

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Same guy as the glasses-wearing one above.

So, when Washizawa starts coming up with reason to hang out at the salon (“Oh, you have a spa? I’ll do that!”) and finally works up the courage to ask Suzuki out, Suzuki thinks, “Finally! I will play his heart like guitar string and then pluck it out!!!” or something to that effect, cue villainous music.

And, of course, instead, he falls in love.

Washizawa is kind of dumb, but he’s not actually the least bit mean-spirited. He’s actually really quite sweet and we even discover that everyone he dated before Suzuki, looked exactly like Suzuki’s nerd persona.

So, even though the deception comes out exactly as planned and Suzuki gets his revenge, he feels like a heel about it. They make up in a very cute way over a plant that Suzuki had previously been very stingy about letting Washizawa help care for (which is a call-back to the Garden Club days.)

The second story, which starts in chapter four, is called “Hodokeru Kaibutsu” / “The Monster Falls Apart.”  This story follows a broken soul, Hayashida Kannosuke, who ends up in a f*ck-buddy relationship with a coworker after a night of drunken nomikai. The coworker, Shuuna Ayumu, is kind of turned on by Hayashida’s empty piercing holes in his ears and the implication that he was once a delinquent. Turns out, Hayashida still has a couple of piercings he keeps hidden….

At any rate, they get it on, and Shuuna gets invested. He sees a picture of a younger Hayashida smiling and becomes determined to see this dour, sour grown up smile like a kid again.

Yeah, but it turns out Hayashida isn’t smiling because he was kind of sh*t in his past–he was an abuser to a former boyfriend.

So…. it takes some convincing to flush out that smile.

And start the healing process? Though I have to give Ogeretsu-sensei credit, she does not imply that just smiling again is all it takes and, apparently, the story continues in Hadakeru Kaibutsu / The Unraveling Monster, which I have not yet read.

This story is a return to much more smutty stuff, so there’s a lot of sexy times for those who enjoy such things (like I do.)

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I would recommend this. It has good story and excellent art.

I’ll let you know what I think of the Drama CD!

Ganbare! Nakamura-kun / Go For it, Nakamura! by Syundei

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When a friend told me that when she recommended Ganbara, Nakamura-kun / Go For it, Nakamura! to her comic book reading club and no one bothered to read it, I thought, well, hell, it’s only one volume, so why not?

Turns out? It’s really quite cute.

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 The basic story is that we have Nakamura Okuto, who self-describes as a “shy gay,” who has been in love with his classmate Hirose Aiki since first clapping eyes on him during opening ceremonies. At the beginning of the story, Nakamura has finally screwed up enough courage to give it a try–he’s going to talk to Hirose for real, in-person (instead of just in his imagination.)

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The manga then follows the series of Nakamura’s comical misadventures along the way that leads to a lovely blossoming friendship between the boys.

As you know, gentle readers, comedy is often a hard sell for me (I miss many of the language and cultural references/jokes and I don’t tend to like slapstick humor, in general,) but the hook of the romance kept me reading. To be fair, there really ISN’T a romance, per se. All the sexual tension is entirely one-sided and the biggest confession in the entire volume is Nakamura finally asking Hirose if it would be okay to consider him a friend.

But, as someone who was a “closet gay” in high school, herself, I feel Nakamura’s plight on a very personal level. I was in the almost identical situation in my own drama club, where, I was playing opposite the object of my attraction and the role demanded that she fall in love with me (THANK YOU, SHAKESPEARE, FOR ALL THE CROSS-DRESSING!) So, I mean, some of this, silly as it was, felt very relatable.

I would 100% recommend this, though maybe not to my comic book club, if only because it is very stylized. Though this was published in 2014, the art is intentionally retro and could be off-putting if don’t recognize or appreciate the sort of Akira look of the late 1980s.

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I got used to it very quickly and quite enjoyed the look of it–it added a kind of nostalgic charm even, perhaps?

