One day, I swear I will get my own copies of this series, I love it so much.* In the meantime, I’m reading the copies I bought for my friend Jun. (Yes, he knows I read the books before passing them on.) Anyway, I think it was in my review for the fourth volume that I mentioned how Jun wasn’t as satisfied with the lack of growth in the characters’ relationship, having more stories about their life outside of the relationship instead. And I had said that this is what I liked about this series, that it shows a calm, no-drama (or minimal drama) couple in a long-term relationship, with each of them having their own life outside. And the food, of course. We must not forget the food.
Jun will probably be appeased by Volume 5, which does not only show how Kakei and Kenji’s relationship going on to another level, but also explores what it is like being gay in Japan – which isn’t really something that is usually depicted in a realistic manner in most manga I’ve read. In this volume, Kakei makes his first gay friend. This itself may not seem like a big deal, except that it is, because Kakei is so conscious about passing as straight that he doesn’t normally interact with gay men he wasn’t dating. The story about now he met his friend is hilarious and relatable: a straight acquaintance that knows one gay guy decides that “you’re both gay, I’m sure you’ll hit it off!” and forces these two strangers to interact. Luckily for Kakei, he finds Kohinata a little strange and somewhat irritating but easy to talk to, especially about things he can’t discuss with Kenji. So the two would sometimes meet to share stories, but being aware of Kenji’s jealousy, Kakei doesn’t tell him. At first I was afraid that this will lead to an arc where Kenji finds out and all hell breaks loose, but what happens instead is Kenji being happy that Kakei made a friend, the two of them learning to set boundaries when it comes to friendships and meeting other people (two people meeting – no; 3 or more people, yes), and Kakei learning to loosen up just a little about his reluctance to show affection to Kenji in public.
Kakei’s friendship with Kohinata and the dinners the two couples have also bring up another issue that I think is also relevant in the Malaysian queer community – the rigid stereotypes that we internalize. Kakei have always been “straight-acting”, while Kenji is the typical flamboyant type. After being questioned repeatedly if he’s really bisexual (he isn’t) he wonders if it’s natural, or a result of him always being conscious about how he’s seen by others, to the point where he truly likes the idols and fashions that straight men prefer, and likes things that are traditionally masculine. Kenji, on the other hand, reveals an interest in Johnny’s which I find surprising (because I’m always reading articles about how gay men don’t like Johnny’s, and Jun have said that he finds Arashi rather meh looks-wise, so when I read that Kenji stays home to watch Kohaku and Johnny’s Countdown at New Year’s I was like, “Kenji, I need you as my new best friend, stat.” I need someone to gossip about idols with too, okay. Don’t mind me.) so I guess I’m guilty of stereotyping, too. But yeah, Volume 5 discusses stereotypes and how constraining they are. There’s this part where Kakei admits that he had considered acting the part of the flamboyant gay just for his own homosexuality to be validated, which is something that I guess anyone who knows about how passing sometimes feel more like erasure will understand.
Other developments in Volume 5 – Kakei and Kenji get couple rings, in a chapter that is both cute and unsentimental in a way that makes me want to go “aww” and laugh at the same time. Also, Kakei’s parents ask – no, demand – that he brings Kenji to see them in one of my favourite scenes in this series so far. (Most of my favourites are of Kakei dealing with people that don’t know how to deal with his homosexuality.) I laughed so much when Kakei’s mother get all angry and telling him to get serious about his love life when he tries to avoid a meet-the-parents situation by saying he and Kenji aren’t married. Kakei is the type to compartmentalise his life and relationships, and I guess this volume chips away at that, both by having a more public life with Kenji (by making mutual friends and doing things together outside the house for once) and now introducing Kenji to his family. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
* I’ve been buying & reading the Japanese versions for myself and buying the English versions for Jun; but after the third volume I stopped buying my own copies, and started reading his.