Hajimari wa Naka Kara / Beginning with Naka by Michinoku Atami

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There are only two chapters available of Hajimari wa Naka Kara / Beginning with Kara, which is kind of a bummer because this story is not a lot more than a smutty romp, but I was certainly enjoying the smut and the romp.

From the title page, which has been scanned, it looks like this volume is actually supposed to have two stories in it, the second being called “Shio Fuite Chi Katomaru.” But, the updates stopped over a year ago.

Alas.

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In this story, we have two salarymen: Itoguchi and Kiyama.  Itoguchi runs a side-business  selling ‘urethral play’ sex toys and, a few nights ago, he discovered that his boss, Kiyama is one of his customers.  When Kiyama asks him to redo some report or other, Itoguchi does it and adds a note:

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Kiyama looks shocked to read: “Since today I have with me a urethra catheter, I will wait for you to go home.”

Kiyama brings Itoguchi back to his apartment. He puts two-and-two together and figures out that Itoguchi must be the admin of the  sex toy website, and decides that he’s probably being set-up for blackmail.  He’s willing to pay off whatever amount Itoguchi wants, but Itoguchi says, no, actually–he’s not after money. He’s just interested in Kiyama. He’s never used this toy on a guy before, and he’s curious. Plus, he’s wiling to teach Kiyama how to use it on himself.

This leads to all the sex.

All the graphic sex.

Even though, of course, Itoguchi has to have this thought while literally in the middle of ravishing Kiyama:

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Even though you’re not gay, you have all the techniques and have spent the last six pages telling us how cute you think Kiyama is when he’s all into it.  Dude… you’re GAY.

 

Because, actually, he finishes “This is bad. Even though I’m not gay…” with “… I really want to f*ck him,” and, to the joy of anyone tuning in for ALL the SMUT, he does. The chapter ends with mutual satisfaction and a promise by Itoguchi to follow-through with his offer to teach Kiyama to use the toy.

The second chapter continues their sexual adventures. Itoguchi has talked his boss into wearing a sex toy during the day at the office, and, after “helping him out” in the bathroom spends some time having thoughts about their relationship. Mainly, Itoguchi seems torn between the fact that he really loves torturing Kiyama in perverse ways, but also is starting to.. like him.

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So, of course, to test his resolve to just be a playboy, Itoguchi takes his “obedient” Kiyama out to something called a “Happening Bar,” which I am surprised?/not surprised? to discover is a Real Thing in Japan. (If you’re curious, at least one English-speaking visitor to a Happening Bar has blogged about their experience.)

This whole kinky exchange seems to be going well and Itoguchi is comfortable in the fact that, yeah, it’s not that he’s into Kiyama THAT WAY, he’s just a pervert… only when a stranger joins them, he gets all doki-doki jealous and realizes that he wants Kiyama all to himself, ONLY to himself.  But, he still tries to push past that feeling until Kiyama is the one to say that he’s not into it with the other guy.

More sex ensues and the chapter ends with this sort of half-hearted lust confession in which Kiyama implies he stopped because he was sure that was what Itoguchi wanted, but Itoguchi figures it’s clearly something more.

It says “end,” but there’s the tease line “Their love story has just began?”

It is a sort of conclusion, however, since it’s clear that they both have decided to be, at the very least, exclusive sex-friends.  Itoguchi is also clearly feeling on the precipice of something “dangerous,” so probably the rest of the story CAN be inferred.  Personally, being a very smutty romantic, I would love a few more scenes of how they go from all the kink to settling into to domestic kink, but I guess that’s what fan fiction is for….

*wink*

At any rate, I would only recommend this one to someone who isn’t super-interested in plot. I have probably expanded far more on the emotional states of the characters than anything that is actually revealed in the text.

Also, if you are at all turned off when someone says ‘don’t do that,’ and someone else does the thing anyway, this is not for you.

Did I enjoy it anyway? Am I super-bummed there isn’t more?

YES.

 

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Koi no Kawaki / Thirsty for Love

I don’t remember buying Koi no Kawaki / Thirsty for Love.  All I can say is that I hope I didn’t pay that much for it….

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But… but… it looks like a cute little threesome! Why don’t you like it?