Your mileage will also vary depending on how easily you can consume humor. Personally, I felt this one was very accessible, but comedy is very subjective. Also, it will depend very much on why you read BL/yaoi. If you’re in it for the sexy bits, this has none. There are a few semi-erotic imaginary daydreams that we see in Nakamura’s head, but LITERALLY nothing else really happens that could normally be considered sexy (there is a scene where Hirose is trying to get a bug out from under Nakamura’s shirt that Nakamura finds VERY stimulating, but it is done entirely with innocent intention, and, unlike any other BL/yaoi, we don’t even get a close up on Nakamura’s “distress,” as it were: no pants bulge. This is played entirely for humor, not sexy times.)

It’s cute as heck, though, and, ultimately, very heartwarming.

Of course, what is not shown is the heartbreak Nakamura will face when, after they become close friends, Hirose leaves him for a girlfriend. (Believe me, this was my high school and it wasn’t, at least from my perspective, particularly heartwarming or funny.) But, this isn’t that manga.

This is just a silly, situationally humorous, sweet story.

Which, you know, wouldn’t have killed those comic book book clubbers to try.

Delicious in Dungeon / Dungeon Meshi (vols. 1-3) by Ryoko Kui

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Foodie manga are such a strange sub-genre, and Dungeon Meshi / Delicious in Dungeon adds an even stranger dimension: fantasy food, like roast basilisk, complete with recipes.

Also, I also feel that if you’ve ever played a table-top RPG like Dungeons & Dragons, you’ll find a lot of humor in this manga.

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Because, besides all the killing things and taking their stuff (or, in this case, eating them,) there are some funky rules of engagement that very much feel like the natural outcome of a world that is a living, functioning version of a dungeon.

When people die, our heroes just walk past them or make sure to set them somewhere highly visible, because there are roving bands of resurrectionists who will revive you for a fee. And, of course, you run into lots of other adventurers in this dungeon. Everyone is after the same basic treasure. All of this is dealt with both very matter-of-factly, and with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Our heroes are no longer the run-of-the-mill treasure seekers they once were, they’re now actually after a fallen comrade that got eaten by a red dragon. She was the cleric of the party and sister to the fighter. In order to get back to her before she’s entirely digested (and therefor beyond resurrection), the party has forgone the usual provisions and have determined that they will eat whatever they can hunt and forage in the dungeon.

Along the way, they meet a dwarf who, conveniently, is a master of such things.

There really isn’t, as of volume 3, a whole lot of plot beyond “What will we eat today?” and I’m not sure I mind. I’m not sure there’s actually such a thing as a slice-of-life dungeon crawl, but, if there were, this would be what it would look like. We are in the early stages of the campaign, as it were, where we are getting to know each other and defeating monsters.

I have no idea if I care enough to read the rest. I only took out the first three from the library, but I suspect that, had I grabbed more, I would have read them as a matter of course, because they were there. The illustration and writing style are both pleasant enough, easy to digest (as it were!). The world building is probably my favorite part, however, and that’s not usually a recipe (ha! see what I did there!) for major investment from me.

It’s funny, it’s cute. It’s apparently a Manga Taishō award winner, so I mean it’s good?

On the other hand, I so still very much long to be enthused about the way that foodie manga heroes talk about their food…

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Ao no Flag /Blue Flag by Kaito

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I think I’m glad I waited to come out until I was in college. As far as I can tell, being queer in high school–particularly in Japan–sucks.

Technically, though, I think Ao no Flag / Blue Flag is meant to be a straight romance where the queer characters are side-kicks, which maybe just makes it more depressing?

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There’s a lesbian character in this, Itachi, who is incredibly glum, yet weirdly practical. Itachi has this great moment where she’s sitting with the very easy-going, accepting sister of one of the three main characters at some restaurant or other. The sister has guessed that Itachi is a lesbian and is giving her a pep talk, saying, “Be who you are! Who cares if no one accepts you; you can’t please everyone no matter what!” and she says, basically, ‘Yeah, that’s great, except if you’re not like other people, other people are really hard to empathize with.’

