False Memories volume 1 by Isaku Natsume

Reviewed by Cait
Published in print (also available digitally) by SuBLime

Short Answer: Passable so far, but final impressions will hinge on how the author addresses the apparent misunderstandings going forward.

From the website: “Although they were best friends in high school, Nakano and Tsuda haven’t talked in ten years. Which may have a little something to do with the fact that not only were they more than best friends, but also that Tsuda broke Nakano’s heart, leaving him to pick up the pieces. Now that they’ve been thrown back together thanks to a work project, Nakano is determined to put the past behind him, and both men decide to keep their relationship strictly professional. The question is, can they?”

Tsuda is presented as a lovable goof, who inadvertently hurt Nakano because he was too stupid to understand that finding a girlfriend in order to protect Nakano’s chastity would break his friend’s heart. He was also too stupid to know the reason Nakano cut off contact with him when they went off to different colleges. I find seme characters like this to be among the least appealing types, personally, not because he didn’t know he was hurting Nakano, but because we are supposed to feel sympathetic towards him as a result. In Masara Minase’s Aishuu, Jin and Kaoru’s relationship is much the same, with Kaoru cutting off contact with his high school first love, but we aren’t meant to feel sympathy for Jin. Jin is presented, unlike Tsuda here, as essentially an asshole. Our sympathy is meant for the victim of his former-suitor’s insensitivity. I can’t really get behind the insistence that we like Tsuda and forgive his childhood indiscretions.

My problem might be that Nakano is a seemingly contradictory character and I’m not sure if it’s because he’s been shoe-horned into the role of tsundere, or because the writing is trying to force too many different conflicting emotions into him. On the one hand, he apparently developed serious feelings for Tsuda as a result of their one-time sexual encounter, but because of Tsuda’s apparent rejection (re: girlfriend) has tried for a decade to forget them. While, on the other hand, he seems so scarred by his rejection that he can neither hold onto a heterosexual relationship for any amount of time, nor be comfortable with the attentions he’s apparently received from other men. Ignoring the irritation I continue to feel at the “I’m not really gay, it’s just for him” trope so popular in BL, Nakano is generally a pretty unlikable guy by most standards. His inherent sullen disposition isn’t helping garner any sympathy from anyone around him, despite the fact that Tsuda, who recognizes that nature in him, goes out of his way to try to make Nakano smile (it’s probably Tsuda’s only redeeming quality).

Where the story works for me is in the dramatic tension it builds and then explodes in the scene where Nakano, finally being honest with Tsuda about why he cut off contact all those years ago, despondently reflects that if they’d never slept together, he never would have thought of his friend in that way. Later, after a drunken night out with coworkers, Nakano again blows up, rejecting Tsuda’s offer of a romantic relationship he sees only as pity. It’s implied that this is where we’re supposed to see both men have feelings for each other still, but it is Nakano’s refusal to see Tsuda’s feelings as earnest that is holding them back as a couple. I’d prefer to look at this scene as Tsuda still not understanding where he failed formerly in their relationship and I can only hope that’s the direction the story travels in the next volume. I don’t think I could enjoy this story any further if the plot becomes rutted in the misunderstanding that Nakano just doesn’t recognize Tsuda’s feelings for him are real. For this story to work for me going forward, Tsuda is the one who has to change and Nakano is the one who has to accept that change and not “realize” it as the story seems to imply currently.

This is my first Isaku Natsume title. Her art is clean, while not too stylized to be off-putting, but the backgrounds are particularly sparse. The limited cast doesn’t help with the feeling that the story is a very small, out of place world. The character designs, however, are unique enough that it is easy to differentiate individuals. The book is rated M, but really only for one very brief flashback scene towards the end. Otherwise the “mature” nature of the story is more about the adult working relationships than the sexual explicitness.

About cmbranford

Twitter: @cmbranford
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