Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Apr 9th 2017
Don't Be Cruel: Akira Takanashi's Story
Back in high school, Akira Takanashi had a brief, non-sexual affair with one of his teachers. When the man ultimately rejected him, Akira walled off his heart, deciding that while sex may be moderately worthwhile, love certainly wasn't. He initiated a sexual relationship with another student at his college, Shimakawa, but he won't open his heart to him. Or maybe it's that he can't – between his pathologically clingy younger brother Jutta and his teacher's betrayal, has Akira lost the ability to trust someone enough to love them?
Technically, you don't need to have read SuBLime's previous releases of Yonezou Nekota's Don't Be Cruel yaoi manga to understand this stand-alone spin-off. Although the protagonists of the main series, Maya and Nemugasa, are both mentioned (Akira is Maya's cousin and Nemugasa is a student at the same university and makes a couple of appearances), Akira's story can hold its own. Both Akira and Shimakawa are very different characters from Nemugasa and Maya, and although readers familiar with the main series will be more familiar with Jutta and some of his actions, not knowing won't diminish this particular piece.
The story follows college student Akira Takanashi. He's a law student, although briefly at one point he considered going into education. While in high school he fell in love with one of his teachers, who seemed to return his affections, but ultimately the other man ended it due to fears of destroying Akira's future. This wounded Akira so badly that he found himself unable to really trust anyone intimately again – at least in the emotional sense. The night of his high school graduation he met Shimakawa at a bar and propositioned him in the bathroom; he wanted to have sex, and figured that Shimakawa couldn't be too picky about his partners. (This is from context, we later find out – he's been watching Shimakawa all night.) This initiates an affair that's still going when the main story begins, and while Akira keeps his emotions out of it (and doesn't seem to particularly enjoy sex), Shimakawa has fallen in love.
The question then becomes not whether Shimakawa and Akira will end up together, but whether or not Shimakawa can break through Akira's emotional barriers. He's fully aware that Akira is keeping him out and that somehow both Jutta and his former teacher are involved, but he also respects that Akira can't be forced out from behind his wall, no matter how much he wants to try. Although we see Shimakawa get frustrated and jealous, he also keeps things consensual – when Akira says don't, he stops. This respect that he has for his partner helps to make their disconnect more apparent: Shimakawa wants things to be as good as possible, but Akira can't bring himself to allow that.
As we find out more about Akira's past and Jutta's present (Jutta attends the same high school Akira went to and begins a physical relationship with the same teacher), Akira's emotional reticence makes sense. His brother is clingy and manipulative to the point where it's hard to understand why Akira even puts up with him anymore, and as the story goes on, we can see that Jutta's obstruction of his brother's happiness may actually be a desire to keep Akira all for himself. Akira isn't quite capable of grasping this, but the juxtaposition of Jutta, his teacher, and Shimakawa, to say nothing of having seen Nemugasa's and Maya's relationship take off, helps him to understand that when he shuts himself off, he's hurting Shimakawa as well as himself. He's still not entirely comfortable by the end of the book, which feels more like a natural progression for his particular issues than if he had magically been cured by Shimakawa's love (in two senses of the word), but there's a definite sense of hope that wasn't there in the beginning.
Yonezou Nekota's art is very nice, and she makes distinctions between not only male body types (with both the more muscular Shimakawa and the slender Akira still looking distinctly male), but also between levels of intimacy, both physical and emotional. High school Akira does look younger than university Akira, with the added bonus that he actually changes his hair style as well. Sex scenes get more explicit as the book goes on, though pertinent body parts are never actually shown. The heavier story makes the volume a slightly slower read than you might expect, but the artwork and page setups help to keep the story visually smooth.
Don't Be Cruel: Akira Takanashi's Story may not be easily called a “nice” story, but it is a hopeful one, about a man who eventually learns that it is possible to get over his heartbreak and that he is worthy of love and sexually desirable. Although he's still withdrawn and fragile when the story ends, Akira has come far enough out of his shell that he is able to finally really move on from his high school heartbreak, and hopefully eventually out of his brother's toxic grip as well. Even with his story ostensibly finished, it would be nice if the main story (or the upcoming volume of short stories from the main series) comes back to him at some point. It would be nice to check up on he and Shimakawa and make sure they're still doing well.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Akira's journey is nice to follow, largely consensual, attractive art, multiple masculine body types
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