The cold has seeped deep into my bones, and I fear I will never be warm again. It is April, and yet it snowed yesterday (as I write this). I have had far more winter this year than I care to have in an entire lifetime, but still, it does not end. Temperatures remain stubbornly low, almost as if the city is mocking my desire for warmth and to bring my shoulders back down from around my ears where they have been since the start of this endless wintry nightmare. Much like in the midst of a bout of flu when you can’t imagine a time when you ever felt good or ever will feel human again, I have come to believe that shivering is my natural state of being and I will never sweat under the heat of the sun again. I’ll be back in Tokyo this summer, and I’m already fantasizing about the suffocating heat of the city. August in Tokyo is like living inside someone’s mouth, damp with hot breath, and I seriously cannot wait. Anything but this interminable winter.
So you can see that I am in need of escape, and the hotter, the better. So what better time to settle in wrapped in scarves and sweaters and blankets and read about hot guys making out and travelling through time? Time travel BL, my friends! What more of an escape could one want??
While strictly speaking, Takako Shimura’s Sayonora, Otokonoko is not about time travel, it seemed like the right thing to read after Yuiji Aniya’s Ingasei no Beze, which definitely is about time travel, so putting them together on a Neverending Winter BL program seemed just about perfect. Both books tackle impossible relationships from opposite sides of the time spectrum, and both are pretty much as far from endless Canadian tundra as you can get.
Sayonara’s Kanade is happily living with his slightly older boyfriend Yuki, when he wakes up one morning a little boy. Like, maybe ten years old. Yuki and Kanade have no idea why this happened or what to do about it, and they are suddenly confronted with the possible premature end of their relationship, and Yuki’s potential new status as Kanade’s caregiver. The book walks a fine line of squick; little boy Kanade tries more than once to sex adult Yuki up, and even though they are technically both consenting adults, Yuki (and this reader) is freaked out at the idea of anything more than a chaste kiss. The obi on the back helpfully informs us that Kanade is the seme in this relationship, so I assume we’ll be treated to a lot more of these uncomfortable moments as the series goes forward.
Shimura manages to navigate what could be serious shota landmines with unsurprising grace. She’s always been so thoughtful when it comes to potentially uncomfortable relationship moments, and Sayonara is no different. My heart practically broke alongside the two lovers as they realized the enormity of their predicament and the years suddenly separating them. And it feels like Shimura is speaking at least a little to the issues facing so many queer people as they grow older with no legal protections for their relationships. Suddenly, a partner is forced to navigate the bureaucracy of hospitals and families, making excuses and stories in order to be “allowed” to remain with and take care of their ailing/ageing loved one.
Naturally, Yuki’s little brother shows up, looking for a place to crash, to complicate the whole situation, especially since Yuki isn’t actually out to his family. On the surface, it’s all silly in a way, a grown man turning into a little boy, the comedy of errors aspect of hiding it from everyone else. But deeper down, it feels like a depressing comment on the legal status of same-sex partners in Japan. Dressed up in Shimura’s always lovely soft lines and almond-eyes characters, of course.
Ingasei, in contrast, feels more personal, less societal, which is not to say it’s all surface. It’s more of a deep dive into these two lives, but in the most relatable way: the desire for the do-over. (See also one of my favourite dramas in recent years: Sutekina Sentakushi) And Aniya gives us the standard style time travel here. Kajihara is the son of a watchmaker, so it seems only fitting that he would meet and fall for Minamoto, whose kiss can rewind time.
It takes Kajihara a while to piece this together, though. He keeps having sexy dreams about someone he’s never met, and even when he does meet Minamoto (a transfer student, of course. Old tropes are the best tropes), he still doesn’t understand why he’s having such intimate memories of this person he barely knows. Once he figures it out, though—at least partly—he uses this strange temporal power of Minamoto’s kiss to go back and do things over to make Minamoto like him or keep Minamoto safe from disaster. But this also means that anytime he kisses Minamoto, Minamoto goes back in time as well, and the moments of love the two shared cease to exist anywhere but in Kajihara’s increasingly fragmented memory.
Not to mention that subjectively, Kajihara is spending way more time with Minamoto than vice versa. So Kajihara is soon head over heels, while Minamoto is still tentative about this new friend of his. It’s a strange dynamic, and one that holds up over the course of the first volume, leaving you eager to see where Aniya takes this story. The overlapping versions of Minamoto she shows us feels so real, so many different versions of the same person, all of them equally possible. In another reality, another relationship. But because Kajihara is somehow travelling through time with kisses, he is the partner in all these possible relationships, learning in (subjective) real time what works and does not work in this relationship he is trying to forge with someone who keeps forgetting him.
Sayonara watches a relationship already established fight again the regression of time, while Ingasei looks at a relationship trying to establish itself in the face of shifting time, but it feels to me like there’s a place where the two overlap. Maybe it’s the idea that we are always stepping into quicksand, that no matter how solid our relationships, our positions in this world, it could all change in an instant. Our permanence is fleeting. And what better way to explore this than time travel via hot guys in love? (Also, if you’re looking for sexy times, you’re going to want to go with Ingasei. Don’t say I never did anything for you.)