Happy End Apartment: est em

The buttload of manga you’re seeing here these days? You have my recent trip to Japan and my inability to leave a book unbought to thank for that. It literally pains me to leave an interesting book on the shelf in a bookshop. Before I can leave the store, I have to stroke it gently and tell it I’ll come back for it. And when a book remains unbought due to circumstances (like going through security too soon at the airport. I’ll get you next time, Book 3 of A Bride’s Story!), it haunts me, popping up at inopportune moments to make me wonder what might have been read.

Happy End Apartment almost ended up being one of those unbought books. I ran across it when I was killing time before a meeting at a newly discovered treasure of a bookstore on the walk from Nakano to Shinjuku. There it was, the new est em. And as I’m sure we all know by now, she just happens to be one of my favourite manga artists these days, BL or otherwise. I probably stood in front of the lovely display for ten minutes, chewing my lip and weighing the pros and cons. I didn’t want to add to my already weighty bag before heading out to my meeting, but I couldn’t bear to leave it there unbought and unread. My aching shoulder muscles won that day, but fortunately, my brain was all dog with a bone, and I was back in the shop the next day, picking up this treasure (along with a stack of other lovelies I had had my eye on). 

That stack may have given me permanent spinal damage, but Happy End makes it all worthwhile. A collection of eight intertwined stories, it’s everything I’ve come to expect of est em and more. Ostensibly a BL selection with the stories first published in the BL magazine Citron, this volume is just as at home sitting next to her foray into the world of ladies’ comics, Kono Tabi wa. Although here, the relationships are happening between men, these stories are little slices of regular life and the people in it.

The conceit of the whole thing is a writer named Luca, who answers an ad for a flat after he is kicked out of his own by his lover, and ends up moving into the Happy End Apartments, so named because they sit at the end of Calle Feliz, or “Happy Street”. He has just been dressed down by his editor for writing things that are too gloomy, and instructed to write more happy endings. So he takes the people living in the apartment building as his subjects, and writes their happy endings as they come along. Simple enough, but I do appreciate it when a collection of short stories has this kind of joining thread running through it.

The stories in and of themselves are also quite charming. The man who cannot decide between twins, and so asks both of them to move in with him; the man who stops wearing clothes for three years because he is afraid of taking his lover too much for granted (it makes sense in the end); the boy who refuses to speak and the dollmaker who helps him find a voice again; est em creates such distinct characters and builds real relationships among them in only a few panels. And there’s none of the artificial set-up that you see so often in BL, a clear positioning of one man to be the uke and one man to be the seme. You only see two people coming together (or three if there are twins involved) and struggling to understand how to relate to each other and the world around them.

I feel like her minimalist art only gets more so with each new work she puts out. Backgrounds are almost non-existent in Happy End, except where absolutely necessary, which has the welcome effect of turning the reader’s focus to the human being depicted in the panel, and thus to the relationship that is really the point of the story. And still, despite this artifice, there is such a naturalness to the way she depicts her characters, heads tilting to one side, a hand pulling hair back, that it seems like absolutely nothing is missing. With only a few lines, she manages to convey such longing that my heart practically leaped out of my chest on more than one occasion.

And yes, like life, like her other work, there are moments where you have to laugh and there are moments when you have to hold back tears. The developing relationship between Luca and the landlord is particularly moving, and I’m not ashamed to say that a tear or two did trickle down my cheeks as I closed the book. Finishing Happy End, I had the desire to go back and re-read all of her older work because I wasn’t ready to step back into a world not defined by her precise, yet loose linework.


  1. I hope you don’t have any spinal damage from the weight of your favorite books.
    Your review made me want to read this as soon as possible. I just got this yesterday from BK1. Will read it this weekend.

    Nice post, as always. ^^

    1. My spine seems to have recovered. For now. But I am always weighing myself down with books, so I’m sure I’ll do permanent damage one of these days.

      Let me know what you think of the book once you’ve read it.

      1. This book is charming, indeed. I can probably say that est em never disappoints, at least for me. Now if only I could get hold of ‘Kono Tabi wa’…….

        Btw, I think her newest work is やがて、藍になる. Have you read it?

      2. This collection just came out a couple weeks ago, so I haven’t had the chance to get a hold of it yet, although I have seen some chapters in Cab, the magazine it was serialized in. Looking forward to reading all of them together. Have you read it yet?

  2. Oh i also caught sight of this at a random, kind of weird ‘bookstor’e called Village Vanguard at… Kabuki-cho i think. They’ve got a small but surprisingly good selection. Then again any bookstore that highlights authors like Est Em gets my approval!

    1. Village Vanguard is great. It’s a chain across the country. They usually carry a really interesting selection of books tucked away in amidst novelty goods and jazz records. Good to hear that they’re pushing est em!

  3. I’ve completely forgot Happy End Apartment was published in Citron, a BL magazine. So I was like “oh, why’s everybody in this building like… gay?” haha naïve me…

    I love this kind of stories which are all set in the same place, so everyone’s kind of connected to each other 😉 . The story with the guy who couldn’t choose between the twins is so funny! The stories are very light hearted and I laughed a lot xD . Sometimes, this reminds me of Yoshinaga Fumi who is also very good at this stuff.

    Talking of the dollmaker story, I was quite surprised this book was published by JManga since it implied a relationship between an adult and… maybe a teen. I’ve often heard the reason why Yoshinaga’s Kodomo no taion was never translated in English (regarding almost all of her works were) is because it implies sexuality of a 13 year old boy (he’s afraid he impregnanted a classmate).

    This book is so charming… I loved the drawing, very sketchy and focused on people ^__^ .

    1. Ha ha! I love that you were wondering why there were so many gay peeps in this building.

      I totally agree about interconnected stories like this. I’m a pretty big fan. There’s something about being able to see the different perspectives that’s so attractive.

      But the dollmaker story, yeah, that’s one that will keep North American publishers away. Lots of issues there. I think JManga managed it because they were online and no one was paying that much attention? I don’t know.

      Either way, you’re right, this book is charming as hell. I hope more people read it.

      1. If you like stories taking place in a building, you should try Vanyda’s L’immeuble d’en face 🙂 . An omnibus edition has been out lately with more pages than the basic edition.

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