Bokura ga Koi o Shita no wa: Ono Natsume

I saw the announcement when this first started being serialized and got excited because it has one thing I really love: Ono Natsume drawing silver foxes in both glasses and not. As far as I’m concerned, she should just specialize in hot old guy manga. She’s good at it, and no one else is really doing it. She’d have a whole corner of the market all to herself. Take all those years of experience she has as her alter ego basso of drawing hot guys together in hot situations, and apply them to mainstream manga. Sure, the work would have a whiff of queer-baiting to it, but I think we can agree that it would be worth it to get more Ono oyajis in front of more eyeballs. 

But that initial excitement was soon replaced by doubt. I love Ono’s artwork—her thin, expressive linework, the loose and yet somehow structured feel of her panels—but her storytelling often goes off the rails for me. She inevitably starts with an interesting premise that hooks me in the first volume, and then noodles off into nowhere land, tossing in random mysteries and elements that seemingly add nothing to the story she started out telling. She is one of those artists who does better with the focus and brevity of a one-shot instead of the sprawling open-endedness of an ongoing serialization. 

So I didn’t immediately order this book when volume one came out. And then it dropped off my radar as ongoing series that I’m not following tend to do, until I arrived back in the land of perfect bookstores and saw a stack of volume three in the new release section. I stared at it and sighed. Could I trust Ono not to pull the football away from me this time? Would the story promised by the obi of a goddess visiting a paradise of men (average age: seventy) actually be that and not devolve into pointless mystery for the sake of mystery? I still had my doubts, but the cover was so tempting, and again, I cannot overstate how much I like Ono’s silver fox action. I bought the book. But only volume one. Ono would have to earn my trust here. 

The story starts off perfect, hitting all the right notes in setting up a pastoral, peaceful little slice of the countryside where four older gents live in adorable harmony. They all go by nicknames. There’s Kiza and the General, friends from way back in their school days. Doc is their itinerant pal who’s good with tools and outside stuff, and the book-loving Professor rounds out their little group as its newest member, renting a house from the General for the last year or so. They all have their own distinct personalities that Ono reveals to us in the most natural way, through the men’s interactions with each other.

The book starts with the four of them working in Kiza’s orchard, joking around as they get the job done. (The job being putting little bags on apples on the tree?? I have no idea what they are doing.) Once they are done working the live long day, they settle in on the deck of Kiza’s English garden style house for a barbecue and a good drinking session. 

As they drink, they shoot the shit and this serves as our exposition where we learn about their little country paradise and how they each came to be there, as well as their relationships to each other. It’s a neat bit of storytelling that feels unhurried and very natural, while perfectly setting up the next piece of the puzzle: the goddess of the obi copy.

Their drinking session is interspersed with cuts to a woman getting off a bus and walking through the countryside until she at last arrives at the barbecue. She’s there to rent the house the General was advertising in the soba shop in town. But that house was rented last year by the Professor; the General just forgot to take the sign down. There’s a log house, though, that Doc is just finishing up. (Yes, Doc built a log house for the General all by himself. Yes, that seems a bit of a stretch.) And so the mysterious woman insists that she will rent the log house once it’s done, and all the pieces of the story are at last in place. 

And the story, for the most part, is these five people hanging out in the country, eating fresh veg and fruit from the garden and orchard, and generally being content. The woman is the spanner in the works, disrupting the well-worn grooves of the men’s routines and giving them new ways to interact with each other. Ono’s storytelling is at its strongest when she focusses on the characters and the new connections they forge.

I feel like relationships have always been her strongest suit, a narrative ability no doubt honed through years of working in BL where the relationship is always the story. But her urge to add in random elements apparently cannot be stopped; the woman does a few cryptic things, tells some tall tales, and generally hints that this story is not going to be a little pastoral slice of life for much longer. 

But maybe Ono finally has an editor who can reign her in and keep her going on the story she started out telling. Volume one intrigued me enough that I begrudgingly went back to the bookstore to get volume two. And the second volume basically eschews any “woman of mystery” bits that were introduced in volume one to focus entirely on how the newcomer fits into this little community of older men. She works in the orchard with them, and the months pass in amiable peace, with the only big event being a typhoon that forces them to batten down the hatches.

This is the story I have wanted to read from Ono for so long. Her thoughtful style with an eye for capturing little moments works so well on this kind of leisurely character study. She knows just what to put on the page to evoke a certain mood or give us a little insight into a particular character’s thinking, often letting her images speak entirely for themselves. So I will dare to pick up volume three and hope that Ono keeps going in this very welcome direction.


  1. Wow, this looks exactly up my alley. I love Natsume Ono’s art so much, and yes, I find the old(er) guys she draws compellingly hot (kinda like est em’s dudes but… older and a bit more stylized) but have to agree with you that her serialized works, the ones I’ve read anyway, tend to meander on weird story tangents that add up to nothing. So I’m glad that maybe this has a tighter focus! I was actually a bit surprised to hear she was doing a title for KISS Magazine just because what I associate with them doesn’t really suit what I associate with her (but then again a lot of her work is in seinen rags, and that’s at least as odd to me so all this means nothing.)

    A fair amount of her work, surprisingly, has been released in English–I wonder if there’s any chance for this one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s