Yeah, uh…. I mean, the back cover copy sounded good:

“Orie Nakano’s girlfriend is cheating on him with two other men! One is the mysteriously untouchable Tatsumi, and the other is the basketball-playing upperclassman that Orie idolizes. But things are far from being as simple as they seem, and now the three men are inevitably pulled towards each other and bond together by their love for Yuka, which extends much farther than just the girl herself. Love, admiration and lust intermingle around them in an inescapble spiral in this coming of age sexy romance.”

Um… I would not call this a sexy coming of age story.  It *is* about three guys who all seem to love (or at least have all had sex with) the same girl, and the guys do all… interact and there’s a spiraling of sorts, but it’s way more like a rape-y death spiral.

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You know, I try really hard not to harsh anyone’s fantasies. ‘Hate sex’ can totally be your thing, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not mine–particularly when there’s an overtone of misogyny coupled with ‘and now go die.’

Like, I kind of liked this yaoi, despite the fact that it seemed to revolve really strongly around a central female character, Yuka, for the first several pages when it initially looked like maybe there would be some bi-action, wherein the two boyfriends (Orie and Tatsume) would boink each other while simultaneously boinking her. There seemed to be some potential chemistry between Orie and Tatsume.

But, things got very weird with the introduction of the basketball senpai.

For one, the basketballer was extremely jealous of Orie and Tatsume because, apparently, he dated Yuka first.  He tolerated Tatsume (because Tatsume is clearly kind of sociopathic/unfeeling/”unflappable,”) but he HATES Orie.

Then, when it turns out Yuka is dying of Leukemia, basketballer starts physically threatening Orie and pushing him towards suicide. He keeps saying “I expect you to die before she does, or I’ll kill you.”

This is already entering not-hot territory for me, particularly given that Orie seriously hero-worships/is crushed out on this guy and seems willing to give suicide a try, if it will make crazy basketballer happy.

It goes fully into VERY NOT-HOT land for me, when, while Yuka is dying, the boys all end up together and Tatsume suggests that Orie kind of looks like Yuka and so they should f*ck him hard, like they used to ride Yuka. Tatsume is all, “Do him until he can’t walk.” Basketballer is like, “eh, you do it. I’m not like that.” Until he looks at Yuka (after, mind you, Tatsume has punched him to make him more compliant) and has this horrifying vision:

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So… you’re down with the rape part, but only if you imagine it’s your girlfriend?

YIKES.

First of all, boys, um. No.

Secondly, if you’re thinking about her and missing her, instead of imagining raping her, why don’t you VISIT HER IN THE HOSPITAL.

They never do.

They show up for her funeral, but, while she is dying, they angstily and repeatedly rape Orie.

How is “coming of age”?  How is this SEXY “coming of age?”

I mean, I guess they shed some tears over the dead girl, but senpai basketballer spends a lot of time after her death still raping Orie and talking him into suicide. They have some kind of break-through on the bridge Orie is going to jump off, but I’m not buying a single moment of basketballer’s redemptive arc AT F*CKING ALL.

It ends with everyone going their separate ways.

I…

…I have no real words for the horrified sensation that this book left me with. I feel like at least two of them are going to grow-up to be that guy in the Warehouse manhwa who felt like high school was his best time, while totally forgetting that they horribly raped (physically and psychologically) some guy who is going to come after them, lock them away, and torture them.

Yuck.

I’m really not sure what the kink is here. I mean, non-con is fine, I will read a lot of it and enjoy it, but there was something extremely disturbing about this set-up for me. It probably was that moment that basketballer is like “Eh, I’m not into it” when Tatsume suggested rape UNTIL he imagines Yuka then he’s all “Yeah, okay, let’s make it really hurt.”

Yeah, sorry. Count me out.

 

Koe no Katachi / A Silent Voice by Oima Yoshitoki

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I was trying to describe Koe no Katachi / A Silent Voice to my wife this morning and I told her that  I would never have read if it were a literary novel because it’s one of those “let’s examine how dysfunctional people are” stories.

Later, when talking to a friend about it, I added: “It asks the question: can really sh*tty bullies be redeemed? And the answer is: kind of?”

‘Kind of’ really is the the moral here.

A lot of the people in Koe no Katachi / A Silent Voice are really pretty awful and they stay mostly awful all the way down.  They make progress, but as I said to my wife at one point, it’s not like like they make the full 180 degree turn; more like 135… which to be fair, is a big turn around, and a lot more like Real Life ™.

So, was it compelling? Did I read it all in one day? Most of it in one sitting?

Hell YES.

