Rejoice! The annual celebration of smut is upon us! It is our time to shine, fujoshi. And by shine, I mean of course, curl up in our houses and lose ourselves in the world of BL where men can love men in impossible ways, bending the laws of physics with their phantom peens and facing zero of the homophobia that still plagues the real world. Let us give ourselves over to this beautiful, schmexy fantasy, friends. Let us enjoy and celebrate the bountiful harvest of man love this year has brought us.
The prize-winning pig at this year’s festival is perhaps the long-awaited return to BL of Natsume Ono aka basso. Seven years after her last book, Naka-san no Nagare, she brings us this beautiful slice of salaryman love, Tonari Ni. My heart sings just typing those words. I love Ono’s basso work so much. While her artwork remains strong regardless of the genre she writes in, her powers of storytelling are honestly all over the place, and I too often find myself frustrated with her mainstream work, wondering what exactly she is trying to communicate to readers. And when I finally got the chance to translate her work with ACCA 13, that frustration was doubled and tripled as I read and re-read the unnecessarily convoluted tale of political intrigue during the translation process. So many meaningless and weird details that have zero plot impact and only serve to divert the reader in directions that are completely non-story-related. Why the district with the giant food? How can you cross a border and suddenly have strawberries the size of a person’s head? And why does being two metres tall mean you need a strawberry the size of your head?
I’ve been enjoying Lady and Old Man and tightly crossing my fingers that she doesn’t wander off into not-a-story land again, but I haven’t gotten the latest volumes, so who knows? That might have already happened. But her BL work is always so neatly contained, little tales of little worlds and relationships. It’s honestly what she excels at, putting these smaller, human interactions, the passing moments of life on the page, and I wish she’d find an editor who would encourage her to dig deeper into this sort of thing in her mainstream work as well. In the meantime, however, we’ll all just have to hope that Tonari Ni marks a more permanent return to BL because it is everything she is good at and more.
Even if it wasn’t basso, I would have been snatching this book off the shelf the second I spotted it based on the cover copy alone: Age-gap love between two salarymen. GIVE IT TO ME! The only way this premise could be more tailored to my interests is if one (or both!!) of them wore glasses. The younger of these salarymen is Toru, only a couple years into his career and still living at home. He dreams of moving out into his own place, but it’s hard to save the money for that when he’s taking the shinkansen from his home in Yokohama to Kyoto nearly every week to go photograph race horses at the track. He’s just passionate about photographing the beautiful horses he loves. And you know I love that he has this passion outside of his office job. It makes him so human and real.
So he’s waiting to get on the shinkansen back home one day, when he notices this older guy lined up in front of him. Something about him catches his eyes and he can’t stop watching him, even once they’re on the train. On his way home the next week, he finds himself hoping to run into the older man again. And they end up sitting next to each other! He is thrilled! And I, the reader, am also thrilled. I was squeeing through the majority of this book, so deliciously parcelled out is Toru’s burgeoning love. I wanted so desperately to see him come out happy on the other side.
The pacing of this book is honestly so perfect. Every moment comes exactly when it should. Toru is both naive and self-aware, remarking that he’s like a teenager in love for the first time, and Makoto, the object of his affection, is a proper middle-aged salaryman who hits the snack bars and takes hostesses on trips abroad. Every little step Toru takes toward telling Makoto that he’s gay and has a huge crush on him made my heart pound with excitement and anticipation. It’s just so sweet! We’re talking Itoshi no Nekokke levels of sweet here. Although basso is a little more grounded than Kumota, so we get some ups and downs and surprisingly, zero sex. This one’s a slow burn, and the focus is entirely on feelings, the way love grows steadily between two people.
basso is still as great as ever at drawing hot, older guys—Makoto is a legit snack. But she also takes a page from Ayako Noda’s book and branches out into blushing town. This volume is littered with precious blushing noses and cheeks, and we all know that I am powerless in the face of an adorable blush.