Rating: 4.5 stars
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Perusing the giant robot section of a local bookstore, the last thing Sato wants is to end up having an awkward conversation with a high school student. Except this ‘kid’ is a twenty-five-year old man named Aoi, and “out of his league” doesn’t even begin to capture just how attractive and cool Aoi is. The best part for Sato, though, is that Aoi isn’t instantly dismissive of Sato’s—well, his lame attempt at conversation and obliviousness to pop culture that doesn’t include the word ‘Gundam.’
An incredibly brief, maddeningly enticing, tête-à-tête will have to tide Sato over until he manages to figure out how to date. That, and the drama CD he bought at the behest of Aoi. When Sato goes to listen to the CD, he’s expecting to hear some catchy pop songs. Before too long, however, the dialogue makes it clear this is a dramatization of something far less G-rated and the breathless moans captured on the disc soon have Sato engaging in a little self-pleasure while reminiscing about a man he’ll likely never meet again.
Success for Aoi is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, having a steady stream of gigs means he can finally worry a little less about paying next month’s rent. On the other hand, it means his fans will start recognizing him when he’s out and about and vying for his attention. Which is why he’s hiding in a section of the anime store he usually never visits — giant robots. And there’s even a giant fanboy in a business suit pouring over the DIY model kits.
The two connect over their mutual mystification of women who read ‘boy’s love’ stories. Despite the man’s awkwardness, Aoi finds himself enjoying making teasing remarks. The guy is painfully nerdy, but he surprises Aoi by actually buying the CD Aoi suggests as a way for him to broaden his anime horizons. Little does the guy know the CD is actually one of the titles on which Aoi has performed—and he’s portraying a hot, wanton bottom begging and moaning for his top to do him.
A single encounter gives both Aoi and Sato a lot to think about. Sato is proud for just having been able to survive a social interaction with an extremely hot guy and live to tell the tale. Aoi is surprised to discover how often he thinks of the businessman, who is so different from the self-centered rocker types he normally dates. Before long, fate throws them into one another’s path once again and this time, there’s a subtle shift. Sato is determined to put himself more out there; Aoi is willing to try having a friend instead of a one-night stand.
A tentative friendship begins to take place. Yet not all is completely kosher. Despite the near constant barrage of innuendo and suggestive comments from Aoi, he is determined to stay out of the dating game. He’s had more than his fill of flaky wanna-be rockstars and refuses to let his dick lead him around yet again. The thing is, Sato is poles apart from any rocker Aoi knows; the more time they spend together, the more Aoi discovers how much he not only enjoys Sato’s company, but also feels a growing attraction. As for Sato, being friend-zoned is more than he would ever have hoped for and just has to learn to let Aoi’s super suggestive comments roll off his back. The more time he spends with him, though, the harder it is for Sato to keep fantasies of dating Aoi at bay.
Sato and Aoi have great chemistry…but they’ll need to learn to overcome their past experiences (or inexperience) if they hope to see something even better grow from their friendship.
You guys, full disclaimer: there could not possibly be a book that better captures the aesthetic of what I experienced when I lived in Japan. Sato loves Gundam, I loved Gundam. Aoi goes to visual kei lives, I went to visual kei lives. Sato goes back to his family’s house for New Year’s, I went to my host family’s house for New Year’s. Aoi angsts over who to send New Year’s greeting cards to, I angsted over who to send greeting cards to. I mean, except for actually snagging the cool guy, I feel like this book embodies the life I used to live. For nostalgia purposes, I rate this book an 11.
I loved how nerdy but relatable Sato is as a character. He’s an adult working full time as an accountant. There’s a great balance of seeing him interact with that one annoying guy at work, but also interacting with his family. I liked seeing him in situations where he was not strictly in “hot-guy-talking-to-me-time-to-freak-out” mode. And as much as the narrative would have one believe Sato is the nerdiest nerd who ever nerded, he doesn’t actually come across as completely hopeless. For all that he loves Gundam, there was precious little mention of any specific series. I liked how the series cropped up organically in the book. Sato and Aoi both have reason to want to shop at stores specializing in anime-related goods and the Gundam section is a great place for Aoi to hide from overzealous fans of the boy’s love genre.
For me, it was interesting that the author only referenced “boy’s love.” While I cannot speak from an industry-insider perspective, my nerd-shopping experiences have given me the impression the M/M market is divvied up and what’s considered boy’s love is the tamest category. The kinds of acting Aoi does would probably fall under either the yaoi or june categories (yaoi being the term I used most often when interacting with fellow American fans and while I was an active fanfic writer…and later, I found that june was the really hot, explicit stuff). So as someone who pumped a lot of time and creative energy into this genre, I was a bit taken aback that this was not touched at all in the book. It may have been an intentional choice by the author to keep the reader from being overwhelmed…and there are parts of the story where I just automatically understood what was what or got a clear mental picture, but I wonder if someone who’s never lived in Japan would understand.
One brief examples that gave me nostalgia that might just confuse the wholly uninitiated: “lucky pack.” “Lucky pack” appeared during the scenes where Sato goes home for the holidays and his sister is going through several “lucky packs.” They’re called fukubukuro in Japanese (fuku meaning lucky and bukuro meaning bag); stores offer them on the first of the year and they’re usually just an opaque bag containing a random assortment of stuff sold at a deep discount. If you know Black Friday in America, that’s what it’s like going out to get fukubukuro in Japan on New Year’s day. Usually, there are one or two good items and a few duds. I didn’t have any problems understanding what the author was talking about, but “lucky pack” isn’t used consistently in this scene so I wonder if others might wonder what it is.
Personally, I absolutely loved and (with rare exception) absolutely related to the side of Japan Tasukada is putting on display here. If anyone were wondering what it would be like to live in modern day Tokyo and what kinds of lives people live, this book gives great insight into that.
I also appreciate how the main characters lives are portrayed. They each have scenes where they’re apart, interacting with family in Sato’s case and with his best friend in Aoi’s case. While the focus of a lot of the story is on the developing romance between Aoi and Sato, I loved that we got to know them as people as well. There are some things that could have been explore a little more—like why Sato hasn’t come out to his parents yet (but he has to his sister) or what’s going to happen with Aoi and his parents (who basically disowned him when they found out he was gay). But there is plenty of action going on between the characters and supporting actors to help build the world that these plot holes didn’t bother me much.
In fact, my only real gripe is that we never know what Sato’s name is. Clearly, going by his surname is very much the staid, Japanese thing to do (I call call my Japanese colleagues by their surnames at work) and works in favor of developing the I’m-a-boring-accountant image for Sato. Yet even after Aoi and Sato wind up in a sweet relationship, Sato is only ever Sato…and as far as I know, that is uncharacteristic among couples.
That said, there is a sequel, so I’m hopeful this might turn into a little vignette in the follow up.
Overall, if you are interested in what I would consider a hyper realistic portrayal of life in Japan, this would be a fabulous book. It was sweet watching Sato fall in love and try to convince himself friendship would be enough. I thought it was even sweeter when Aoi is the one who finally caves and gives into his desire for Sato.
Terrific review of a terrific book. Anyone with an interest in Japanese culture ought to check this out. I think it’s going to make my best of 2017 list for sure.
Quite apart from the whole Japan thing, I thought this was an excellently written opposites attract. Our main characters are physical and social opposites and as clearly as that is portrayed on page, it didn’t feel like they were opposites just for the sake of being opposites. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!