Loving someone shouldn’t be hard. As Sato and Aoi start a second year of their romance, however, there are more than a few obstacles. Suffering from abandonment issues that stem from his own parents’ rejection of their gay son, Aoi (a voice actor who portrays all the best submissive bottoms in Japanese “boy’s love” media) is deeply affected when Sato’s mother reacts negatively to her own son’s coming out. Sato is ready and willing to give up contact with anyone in his family who would reject him or Aoi—something Aoi is fearful would cause Sato to resent him at some point in the future. On top of that, Aoi is feeling professional pressure to come out. Specifically, a moderately successful fellow voice actor named Atsushi starts putting Aoi in the hot seat during public events. No matter how deeply and how much Aoi feels for Sato, Aoi is convinced that publicly acknowledging this orientation would be a death knell for a career that has finally started to help pay the bills.
Loving someone shouldn’t be a secret. After more than a year dating (closer to two if you count the period where Aoi insisted there was such a thing as “friendship kisses”), Sato (an accountant for a major anime studio that specializes in giant mecha programs) is feeling the strain of constantly keeping his relationship with Aoi a secret. He’s happy his family knows and confident his mother will come around. But Sato wants what any heterosexual couple has, even in conservative Japan: holding hands while walking down the street, sitting close to each other on the train, maybe a kiss in public or two. Aoi has put the kibosh on PDA, afraid it will hurt his career, but Sato wishes he could make the man of his dreams understand that Aoi’s fans would like him *more* if he came out and, at the very least, a little affection outside neighborhoods where Aoi might be recognized wouldn’t harm anyone.
Buffeted by these conflicting emotions and expectations, Aoi and Sato have a lot to consider and come to terms with if they hope to stay together.
This was a no-brainer for International Week in our Reading Challenge Month—our main characters are Japanese and the entire story unfolds in Japan. If you’ve read the reviews for Tasukada’s earlier installments in this series, then you’ll know I have a deep appreciation for what I think is the author’s authenticity in portraying two aspects of Japanese popculture I used to strongly identify with: indie band life from the perspective of an insider (technically, Aoi is a seiyuu [voice actor], but has friends in the indie band scene and I still consider Aoi an “insider” in terms of the entertainment industry) and anime nerds from the perspective of an outsider.
Part of the fun of reading this comes from the fact that Aoi and Sato are an established couple. They’ve already fallen in love, so the author and the reader get to focus on the dynamic of how to stay together—no small feat in a conservative society like Japan. Tasukada does a great job nonchalantly showing how Aoi accepts Sato’s anime nerd life and how Sato supports Aoi’s voice acting. Readers will enjoy vignettes from each of these nerdy scenarios. One chapter follows Sato and Aoi to a Gundam convention that seamlessly highlights how Aoi has picked up a bit of Gundam nerd culture. That said, themes that stem from Aoi’s voice acting and the corresponding fan culture are more prevalent. For one thing, there was Atsushi, the other voice actor, who may be angling to blackmail Aoi into coming out to his fans. For another thing, the manner in which Sato expresses his support for Aoi’s unconventional work (Aoi’s not just a voice actor, he’s the voice behind some of the most popular bottoms in gay-themed audio recordings) actually puts Aoi on edge.
The chapters are arranged chronologically by month. I think this pacing works well—the themes come shining through, but we’re not inundated with minutiae. For example, the tension Atushi brings to Aoi’s working life, as well as Sato’s and Aoi’s reactions to it, crop up in multiple chapters, but plenty is left to the imagination. For me, at least, this built a ton of anticipation for the resolution of this story line. There are some other themes that come and go, but were not as prevalent as the Atsushi drama. For example, there was Sato’s exploration of coming further out of the closet (so far, he’s only officially out with his family—to very mixed results). There is also a brief bit where I was rooting for Sato to go insane with jealousy after Aoi has a wild night out with his friends (keeping in mind that in the last book, Sato was stunned someone as cool as Aoi would give someone as nerdy as Sato the time of day), but this gets resolved before too much comes of it (unfortunately, I thought).
Overall, I really enjoyed this batch of installments in the saga of Aoi and Sato’s relationship. Highlights included the above-mentioned fact that we get to see each of them placed in their partner’s fandom, showing that they’re integrating their hobbies. There are bits of high drama that played out realistically, if not with maximum drama content—how Aoi frets over coming out to his fans and really frets over Sato’s mom. While I thought some aspects could have been developed a bit more (Sato’s jealousy and Aoi’s actions/reactions to pressure to coming out as they would have affected Sato), on the whole, there was a good balance of angst and relief.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for International Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a prize pack of some of our favorite International Books. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a Kindle Fire filled with Dreamspun Desires/Beyond books, plus a 3-month subscription!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on International Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.