by Kazuto Okada; adapted by Christine Schilling
published by Yen Press; $12.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
This volume picks up literally the next day after book one ended. Kurumi Sahana, the female lead, is home sick, and the members of the Roman club wonder if anyone knows what’s wrong with her. Hideo Aiba, the male lead, calls her, and Kurumi tells him to come over. We discover that Kurumi lives by herself in a one-room apartment. Hideo is scared to ask, so we never learn, where her parents are or how she came to her current living circumstances.
During the course of her conversations with Hideo, we discover the extent of his masturbation habit. I’m still shocked at how brutally honest Hideo is with Kurumi. He never tells her a lie, and he doesn’t seems to feel hesitancy in discussing the most intimate details of his life. Kurumi forbids Hideo from masturbating without her permission. This leads to Hideo taking up jogging as a replacement activity. The volume closes with Hideo and Kurumi going on their first date. Of course, given the nature of their relationship, it’s far from an ordinary date. The book ends with a tease that their relationship might be making positive progress.
The major change in this volume from the previous one is the nature of Kurumi’s abuse of Hideo. The physical abuse has almost stopped. There’s a little toward the end, but it’s meant to be playful and Hideo’s life is never threatened. Kurumi seems to be more focused on emotional and psychological abuse. Perhaps being ill has mellowed her out a bit, or maybe physical abuse now bores her. I’m certainly happy that Hideo is no longer in physical danger, but I’d be ecstatic if all forms of abuse ceased. Their relationship is still difficult, almost stomach-churning, to follow. Hideo is still a black hole of self-esteem and continues to subject himself to the sadistic whims of Kurumi in the belief that she will come to love him.
There are tender moments between Hideo and Kurumi. However, since Kurumi is still a cipher, I can’t tell if these are genuine signs of affection or simply a clever use of behavioral modification methods. The cynic in me thinks that Kurumi offers these intimacies as part of a calculated system of irregular rewards. By never knowing when the next reward is coming, or the intensity of the next reward, Hideo keeps obeying Kurumi in hopes that this servile act will pay off. (By the way, this is the same system that casinos use to keep you feeding quarters into slot machines.)
There are moments when it looks like Hideo might finally see the truth of their relationship. He tells the reader, “That’s when I learned to fear entrusting myself to someone else.” And just a few pages later, “Does ‘entrusting yourself’ to someone… mean ‘trust’? Or ‘hopelessness’?” Then he finally admits that he thinks that Kurumi could seriously hurt him just to amuse herself. At that point, I want to reach into the manga, grab Hideo, and say, “If you’re in a relationship where you actually fear for your life, then you need to get out of there. Fast!” His tenacious and naive belief that being Kurumi’s play toy is the only way to make her love him frustrates me to no end.
The art in this book is still consistently very good. Okada really has a gift to bring out the emotional intensity in a panel. The fan service here is a little more explicit than in the first volume. There are couple of nipple flashes and panty shots that leave little to the imagination.
So why do I keep reading this series? Why am I so desperate to find out what happens next? The truth is that Hideo reminds me of myself in high school. I was painfully shy, riddled with self-doubt, and not very social. Also, I too was interested in UFOs and paranormal phenomena at Hideo’s age. Thankfully, I didn’t have his massive masochist streak.
I keep reading because I want to know that Hideo will be all right at the end of all this. I’m certain that this relationship will end badly for him, but I want to make sure he’s able to recover when it’s over. At his core, Hideo is a decent, but deeply misguided, young man. He has a lot of potential to be such a wonderful adult. He reminds me of the Mark Heard lyric, “You will weather well, in a climate of love.” I can’t help but hope that he will rises from the ashes of this relationship. I want him to make friends with people who will genuinely care for him and nurture him to become a well-rounded, well-adjusted man.
Honestly, I can’t recommend this series to anyone. In fact, given the deeply dysfunctional and abusive nature of the main and secondary relationships I suggest people avoid this series. If I didn’t feel so emotionally invested, I would quit reading. Just goes to show I’ve still got some of my own maturing to do.