I’m not much of a list follower. When it comes to things like “100 albums you have to listen to before you die” or “the top ten science fiction books of all time”, I mean. Lists that are me writing down the many and varied tasks I need to accomplish in a day, week, month are extremely popular chez moi, and I likely could not function at all without them. I have a terrible memory, so the list is my way of externalizing the things I need to remember and keeping them in a place I can see them so I actually get the things done. But it’s also a sort of way of making an appointment with myself. If it’s on the list, it has to get done, so I also include items like “read” or “make jam” or “work on animation” and somehow create the time I need to do things to keep myself from becoming a translation robot. And yes, the list also frequently includes “write up book”, but I don’t get to check that item off as much as I’d like to, especially during travelling times, which is where I am now as I prepare to head back to freezing cold Canada next week, an impossibility as I type this and look out my window at the plum trees blooming in the parking lot below. Spring is almost here! And yet like a fool, I am leaving it to go back to winter.
Anyway! Lists where other people tell me what to do are not something I have ever been interested in. I will be the one to decide what albums I listen to, thank you very much. But still, I can’t help but follow with one eye at least the Kono BL ga Yabai! rankings every year. Maybe because the combination of the words “BL” and “yabai” never fail to pique my curiosity. But it’s definitely partly because if nothing else, the ranking introduces me to some books I might never have paid attention to otherwise, like the sweetly sexy Amish love story Rumspringa no Jokei. And this year, it taught me that there is a “gentle” Harada story. In fact, if the cover copy is to be believed, it is the gentlest Harada story in the history of Harada. As someone who has been damaged by such painful Harada classics as Niichan and Color Recipe, I desperately wanted a book that combined Harada’s crisp lines and cute guys with a plot that wouldn’t send me straight to a therapist when I was done reading it.
I am happy to stand here today and tell you that this cover copy does not lie. One Room Angel really is the most gentle thing Harada has ever written. And the guys are still cute, rest assured. But it is still Harada, and so I must warn you that there is a brief discussion of suicide in these pages. Even gentle Harada has a bit of a painful edge.
Former small time criminal Koki lives in a tiny one-room apartment, works at a shitty convenience store (in my mind, it is a Daily Yamazaki, the worst of all convenience stores), and can no longer find meaning in this daily grind. One night, some punks come into his store, pick a fight with him, and stab him before running away and leaving him for dead in the alley. And I know this sounds totally traumatic and not gentle at all, but don’t worry. Not only does Koki live, he meets an angel when he is walking that tightrope between life and death. And then the angel comes home with him, unable to remember what he came to earth for or who he is or why he appeared in front of Koki. Thus begins their cramped life together.
The angel is adorable, the sweet cherubic style that Harada is so very good at drawing. Koki is hot, a muscular gorilla type that Harada is also very good at drawing. Basically, Harada is good at drawing good-looking guys. And they include some very fine up-shots of Koki’s butt, maybe to make up for the total lack of schmex in this volume. This is one of those pure relationship BL that you can recommend to your non-BL loving friends (although you should steer those friends onto the proper fujoshi path). No one is having sex with anyone, there is nothing painfully skeevy that you can’t look away from like a terrible car accident. Just an adorable angel with a slightly foul mouth teaching an ex-gangster the meaning of life.
Yes, it’s heartwarming. Yes, you might cry. It’s a sweet take on the angel comes to visit trope, and the cast of characters is extremely likeable, especially Koki’s hardass mom Arisa. Seriously. I would like to read a whole book about Arisa’s life up to that point. That lady’s had it rough, but she still comes out swinging. And panels are more detailed than a lot of Harada’s other work. They’re setting the whole scene in these pages, really recreating the tiny apartment and the environment in which Koki lives in a way that pulls you deeper into the story. And there is still that same cinematic understanding of panelling, breaking the story down panel by panel to evoke specific emotions and make us really care about Koki and his angel, breaking out occasionally into gloriously open and sparse single panel pages to really drive a particular point home.
Whether you’re a Harada fan or not, this is one of those books that we can all get behind. It’s like the It’s a Wonderful Life of manga, except without the alternate reality life. Or the heteronormativity. So maybe it’s just a reminder that sometimes, beautiful things happen in this often terrible world. Like Harada drawing a manga that heals the soul instead of sending you to therapy.