Saturday, March 20, 2021

REVIEW: Yes, No, or Maybe? (book) by Michi Ichiho, illustrated by Lala Takemiya, translated by Molly Lee

Yes, No, or Maybe? is m/m contemporary romance. It's licensed by Seven Seas. I bought my copy brand new.

This review includes spoilers. If you'd like to avoid those, check out the cross-posted versions on either Goodreads or Librarything, where I can use spoiler tags.


Kunieda Kei is a charming and well-liked TV newscaster. He's just as charming off-camera - he's always nice, eats healthy food, never complains, and does his job perfectly. However, he has a secret: it's all a lie. The real Kunieda Kei, the person he is when he gets home, complains about everything, gets mad at his coworkers all the time, dresses like a slob, and loves eating cheap beef bowls.

The only person who knows what his real self is like is his mother, which suits him just fine. His public persona will never draw disapproval or nasty comments from tabloids, the public, or his coworkers, and his professional life will continue on exactly the path he wants. Then he meets Tsuzuki Ushio, a famous stop motion animator, and the carefully constructed separation between his public and private selves begins to crumble. 

(Note: After much debate, I decided I'm going to refer to the characters by their family names rather than given names. I think I'd be comfortable calling Kunieda Kei "Kei," but calling Tsuzuki Ushio "Ushio" feels too weird, since I knew him more on-page as "Tsuzuki.")

This book can be divided into two halves. In the first half, we see what Kunieda is like in public and in private (it's all first person from Kunieda's POV), how Kunieda and Tsuzuki meet, and how Kunieda tries to juggle his time with Tsuzuki as "Kunieda Kei" and as "Owari." Tsuzuki has no idea that the two people are one and the same - after a while, this gets harder and harder to believe, even considering that the two personas are so different and "Owari" always wears a mask and dresses like a scruffy slob. In the second half, Kunieda and Tsuzuki are now secretly a couple, dealing with the strain that a third person and Kunieda's double life put on their relationship.

I liked the first half a lot more than the second half. The contrast between Kunieda's outward appearance and behavior and his private thoughts was amusing, and I loved his phone calls to his mother, who was usually appalled by the difference between the person she knew and the person she saw on TV. I could sort of understand why Kunieda established his public persona, although it struck me as both exhausting and impossible to maintain in the long-term. I was sure this would turn out to be an issue later in the book. It sort of was...and yet somehow also wasn't.

It really wasn't believable that Kunieda would somehow successfully pretend to be two separate people around Tsuzuki, not with Tsuzuki spending that much time in close contact with both of them. Still, I was mostly willing to roll with it. I was really curious to see how Tsuzuki would react when he found out the truth. He seemed to enjoy spending time with constantly grumbling Owari but also seemed to have a bit of a crush on perfect Kunieda Kei. 

Theoretically, finding out they were the same person could be a good thing, except that even knowing Owari wasn't exactly the same as knowing Kunieda as he was in private. There were things Kunieda couldn't really say as Owari without giving himself away. In the second half of the book, though, that was no longer the case, and Kunieda complained about work and other people pretty much constantly. I kept wondering whether generally easy-going Tsuzuki would suddenly call it quits because he was tired of being Kunieda's outlet for all the venting he couldn't previously do with anyone but his mother. 

Then there was the addition of Minagawa Tatsuki, a newbie at Kunieda's station. I can't get into my issues with the storyline involving him without going into spoiler territory - you've been warned. It turns out that Minagawa has a crush on Kunieda. He manages to figure out that Kunieda is not only living a double life, but that he also has a boyfriend. This only makes him more determined to win at least a portion of Kunieda for himself...which Kunieda almost agrees to.

It's that last bit that really bugs me. Kunieda genuinely considered cheating on Tsuzuki, and I strongly suspect he'd have finished talking himself into it if Tsuzuki hadn't arrived home early. I liked that Tsuzuki told both him and Minagawa off for it all, but he let Kunieda off way too easy. There should have been a lot more groveling on Kunieda's part.

There certainly would have been time for that if the sex scenes had been changed to fade-to-black. While some of Kunieda and Tsuzuki's dialogue during those moments was fun, incorporating Kunieda's moans into the dialogue was cheesy and, along with the explicitness of the sex, kind of porny. The only scene I thought worked reasonably well was the phone sex one, mostly because I didn't expect it to be anything but cheesy and awkward so it didn't matter if it delivered.

I don't regret reading this and actually consider it to be one of the best BL Japanese novels I've ever read (granted, most of the ones I've read have been terrible, so that's not a high bar to clear). I wish Ichiho hadn't flubbed the second half so badly, but Kunieda was an interesting and complex character, and the translation was for the most part surprisingly smooth and natural-feeling. I wish Ichiho had ditched the Minagawa storyline and instead focused on the issues caused by Kunieda's dedication to living two drastically different lives.


Two full-color illustrations (just differently colored versions of the front and back cover art), black and white illustrations throughout, and a foreword by the author that is weirdly positioned on the same page as part of the story text, but just before a "bonus" scene with Kunieda and Tsuzuki.

I was not a fan of the artwork, which included several sex scene moments featuring massive amounts of fluid (sweat, lube, semen, or some combination of all three? you decide!).

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