I feel this.

I feel this in particular with this manga. I actually like the main boy character, Ichinose, quite a bit, and the mousey girl, Kuze, who initially asks him for help trying to score Touma, the hot guy everyone loves (but who is secretly gay himself). Like, I find myself surprisingly invested in their friendship and how it may blossom into something more.

But, man–oh, man, do I CARE about Touma.

And Itachi.

If they’re not happy at the end, I will probably throw my computer at the wall–which would not be good for it. I already have a busted keypad. Itachi is completely right. Being gay means that I am not invested in the same story that the rest of the world is. I’m pretty sure that most of the readers of Ao no Flag / Blue Flag are super-invested in whether or not Ichinose figures out what he’s going to do with his life, what will happen with Kuze and her love for flowers and desire to get into the good horticulture school, and whether or not the random super-attractive ace girl will never not get everyone riled up and start fights…

Yeah, I could care less.

If Touma doesn’t find a nice boyfriend and get out of his restrictive household, I just don’t care.

The series is ongoing and ended (at the time of this review) at Volume 6, chapter 44, right after Touma has been outed to the school…. and I am too old to sit through conversations like the one Ichinose gets dragged into where he has to listen to a homophobe spout off about how it’s fine for him to have punched Touma because he feels sexually predated by the existence of gay men, because all women are meat to him, so clearly he’s meat to all gay men. He literally says, ‘you’d feel different if you were the target,’ which is a special brand of bull, because Touma never even looked twice at this douchebag, much less confessed any interest un him romantically or sexually.

When one of the girls present calls him on this bullsh*t, she has to sit through (as do I), some guy I thought I maybe liked as a character, tell her she needs to be tolerant of people’s opinions because all emotions are valid, even hate.

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I’m sorry, what? You want me to respect the “point of view” that violence against me is acceptable, because hate is a “valid” feeling? How about you F*CK right off??!!

Uh… thanks for that, Shounen Jump. You can kiss my queer a$$.

Oh, but wait, Jump or Kaito-sensei clearly didn’t feel like they’d pressed that straight panic button enough, because when the girls counter with ‘look, being in love with someone doesn’t hurt anyone,’ we have to go here:

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If women were allowed to be violent to straight men because they were groped or molested or raped by them, there would be a lot fewer men.

I would probably feel more conflicted about this revelation and my sympathy for this character, if I were not a writer. I KNOW for a fact that Kaito-sensei did not have to make this part of this particular argument. They brought it up with the intention of using Shounen Jump as a format to say, ‘Yeah, well, what about all the sexual predators, huh? It’s okay to hate them, right???”

In case this needs to be said, let me be clear. Predators are predators, regardless of sexual orientation. Gay, bisexual, and lesbian people LOVE people. We are not universally attracted to all men or all women. I like to tell the women I’ve encountered who actually suggest this to me (and, yes, I have heard this argument, ‘but am I safe with you?’) that I’m sorry, but I really only find LESBIANS attractive. And, honey, even if I was hot for you, you’re still safe with me, ‘cuz you ain’t all that and even if you were I can keep it in my f*cking pants AS CAN GAY AND BI MEN.

THIS is why I resist the yaoi trope that gay men “have it easy” since “all they’re looking for is hook-ups” and that, if you’re seduced by a gay guy when you’re drunk you will catch Teh Gay instantly.  Because, thanks to these prevalent misconceptions/fantasies/troupes, there are people in real life, who actually think queer folks are constantly on the prowl.

I’m sure that Kaito-sensei feels that they were being reasonable because they were “showing both sides.” And, how can we be mad at them, Touma is completely likable! And, anyway! This story isn’t even about this one tiny moment.

Which leads me back to Itachi.

Because, for me, this is the only story that matters. What happens to the queer folks in this story is the only story I care about.

