Ato Hitoiki de Ai is a collection of yaoi/shounen ai one-shots, which I didn’t realize at first. I had actually been hoping for a longer manga. However, it is complete in one volume (7 chapters.)
The first story follows college student Morimiya who hurries home every day after class to his boyfriend, Keiichi. Morimiya and Keiichi have been living together for three years now in domestic bliss. One problem: they haven’t had sex yet.
This situation is played for laughs, but there’s actually something very serious going on. At first I assumed Keiichi was just asexual, but, by the end, it seems pretty clear that Keiichi is experiencing gender dysphoria.
When a frustrated Morimiya thinks maybe Keiichi has been dating him this whole time out of ‘kindness’ and asks to break up, Keiichi is in tears because Morimiya saw Keiichi naked the other day and assumes Morimiya is horrified by what he saw. I hit “horrified” and thought, is this extreme internalized homophobia or what? It kind of seemed like that was the case because when Morimiya is all, “No, I love your body.”
So, they manage sex, but afterwards this happens:
Seems Keiichi’s been reading up transitioning!
At this point, my ears perked up.
All of Keniichi’s hands-off, stay away from my ugly body stuff is making more sense suddenly. And, I’m like, ‘awesome! gender/body dysphoria really isn’t something you see covered a lot.
In fact, there’s not a whole lot of manga that I’ve found that are slice-of-life/serious about being transgender outside if Wandering Son.
But, no… turns out that was the end.
Technically, we get a very weird passage in the next page in which Keiichi tells Morimiya that the reason he was reading up on transitioning is because Morimiya always uses feminine adjectives to describe Keiichi’s beauty, and–this the part that was odd–that Morimiya shouldn’t think he’s the only one worries about their relationship.
I guess this was the mangaka’s attempt to bring things full circle since Morimiya was a worrywart about whether or not Keiichi truly love him or not…? I’m not sure.
Because, then we get this panel…
Wait! Is it bad that I wanted more chapters so we could meet the trans librarian and find out if Keiichi is serious about transitioning???
The second love story in this collection happens between twenty-year old salaryman, Yoshimi, and his boss. Yoshimi’s boss is a pain in the ass. He’s forever skipping out on overtime in order to go out on dates with women he insists are just his friends. But there sure are a LOT of them, much to Yoshimi’s dismay.
Finally having enough of this crap, Yoshimi tells him off. After that, the manger actually starts to work harder and spend more time with Yoshimi at the office.
One night, by chance, they run into each other on the street after the last train has gone for the evening. The boss invites himself over to Yoshimi’s place. You’d think this would be the cue for hot sex, but actually the two men end up having a heart-to-heart. Yoshimi suggests to his boss that maybe he’s having so much girl trouble because he needs to pick one. Women like to know they’re special, not one of many, Yoshimi points out, while thinking ‘even I know that as a gay man.’
The boss slowly comes to realize that his special person is actually not a woman at all, but Yoshimi. Smooching begins in earnest. Hurrah! The end.
The third story is a romance between two college roommates. Ichisake, the upperclassmen, makes an arrangement with our hero, Suzueda, to share an off-campus apartment. Suzueda dotes on Ichisake as a ‘sempai,’ and Ichisake shares his home cooking skills honed at the Italian restaurant he works at. It’s all going along very bromancey, until some of their classmates bring up how awkward it all must be for two guys to be living together and, like, what do you do when one of you wants to bring a girl home? This gets Ichisake in a snit and he randomly decides to leave one night. Suzueda tracks him down and during the course of hunting him down realizes that Ichisake is gay. This, of course, proves to be a relief to all parties and smooching ensues. The end.
The last story was the weirdest one, in my opinion. In fact, it made me start to research how Aspergers is viewed in Japan. The love interest in this one, Amasaka, is certainly not the first manga/anime character who has made me wonder if they were on the spectrum. (I’ve always thought perhaps Haru from Free! Iwatobi Swim Club was a candidate.) Amasaka, however, seems almost textbook Aspergers. A prime example is, when Sashiki finally works up to making his love confession, Amasaka doesn’t get that it’s normal to reply in kind because “the fact that you love me really doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
And, you know, he’s not wrong, but there’s clearly a disconnect there.
Just like with Keiichi potentially being trans, no one really discusses Amasaka’s possible Aspergers. Instead, Sashiki just kind of stumbles around figuring out how to love Amasake despite his “being weird.”
I really don’t know what to make of that.
Especially since the romance centers around how Amasaka really can’t take care of himself and needs Sashiki to make sure he eats regular meals and stuff like this. Ummm… hmmmm….. yeah, just not sure how I feel about that as a basis of romance, especially when Sashiki feels as though maybe he’s raped Amasake the first time they have sex.
Yeah, that one is awkward.
The final chapter is a series of ‘wrap-ups,’ where Keiichi’s body dysphoria is played for laughs (hmmmmm… would rather have met the trans librarian, thank you, anyway), the gay sempai is a bit of a prude even though he’s the experienced gay one, Yoshimi’s boss’s idea of a first date includes booking them a suite in a hotel (kind of a player you have there, Yoshimi!), and Amasaka’s Aspergers is also kind of played for laughs though when asked if he was gay before he and Sashiki hooked-up, he says, “I liked you, isn’t that how it works?” which is both…. I don’t know, and actually pretty awesome, you know?
So, like with any story collection, I’d say there were hits and misses here. I really would have liked more about Keiichi and some explanation for Amasake, but, all and all, the stories were sweet and a little bit sexy.
I should say that these were all clearly intended as ROMANCES, not hot guy-on-guy action. What sex there is in this collection is very sparse, though there is ton of kissing and cuddling.