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However, if you are at all triggered by suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or bullying STAY AWAY from this one.  It doesn’t pull its punches, as it were.

In fact, you’re very much asked, as a reader, to get into the head of and SYMPATHIZE with the main bully, Ishida Shouya.

If you don’t ever want to go there, I’d support that decision.  I’d also support not being on-board for the redemption arc of a fairly sh*tty human being/terrible bully.

It does help a little that there’s a kind of frame to the first two volumes–at least in the English-language release (it looks like they jump into the first meeting of Ishida and his victim, Nishimiya Shouko, in the scanlations/original) where you see that Ishida has reformed in the intervening years and is reaching out to Nishimiya.

I suspect that frame was added to appease a more wary Western audience. Because, frankly, I would not have stuck with the story if we had no sense that Ishida was going to make an attempt to turn around. It takes some real doing, as it is.

I guess that’s part of what ends up being the appeal of this manga. It’s a kind of slice-of-life that goes for the jugular. Anyone who lived through Middle School will totally feel echoes of how… volatile the whole thing was, how we all were terrible to each other (even people we called friends,) and how it’s kind of amazing ANYONE lives through those years, much less comes out the other side not entirely wrecked.

And, unlike a lot of the typical slice-of-life stories, people do get wrecked permanently. Things don’t always work out, even when you’re trying your best.  Like, when Ishida is working his redemption as hard as he can, he’s still awful at communicating properly, and doesn’t see other people or listen to them with his whole heart.

In fact, there’s an interesting visual device that Oima-sensei uses to show this, where people appear with actual x’s over their faces.

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A visual representation of the phrase: “You’re dead to me.”

At first this was a survival/coping mechanism.  But, it becomes a detriment to progress and it takes a LONG time for Ishida to lose this habit.

A really LONG time.

So… this is a difficult story, but I ended up being surprisingly invested in it.  Would I recommend it? Yes, but with a lot of hesitation and caveats. Like, had I not picked the first volume up at work because I found myself with an unexpectedly long lunch break and nothing to read, I’m not sure I would have CHOSEN a story like this, if you know what I mean?

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Note: this one is an award winner. According to Baka-Updates: It “won the 19th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Award New Artist Prize in 2015 and the Ogaki City Cultural Alliance Award (Lifestyle Culture Division). Nominated for the category “Best U.S. Edition of International Material” in the 2016 Eisner Awards.”

Fukigen na Mononokean / The Morose Mononokean by Wazawa Kiri

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A friend of mine recommended Fukigen na Mononokean / The Morose Mononokean.  I was skeptical going in, because this friend and I–while both HUGE anime fans–seem to only intersect in a very hit-or-miss fashion.

I loved Fukigen na Mononokean / The Morose Mononokean.

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The manga follows Ashiya Hanae, a high school student who can see yokai–(quite the familiar story, so it’s amazing that this is one captured my attention as hard as it did).

In Ashiya’s case, a fuzzy yokai attaches itself to Ashiya. He can’t make it to his first day of high school because the yokai seems to be draining all his energy.  On the fifth day of this misery, when Ashiya begins to believe that he may spend his entire high school career in the nurse’s office, he comes across an advertisement for an exorcist.

Cue cute-meet adventure beginning!

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In the tea room, Ashiya meets Abeno Haruitsuki, the Mononokean’s master.  Ashiya begs Abone to remove the yokai… and here’s where we get our first interesting twist.

After some back-and-forth, Abeno agrees to the job. The interesting part is that Abeno cares far more for the demons than he does whether or not humans suffer ill-effects of their presence. And, it turns out, he’s got a point. The little fluff ball meant no harm. It was just deeply lonely.  Deeply.  Like, the kind of lonely that might have made me tear up a little when it was revealed how fuzzball was likely turned into a yokai.

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Also? Just look at this cutie!

When Ashiya discovers the full story, he’s full of remorse. He feels really awful that he wished ill on the fuzzball and treated it so badly.

This… impresses Abeno a bit.  He decides that Ashiya should work at the Mononokean to pay off what he owes for the exorcism.

What follows keeps getting better and better. We get a lot of heartstring tugging stories about various demons/yokai and, by the time I got to the last chapter available online, I was starting to get very excited about some of the backstory/world-building that Wazawa-sensei was building.

