Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Kazuto has taken over his father's café and is working hard at running it with his sole employee, a young woman named Hisahara. For the past six months, he's noticed that a young man from the nearby university has been coming by almost every day…and Kazuto thinks that he keeps looking at him. Thinking it's mutual, Kazuto develops a crush, only to find out that the other man is actually crushing on Hisahara! But he also is completely inexperienced when it comes to romance, so it's perfectly fine for Kazuto to offer to help him with stuff like practice dates, right?
Katakoi Lamp continues Tokyopop's recent trend of licensing and releasing BL titles that are delightful balls of fluff, sweet little romances that are good for what ails you. From creator Kyohei Azumi, who also has two titles available in English via the Renta! service, this title follows Kazuto and Jun as they stumble into love, and while it's largely predictable (right down to a confession from someone else), it's less the plot and more the way it's told that makes this such a charmer.
The story centers on Kazuto Muronoi, the young owner of a small café. He took it over from his father, who used to just run it as a hobby and got tired of it, and while he doesn't have huge amounts of faith in his ability to turn a profit, he does enjoy his work. His only help at the café is a young woman named Hisahara, who only applied for the position because she has a major crush on Kazuto's childhood friend Kyosuke, who works as a model. Kyosuke's always been handsome, and Kazuto has spent far more time than he cares to remember delivering love letters to his friend, almost never getting any attention himself. That's partially why he's so excited when a young man studying at the university nearby starts showing up every day. Kazuto thinks that he's sending glances his way, and while at first he's not sure what to make of the attention, it eventually morphs into a crush that he's positive is mutual. The problem is that he's spent so much time delivering missives to his best friend that he has almost no idea of what to do when he wants to make a move on someone whom he's sure will reciprocate.
Canny readers will very quickly pick up on why Kyosuke is not only surprised to hear that his friend has a crush on another man but also why he's so upset by Kazuto's fawning over the student, whose name turns out to be Jun. It's to Azumi's credit as a writer that it isn't glaringly obvious what's going on from the first minute – there are any number of potential reasons Kyosuke reacts the way he does, and it's more a statement of Kazuto's habit of seeing what he wants to that things take so long to come clear on that front. But that habit also turns out to be an issue when he finally musters up the courage to talk to Jun as a person rather than in work mode, because it turns out that the person Jun likes is Hisahara, not Kazuto – he's just too shy to look at her directly.
That's his story, anyway, and again it's fairly believable in the moment. Once again, that's due to the fact that we're fairly strictly in Kazuto's head for the entire book, and thus limited to how he sees the world. While it's not quite right to say that he's basically seeing the world through a coal-scuttle bonnet (a type of headwear that forces you to see only what's straight ahead), there's also something to the idea. Kazuto isn't a hugely observant person, and he's not good at critical thinking, so if he assumes something about someone, he sticks with that, thus getting blindsided when he turns out to be wrong. Jun's revelation knocks him back fairly hard, but he does quickly bounce back, determined to at least be friends with his crush in the hopes of maybe eventually becoming something more.
It hardly counts as a spoiler to say that his patience pays off, given both the cover and the genre of the volume. But as with most works that fall into the romance genre, it's not so much about whether or not the lead characters will get together, but rather how it happens. In the case of Katakoi Lamp, the subgenre is more or less a hybrid of the “fake relationship” and “seduction lessons” tropes – because Jun has never dated anyone before, he asks Kazuto to help him out with an eye towards being able to confess to Hisahara. This allows them to form a more or less false coupledom and go on dates, with Kazuto attempting to disguise his feelings while doing things like holding Jun's hand “because they're on a date.” That Jun not only doesn't object but grows comfortable enough to take Kazuto's hand first on occasion shows that he's starting to change his mind and heart, which is significant because we already know how shy and introverted he is. While words of love are eventually spoken, watching Jun's body language and speech patterns change is the real declaration, and that does a good job of showing us the all-important “how” in this particular romance manga.
It's also something of an accomplishment, because the art here is really just okay. It does have pleasingly soft edges and it isn't hard to tell the characters apart, but there also isn't anything that truly stands out about it, and there are some angles that are clearly difficult for the artist, such as seeing someone head-on while they're sitting down. It's also not a racy romance if that's more what you're looking for; there's one non-explicit sex scene at the end and an even less explicit one a chapter before that point, both more as a statement of their mutual affection than anything prurient, which is really very sweet.
Katakoi Lamp is sweet and charming, a soft story about two men stumbling into love. It acknowledges some of the tropes of romance (specifically the idea of love geometry) but ultimately is simply nice. There's definitely something to be said for sitting down with a book that just makes you smile.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : C+
+ Sweet romance, does a good job of leaving some things up to the reader's interpretation based on Kazuto's context.
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