Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GN 1 & 2
Minato knows better than to pick up a straight man, and he's even got mixed feelings about hooking up with a bi one based on his friends' experiences. But when he meets Shizuma at a bar he can't help himself. When Shizuma wakes up the next morning, however, he doesn't remember Minato, much less anything they may or may not have done together. Hurt and angry, Minato vows to make Shizuma fall for him and then dump him, but his revenge plans end up being stalled when the two men find themselves falling for each other – hard.
Therapy Game, a two-volume series from Meguru Hinohara, demands two immediate explanations: it is a sequel to Hinohara's other title, Secret XXX (also available from SuBLime) and it has nothing to do with therapists, psychiatric or otherwise. Instead the title seems intended to indicate how falling into love and a relationship is therapeutic for both protagonists, each of whom is trying to process events from their pasts and largely coming up short until they find each other. This means that if you were hoping for the next Ten Count, you're possibly going to be disappointed, but if you were avoiding the series because you were worried that this was the next Ten Count, that's not an issue.
I say “possibly” disappointed because while this in no way involves the same sort of power dynamic Rihito Takarai's series embraces, it also isn't entirely consensual. While that's no longer strictly the norm in BL, it is still heavily present in the genre, and Therapy Game isn't, strictly speaking, an exception. This is much more true of the first volume than the second, and that's largely due to the way in which Minato and Shizuma meet. Shizuma has just been dumped by his girlfriend after he discovered her cheating on him, and he's attempting to drown his sorrows at a bar. Minato ends up taking him home, where Shizuma seduces him (in as much as we can use the word in this case), but in the morning remembers exactly nothing. Minato is hurt and angry by what he sees as a betrayal, and he vows that he'll have his revenge in nearly as melodramatic a way as the phrasing implies. His plan? To make Shizuma fall for him and then dump him, causing him the same sort of hurt he felt.
What's interesting is that Minato makes this declaration without really thinking about what it implies. He (and Shizuma) both pretty quickly acknowledge that Shizuma is bisexual, but that doesn't make Minato feel a whole lot better even though it means that he hasn't broken his rule about not hitting on straight men. Because of his childhood trauma, wherein his parents' relationship exploded in spectacular fashion and left Minato and his older brother Itsuki orphans, Minato doesn't trust relationships at all. He's terrified that he's going to turn out just like his mother and drive the man he loves away, so when he has feelings for Shizuma, Minato immediately gets scared and tries his hardest to convince himself that he's driving the other man away even as he struggles with the idea that this time he really is hoping for forever. He can't admit to himself until almost the end of the second book that he wants to be loved and to be in a lifetime relationship with someone, because that means acknowledging his fears.
For his part, Shizuma works very hard at understanding and letting Minato know his feelings without driving him away. He's not perfect – his girlfriend's betrayal and her continued presence in his life (they're both graduate students in veterinary school, so she's hard to avoid entirely) do eat at him, but he's also willing to embrace the idea that he's falling in love with Minato and tries his best to make it work. This largely marks the turning point on the consent front; it means that Minato can't use what he might have done as a form of blackmail anymore because he's more than willing to engage in a mutual sexual relationship by about halfway through volume one. It's also where the series gets much more explicit, although volume two wins by a landslide as far as that goes.
Part of what's good about these books is that Hinohara never forgets that Minato has a lot to work through. Itsuki, whose story we got in Secret XXX, was older enough that he was able to look at the events around their parents' disastrous marriage in a more detached way, but Minato still blames himself to a degree. Therefore, while the ending is happy, it isn't without acknowledgement that things are never going to be perfectly easy for Minato and that he's going to need a lot of emotional support, both from Itsuki and Shizuma. Another interesting factor is that when they begin to get serious Shizuma begins looking up what it means to be in a homosexual lifetime relationship in Japan, finding books about civil marriages, spousal rights, and other things rarely touched upon in BL manga. There isn't a whole lot of detail, but it's a sign of how real-world changes are starting to affect a genre that is largely fantasy, and it makes the scene where Minato and Shizuma are holding hands in line at an amusement park and two girls wonder if they're “a real life BL couple” take on a different tone, acknowledging that gay couples don't exist exclusively for fujoshi and fudanshi fantasies.
Technically speaking, you probably could read this without reading Secret XXX, because while the couple from that single-volume story is present here, their relationship isn't really a factor in this series. However, you will likely get more out of the Itsuki scenes if you're already familiar with him, so it's a bit like bonus content for readers of both of Hinohara's works. The extra volume here does make Therapy Game the better developed series, and there's also an improvement in the art across all three books, which is always neat to see. On the whole the translation is good, but I should mention that in my copy there was one page repeated twice in volume two; there's no sense that anything was left out because of it, but when a book comes wrapped in plastic with no way to check before you get it home, it's not a great error to have.
Therapy Game is, at its heart, a sweet story about two people finding solace in each other and working to overcome their anxieties about being in love. It isn't perfect, but it tries so hard not to gloss over their persistent emotional worries that it stands out as a series that tries its best and largely succeeds.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Doesn't brush Minato's issues under the rug, acknowledgement of social change around LGBTQIA+ issues. Largely hopeful.
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