Shirou Kakei, a straitlaced lawyer, cooks gourmet dinners for himself and his longtime gay lover, Kenji Yabuki, a carefree, hippie-ish hairdresser. The story is told through the lens of dinner preparation.
There's Boys' Love, which is manga focusing on gay male relationships written by women, for women.
There's Bara, which is manga focusing on gay male relationships written by gay men, for gay men.
And then there's Kinō Nani Tabeta?, which a slice of life manga focusing on something else entirely written by a female author and currently being published in a seinen magazine featuring two people who merely happen to also be a gay couple.
Lampshaded by the fact the title translates to "What did you eat yesterday?", Kinō Nani Tabeta? is essentially Food Porn: The Manga. This is achieved by the story being mostly centered on and around the protagonist's proudly cherished specialty and hobby: cooking fancy meals for himself and his longtime live-in lover. The overwhelming majority of pages is dedicated to grocery shopping, comparing food store prices, philosophizing on how to match ingredients, preparing dinner, eating dinner, discussing dinner, pondering on what to do with leftovers, and other cooking-related activities. With its attention to detail and personal cooking tips by the mangaka placed at the end of every chapter, Kinō Nani Tabeta? has the potential to act as a substitute for a cookbook.
In comparison to the author's apparent enthusiasm, however, my interest in the art of cookery is rather limited. That, in addition to being a vegetarian with little knowledge of the Japanese cuisine, impacts my enjoyment of the manga to such a degree as parts of it downright bore me, which is why I can't give it the credit it probably deserves.
That is, as long as the cooking aspect is concerned. While Kinō Nani Tabeta? is being published in a conventional seinen magazine and therefore by definition not a Boys' Love manga, the thematic overlap is difficult to disregard. It is perhaps a bit of an unfair comparison, but having read my fair share of BL, the realistic fashion in which Yoshinaga Fumi chooses to portray gay male relationships needs to be praised. Likely out of consideration of the magazine's target audience, no physical affection is shown, which is, however, more than compensated for by the fact that the social issues which are so strangely non-existent in far too many manga are always present in the background, and on top of that dealt with in an oftentimes light-hearted and humorous rather than depressing way.
Other than both being in their forties and identifying as gay, Kakei Shirō and Yabuki Kenji may share a roof but few similarities. Kakei, the cooking enthusiast, lacks a sense of humor, but that doesn't mean he doesn't make the readers laugh. While his seriousness and economic sense are undeniably utile in his job as a lawyer, they become funny when he's in a pinch because he's torn between bulk purchasing food items that are on sale in order to save money and fearing the food might go bad before they manage to consume it. Unlike Yabuki, who's a flamboyantly gay hairdresser, Kakei goes to great lengths to avoid giving away any clues that he believes might cause people to notice he's gay, to the point where he contemplates on whether or not it is manly to eat a slice of water melon with a spoon. Of course, Yabuki has a difficult time keeping mum about their relationship, and Kakei is still forced to come out of the closet at a few occasions. As a couple, Kakei and Yabuki are just as unlikely as the niche this manga is trying to fill.
What surprised me and won me over was the brutal honesty Kakei displays when musing about their relationship. Upon being told he seems to act a little cold towards his lover, he downright admits that Yabuki likely loves him more than the other way round, and the reason he doesn't break up with Yabuki is that it would be troublesome having to start looking for a partner again at his age.
Maybe rather than the focus lying on food, and rather than the target demographic of the magazine it is published in, the most important difference between Kinō Nani Tabeta? and a bad Boys' Love title really is just the lack of any element of idealization.read more