One of the things I was most looking forward to upon my most recent return to the land of the rising sun was the next volume of Ikazuchi Tooku Umi ga Naru by Ayako Noda aka Niboshiko Arai. I loved the first book so much that I was basically counting the days until the second one came out. I was even preemptively looking forward to the third book. And maybe the fourth. And maybe I was planning how I would read the series forever alongside my beloved Itoshi no Nekokke.
But then, tragedy! The story ends in volume two! I was honestly crushed. I wanted to keep reading about Kao and Ko forever, even if the story only hangs together in the loosest way. Start trying to untangle threads, and you’ll find yourself at dead ends. But Noda writes it with such charm and enthusiasm that she sort of pulls you in whether you like it or not. And her art! I could stare at her turned-up noses and blushing cheeks all day! And yet! It was all cut so sadly short at volume two. How would I go on, I wondered. What would I stare at all day?
So, as one does, I turned to the internet in this dark time. I opened Twitter in the hopes of coming across a particularly endearing picture of a cat or a dog doing something silly to lift my spirits. And I discovered something even better! A new BL book from Noda’s alter ego Noboshiko Arai! And then another one! Both coming out the same day! Even if I couldn’t stare dreamy-eyed at the dimension-crossing love of Kao and Ko, I could at least stare at some blushy boys getting busy. In glasses even! The world suddenly seemed bright again.
Adana o Kure was serialized in onBLUE, so if you are in Tokyo right now, you can actually see some original artwork from the book at the onBLUE exhibit at Parco in Kichijoji. (And if you’re not in Tokyo, I’m sorry for you because the show is free and they have a lifesize reproduction of Shinjuku Lucky Hole cover and characters that you can take pictures with. Yes, it is glorious.) Kagakubu no Megane was not published by onBLUE, but it is entirely populated by men in glasses, so if that is your fetish, you should probably just stop reading here and run out and buy it. It’s also set in high school, so that has to check off a lot of boxes for many fujos out there.
And even though the two books have basically nothing in common story-wise, since they came out on the same day and are written by the same author, it felt right to put them together on the page here too. Because they do have that gorgeous style and wonky storytelling in common. So many lovely close-ups of men with huge eyes and long eyelashes, awkward moments with full face flushes, the jump cuts from feet to faces. The exaggerated lanky limbs and bodies that I loved in Ikazuchi are on full display in both of these books as well. The glasses on everyone in Kagakubu are the icing on the cake, since Arai really knows how to make the best use of that potentially awkward facial accessory, letting us see through the lenses to the eyes most of the time, but obscuring them for the occasional dramatic purpose. And don’t judge Adana by its cover (although, yes, I know I usually insist on judging books by their covers). That hand cupping Joze’s chin is almost terrifyingly alien in its lankiness, but Arai dials it back in the actual pages of the books, so that no one actually has fingers longer than their head.
Story-wise, I think Kagakubu is the winner for me. And not just because I have a serious soft spot for glasses. Akui and Sako are childhood friends in the same grade in high school and both members of the chemistry club. In one of the most roundabout ways of confessing you like someone, Sako proposes an “experiment”: they date each other to see what dating is like. Akui is the super blusher in this pairing and our narrator, so we hear his concerns about the whole arrangement, along with his wonderings about what Sako is really up to. So they hold hands awkwardly, go on a date, have a terrible misunderstanding, all in the way of teenage boys who have never gone out with anyone before. Arai has such a good grasp on the uncertainty of the beginning of a romantic relationship—do they like me as much as I like them? Do they want to kiss me? Should I kiss them? Did I sound stupid just now?—and she shows it to us in the teeter-tottering of Sako and Akui trying to figure each other out.
Adana is a fun read, but the story just didn’t feel as cohesive for me. Amo is an illustrator who lives with Joze, the male model of the moment. Amo feels like Joze is his god and would do anything for him. Except let him into his studio and see all his paintings of Joze. The first chapter kind of sets it up like Amo only ever looks at Joze for inspiration for his art, while Joze wishes Amo would touch him. A set-up that seems confirmed when a model from Joze’s agency, Tsurugi, comes to stay with them and gets a creepy show of Amo staring at Joze naked in the living room in the middle of the night. But then the next chapter starts with Joze and Amo in flagrante delicto, when they have not so much as kissed before, so it feels a little jarring, like a betrayal of the story it seemed like Arai was telling in the beginning. That said, I still enjoyed it. The relationship between Joze and Amo eventually finds its feet, and Tsurugi is a nice intermediary who shows us both sides of that relationship.
Basically, if you’re short on time for BL, pick up Kagakubu instead of Adana. But if you are short on time for BL, you are living your life wrong, my friend.