Itoshi No Nekokke: Haruko Kumota

Itoshi no Nekokke

I’m not going to pull any punches here: I loooooooove this series. I love it like I love cuddling kittens. I love it like I love my sister’s dog Rex, who is basically the best dog in the world and deserves some kind of dog-bone medal or something. Uncomplicatedly. Unreservedly. I love it in the most uncynical way, with every sincere bone in my body (admittedly, there are not many of those, but still). These are the books I turn to when I come home full of despair at the awfulness of the world, at how horrible people are, at all the terrible, terrible things that happen outside the confines of the panels of manga.

Which is pretty much why I figured I’d never write about them. Although I almost always like the things my brain battles on these pages, I try not to be so unabashedly fangirl about it. But some books just utterly and completely win me over. And Nekokke definitely falls into this category. It is the story of Kei-chan and Mii-kun and their perfect, wonderful, charming, adorable love. (Did I mention I love this series?) When somewhat sullen, dark-haired Mii moves from Tokyo to Hokkaido in grade school, he meets and falls in love with the sunny, blond Kei. They grow up together and then Mii moves back to Tokyo once they graduate from high school. But not before he tells Kei that he’s actually been in love with him his whole life and asks Kei to be his boyfriend. Kei’s not gay, but he is infinitely agreeable and loves Mii more than anyone in the whole world. So he agrees. (I’m tagging him for the bi team.) They then spend three years apart, Mii in Tokyo and Kei in Hokkaido, until Kei moves to the big city to be with Mii. And this is where the first book in the series actually starts. 

The rest of the series is basically Mii and Kei figuring out/negotiating how to be with each other and what they want from a relationship, while also navigating the world around them, which can get kind of messy. But theirs is essentially a happy relationship. Most of the conflict in the story comes from them being young and uncertain, worried about the other one hating them for some perceived slight, wanting to please and make the other happy. It is an idyllic view of life and love that I want to last forever. At one point while reading one of the books, I realized that I love reading about their happy love. That is what makes this series work for me. Mii and Kei love each other and nothing really gets in their way. And I love this. I just want to have page after page of them being in love and adorable. Which, again, is why I never really thought about writing anything about the series because it would basically be a thousand words of me sighing dreamily, and who wants to read that?

Kei in the Mood_Haruko Kumota

But then I read the tribute book Marugoto Nekokke, and I realized that I am not alone. For one thing, I’ve never even heard of a BL manga getting a tribute book, much less a tribute book that has more pages than any single volume of the manga being paid tribute to. And then inside, so many of my favourite artists have drawn little comics featuring the characters of Nekkoke. Seriously, this book is like a who’s who of BL: Yuiji Aniya, est em, Tomoko Yamashita, Sakae Kusama, Psyche Delico, Shoko Hidaka, Takako Shimura, etc., etc. And it seems that all of these artists paying tribute to Kumota love Nekokke for the same reasons as I do. All the tribute comics have happy little scenarios, little moments of love or jokes about the peripheral characters.

Matatabi Party_Haruko Kumota

And there are a number of peripheral characters that add exactly the right amount of outside influence on the perfect love of the main characters. Mii is sort of the superintendent of the boarding house owned by his grandmother—who doesn’t quite approve of Mii being gay and living with Kei—but he also writes porn novels for the yakuza-y Hino. The house is—naturally—filled with a wacky cast of characters, the drag queen (trans?) Pon-chan, single mother Yoko and her son Kenta, Mii’s university classmate Hiruma. From the very first pages of this series, I was thinking of Maison Ikkoku whenever these housemates graced the page. Yoko is basically an amalgamation of Ichinose and Akemi, drinking too much at the wrong times of day and making sure her breasts are visible at pretty much all times. Kenta is a bit more childlike than the resigned Kentaro of Maison Ikkoku, but still pretty aware of his mother’s antics and the off-beat nature of the house he lives in.

So imagine my delight when reading the very long and informative interview with Kumota featured in the tribute book, I discover that she herself loves Maison Ikkoku and she has people make the connection with that series all the time; she is often told that Nekokke is like a BL Maison Ikkoku. And that is essentially how I’m going to describe the series to everyone forever now. There’s a lot less drama (see aforementioned idyllic love), but it really is about the superintendent of a boarding house falling in love with one of the boarders and working through that under the too-watchful eyes of very curious and often inappropriate boarders.

How to Sex_Haruoko Kumota

That interview with Kumota offered up a wealth of other information as well. I wish I had been livetweeting my reading of it so I could remember all those little gems, but one thing that really stuck with me was her talking about the differences in her art style for the different series she does. Although you can obviously tell that Rakugo Shinchu and Nekokke were done by the same artist, Nekokke is much softer, with gentler lines and more washed out backgrounds, while Rakugo is sharper, sort of more in focus. A lot of this difference comes from the fact that she does everything in Nekokke with pencils and ink washes and watercolours. When the series first started, she actually went so far as to do a test with the printer of the magazine the series ran in to see how her screentone-free series would print up. The answer: lovely.

I learned that the late JManga had actually started to publish this series when I was whining about Kumota not being published in English on Twitter a couple weeks ago. Which I guess would make this a licence rescue if some kind publisher were to pick it up and publish the rest of it. But I hope such a kind publisher exists out there. Nekokke is really the perfect combination of sweet and sexy and utterly adorable. English readers should get the chance to fall in love with Kei and Mii too.

Kisses_Fumiko Fumi

Fumiko Fumi’s adorable rendition of Kei and Mii as little kids

8 thoughts on “Itoshi No Nekokke: Haruko Kumota

      • Well, I absolutely adored volume 1. I cannot wait to read volume 2. What you wrote rings so true in the sense they really do have this pure love for one another. It is the sweetest! And I love all of the characters, especially Kitahara-san and Haru-san. How’d you discover the manga?

      • Oh, I’m so glad you liked it! I’m sure you will fall further in love with volume two. And Kitahara and Haru are so cute! I love it when they show up in the story. I don’t even know how I came across this manga. Probably because I came across other work by Kumota, like Shinjuku Lucky Hole, and fell in love with her style. I tend to be pretty obsessive, so once I find an artist I like, I will just devour everything else they’ve ever done.

  1. I think obsessions over artists are so natural because they make so much sense. The work of one particular artist can give you a distinctive thrill, and you want to feel that thrill over and over again. I can totally see how Kumota’s work could have that power over a reader. Do you think that’s one way you could crystallize why people obsess over certain artists? I guess thinking about it this way is starting to make a heck of a lot of sense.

    • I agree that obsessions with a particular artist are totally natural. It’s like buying the new CD from a band you like: you know you liked their previous work so you feel confident that you will like their new work. Like you say, you get that distinctive thrill all over again. I think it’s a bit of finding familiarity in the new. It’s exciting, but still safe. And with an artist like Kumota, you get to see the same core elements you love with her adventuring into new territory. Nekokke is worlds away from Rakugo in a lot of ways, but there is still a “Kumota-ness” to both that is instantly recognizable.

    • The characters are actually very dissimilar. A disdainful older man at the top of his career field, a young man just out of prison, a young woman fighting against entrenched tradition and her own history. But the young man does have that naive, try-anything feel that Kei has. The Kumota-ness mostly comes from the art (lots of self-satisfied nose puffs!) and the depth of the characters. Even in BL, a genre rife with stereotypes, she manages to avoid those two-dimensional characters and in a more mainstream long-form work like Rakugo, she’s able to dig even deeper into her characters.

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