I freely admit that means I’m not the target audience here, and I won’t deny that until Touma was outed and all this crap hit the fan, I was moderately enjoying a sweet little love quadrangle–I always had a sense that the queer folks weren’t going to end up happy, but I was willing to follow along anyway, just to see how it was handled and because I always hope against hope.

Once the gay characters are in peril? I don’t really care about anything else.

Like Itachi, I lack sympathy for your straight struggles and your bigoted, small minds. I mean, I suspect that’s going to be the point. I suspect that one of the character moments coming up for Ichinose is standing up for Touma, his friend? But, he really hasn’t so far? So, I’m not so sure.  Especially since this manga series starts with lines: “A best friend? A lover? Either of them can be good for you. It’s the ultimate choice. Which would you choose?”

That seems ominous.

So, can I recommend this? I mean, of course I will because it’s well-written and compelling, but with a caveat to my queer friends and readers. Beware: possible heartbreak and pain.

Interestingly a non-binary friend and I were talking about queer representation in writing and how SICK they are of the fact that most trans characters are defined by their PAIN. Like, you know it’s a trans character because they’re outed, in danger, and in constant body dysphoria. I will say, this is why I respect Chii-sensei’s decision to write her autobiographical manga The Bride Was a Boy and focus on the happy.

There can be queer drama without queer pain.

Her pain does NOT equal my entertainment.

Gay and lesbian characters used to suffer from this a lot, too. You only know its a story about us because we’re lonely and unhappy and getting queer bashed. And, I guess I’m worked up about this because Ao no Flag / Blue Flag feels to me like it’s skirting the edges of this ‘queer pain is straight entertainment’ vibe. I’m not making that accusation explicitly, yet, however, because the manga is on-going and everything could change in a chapter or a volume.

Which is why I stand by my “yes, I recommend.”  It’s not over until it’s over, and so I will reserve judgment. I don’t, as anyone who’s read MangaKast for any length of time knows, have a lot of faith in Ao no Flag / Blue Flag‘s publisher. If Jump can screw the landing, they will find a way. No shade on Kaito-sensei, but their publisher has the worst track record.

Also, how do you spot the Shounen Jump series?

A self-referential panel, of course~

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Gokusen (Vols. 1-5) by Morimoto Kozueko

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I have an actual paper list of manga and anime that people have recommended to me, and last night I thought that I should pick a random one and give it a try.  This is how I ended up up reading the lion’s share of Gokusen, a 1999 manga about Kumiko “Yankumi” Yamaguchi, a high school math teacher who is also a yakuza clan head.

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Sometimes, I’d swear we did certain kinds of feminism BETTER back in the 1990s than we do now. Obviously, that’s not true across the board, but Yankumi (who is often referred to by her yakuza title “Ojou”) runs around this entire manga in a track suit and is physically capable without having had to be the victim of sexual assault.

Instead, the backstory around Yankumi’s abilities involves an older yakuza ‘brother’ that she admires and who is tasked with being her caretaker. When she begs him to teach her to fight he sounds like he’s going to be a sexist pig. He says, “Look, you’re a girl, you can’t win against bigger guys.” But, instead of stopping there, he goes, “Good thing fighting isn’t only about power. Let me teach you how to go for the balls,” basically:

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…balls, gut, and throat.

Yankumi is no nonsense in a way that almost reads like a butch lesbian, but she breaks that stereotype, too, by being head over heels for the family lawyer.  Years and years before “Brave,” she defeats the arranged marriage trope by saying that she’ll only marry a man stronger than she is and soundly defeats any suitor.

I mean, much of this story is pretty run-of-the-mill, but I found Yankumi extremely refreshing as a character.

I have a number of friends who complain about how anime/mnaga women are always too giggly and baby girlish for their tastes. I haven’t tried to watch the anime for Gokusen (it’s not on Crunchyroll, though one was made, as well as a live-action TV series,) but I can’t imagine they cast Yankumi that way, unless they’re having her code-switch between her “softer” teacher persona and her gangster one for humorous effect.

If you like the general trope of the gangster doing mundane things, ala Gokushufudou: The Way of the House Husband, you may enjoy this as well. It’s clearly an early influence on some level, conscious or not.

