I was mostly familiar with Sachiko Takeuchi’s work in the Trance Cider circle, alongside Brain favourite est em and veteran artist Naito Yamada, and while I liked her work there, for some reason, I wasn’t particularly inspired to go seek out more of it. Which seems weird in hindsight, because I actually really like the pieces she’s done for Trance Cider. But then I got to meet fellow fujo and all-around superstar Khursten in the real in Tokyo this summer, and she told me all about the very interesting work Takeuchi’s been doing as a queer artist documenting her partner’s transition. This was particularly relevant to me as I was in the middle of working on the Queer Japan film project, and I only wish I had known all this in time to suggest to the director that we go have a chat with her too.
And then I was in the bookstore (my home away from home) and I came across a huge display of Takeuchi’s work. I’m not really sure why the bookstore had such a large (and long-lasting—it was up for at least two weeks) display of Takeuchi’s work, but I am glad it did because it reminded me of my conversation with Khursten and my interest in checking Takeuchi’s work out. I settled on 2DK out of the assorted works on display simply because they were the slimmest volumes. The peak of Mount Bookstoberead is higher than ever, and a couple slim books I can power through makes me feel accomplished in my reading life. Yes, my criteria for picking up a book are random and, at times, super shallow.
And hooray for that! Because 2DK is an untranslatable delight. Originally published on the Morning website, 2DK is the story of Komugi and Kinari, friends in otaku-dom who decide to move in together. The otaku-dom is why it’s untranslatable. So many notes to explain so much pop culture! Komugi works as a pastry chef and Kinari seems to be an art (or fashion/textiles) teacher at a university. They both seem to like their jobs and to be pretty competent at them, but what really matters to them are their fandoms. They spend basically every non-working, non-sleeping hour on watching DVDs, recorded Kamen Rider shows, Prince of Tennis musicals, and anything else that has one of their preferred actors in it. And they have a veritable army of preferred actors. Interspersed with these visual feasts are handshake events, a possible uniquely Japanese affair where attendees shake the hands of their favourite stars. It’s basically equivalent to the signing in North America (and most other Western countries?) where you can get your favourite star to autograph something for you. I have absolutely no idea how these handshake events came into existence in Japan, given that handshaking is generally not a thing there (unless you are a foreigner and then everyone thinks you are big into shaking hands. Which is annoying because I do not want to touch your hand.) They’re not so much into BL, but Komugi and Kinari as rotten a girl as I have ever encountered.
In a way, 2DK reminds me of Nozaki-kun. Although the series is not the yon-koma format of Nozaki-kun, it is in a four-page format with a handy punchline at the end of each chapter, like a yon-koma slightly stretched out. And like Nozaki-kun, it is funny as hell. Seriously. Takeuchi keeps cracking me up. Incredible character designs are definitely a big part of that. Kinari has perfectly round eyes with giant pupils that are almost always wide open, so she looks slightly maniacal at pretty much any given moment. Their estate agent (known as estate-san-agent-san) has his glasses drawn right into his face. Their neighbour, an international otaku swimming deep in fandoms in Korea, China, Japan, and who knows where else (known only as neighbour-san) has a stylish sweeping fringe that covers his forehead and part of his eyes, but not enough to keep the reader from noticing that he has no eyes.
But in the end, what really makes 2DK funny and fun is the same thing underlying Nozaki-kun, a real love of the subject matter and the warmth of the jabs at it. Nozaki-kun plays with all kinds of tropes of shojo manga and turns them on their head, but always in a loving way, with a real understanding of and respect for the genre. Similarly, 2DK pokes fun at how obsessed Kinari and Komugi are with their musicals and TV shows and actors, but it’s clear that Takeuchi is just as obsessed herself, so it never, ever feels mean. Half the time, I don’t even know who the actor/agency/group that they’re freaking out over is, and it does not matter at all. Takeuchi’s expressive illustrations and great use of colour and patterns in each chapter combined with the knowing wryness of her writing and the insane visual gags that pop up (like the recurring “Kinari has to put her eyeballs back in”) had me laughing my head off at pretty much every chapter.
There’s also a real warmth to the relationship between Kinari and Komugi and in the relationships that develop between supporting characters, like Komugi’s Hyogo-dialect-speaking dad and Kinari’s single-parent-with-a-weird-ponytail Dad. The chapter where they go to a rock festival and then hit up karaoke afterwords is wonderfully off-kilter. None of the super fans in these pages is ever reduced to a two-dimensional caricature of a fandom nerd. And sometimes, the fandom nerd commentary feels so, so current, like when Kinari and Komari freak out at the Japanese equivalent of fake geek girls.
So far, it’s up to volume four, and it looks like volume five is going to be the last. I didn’t read the last chapter online because I am eagerly anticipating reading all the chapters together in volume five, but I did take a peek at the farewell-and-thank-you illustration up on the Morning site, which definitively states that 2DK is over. So I am already shedding tears as I wait for volume five. Will another meta-commentary on a fandom/genre pop up to take its place in my heart?? Or will I just have to wait for the next volume of Nozaki-kun and pray that Nozaki, at least, will stay with me forever? (Never leave me, Nozaki-kun.)