In my time reading yaoi, I’ve come across many series that portrayed relationships between gay men and men who (at least initially) identify as straight. These manga have run the gamut from weird and fetishistic to thoughtful and sweet. I’m definitely interested in any story that does a good job depicting characters questioning their sexuality, so it’s not a trope I’m inherently against. One example of the concept done right is Kuzuya Rou’s The Love That Binds, recently published by Juné Manga. It stars a pair of coworkers named Kiichi (who is gay) and Saijyo (who is straight), who begin to date despite their seemingly incompatible sexual orientations.
This manga gets off to a strong start. Rou quickly introduces both main characters and we get a firm handling on their temperaments. Kiichi’s bashful personality plays well off of Saijyo’s more serious and hard-to-read nature. The early days of their relationship have a believable sense of nervousness, as they like each other but have very different life experiences which color their attitudes. One of the couple’s biggest conflicts occurs early on when Saijyo makes a homophobic joke at their expense and Kiichi, having had to endure more than enough of that sort of abuse already, doesn’t take it well at all. Rou does a great job with this scene and its fallout, as it shows how their different orientations (and resultant encounters with prejudice) have affected them.
Unfortunately, the second half of the story isn’t quite as engaging as the first. It’s not bad–the character-work is still solid–but much less happens in terms of actual plot. Almost all of the book’s latter half consists either of sex scenes or buildup to said sex scenes. Saijyo and Kiichi are emotionally honest throughout so there’s still a touch of sweetness and vulnerability, but we don’t get to learn as much about them as we did in the first half. Of course, yaoi fans who are eager for explicit content will likely have fewer gripes. All in all, your mileage may vary depending on where your priorities lie.
Rou’s art is strong throughout the volume. There’s an airy quality to it, thanks largely to the relatively thin line-work and the heavy use of white space and light gray tones. The shading is also great overall, as different shades of gray and black help balance page compositions and provide the objects depicted with various degrees of weight. The characters’ facial expressions and body language are also quite well-drawn and expressive.
My only complaint related to the artwork is with the way Rou renders characters blushing. She makes heavy use of hatching when doing so, and the large masses of lines stand out severely compared to the relatively minimal amount of detail used for the rest of characters’ faces. As a result, what are meant to look like rosy cheeks sometimes look more like rashes instead. This isn’t always the case and it’s not a huge deal, but it can get distracting at times.
Overall, The Love That Binds is a very sweet manga. Rou handles a relationship between partners with different sexual orientations very well, and it never feels like she’s belittling the characters via fetishization. The airy and expressive line-art is pleasing to look at and contributes to overall sense of joy and poignancy. Though the book’s second half is somewhat disappointing compared to its first, I would still recommend it.