Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GN 1 & 2
Back in high school, unlikely buddies Nakano and Tsuda shared a passionate moment that neither of them quite knew how to handle. As a result, Nakano deliberately distanced himself from his friend and despite Tsuda's attempts, they haven't seen each other in ten years. That's about to change when the companies the two work for start a joint project, throwing them together. Can Nakano and Tsuda reconcile what happened all those years ago with what they still feel for each other?
There's something really rewarding about a well-told love story, no matter what the gender of the protagonists. Isaku Natsume's first English print release (another of her titles is, as of this review, digital-only but legally available) is one such tale. Complete in two volumes, False Memories follows erstwhile high school friends and lovers Nakano and Tsuda, who made the transition from friends to lovers very abruptly and then were left shaken by both questions of sexuality and their own emotions. Because high schoolers aren't known to be the best at coping with complex issues, the boys drifted apart, with Nakano deliberately distancing himself from his best buddy and Tsuda eventually accepting it as the result of something he did to the other boy. It is now ten years later and neither man has ever really been able to forget the other. Nakano, the quieter and more introverted of the two, has managed to suppress his feelings for Tsuda, and thus is unpleasantly surprised when the company he works for, the oh-so-subtle Randai, contracts with a toy manufacturer to create new Bundam models...and Tsuda turns out to be his contact. Tsuda is thrilled to be reunited with the one who got away, but Nakano is far more conflicted, fighting their friendship and attraction kicking and screaming.
One of the most effective storytelling techniques Natsume uses to create this story is that the chapters alternate point-of-view. The story starts in Nakano's head, but then the second chapter takes us into Tsuda's thoughts, and so on. This is maintained throughout volume one, with volume two splitting the narration between pages rather than chapters, and it really helps us to understand what happened between the two and how it has continued to affect their lives. Nakano blames Tsuda for their sexual experience, but not because he didn't enjoy it – he's upset because Tsuda got a girlfriend right after, making him feel like he was used. When we hear Tsuda's side of the story, however, we understand that both boys were just trying to make things right in their own clumsy ways. This gives the story a firm emotional base from which to grow, and even though we don't get the full events of that fateful day until the final chapter of the first book, Natsume's use of varying viewpoints has made that just the icing on the cake: by the time the full story is revealed, we already completely understand the issues involved. Volume two therefore can focus on the job of getting them fully past that day ten years previous and coming to accept that, as grown men, they can finally work things out.
This, it should be mentioned, only takes up about a third of volume two. The rest of the book is devoted to a co-worker of Tsuda's, Saeki, and his relationship with a younger man who has been in love with him for years. It's a very different story, and while it is neither as sweet nor as developed as the main tale, it is still worth reading. What's particularly interesting about Saeki's story is that the younger man is, if not openly gay, at least totally comfortable with his own sexuality, while Saeki is clearly not. Given Saeki's role at the end of the main story, this is certainly not what you would expect, but it doesn't detract from the romance in terms of either consent or charm. In fact, the fully consensual nature of both romances (though one might argue the ten years ago part) make False Memories a particularly good series for those leery of BL's reputation for non-consensual relationships. If you've been curious to read a yaoi title but aren't sure where to start, this is a good introduction, as it does use many of the tropes of the genre without the aspects that can make readers uncomfortable.
While there are several sex scenes across the two books, this is not a particularly explicit series, but neither does Natsume resort to simply leaving blank spaces where genitals should be. (She's a fan of the well-placed leg instead.) It is graphic without being overly so, leaving enough to the imagination to make the series sexy but not raunchy. Her art is the typically pretty BL style, with long limbs and beautiful faces (Saeki cleans up very nicely), but she does also include scruffy characters, chubby ones, and women in actual speaking roles. It exists in a much more real world than we sometimes see within the genre, which certainly may add to the series appeal for some readers.
False Memories is a short, sweet story about a second chance at first love. Tsuda is charmingly enthusiastic and a little naive while Nakano hides his vulnerability behind a scowl, and watching them finally work out their problems from high school is a rewarding process. Mildly explicit and generally charming, this is a nice introduction to BL for the curious or an enjoyable read for fans looking for something romantic and pleasant.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Nice, compact story, fully consensual. Varying narration really helps us understand both main characters.
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