I finally got around to this review: Je t’aime, café noir by Yamashita Tomoko, published by Daria, Frontier Works in 2009. I’m absolutely in love with this woman’s stuff, though this collection of works seems to be relatively lesser known as compared to her other stuff.
Maybe the cover is deceiving, but all seven oneshots inside do involve a homosexual character or relationship. However, every one of them takes rather unique angles and have a nice, bittersweet aftertaste to them. Like most of her works, there is hardly any sexual content and most of the charm comes from the lovely narration and awkwardness of the characters.
The first oneshot, La Campanella, revolves around two friends who seem opposites of each other: Hibiya is a smart but gloomy, mocks people and is used to being hated. Takahashi is not-as-smart but sociable and has never been hated before. However, things are not as simple as opposites attract. Hibiya clearly draws the line that the two of them are very different. But Takahashi harbours one-sided feelings for Hibiya, to the point where he is tempted to see if Hibiya is afraid of being hated by him. A lot of awkwardness and tension builds up between them, yet humourous and lighthearted moments can still be found inside.
The second one, Koi no Jumon wa, is a rather interesting story, in that we have a character who constantly uses game terms to explain his reasons and actions (eg. I thought it was a “flag” moment; my HP and MP have been depleted). Yet despite the funny lines, we can also see and relate to the desperation of this character’s side to convey his love for the other. As you may be able to see, I love this mix of humour and seriousness.
The 3rd to 5th oneshots are my favourites, besides the title story. The 3rd one is Saturday Boy Phenomenon. It takes on quite a common theme: Kiriya gets rejected and teased cruelly after confessing his love for Mihama in high school. Even after years, Kiriya still gets haunted by that memory.
After which, the curious imagery of wanting to disappear and get abducted by aliens to wipe clean the memories is seamlessly brought in – that’s how much Kiriya wants to disappear off the face of earth. Even after their unexpected union at his workplace (a bar), Kiriya tries to put on a front that he had forgotten all about it despite Mihama’s persistance. I absolutely loved the narration for this, for it really gave this story a special spin.
The next one, Mahoutsukai no Deshi, is another special one. It’s not often you see charming female characters in BL titles and Shimakita is one of them for me. She gets acquainted with Sumiyoshi by coincidence, and he tells her that he can use magic and all sorts of related stories – the most important one being that he turned the plant left by his lover into his lover’s form and forgot how to undo it. Shimakita gets engrossed in his tales till the turning point of the story where she sees the truth for herself.
The truth being that Sumiyoshi is lonely, hung up on the past and can’t bear to move forward. Probably one of the most heart-wrenching stories in this collection. Though personally, the 5th one makes me cry every time.
cu,clau,come revolves around food and love. Sounds cliché but it deals with rather grounded issues. Similar to previous stories, Kaho has a one-sided crush on Shirou, and Shirou acknowledges it. However, Kaho doesn’t expect anything in return. All he does is cook meals for Shirou and feels content seeing Shirou eat his food with satisfaction, or in Kaho’s words, with an erotic look.
They talk about things from Shirou’s past girlfriends, to food, to philosophical issues and to scientific theories. It’s all rather plain but in reality you do sometimes talk about the most common things, and may not want to harp on the fact that “I’m in love with you” and spoil the friendship.
An important issue they talked about was how Kaho brought up that the cells in the body regenerate every 3 months, so it’s almost like in 3 months you’re a “new” person. This comes back again at the end of the story when Shirou says that he has to move back to take over his family business and is getting married. So Kaho tries to cover his shock and sadness and says that Shirou will forget all about him and the taste of his food in 3 months. Besides that, there’s a whole bunch of other heart-wrenching lines, which also seems so common and cliché. But somehow the context of this story makes all those sound touching. One of those stories I keep reading again and again.
The 6th oneshot is Once Upon A Time In Tokyo, and deals with a guy moving away to work in Tokyo area, and also running away from his good friend in fear of spoiling their friendship with his romantic feelings. Once again, a rather typical plot. But with him working as a train conductor in Tokyo on a train line to and fro the airport, the train metaphor and context of the airport (welcomes and farewells) are nicely brought in to enhance the narration.
The last oneshot is the title story, Je t’aime, café noir. It’s probably the most lighthearted story despite having three to four dramatic stories unfold at one go. It takes place in a café with conversations of love (but different forms of love) going on at three tables, and two guys waiting on them. It’s really amusing to read how all of their stories are told and resolved at the same time.
At the end, like all of Yamashita Tomoko’s works, there are hilarious one page follow-ups to a few of the stories, as well as her afterwords for each story.
If you don’t mind open-ended endings, a good dosage of narration and stories on confessions and desperate one-sided loves (which may or may not bear fruit), you may want to check Je t’aime, café noir out. If you are a fan of Yamashita Tomoko’s works, I do recommend this since her charming storytelling is captured in each story.