For myself, I read five volumes in one sitting. Do I feel super compelled to finish it? *shrug* Had I started reading earlier in the evening I may have continued through to the end without blinking an eye.

A note about the art: it’s very crude. As someone on one of the sites I frequent complained, there are sections of this manga that are words floating on empty panels. The backgrounds are often nonexistent. The drawing is… well, after a while I found that it fit the story and the characters perfectly, but it took some time to get used to how unrefined it is. Some of that might be 1999, but some of it might be intentional. These characters are not slick or polished–they are simple, brutal, and not trying to be something they’re not.

Like the art.

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Loved Circus by Asada Nemui

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I’ve been lucking out lately. Thanks to a recommendation from a friend, I hit another smutty, plot-y story in Loved Circus.

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Normally, if I read a review that used the word ‘realistic’ as praise for a manga, I’d think, “Eh, I’m gonna hate it.”

So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that one of the things that I liked about this manga was that it had a certain amount of realism.  I’ll also add the caveat, however, that finishing it made me a little sad? I was not left with the normal ‘whelp, that was fun,’ feeling at any rate. However, I think this is a story I’m going to be turning over in my mind for awhile.

The story of Loved Circus follows a classically hapless hero, Satou Keima, a salaryman that’s been so completely conned by a hostess in a Hostess Club that he’s gone into debt with the wrong sort. Now he has no more money to give her, so Keima decides the only way out is suicide.

Cue a ‘rescue’ from Shiro, the number one at the adjacent brothel. The whole thing is staged as a kind of kidnapping/extortion, but it quickly becomes evident that this whole scenario is a standard way for the brothel to get more working members: scare them into thinking the only way to pay their debts is via prostituting.

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Interestingly, in doing research into host/hostess club work as sex work, I ran across an article where this exact set-up was detailed, except in reverse (where the men at a Host Club lured women into massive debt and then ‘offer’ prostitution to her as a way for her to pay off her debt.)

Because, despite what Baka-Updates’ readers’ category tags imply, Keima is not being employed as a host at a host club. There’s no club room where drinks are served. There’s no need to look pretty or be charming. The clients book a time and go straight to a room for sex. The guys working “The Circus” are prostitutes, plain and simple. They’re required to live there, clean the place (even the rooms used for ‘service,’) pay for and cook their own meals. All of which, of course, comes out of the money they’re making to pay off their debts.

Despite this dark background (or maybe because of it,) life at the brothel seems pretty collegiate to Keima. Sajou “Joe” Takayuki even makes it sound fun.

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Yet, he’s the first one to find a way out of the business.

Kind of–since it all starts because Joe is willing to bend the rules in order to pay for his gambling habit (how he ended up in this work, in the first place.)  He hustles as a side-job, sometimes even using the brothel’s beds on days they’re closed. Well, one time, he wakes up having been drugged unconscious. When they go looking for the perpetrator, they find someone who used to work at the brothel, Suma. Suma is on a work visa which is expiring and, apparently, just wanted to see Joe one more time, but was afraid that if he were awake, he’d be unable to leave him….

Of course, Joe, being a moron, finds this deeply attractive and vows to run away with his assailant. Everyone knows it’s not going to last, and is kind of doesn’t… but also does.

And that’s the vibe of this entire manga.

The relationship that develops between our hero, Keima, and Shiro is similar in that it works out, but also kind of doesn’t?

I’m not going to go into all of the details because I do think this one is worth checking out for the plot and the relationships. I ended up loving pretty much all the characters, even the owners of the Hostess/Host Clubs, so it’s well written in that regard. But don’t blame me if you get to the end and think: “What? Is this happy?”  Because, I told you, I’m not sure it is? But, it does feel like the kind of resolution that I could believe in for these particular characters in this particular circumstance. I mean, their lives were awful and now things are a bit better?

Maybe that’s too realistic.

But, for once, I enjoyed that.