Friends, Sachiko Takeuchi is a blessing to us in these dark times. Every time I open Twitter or even go out in public (the latter of which I try to do as little as possible. Hermit lyfe!!), I hear talk of all the ways the world is basically doomed and half its population are now Nazis. No wonder I try to keep to my little corner of the internet (here!) and Toronto (my apartment!). Nothing but darkness beyond the small territories I have claimed as my own. Every excursion to the outside leaves me hopeless and depressed. And yet go outside I must because at least part of this job of mine is actually talking to people in the form of interpreting. At such times, I must bolster myself, build a shield of sorts to stand between me and the world. And, dear reader, that shield is Sachiko Takeuchi and her pursuit of hot guys.
I have raved before about her spot-on take of nerd life in 2DK and her absurdist and yet sympathetic look at salarymen in Akachan Honbucho. She has such perfect comedic timing and a gift for reaction shots that really resonate, so it is no wonder I eagerly await each of her new releases and find myself wishing that more publishers would give her work. (If you are a Japanese publisher, please hire Takeuchi so I can have more of her books to read!) Thus, when her latest ode to hot guys was released this summer, I was at the bookstore that very day, snagging my own signed copy and feeling very lucky that I happened to be in Japan when it came out. Unlike these cold Toronto days now when I must wait for a shipment of beloveds from across the ocean. (Sennetsu, come to me on swift wings!)
But while 2DK and Akachan Honbucho are essentially works of fiction, Burachin is a collection of essay comics about Takeuchi’s real life obsession with hot guys. She and editor M-ta have already spent two whole books chasing after boy bands and now they are back for round three. The premise of the book is extremely simple and right there in the title or in the English subtitle for my monolingual friends: “We are going to meet IKEMEN. Because it is Necessary to live.” “Ikemen” are essentially hot guys, but in a more restricted sense, a particular kind of hot guys, the kind you might see in boy bands like SHINee or whatever Johnny’s group is the hot young thing now (I am elderly and not hip to the hot guys the kids love these days). Takeuchi and M-ta draw their strength and at least some part of their reason for living from such hot guys.
The first few chapters do indeed centre around going to meet hotties, but not quite the idol-chasing of the earlier volumes. Their definition of “ikemen” has expanded to some extent, so now they not only seek out hot guys, like the hot table tennis instructor of the second chapter or the contestants in the Junon Super Boy contest of chapters five and six, they also try to become the hot guy by taking kickboxing lessons, getting dressed up like Rurouni Kenshin, and taking hip-hop dance lessons. They look for ikemen in new and unexpected places, even heading out to the zoo in pursuit of the “ikemen” gorilla. (Spoiler: The gorilla is indeed hot, but Takeuchi would still prefer to look at hot humans.)
These bits of man-chasing are interspersed with a kind of “free talk” between M-ta and Takeuchi, pages of conversations in which they discuss the various episodes depicted in the comics chapters. These are also strangely hilarious and add a new depth to the six or seven pages that comprise each chapter.
But what makes this book a delight that warms both heart and soul is Takeuchi’s simple and yet powerfully expressive art. Takeuchi and M-ta literally melt in the summer heat. One or the other frequently dies of cute overdose or too much physical exertion. Eyeballs pop right out of heads when the hotness is too much to be believed, and Takeuchi pees herself a lot in excitement. Everyone is cartoony and exaggerated, and they all somehow come together to create something so real that I was relating so hard, even though I am not even close to an idol-chaser (as clearly shown by my referencing Johnny’s earlier when there is no doubt some newer hipper idol agency).
A friend of mine is really into K-pop right now, and she’s been opening my eyes to how feminist idol-chasing actually is, like living BL. And reading Burachin, I couldn’t help but be aware of the dominance of the female gaze in these situations, how these idols and actors exist for women to objectify. But also how BL the whole idol-chasing life really is, since the author of this particular volume is a lesbian, so her attraction to these hot guys is not a sexual thing in any way. Rather, it’s about healing and comfort, and when I think about where that healing comes from, I wonder if it’s not something to do with taking the dominant gaze, being the objectifier instead of the objectified for once, a brief respite from a sexist world in the way that BL can be for so many of us. Or maybe we don’t need to explain it away, theorize it. Maybe we can just say ladies like to look at hot guys sometimes. Fujoshi don’t need a reason.