After moving to mega-metropolis Tokyo years ago to pursue his musical career as a rock’n’roll drummer, Teru is still waiting for his band, La Rose Verboten, to hit it big. To make matters worse, most of their fans only come to see the egotistical and mediocre singer perform. After an uninspired performance, Teru receives mysterious letter commanding him to call an unfamiliar number and promising to help. He is half convinced it’s a joke, but if the offer is serious, Teru is willing to take it—even if it means stepping out from behind the drum kit and into the spotlight as lead singer.
Years ago, Rei had everything he could possibly want: a band rising to stardom thanks to his musical genius and a boyfriend willing to sacrifice his family for happiness with Rei. Everything ended during a horrific car accident that killed everyone else in the band and robbed Rei of…everything. But the music trapped within Rei’s broken body clamors for release, and when he secretly finds Teru and his band, a plan begins to take hold. All Rei must do is convince Teru that no only is Teru lead singer material, but that Rei’s songs are the vehicle to propel him to stardom.
With Rei’s generous backing, La Rose Verboten suddenly becomes a hot commodity in the indies circuit. As Teru learns the art of performing from Rei, he begins to feel something more than mere gratitude for the reclusive man—but is Teru enough to pull Rei away from his own tragic past? Can their budding romance survive the band’s rise to fame, or will jealousy and doubt tear them apart?
As promised in the blurb, this is a reimagining of Phantom of the Opera set in the indies visual kei music scene in early 2000s Japan (visual kei is something like glam rock, but the costuming ran towards the dramatic and gothic during this era). The Phantom elements launch Mirai’s story into darker, angst riddled territory. Teru is facing an identity crisis. Not only is he trying to reshape himself from a drummer into a front man, he’s confronting his sexuality. This is explored in his on-page scenes where he reconnects with Kiyomi, a former classmate who’s become a successful and traditionally attractive young woman—and, unbeknownst to her, Kiyomi is in competition with Rei for Teru’s affections. Despite the successful dating scenes we see between Kiyomi and Teru, I felt like it was rather clear that Teru’s truly interested in pursuing Rei.
The relationship between Teru and Rei is one of the two themes that hold the story together, the other being drama that unfolds around Teru’s band, La Rose Verboten. For me, the band activity felt more like background busy work against which the real drama of Teru and Rei unfolds. It’s not completely unimportant (Rei wouldn’t be interested in Teru if Teru weren’t a fellow musician) and it does provide more depth to the story than focusing exclusively on Rei/Teru getting together. That said, the band itself wasn’t clearly established on page. Specifically, Teru’s role first as the drummer and then as front-man was clear. Seika, the token out-and-proud member (at least when not around paying fans) was the bassist. Everything else—who wrote the songs and the lyrics, played lead or rhythm guitar—felt vague to me. The upside is that these details don’t matter a great deal, but it’s still sort of odd to realize I can’t name the members of the band and their roles in a book ostensibly about a rock band…
Of course, the band activity truly is secondary to the relationship that unfolds between naive Teru and bitter Rei. As the victim of a horrible car wreck years ago that crushed half his body and burned parts of his face away, Rei’s “consolation” is having a sizable insurance settlement. In addition to that, the girlfriend of a deceased bandmate acts as his go-between in the recording industry, allowing Rei to continue to earn a living selling music to other performers. Mirai goes to great length to describe the extent of Rei’s limitations and they clearly shape him as a character. As much as he wants to be with Teru, Rei cannot easily learn to love again or forgive himself or the former lover he’s convinced he’s killed.
Overall, this story felt like a deep dive into a character coming to terms with the idea that even in light of grievous injury, he is still a person worthy of love. Despite Teru being the narrator, it feels like Rei is the one driving the story. It is interesting to see them learn to love each other…they eschew typical honeymoon periods and Mirai does not shy away from showing that couples sometimes struggle to make it work…but that the hard-won results can be worth it. The prose can be a bit flowery at times, especially when music is being described. There was at least one reference to a Japanese custom regarding age that had even me scratching my head…but on the whole, if you love seeing damaged characters find happiness and are a fan of Phantom of the Opera style stories, this would be a great read for you.