Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Shirotani suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, fearing the contamination of the outside world to the point where he wears gloves at all times, washes his hands raw, and can barely function in the outside world. When his boss has an accident, he is thrown into the path of Kurose, a psychotherapist who offers to help him overcome the fear and compulsions that rule his life. While Kurose is doing this apparently out of the goodness of his heart rather than in a formal therapy session, there's something more going on, and Shirotani finds himself not only struggling to overcome his illness, but his attachment to Kurose as well.
Upon simply hearing the premise of Rihito Takarai's Ten Count, you could be forgiven for worrying that it would be just another exploitative yaoi series driven by an unequal relationship. That, however, would be allowing yourself to miss out on at least a first volume that is far less creepy than its premise would suggest and that explores its mentally ill character's world with more sensitivity than not. While there is an element of the distasteful in how the relationship begins, in its first book Ten Count looks like an intriguing and potentially touching story.
The protagonist of the series is Shirotani, a corporate secretary suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. While he has figured out a way to cope with the world, you couldn't say that it is a good or hugely successful one – he wears gloves, but he washes his hands to the point of rawness anyway; he goes out, but he carefully sterilizes all of his outer layers when he gets home. Whether or not this is a clinically correct depiction of OCD, it is an effective way of showing how trapped Shirotani is by his disorder. What is perhaps the best done about this is the fact that when asked about his coping and how he moves in the world, Shirotani replies that this is simply what he considers normal. Yes, it's different from how other people function, but for him, this is what life is like. It may not be a healthy view, but it is a coping mechanism that others have used as well as a solid truth – in your world, making a phone call is nothing; in someone else's it takes time to prepare; in Shirotani's it requires disinfectant. All of us live in our own “normal;” some are just easier than others. Takarai's acknowledgement of that shows an understanding that helps to make Ten Count more than it at first appears.
The main issue with the story is the fact that the romantic interest, Kurose, is a licensed psychotherapist. When he meets Shirotani and is attracted to him (we assume, he never says anything), he uses the fact that Shirotani has untreated OCD as a way to get to know him. Simply put, that's fairly unethical, especially since the method he chooses is to meet privately once a week at a café to work on exposure therapy. While it is phrased as an easier, possibly less social stigmatizing way for Shirotani to get help, there are little hints that can make it uncomfortable, such as Kurose asking only for Shirotani to “be his friend” as payment or the fact that he won't tell him why he's doing this until Shirotani is able to complete all ten increasingly difficult tasks on his therapeutic list.
There are two things that save this from being a reason to avoid the manga, however. The first is that Shirotani soon finds himself looking forward to meeting with Kurose, and when a trip on the train becomes overwhelming, it is very telling that he would rather touch Kurose than anyone or thing else – Kurose has become safe to him. While we can read this as a form of transference, it isn't entirely clear that Shirotani thinks of Kurose as his therapist, or if he ever did. Granted this, and the other major factor, which is that Kurose is definitely aware that he's crossing a line, are treading on very sticky ground, and if you've studied psychology it may be too many red flags. There is, however, no outright/obvious abuse of Kurose's power, and the fact that Shirotani is able to find friendship with another man later on in the book indicates that his feelings may in fact be more than simple transference. Regardless, Takarai presents the relationship with enough tact and tenderness that it is easy to suspend your sensibilities.
Her artwork certainly helps with that. While not highly detailed or too far from the BL norm in terms of the aesthetic, Takarai's lines are beautiful and delicate, with small hints of feelings expressed on faces as subtly as possible. For the most part characters are all distinct from each other and well-drawn; there's only one questionable perspective moment when Shirotani has to be carried by Kurose. Apart from the cover we only see the characters fully clothed (Shirotani wears a slick three-piece suit), but bodies are believable if uniformly thin. Takarai does do a good job with yearning body language, particularly in the latter half of the volume, which is when things do start to heat up.
The romance plot of Ten Count's first volume is fairly slowly paced, something for which the author needlessly apologizes, because it really does work well at both de-creeping the storyline and at allowing for the organic growth of Shirotani's feelings and his progress in combating his OCD. Rushing it would have minimized the issue, which would have been a disservice to the story itself. It also builds the tension to make us want volume two all the sooner. All in all, the first volume of Ten Count is a story that builds on itself, using its characters to whisper rather than scream the romance. It does have some uncomfortable aspects, but this appears to be a series that will overcome those issues, or at least manage to make them irrelevant.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Beautiful art, subtle emotions, and respectful treatment of the protagonist's OCD. Tries its best to make the uncomfortable less so.
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