There is a saying that those who cannot do, teach. To artist Iroha Osumi, it may as well be “Those who cannot do, open a gallery.” Overshadowed his entire life by his famous parents and his much older sister’s provocative creations, Iroha struggles to find a place—any place—not tainted with the family’s fame. He wants his art to be seen and judged on its own merits and not blindly praised because of who his family is. In the meantime, he makes ends meet by using his gallery to pander to the wealthy who see art as an investment. It’s a far cry from showing his own work, but it pays the bills. And the rep for one of Iroha’s major clients has shown his gratitude for Iroha’s cooperation by giving Iroha a membership to a very exclusive host club* that caters to gay clientele. Iroha visits the club out of obligation, but there is something about his host, Kenta, that draws him in. It doesn’t hurt that Kenta is also entirely uninformed about anything relating to art.
The first rule of being a host is no dating the clients. Normally, this isn’t a problem for Kenta. But everything changes when he meets Iroha and his distractingly beautiful collar bones. Talking to Iroha is not anything like Kenta’s typical host-client interactions. They like the same music and finding things to talk about is never a chore. In fact, Kenta thinks Iroha is a bit too easy to serve; he gets so caught up in their discussions, their appointments end before Kenta’s had the chance to hit his quota for getting clients to buy drinks. Before long, that begins to affect his bottom line and that means it starts to affect how much money he can send to his parents, who are struggling to keep their rural shop afloat. But Kenta doesn’t want to see Iroha as merely a client and hopes that maybe they can have a chance as something other than a transaction.
Finding Our Love is another excellent title by Amy Tasukada. Like Would It Be Okay to Love You?, the story is set in contemporary Japan. It’s largely in an urban setting, though there are a few trips to Kenta’s extremely rural hometown. I liked the juxtaposition of Iroha’s big-city background being more unaccepting of LGBTQ identities than Kenta’s wide-spot-in-the-road one. It’s not a huge element explored on page, but I appreciate the way Tasukada subtly touches on Japan’s continued struggle to address discrimination and inequality as it pertains to our two MCs. On page, the biggest reference is how happily surprised Iroha is to discover that Kenta’s parents are 100% okay with Kenta being gay.
One of my favorite elements of this story is how clearly different Iroha and Kenta are, even while Tasukada uses parallel structures to give readers a sense of their professional and their personal lives. Both the personal and professional aspects are closely tied together for Iroha. He comes from a family of famous artists and struggles with perpetually being in his sister’s shadow and at least one alleged scandal. It spills over into his personal life often, not the least because he absolutely has been used by friends/lovers in the past as means to get closer to Iroha’s arguably more famous relations. With Kenta, there is a much sharper divide between his work in the city and the small town he returns to every weekend. Personally, I think we get a much better sense of how much Kenta is “the good son” during the times he goes back to his parents’ house. The scenes we have of Kenta working at the host club are largely scenes where we get to watch the initial attraction gain traction between the two.
I think the story is mostly driven by the characters as they fumble around an undeniable attraction. Neither Iroha nor Kenta seems accustomed to the immediate and undeniable attraction that they feel from the first meeting. Not that that isn’t without some hiccups. Iroha knows that host clubs are selling companionship and initially assumes his attraction is not only one-sided, but something Kenta has to put up with from many of his clients. Kenta also has a hard time keeping Iroha firmly in the “just a client” category. After they figure out how to date without jeopardizing Kenta’s sole source of income, things smooth out. I really enjoyed the alternative dates these two take at first. Rather than dinner and a movie, they go hiking. Or they visit Kenta’s home town. Their relationship just grows organically on the page. This slow, steady, but undeniable growth in their attraction is why I so thoroughly enjoyed the major conflict: Kenta (who lives entirely outside of the art world) picking the only art show that could possible offend Iroha (who’s so thoroughly inside the art world that he thinks everyone understands his struggles with the art world). Without giving too much away, it’s like a train wreck you know is going to happen well before it does. Yet readers still get a very neat, cute happily ever after.
My only real criticism is that the ending of the book included what I would argue is a pretty hefty change in circumstances for Iroha and Kenta. While the change does seem to meet the emotional needs for both characters, my inner realist is sitting there wondering how the hell they pulled of such a huge shift…and would have liked to at least see the two of them talking about such a dramatic change in their lives (or, you know, how to afford it).
For anyone familiar with Tasukada’s work, I think you’ll find this a delightful addition to her library. This story does not lack for character depth and really lets readers enjoy the development of Kenta and Iroha’s relationship. I thought it balanced their professional and private lives very well, utilizing both to explore the individual characters and provide some space for growing pains. I would recommend this title to anyone, and especially readers interested in portrayals of gay men in contemporary Japan.
*Reviewer’s note: Generally, a “host club” is where a customer pays to sit, drink, and talk with a “host.” The host will provide sparkling conversation while making sure no one’s glass is empty.