I’ve decided to watch the anime as well.  It’s kind of an interesting blend of a bunch of other manga I’ve loved. With Abeno’s resting b*tch face, I’m reminded of Ichigo from Bleach, and there’s a kind of quiet/tragic/heartwarming vibe to the the yokai stories that remind me of Mushi-shi. The main protagonist has hints of Rin from Ao no Exorcist / Blue Exorcist and Inaba Yūshi from Yōkai Apāto no Yūga na Nichijō / Elegant Yokai Apartment Life.  

You could decide from that description that there’s nothing new here. You’re absolutely allowed to feel that way (and you might not be entirely wrong), but there was something about this one that had me turning pages and shaking my computer in the hopes that more chapters would fall out when I got to the end.

It might be that I’m a sucker for stories where there’s a strong red oni/blue oni dynamic between characters. I love reading/watching a good slow melting of an icy personality by dogged enthusiasm (certainly that’s part of the appeal of the Laid-Back Camp, too.)

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But, I also feel like Wazawa-sensei is building up to something potentially interesting to me. Possibly because of years of Bleach fandom, my ears perk up the moment there’s an Underworld/Land of the Spirits that has a human-like world with rigid authority figures and in-fighting.

The art style works for me, too.  Fuzzball is adorable, and the characters hit something for me that’s appealing.

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Have I convinced you to give it a go? You should try it.

Right now, it’s easy to catch up on. There’s only about 52 chapters available from the scanlators (Crunchyroll is simul-publishing it, and, so, if you have a premium subscription you can currently get about 58 chapters?)

As I mentioned, there’s also an anime with 13 episodes/a complete first season.  Otaku USA reports that it will  return for a second season, as well.

Yurukyan △ / Laid-Back Camp by Afro

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My love of slice-of-life manga is well-known to you, gentle reader. But, every once and a while I find myself trying to explain to someone the appeal of manga in which literally nothing out-of-the-ordinary happens, ever. All the dramas are on a Real Life ™ level, i.e, will the girls get to the campsite before dark?  What will our heroine do when she discovers a road block?

I mean, none of this should be riveting.  Yet, with Yurukyan △ / Laid-Back Camping, I think I made a loud frustrated noise when I got to the end of chapter 16 (all that Mangakalot has scanlated at the moment.)

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There’s not a lot to spoil in Yurukyan △ / Laid-Back Camping.  

This is a friendship story about a girl who likes to camp alone (Rin) during the off-season, who gets drawn into the life of another girl (Nadeshiko) who is much more outgoing, but a less experienced camper.

The drama of this manga is minimal.  There is a lot of campfire cooking, discussions about camping equipment, and admiring various scenic views… and not a lot else. The friendship is even a slow burn.

At the same time, it’s pretty wonderful. I like stories that teach me things about… Japanese things and take me on virtual tours of places I can never afford to go. I’d actually researched a bit of Gifu Prefecture, where much of this manga takes place, for a random notation in a fan fic that I wrote (I wanted a character to make a comparison to the rural/pastoral place he was to a place he might have visited in modern-day Japan, and pretty much all the tourist information told me that the best scenery could be found in Gifu Prefecture.)

Like the previous manga I read, Yurukyan △ / Laid-Back Camping, comes with bits of informational material at the end of each chapter. Most of the places are real and can be visited–even some of the dogs that characters stop and pet are based on real ones.

This is the second manga I’ve read this year that made me wonder if the Japanese Tourist Board is handing out kick-backs to mangaka…

But, it kind of doesn’t matter. I’d read it, anyway.

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Whoa, meta….

As you can see from the above panel, there is a tiny bit of high school drama. If you’re not fond of all the high school stuff, never fear. What’s here is very small and mostly used to connect various characters to each other.

I would totally recommend this.  I mean, with the caveat that you have to be like me and be entertained by page after page of people setting up tents and discussing the weather.

If you think you might like to try out this story but aren’t invested waiting for all six volumes to be scanlated, Crunchyroll does have the anime. I started watching it and it follows the manga very closely. In color, I imagine a lot of this scenery will be even more spectacular.

Hanayome wa Motodanshi./ The Bride Was a Boy by Chii

I haven’t come across a whole lot of autobiographical manga, but Hanayome wa Motodanshi./The Bride was a Boy is one.

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The description goes like this: “Chii and her husband are like any other happily married couple, except for one thing: Chii was assigned male at birth. Chii details her autobiographical account of growing up with gender dysphoria and ultimately deciding to transition in her early adult years.”

