Aug 2, 2022
"Love really is a horrible thing" & by Mari Okazaki does not shy away from the harsh side of love and presents this as the naked truth. This slice of life follows Kaoru Aoki, an aimless 26-year-old woman who has never had a lover and embarks on a relationship with a brash man who intrigues her. It's not exactly the pretty romance you want to root for, but that's what makes it so realistic and interesting. It is a peculiar relationship, presented in a deeply introspective manner as dialogue frequently overlaps with an overflow of each character's thoughts.
The story is complex with little frivolity and
an unwavering sense of unease. It features several characters, most with interesting, well developed backgrounds and all in different kinds of love and lust - "All have fallen into a love trap" They all share the burden of a troubled love life. Most of their individual insecurities are splayed out through their thoughts, and for the leads, flashbacks of the events that plague their minds are replayed with equivocation - as if they are still too painful to discuss. I deeply sympathised with Shiro and Konno and would've loved to see the latter fleshed out further.
Hands hold a heavy focus as touch is a strong theme. One of Kaoru's idiosyncrasies is an aversion to being touched by others, especially strangers, so her decision to open a nail salon could be viewed as a desire to grow or a kind of self-inflicted punishment. Hands are one of the most difficult parts for an artist to master, and Okazaki does a great job with all the long, limber fingers. Sex, which often goes hand in hand with touch, is beautifully drawn.
The illustrations are absolutely marvellous. Hair is drawn with satisfying fluidity. The scenes with swirly clouds are particularly magnificent as they resemble a sixties psychedelic dream. Everything is excruciatingly detailed, with the exception of important moments, which are often simplistic in contrast. Most pages are dotted with little clouds, as if they are trains of thought bubbling away, or the characters are drifting through a dream. The art also naturally evolves with Kaoru. It shifts away from the earlier flowery motif to spiky palm fronds as she spends more time with them. As for character design, Kaoru is cute but has the tendency to appear odd and a little froggy, as her head and bug eyes are disproportionally massive. The male characters, Dr Yagai and Shiro, have a rough sketched look which contrasts most of the others.
To conclude, & is about a romance that's not as sweet as the art. It's worth a read if you're looking for a mature story about first love.
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