Kumota Haruko “Itoshi no Nekokke”
I am embarrassed to admit it: before I really even realized what was happening, Kumota Haruko’s Itoshi no Nekokke had stolen my heart and become my favorite BL manga. There’s just something about reading the entire volume all in one go without having to search through each volume of Citron to find the chapters—something so incredibly endearing and comforting and beautiful that only Kumota Haruko could produce it. It’s hard to read this and not fall in love. I challenge everyone to try it.
The story is simple: Kei-chan (Sawada Keiichi) is straight. Mii-kun (Hanabishi Misaburou) is gay. They have been friends pretty much since birth and have been dating yet apart for the last six years. Kei-chan may be straight, but there’s something about his beloved Mii-kun that makes his heart beat faster. So Kei-chan moves to Tokyo to be with Mii-kun, whom he’s been apart from for so long that he no longer knows what to expect. And for good reason: when he sees Mii-kun again, Mii-kun lives in an apartment with a bunch of creeps. There’s an unwed sexy mother named Youko and her son Kenta, a super-tall yet super-feminine crossdresser named Pon-chan, a geeky weirdo named Souhei, an old-fashioned lady landlord who refuses to acknowledge Mii and Kei’s relationship, and then the may-as-well-be-Yakuza Hino-san who hates gays and comes to collect the dirty novels that Mii-kun supposedly makes a living writing. And there are cats. And chaos. How in the world is poor bumpkin-ish Kei-chan supposed to adapt??
So Kei-chan must work to connect the Mii-kun he grew up and fell in love with to the Mii-kun that he’s just now meeting. Whether it’s being harassed by Hino-san or sneezing all over the house cats or slowly becoming acquainted to Mii’s gay big-city lifestyle, there’s plenty to make Kei-chan say “maybe I should just go back to Hokkaidou…” But his love for Mii-kun keeps him holding on… even if he told Mii-kun when they were still young that there’s no way he could ever have sex with a man. But hey, if he has to suffer through this new bustling city lifestyle then Mii-kun can deal with the fact that he won’t be getting any! It’s the fact that they’re dating that really matters, right? Right…?
With its gorgeous water-color tone and Kumota’s wonderful character-driven art, this is easily one of the most lighthearted BL manga I have ever read even though it deals with quite a few hard issues: homophobia in the face of being out of the closet, unfaithfulness in long-distance relationships, the ability (or lack thereof) for a straight man to have sexual feelings for another man, the gay lifestyle, and privacy-lacking living conditions. Kumota Haruko is very good at keeping even the most drama-inducing things light. The homophobia is defeated through understanding; the unfaithfulness is accepted with love and promises of the future; the gay lifestyle is fun if not a little too fun (if you know what I mean); Kei-chan learns to accept even his sexual attractions to Mii-kun and stop fretting about what is and is not possible with love; Kei-chan and Mii-kun learn to make the most of their private time together. Not once does anything get particularly dramatic. Even scenes of confrontation are injected with comedy and kept short to avoid subtracting from the lighthearted atmosphere.
For me, it’s hard to talk about the highlights of this manga. I almost want to say “highlights: it was written by Kumota Haruko” and leave it at that; I feel like that pretty much explains every single thing I love about this manga. But I suppose some people who are not quite as acquainted with Kumota Haruko won’t really understand what that means. For them I can only say: you’re missing out. Please go read her works immediately. Starting with this one.
For one, I must say that I loved the gradual pace from a platonic-romantic relationship to a sexual-romantic one. Underneath it all Mii-kun had a horrible complex from Kei saying at a young age that they could never have sex, so he was always too cowardly to push the idea. His relationship with Kei-chan was much too important to destroy it by pushing for a sexual relationship. It was nice to see, in a BL setting, a romance that wasn’t all about sex yet also didn’t make it look like sex is unnecessary in a working relationship. It wasn’t all about the climax of sex yet didn’t make it look like a relationship ends with holding hands and walks on the beach. It’s the perfect balance to knock down even the most built-up BL cliches.
I also loved the scene when Mii-kun admitted (with Kei-chan pushing for it) that he did in fact sleep around while they were apart. Kei-chan looked very hurt but tried his best to understand—they were not literally together at the time and Mii-kun was in an area where he was constantly meeting other gay men who wanted to hook up. And it wasn’t the past that Kei was looking toward. None of those men made Mii-kun love Kei-chan any less, and Kei-chan understood that. They were together at last and he was sure Mii-kun wouldn’t keep hooking up with others if they were no longer apart. Now, anyone who knows me should know I hate unfaithfulness in relationships. Loathe it. Detest it. I cannot stand it. But it was handled in such a beautiful, understanding way here that even though I felt bad for Kei-chan I also ended up pitying Mii-kun and understanding his situation. I loved how they were both willing to fight to the end and accept horrible truths and past mistakes if it meant making their relationship work. It just felt really beautiful.
Not to mention the side characters. They are all absolutely brilliant, seriously. The way I have described this manga before is like a BL version of Maison Ikkoku with an already-established gay couple instead of a lovely young widow and a dorky college-hopeful. The cast of side characters are all endearing in their own way and not just there for filler—they’re really almost as enjoyable as the main characters. Youko is the gossipy young woman of the house and acts as the devious little devil on everyone’s shoulder, while Pon-chan is the sweet advice-giver who is always just trying to help while humoring everyone around him. Souhei is the only sane person in the house (aside from perhaps Kei-chan) in his own way and is a good friend to Mii-kun. Hino is the evil bastard who tries to make Mii-kun’s life a living hell in the most entertaining ways possible—generally by torturing his beloved Kei. Then there’s also the non-housemate side characters: the gentle neko-type Kitahara and the sex-driven pretty-boy tachi-type Haru, both of whom are (more than) friends of Mii-kun from the many gay bars he used to frequent. Haru is aiming for Kei-chan’s affections (or more like his body, preferably while in his business attire) while Kitahara is just there for a shoulder to lean on when Mii-kun needs advice about his sexual woes. And maybe Kitahara and Haru are having sex on the side. That too.
In the end of this volume, during a onsen trip with Haru and Kitahara, Kei-chan and Mii-kun really did get close to actually having sex. Sadly, Mii-kun came before he could get it all the way in. Oops. But this is only volume one! Already in the sixth volume of Citron there was a new chapter in which Mii-kun has the flu and Kei-chan tries to nurse him back to health while getting a bit molested along the way. Evidently we’ll be getting more and more ‘service’ now that Kei-chan has finally come to terms with even his sexual attraction to Mii. And then there should be a new chapter in the next volume of Citron as well. Hopefully sometime sooon Mii-kun will be able to go all the way with Kei while having a much less embarrassing sexual stamina.