Aoba Ikura “Natsukage ni, Sayonara” review
About time I talk about some actual BL, huh? I read Natsukage ni, Sayonara yesterday after a random download just because the cover was cute to me, and was pleasantly surprised to find it’s actually the debut original release of my favorite free! doujinka: Amakura. Unfortunately, around the time she started going professional she deleted most of her sites so I won’t try to link them here, but here is her original works twitter.
This book definitely reminded me why I loved Amakura’s stories so much back in the days of free! fandom—there’s a bittersweet gentleness she handles her characters with that I really appreciate. This particular story centers on a young man named Fuuga who initially seems to come off as somewhat of a spoiled rich kid; he seems to have plenty of money, is attractive and popular, and goes to a good school. However, after his friends talk about the importance of earning their own money, Fuuga opts for a part-time job over summer break.
Enter Jun, a younger boy who is the son of the owners whose shop Fuuga works at, who’s seemingly as stupid as he is sincere. But his sincerity makes it easy for Fuuga to open up with him—Jun is too daft to use formal speech with Fuuga initially even though he’s two year younger, making them instantly seem like equals. And, somehow, Fuuga seems to be drawn to Jun for other reasons as well.
Their summer together draws to a close with them dancing around each other in the most awkwardly-teenager ways possible—long stolen glances, near-miss kisses, and random blurted-out words that were meant to be left unsaid. Jun just wants to touch Fuuga, and Fuuga seems to want to stare at Jun incessantly. But a secret Fuuga is holding deep within makes him feel like they’re worlds apart in ways that Jun will just never understand.
There is also a two-chapter extra story titled Kinjirareta Ano Natsu e. This story centers on two boys named Kairi and Wataru, childhood friends and elementary classmates. This story starts out when they’re in elementary school, so please be advised there is sexual contact between the two when they’re young. I personally wasn’t super bothered by the way it was portrayed, but each individual has their own threshold with this type of content so please keep that in mind.
The story starts when the two are in elementary school and Kairi is trying to talk big to his classmates, claiming he’s ‘done’ masturbation before like it’s no big deal. But Wataru seems completely clueless to what Kairi is bragging about on the way home, so Kairi drags him behind the local shrine in the bushes and ‘shows’ him what masturbation is. After this starts a pattern of the two sneaking away to the shrine after school to touch each other—that is, until Wataru’s sister happens to catch them in the act and admonishes them that what they’re doing is ‘creepy’ and ‘disgusting’ and absolutely not supposed to be done between two boys. Panicking, and having the personality type of always wanting to look good and be liked, Kairi pushes all of it off on Wataru and runs from the scene. And that seems to be the end of their relationship for the next five years, Kairi always stuck with the guilty feeling of losing Wataru while trying to change his ‘disgusting’ ways by deflecting to every girl in his high school. That is, until Wataru transfers in.
As for my (spoiler-y) impressions…
I really enjoyed both stories, though for somewhat different reasons. For Natsukage, it really pulled at my heartstrings—when you realize that all this time, the seemingly perfect and proper Fuuga is essentially being starved out of his own home, rejected by his ‘family’ and desperate to escape, it completely flips the narrative from a fluffy summer romance to a “oh god Jun please save this poor boy” situation. When his little sister Minori tried to give him the leftovers for her dinner I was initially confused and kind of grossed out, until I realized… his parents aren’t feeding him, so she’s trying to save some of her portion. They aren’t even making food for Fuuga anymore. What the ever-loving fuck.
It really killed me when he rejected Jun, because in a way it felt like he couldn’t accept his feelings partly because he sincerely seemed to think Jun was too good and clean for him (and thus would never understand his fucked up life) but also because he was so desperate to uphold this ideal life that would help him escape as quickly as possible. Clinging to Jun’s love would force him to stay in that town, or would at the very least give him something he’d have to leave behind. When you desperately want to run away, the last thing you need is something worth staying for.
When Jun showed up to Fuuga’s university exams to give him the good luck charm my heart just about exploded. Jun wanted so badly to be some sort of ‘family’ figure Fuuga could rely on, even after he’d been pushed away somewhat viciously. I admit, I cried a bit when they finally were able to talk it out. Not as much as Jun cried, though.
On the other hand, I felt very strongly reading Kinjirareta in a way that I feel most non-heterosexual people will be able to relate to. The fear of being labeled as disgusting or immoral or weird caused Kairi to push away not only his close friend, but also someone he’d been finding himself more and more attracted to as he continued through puberty—and it got him kind of fucked up. Yet part of me doesn’t want to feel sympathy for him, because what he did to Wataru was just despicable. He essentially forced Wataru into that position, led him on, and then threw him under the bus the second they got caught. It was just terrible. And then he got mad at Wataru for bringing it up again when they were older.
But in the end I really did feel for Kairi because his situation was quite realistic—he found himself in a position of realizing he wasn’t ‘normal’ and he panicked. And it didn’t help, how incredibly cruel Wataru’s sister was. Granted, I can kind of see her perspective as well—considering she’s the one who caught her incredibly young brother in a very vicarious position with his equally-young friend, it makes sense she’d get incredibly upset in a less-than-level-headed way.
And I think the realism of all the different characters reactions to the situation is what made this particular story appealing to me. Of course, it was still handled in a very typically-BL way: happy ending, romanticized feelings and actions, lots of tears and just-in-time confessions, etc. But in a way, I feel like I appreciate that—sometimes I just want that happy ending for those kids so badly, particularly when the story itself is so relatable and painful.
ANYWAY, enough of my sappy waxing on BL and emotional fulfillment—let’s move on to the styling, flow, and content of the book!
As always, I find Aoba’s (it’s very difficult for me to not call her Amakura constantly tbqh) art absolutely stunning. It probably won’t be for those who like more masculine characters or artwork, nor will it appeal to people who like very polished thick lines. Aoba’s art is sketchy and the epitome of gentle lines. But her backgrounds are always increidbly detailed and atmospheric. She’s truly a wonderful artist. Her character’s designs and personalities border a more feminine feel, so if you like traditionally masculine male characters this might not be the book for you.
The sexual content is…. not really sexy lol. I feel like it’s more there for the emotional fulfillment of the two boys ‘becoming one’ (excuse the cheese) rather than to titillate. There’s a lot of fumbling and less-than-sexy dialogue between the boys that makes it more of a romantic and sweet romp than anything else, so no worries on making sure you’re alone while reading this. HOWEVER, like I stated previously, there is sexual content between very young characters in this book. I’d say to skip the second story entirely if that’s not something you can handle, because that part of the story plays a rather large part in the overall plot. You could try skipping it, too, though—however, it is handled in a fairly not-meant-to-be-porn way (it’s two half-pages and nothing graphic is shown) so it’s up to you. I just want to make sure those who will be made uncomfortable or upset by that content know 100% that it’s there.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Granted, I am very biased because Amakura was literally my favorite fanartist/doujinka in free! fandom (she wrote for harurin and I highly recommend looking for her books if you can find them—they’re pretty rare though…) but she’s my favorite for a reason—her characters are gentle and multifaceted, her designs are lovely, her art is wonderful and radiates the atmosphere she’s trying to capture, and she’s just really good at telling stories. If you want something sweet and beautiful with a bittersweet punch in the gut, and highly recommend this book. You will not be disappointed.