Sunday, June 21, 2015

Cold Sleep (book) by Narise Konohara, illustrations by Nanao Saikawa, translated by Douglas W. Dlin and Iori

Cold Sleep is m/m romance, I suppose. As you'll see in my review, I'm not really comfortable applying the “romance” label here.

This is published under Digital Manga, Inc.'s Juné imprint and is one of their yaoi novels – not manga.


Cold Sleep is composed of three stories, two of which are related. “Cold Sleep” is the longest, taking up 166 pages of the volume. “Class Reunion” is 24 pages long, and the related story, “The One I Love,” is 27 pages. I'll be writing about each part separately, with a little bit at the end about the volume as a whole.

“Cold Sleep”

Tohru Takahisa (who'll I'll refer to as Tohru from here on out) wakes up in a hospital with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He is told that he was in a car accident and that Keishi Fujishima (who'll I'll call Fujishima, since that's usually how Tohru thought of him) is his friend. After Tohru gets out of the hospital, Fujishima takes him in. Tohru is grateful, but he also feels awkward about it. What if Fujishima throws him out for some reason? Where would he go? He's been told that he has no family or other friends, and he doesn't even have a job.

That last bit, at least, he can do something about. He finds a part-time job at a convenience store, starts making friends, and becomes more curious about his past. There are indications that Fujishima hasn't been completely honest with him, but, at the same time, Fujishima appears to be a good person.

I didn't know, when I bought this book, that it was actually the first of a three-part series. Thankfully, I found this out before I started reading, or the ending would have annoyed me even more. There were a lot of loose ends.

This had a rough beginning. The writing/translation was awkward, and Tohru seemed to connect more with his coworker, Kusuda, than he did with Fujishima. Fujishima was a sucky conversationalist, but their communication problems were also partly Tohru's fault – when Fujishima did something that upset him or made him uncomfortable, like suggesting that he go to a photography school when he hadn't displayed any interest in photography, he kept most of his complaints inside. However, I could understand his reasoning. He was afraid that, if he went against Fujishima's wishes too strongly, he'd be told to move out. He wasn't sure he could live on his own and, besides, Fujishima was his only connection to his past, the only person he knew of who'd known him before his accident.

This power imbalance bothered me a lot, even after Tohru became more confident and started working at a Western-style bakery. On the one hand, the cakes he brought Fujishima could be seen as gifts to a friend or to an unrecognized crush. On the other hand, they were also a way for him to keep the person with the most knowledge of his past and control over his current home happy. His eagerness to make Fujishima happy with the cakes that Fujishima was too embarrassed to buy himself was sweet, but that power imbalance was always there, lurking in the back of my mind.

The events at the end all came very suddenly and left me with more questions than answers. If the Tohru from before the accident hated Fujishima, then why did Fujishima take him in and work so hard to keep him from finding out the truth about the accident? (Please tell me the answer isn't just “unrequited love.”) And why did Tohru hate Fujishima? (Please tell me the answer isn't just “because he was gay.”)

“Class Reunion”

Masayuki Taniguchi is attending his 11-year high school reunion when he finds himself talking to Yuichi Kurokawa, who is working on becoming very drunk. Kurokawa had been bullied in middle school and, by high school, had adopted a habit of tattling on other students' slightest rule violations. As a result, no one really liked Kurokawa and he was finally left completely alone.

A drunken Kurokawa finally works up the courage to thank Taniguchi for picking him to be part of his Iron Walk group in high school, not realizing that Taniguchi only did it because he felt sorry for him. So, things are a little awkward, and then Kurokawa drops the real bombshell, that he's been in love with Taniguchi since high school.

This one was bittersweet. High School Kurokawa had it rough: bullied, with no friends, and secretly in love with a male classmate who he'd have been crushed to realize didn't really like him any more than anyone else did. It didn't sound like he had it much better as an adult – still socially awkward, and more than likely doomed to be talked into an arranged marriage he didn't really want.

I honestly have no idea why Taniguchi asked around for Kurokawa's business card after Kurokawa left. The only thing I could think of was that he felt sorry for Kurokawa, which just made Kurokawa's confession seem even sadder.

“The One I Love”

“Class Reunion” was from Taniguchi's perspective. “The One I Love” was from Kurokawa's perspective and took place maybe a few months later, with a flashback to the events of “Class Reunion.”

Oh man. This was probably the most powerful portion of the whole volume. Konohara did a great job of getting into Kurokawa's head. Unfortunately, the end result was not something I wanted to see in a romance story. Kurokawa was in a very bad place, emotionally.

In high school, Kurokawa put Taniguchi on a pedestal because of one moment of kindness. He then carried that in his heart for the next 11 years. When Taniguchi called him up after their reunion, it was like a dream come true. Through Taniguchi's prompting, he moved out of his parents' house and learned to live on his own – he'd never even done his own laundry before. He also began having conversations with people at work. He was so introverted that Taniguchi gave him a quota: three times a day, he had to find someone and talk to them about his personal life.

My heart just about broke for Kurokawa, but I also dreaded where Konohara was going with all of this. At it turned out, I was right to worry. As Kurokawa was driving around with Taniguchi asleep in the car, he thought about how Taniguchi might react if he told him he wanted to be his boyfriend. The thought that Taniguchi might push him away was so horrible that he contemplated just freezing things at this perfect moment by driving the both of them off a bridge.

He didn't go through with it, thank goodness, and the rest of the evening went much more nicely than he could have ever imagined. It was too late for me, though. This “romance” had already morphed into something way too horrible for me to root for. I couldn't shake the feeling that Kurokawa wouldn't once again contemplate murder-suicide if, say, Taniguchi one day broke up with him.

Konohara created some compelling characters, and I might seek out the next volume in the series for that alone. However, I'm not sure I trust her to end things in a way I'd be okay with. So far, unhealthy relationships seem to be her thing.

That said, I was happy that Konohara put the characters and their relationships before sex. This book, at least, had surprisingly few sexual situations in it. Characters thought about sex quite a bit, but, as far as actual scenes went, there was a little kissing, one aborted sex scene, and one fade-to-black sex scene, and that was it. I will mention, however, that Tohru incorrectly thought about his fantasies of having sex with Fujishima as “rape” - in those fantasies, Fujishima was always a willing participant. Which was better than when they almost had sex for real. Fujishima kept saying variations of “no” and “stop,” and Fujishima didn't. ::sigh:: Even if readers were supposed to read that as “yes” and “yes,” my reaction was still “ugh.”

Even though I might check out the next volume, I can't really recommend this. The relationships had more of a “messed up love story” than “romance” feel to them. Also, the writing/translation wasn't very good, and the editing was terrible. I noted several instances of missing words and punctuation marks.

  • 1 full-color illustration and 15 black and white illustrations – I enjoyed Saikawa's artwork style.
  • Afterword written by the author – This is the only part of the book that mentions that this is this first part of a three-part story.
  • Sweet Admiration (book) by Yuuki Kousaka, illustrated by Midori Shena - This is another Juné yaoi novel. I haven't read it, but the description indicates that it's another "unrequited love turned requited" story.
  • Pricks and Pragmatism (e-novella) by J.L. Merrow - This may work for those looking for another m/m romance in which the characters live together and get to know each other but don't, at least at first, sleep together. I reviewed it a few years ago and thought it was very sweet.

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