I suspect that Hanayome wa Motodanshi/The Bride was a Boy was a much needed educational manga in Japan (it came out in 2016,) but it’s heavier on the information than it is on the drama.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

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I suspect that Chii-sensei quite intentionally focused on the positive stories of her life.

There are plenty of hints that everything was not always sunshine and roses for her, but the story of Hanayome wa Motodanshi/The Bride was a Boy is overwhelmingly happy.  Chii’s family all take the news that she’s trans very calmly and acceptingly. Her then-boyfriend/future husband has only a momentary pause when she comes out to him and his only concerns seem to be barriers her status might cause to their matrimony.

Obviously, this is Chii’s story to tell. If she wants to focus on the happy bits, she should.  A couple of them made me cry.

When they go to meet Chii’s family for the first time and Chii’s boyfriend asks for permission to marry her, this happens:

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The text reads: Dad “Please take care of our daughter.” Chi (thinking): “‘Our daughter.’ So even Mom and Dad see me as their daughter now.”

Is it dusty in here?

Likewise, there’s a scene near the end, when Chii is getting married and she’s waiting backstage with her father, who is about to walk her down the aisle, and she says to him, “I bet you never thought you’d be doing this again with me.” (Chi has an older sister). Dad looks really confused and says something that makes it very clear that he totally forgot that she was born any other way than as his second daughter.

This interaction may seem the most unrealistic, but it reminds me of how my parents are about my son.  They totally forget that he’s technically not mine by blood and say things like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a Morehouse trait,” etc.  Parents can have their moments, you know?

So, I thought this was a cute story and well worth a read.  The art style is very cutesy, but I thought it fit the tone fairly well.

Like in Otouto no Otto/My Brother’s Husband, there are mini-sections at the end of each chapter with information about Japanese (and international) GLBTQ+ issues.  Some of those bits in Hanayome wa Motodanshi/The Bride was a Boy are Trans 101 (which some people might appreciate and need!), but there’s a whole section in the later chapters about Japanese law and how it relates to trans folks, particularly where the law intersects with gay marriage (which is still illegal in Japan) which I found particularly fascinating.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth take on growing up trans in Japan, I would recommend checking out Hourou Musako/Wandering Son.

ふくふくハイツ / Fukufuku Heights by Hongou Chika

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While trying to find the entry for Fuku Fuku: Kitten Tales, I accidentally discovered this weird little gem, ふくふくハイツ / Fukufuku Heights.  

Currently, there are only two chapters scanlated, which is a bummer for me because I found this really quite charming and very beautifully rendered.

In  ふくふくハイツ / Fukufuku Heights, we have two fairly normal guys–Maru and Sunao, who are going about the business of moving in together, only Maru is a Japanese martin, with the ability to transform into a human.

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As a bonus his transformation includes clothes!

 

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We don’t really know anything yet about Maru’s backstory, except that he finds humans charming and he’s decided to live as one. Sunao was the first person to recognize (and apparently roll-with) Maru’s true nature.  Perhaps this is because, as wikipedia tells me, “In the Iga region, Mie Prefecture, is the saying, ‘the fox has seven disguises, the tanuki has eight, and the marten has nine,’ and a legend relates how the marten has greater ability in shapeshifting than the fox (kitsune) or tanuki.” So, probably Sunao is like, “Oh, you’re a martin? Yeah, makes sense.”

Or maybe we’ll find out the Sunao is actually special in that he can detect yokai?

I’m really hoping for more about their meet-cute in the upcoming chapters.

As it is, I’m really enjoying the simple story and the beautiful art/colors/design:

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I especially love the lower panel, but the upper one is cute because Maru fell asleep while hiding from chores.

Right now the relationship between Sunao and Maru seems pretty relaxed, even established, and I kind of like it.

I mean, I love the whole “let’s figure out what to make for dinner” and grow bean sprouts in old crockery on the window sill stuff. Day to day life in Japan is endlessly new to me (who knew you could rent apartments that don’t have all their appliances–well, I knew that was a thing in Taiwan, thanks to a friend of mine, but you know… appliance shopping together as a couple is also sexy af, if you ask me.)

And, yeah, I think this whole manga is romantically sexy in a way I wish there was more of in fiction in general.  Being togetherness as awesome should be more of a thing, you know? I always find mundane things romantic like grocery shopping with my sweetie, so, you know, I might be an unusually prime market for this manga.

Anyway, it’s pretty. I can recommend it to you based on the art alone.