Miki Tamura can read people like a book. To maintain his happy home-life and to please people, it's a skill he's learned to acquire. But what happens when he meets someone that he can't read so easily?
Despite the misleading cover art and title, Kei Tsukimura’s Soshite Koi ga Hajimaru (illustrated by Yumeka Sumomo) is not a shounen-ai title – it isn’t even a romance. While it may be fruity and flowery, it is foremost a story of friendship between two drastically removed individuals.
As a forewarning, the manga seems to have been discontinued after four chapters. Shortly after the exposition begins leading into the development of our main characters’ relationship, the manga cuts short. However, it succeeds in that its discontinuation elicits a sense of disappointment: we have just met two interesting characters whose story we will never know. Indeed, despite its
brevity, Soshite Koi ga Hajimaru manages to introduce a pair of deeply human characters: a rebellious and emotionally distant high school student and an older, openly gay consultant.
The beauty of the story lies in the platonic friendship they share, not any romantic underpinnings. Our younger protagonist, Tamura, finds difficulty in expressing himself emotionally and does not find true interpersonal comfort before meeting the older Asami, who has dealt with adolescent self-doubt years prior. Tsukimura illustrates that only through Asami’s own self-divulgence of his personal misgivings does Tamura learn to do so. In addition to her elegant portrayal of Tamura’s learning to divulge his feelings, Tsukimura handles the difficulties of a gay professional in contemporary society with a sense of maturity: her portrayal is neither peripheral nor melodramatic, as it often is in other shounen-ai titles.
This maturity of her voice gives credence to her characters. While her two protagonists are admittedly commonplace manga archetypes, they stand out in that they have a certain depth and humanity absent from most other manga writers’ work. Their personalities are result of prior experiences, and they quickly develop upon adapting to the new lifestyle they share. Once they have emotional partners in whom they can trust their deepest feelings, they change to adapt to one another.
And while Tsukimura’s approach is more mature than most other ‘shounen-ai’ mangaka’s, she does fall to some trappings of the genre. Her take on adolescent rebellion and soul-seeking comes off a tad heavy-handed, as if it requires the counseling of an ‘adult’ to come to terms with one’s youthful struggles. In addition, some of Tamura’s familial backstory and school situation are somewhat typical of high school manga stories. While it does not diminish their significance, they are simply too commonplace to set her story too far apart from others.
Aesthetically, Yumeka Sumomo, as one of shounen-ai manga’s most well-known names, provides an excellent accompaniment for the story. Sumomo’s art is recognizable for any who have read her work; and as always, her style provides a modern backdrop for a very contemporary story.
Soshite Koi ga Hajimaru’s greatest failing obviously lies in its incompletion. At four chapters it is merely exposition for ‘what could have been’. However, it provides an interesting opening to what would have likely been a standout story of friendship. Though the characterization is great, some shounen-ai clichés surface. Considering Soshite Koi ga Hajimaru’s short length limits it to being an introduction, it isn’t worth a read unless you’re an avid reader of teenage troubles in shounen-ai armour. Sadly, it’s an excellent example of potential cut short, so if you can appreciate talent cut short, take a quick peek.