January 16, 2013
Toko Kawai – SuBLime – 2012 – 3 volumes
Well! Speaking of BL creators I can’t get enough of! This was the last volume of The Scent of Apple Blossoms, and it doesn’t look like she has anything new, even in Japan. Here’s hoping she’s still working, and that we see the third volume of In The Walnut sometime soon.
Anyway, this was more of the same thing from the first two volumes. Kawai is quite good, but I can see how she might want to bring this series to an end. The relationship between Haruna and Nakagawa is still sweet, and I still enjoy the down-to-Earth and comfortable setting, but it’s not really going anywhere. At the end of the book, the two toy with coming out to Nakagawa’s family, but nothing much comes of it. It ends, and it’s a comfortable and good place to stop. It was good all the way through, but like I said, the content is a bit too mundane to sustain another volume.
The main storyline in this one was about another salesman sweeping sake brewers out from under Haruna. He feels badly since his alcohol intolerance prevents him from getting close to the brewers like the other salesman. He falls into a funk, and it’s Nakagawa that helps pull him out of it. It’s a sweet story, and it is nice to see the usually upbeat Haruna in a place where he needs all the help he can get. Similarly, I did love seeing that Nakagawa really cared, as it seems as if, while extremely devoted, he is merely along for the ride.
Kawai is best at these types of slice-of-life series, which tend to capture two characters and their lives, rather than just an exaggerated view of their relationship. She’s also a great writer, so the characters and relationships tend to be very sensitive and seem very genuine. It’s always a pleasure to read one of her books, and while this isn’t quite my favorite (Bonds is still crazy good, and I am ridiculously biased towards In The Walnut), it probably is her best. It’s also her most recent, and easy to obtain, so it’s worth a look at the very least.
August 1, 2012
Toko Kawai – SuBLime – 2012 – 3+ volumes
Another one of my favorites, Toko Kawai, just had a recent release over at SuBLime. The Scent of Apple Blossoms is a wonderful slice-of-life, low-drama kind of story, and I was pleased that volume 2 seemed to maintain the mood of the first.
There are several short stories in this volume. In one, Haruna’s ex-boyfriend Jesse comes to Japan to scatter his Japanese grandfather’s ashes, and enlists Haruna’s help. Wary of Nakagawa’s warning that he was a jealous lover, Haruna steps quietly around Jesse, even when circumstances force Jesse to stay at Haruna’s place. More circumstances force Jesse and Nakagawa together, and the relationship between Haruna and Nakagawa is tested when Haruna tries to lie and doesn’t read between the lines when Nakagawa gives his blessing to the visit.
In another story, Haruna realizes he doesn’t know much about the stoic, keeps-to-himself Nakagawa. He’s got a gig where he has to wear a suit, and seems to rent an apartment by himself. When he starts to see and hear women around him, Haruna begins to suspect that Nakagawa may have some sort of secret life. He doesn’t, of course, but it’s really cute to watch Haruna struggle over broaching the subject to Nakagawa. Nakagawa really isn’t that talkative, so Haruna finds it difficult to bring such things up.
Again, while the hooks for the stories do promise drama, The Scent of Apple Blossoms is a fairly light read, and the relationship between Nakagawa and Haruna is solid, and even a little funny. I never got tired of watching the cranky Nakagawa glower at the bouncy, oblivious Haruna. While such contrasts aren’t uncommon in BL, usually they’re taken to a comedic extreme, but Kawai reins it in here, and it feels fairly realistic.
There are also little details that make this feel slice-of-life-y scattered throughout. Haruna begins building a surprisingly solid friendship with Nakagawa’s grandfather, the owner of the sake brewery, when he volunteers to be a shogi partner. Haruna is an awesome shogi player, and nobody in the house can beat him, thus the grandfather insists on trying again and again. There are also some more details about the brewery scattered throughout, including some info about freshly-brewed sake, little scenes where Haruna tries to sell customers on the sake at his friend’s bar, et cetera. It’s the touches of the everyday like that that make this a fun story to read.
There’s not really a dominant flavor to this story, and it’s quite good, so I feel like it would probably appeal to a pretty wide range of BL fans. About the only thing it doesn’t offer is the dark drama, and… uh, I guess a classroom setting, but it’s a good read if you’re looking for one, as are all of Toko Kawai’s stories. The third volume comes out at the end of the month. Can’t wait!
April 3, 2012
Toko Kawai – SuBLime – 2012 – 3+ volumes
So, I love Toko Kawai. Pretty much unconditionally. When they announced the titles that SuBLime would be publishing, this was the only one I wanted. I’m hoping hard for a paperback release eventually (which seems unlikely, it looks like print editions are released simultaneously with digital if SuBLime is planning it), but to read this in English in any form makes me happy. Toko Kawai is always worth it.
The story this time focuses on Haruna, a young salaryman/salesman that is sent to win over a brewery whose sake his company would like to carry. The problem is that the owner and master brewer absolutely does not want to sell to them, but the company really wants him to. They send salesmen over every day, and he tells them to get off his lawn and throws things at them. It’s not a pleasant assignment, and Haruna dreads it. But the first time he arrives, he meets the brewer’s grandson Nakagawa, a cold and distant man who Haruna develops a crush on immediately.
But the story develops a little differently than the usual BL pattern. Haruna admits his crush to Nakagawa very early on, and is shot down, but not in a cruel way. Nakagawa is naturally grumpy and silent, and at first Haruna feels awkward going over to the brewery for his job after the confession. But the story is about Haruna slowly growing closer and closer to the master brewer and his granddaughter, and Nakagawa as a result. The two are friends before they are lovers, and Haruna isn’t as hung up and forceful as most characters in a BL book. The two open up to each other gradually, while Haruna learns more and more about the family brewery, and I loved that about this book.
Strangely, the main storyline stops pretty far short of the ending. I have no idea how that will continue (perhaps the thread about Nakagawa’s sister brewing apple-scented sake will be picked up in the next volume), but short stories that focus more on Nakagawa and Haruna fill up the rest of the volume. These are more relationship-focused than the rest of the series, and, strangely, develop their relationship to something more serious without the backdrop of the daily goings-on of the brewery. It sure does feel like a continuation of the plot, so I wasn’t quite sure of the difference myself. I am happy that the rest of the book wasn’t unrelated short stories. Though, admittedly, I love Toko Kawai’s BL shorts, too.
It’s got a light touch, develops the relationship slowly and carefully, Haruna is very charismatic and easy to like, and has something else resembling a plot going on alongside the romance. It’s a wonderful book, and my favorite of all the SuBLime titles I’ve read so far (which is, sadly, all but two of them). I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants a little more than the usual quick BL read.