Matsumoto Miecohouse “Koi no Mannaka”
Koi no Mannaka, Matsumoto Miecohouse’s debut BL tankoubon, was actually released quite a while ago at this point—going on three years ago in just a few months. It’s the book that her second tankoubon through HertZ, Sawatte mo Ii ka na, was held up against and compared to, and the reason it was so shocking for her to release another book that didn’t just pale in comparison. Though it was Matsumoto’s debut tankoubon, it made quite the splash—not only was it highly reviewed, which is generally unheard of for a debuting mangaka, but it was given very high reviews. Understandable, considering the perfect mix of smut, romance and raw emotion all captured in this one book.
It sounds cliche from the first scene: two high school boys, Ichinose and Matsubara, come from two very different families but both carry an incredible emptiness inside. Matsubara’s mother abandoned him and now he lives in a run-down, disgusting apartment with his father who almost never comes home. Ichinose, on the other hand, has a mother who is terrifyingly protective and clingy toward him because of a complex caused by her husband leaving their family when Ichinose was still small. But she doesn’t ever truly consider Ichinose’s wants or needs. She deludes herself with the idea that he loves to study and fills his schedule with nothing but tutor and cram school appointments and treats him like her precious, innocent angel who would never lie to her and never hurt her.
At the beginning of the book, it would appear Ichinose was interested in Matsubara already for quite a long time before their relationship starts. Matsubara happens to notice Ichinose’s stare and approaches him, asking if Ichinose is in love with him. And when Ichinose admits it, feelings there’s no point in denying it since even if Matsubara rejects him or beats him up or even kills him it’s no different from the ‘dead’ type of living he’s currently doing, Matsubara brings him home and they have sex. From the front it seems Ichinose thought Matsubara had it all—attractive, outgoing yet sarcastic, loved by the all the girls in school—but Matsubara’s run-down and grungy home tells a different story. There’s almost no food—almost nothing at all. A shocking new side of Matsubara.
At first Matsubara is only in it for the game—he continually toys with Ichinose during sex, humiliating him and making him cry. It amuses him that shy, withdrawn Ichinose is willing to do anything for him. Whether it’s money or sex or even just company, Matsubara’s wish is Ichinose’s command. Finally, fed up with his shitty life of poverty and his crappy father, Matsubara’s takes the largest step of all: he wants Ichinose to take all the money he has saved up and run away with him.
Of course, Ichinose doesn’t put up a fight. He lies and tells his mom he’s going to training camp (to her protest of how lonely she’ll be without him) and heads out to follow Matsubara wherever the other boy is willing to take him. From beaches to big cities to hotels, Ichinose is suddenly thrown into many experiences he’d never been able to even so much as consider before. Even kissing girls. But all the while, he only wants Matsubara. He’ll do whatever Matsubara wants him to as long as Matsubara allows Ichinose to stay at his side. He’ll protect Matsubara from his terrible nightmares and shelter him and pay his way if that’s what it takes to make Matsubara happy.
Somewhere along the way, Matsubara can no longer just play with Ichinose. While Matsubara doesn’t like getting close to people, constantly feeling abandoned by his mother and then his father and even the young woman he grew close to when he was younger who perhaps died after her boyfriend beat her, he can’t ignore Ichinose’s warmth—the way Ichinose wraps his arms around Matsubara’s shoulders and hugs him tight, whispering over and over again “it’s okay, it’s okay, I’m here with you.” The sex he has with Ichinose suddenly becomes less rushed, less hard, less humiliating. While he originally told Ichinose he hates kissing, now he only wants to keep Ichinose locked in his embrace and wants to kiss him over and over. This terrifies Matsubara and eventually he admits he wants to go home—he can’t stand to be like this with Ichinose any longer, constantly worrying that one day he’ll wake up and Ichinose will have gone home and abandoned him like the others. He’s in love with Ichinose.
They go home together holding hands, peaceful in the knowledge that their feeling are mutual. They make love one more time at Matsubara’s apartment before Ichinose heads home. But that’s where it starts to go wrong; Ichinose’s mother notices how dirty Ichinose’s shoes have become, and she freaks out thinking Ichinose is going to leave her just like her husband did. While Ichinose is sleeping she sneaks into his room and tries to strangle him, says they’ll be happy and together forever in death, but he fights her off and nearly kills her in the process. Calling Matsubara in a panic Ichinose is able to find that she’s still living, but when she wakes up in the hospital her memory has reverted to her childhood. She no longer remembers her son or her former husband.
The main story ends with Ichinose and Matsubara standing outside the hospital, both acknowledging that neither of them really have anyone anymore except for each other. They don’t know what will happen to them at that point, or who will take care of them, or how they’ll get by. But surely it will be okay, because for once in their lives that hole of loneliness has been filled.
This is a very powerful manga—I’ve read it multiple times at this point, but am only now writing an actual review since it was requested by someone on iamfujoshi. And actually, I cry every time I read it. While it’s not a very dramatic story and not much happens (literally, for most of the manga Ichinose and Matsubara are just traveling or having sex), it’s very emotionally powerful. It deals with heavy topics like abandonment and abuse from people you love and trust, and about reaching out and filling the void inside you.
Though one thing I found weird was Ichinose’s reaction (or lack thereof) to his mother not remembering him anymore. Part of me was like “shouldn’t he cry or get upset or something??” But I suppose in a way, her forgetting him was almost like the key that broke off the shackles that chained him to her. While it was easier for Matsubara to run away from his father because Matsubara’s father just didn’t give a shit, it wasn’t so easy for Ichinose—his mother never truly meant any ill will and she didn’t have anyone aside from Ichinose and so she clung to him and used him for comfort. With the loss of his mother’s memory, he was able to take that step back that he truly needed. He was able to push her away without the guilt and fear of hurting her.
I think one of the things that’s most interesting about it aside from the general story is the fact that it’s so completely juxtaposed by Matsumoto Miecohouse’s very ‘cute’ art style. I think this manga probably gets passed up a lot because people see the cover with Ichinose’s big glittery eyes and cute face. It’s interesting how Matsumoto Miecohouse doesn’t let her stories be confined by the art she draws—she writes whatever she wants, even if it doesn’t match closely with the art she deals in.
I have to agree with what another reviewer said about this manga: part of what makes it so great is that it perfectly mixes all the sex scenes with the emotion and fluff of the actual story. The gradual change in how Matsubara has sex with Ichinose holds the flow of the story and best shows how Matsubara has come to depend on and love Ichinose—before he even admits it, you can tell by the turn from harsh lines like “I want to see you cry” to Matsubara devouring Ichinose’s kisses and gently clinging to his back while they make love. It’s a really beautiful transition when you notice it. Unlike in a lot of other smut manga, the sex scene are very necessary and are a good indicator of the character’s emotions.
Anyway, there’s also a small side chapter at the end of the book that takes away a bit from all the drama—a look at Ichinose and Matsubara’s lives as adults through the eyes of their pet cat Pii. The two are still together and happy (and still constantly having sex, evidently) and moving forward.
Overall, I think this is a truly enjoyable BL manga and I recommend it to anyone who has been finding themselves complaining that all the BL they read lately is just emotionless fluff. This will definitely turn that opinion around. It’s the book that made me fall in love with Matsumoto Miecohouse, and I hope it will do the same for others who read it.