Dining Bar Akira

July 27, 2010

Tomoko Yamashita – Netcomics – 2009 – 1 volume

Languishing at the bottom of my to-read stack, I had forgotten completely about this and Black-Winged Love. My opinion of the latter book was fickle, and possibly based on my mood in the two sittings it took me to read it, but I should have known to read Dining Bar Akira first. It would have cast the other in a better light. This book is very good, and of the type I generally look for in a BL story, ie serious stories about older men.

The title made me (and probably countless others) think of Antique Bakery, but unlike that series, this one focuses on only two men among the staff at the restaurant they work at. The book opens with the young (and by young, I mean 23) part-timer Torihara telling his boss, cafe manager Akira (32) that he likes him, and that opens the way for a strange dialogue between the two. I was at a loss as to what to think of the pair most of the time, since the two are extremely frank with one another. Akira isn’t sure what to think of Torihara’s feelings, since he’s straight, and Torihara isn’t entirely sure what draws him to Akira in the first place. The two needle each other constantly to feel out the situation. Eventually, both Akira and Torihara decide to enter into a relationship.

The getting together part was a mystery to me. The two yelled at each other a lot, and I had a hard time figuring out Torihara’s true intentions since he’s such a serious, unsmiling character. Akira is also difficult to read because his outgoing, joking nature makes it hard to tell when he’s being serious. It’s likely Torihara’s confession came out on a whim, but the two seem to grow closer as they feel each other out through argument, an unusual approach. It’s effective, but totally unromantic since they lack obvious chemistry at first.

Later, Akira is at a loss when Torihara wants to move on to a physical relationship. This chapter alone was worth the price of admission. Akira did not previously date men, and while he has no problem admitting his feelings for Torihara, he dwells again and again on how such a change in lifestyle so late in life might not be something he can turn back from, and whether he feels safe taking the plunge. This inner conflict is even more intriguing because of Akira’s lighthearted nature. But I was having trouble reading the characters once again when it came down to the deed itself. There’s an interesting section where they briefly analyze each other’s intent, but Akira’s hesitation when it comes to the act is one of the more realistic scenes I’ve seen in a BL book, especially when it comes to a middle-aged guy who was straight until a couple months ago. You’d think scenes like this would happen more often.

It’s also worth pointing out that the sex between the two isn’t shown. It’s the meaning of the action that carries importance, and I loved that about it.

The last chapter also made up for a lot of the weird vibes I was getting from Akira and Torihara. It focused on Torihara and his negative outlook on the relationship. He fears that the two of them slipping into a routine means that things are stagnant and will end soon. The narrative occurs as contemplations during a baseball game that Akira drug him out of bed for, interspersed with flashbacks. He realizes he’s having a good time, and that things between them are also good. In the end, it wound up being rather sentimental, but in a masculine way. I think it helped me put what I had interpreted as a lack of chemistry into perspective, too.

There are also two unrelated stories included in the volume. The first deals with a high school student with a crush on his best friend and a sexual relationship with his teacher. This story was very nearly a complete loss for me, but the way it was open-ended invited analysis of the stereotypical situation in a way I had never seen before. The last story was only a few pages long and rather silly.

I didn’t like this book quite as much as I thought I would because of the weirdness between the main couple, but perhaps I need a couple more readings to really get the proper feel for it. It was still an excellent book, and again, one of my favorite story types are these romances between older men that are less idealized than the ones their young counterparts frequently find themselves in. I sincerely wish that there were more available in the US.