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