Confession Time: I was about halfway through Café Latte Rhapsody before I realized I was holding a yaoi manga. Shocking, I know! I’m usually much swifter on the uptake. Whether it is because I was reading this book during a week when I was distracted by a half-dozen other things or whether it was because the stylized art makes most of the male characters look overly feminine to the point where I thought protagonist Hajime was a woman, I can’t say. What I can say is that it is a credit to creator Toko Kawai that her characters are relatable, wholly-realized people regardless of their gender and that the fears driving our protagonists are something most readers will be able to sympathize with.
One quick educational note: yaoi, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is a sub-genre of Manga that literally translates as “love between two boys”. A more specific definition would note that love, in this case, is romantic and that any sexual acts that are occure are purely suggestive. It might also note that yaoi specifically focuses upon the love between young men as envisioned by women.
Reportedly, this kind of romance novel – whether it is in plain text or graphic novel form – has been increasing in popularity with romance fans in recent years. Psychologists and sociologists are having a field day trying to explain why straight women seem to enjoy reading about what other straight women think gay relationships are like. But I’ll leave such speculations to the professionals and limit my own commentary to the plot and characters before us.
Hajime is a book-store employee who has an unfortunate habit of falling for the aggressive bad-boy types who will steal your heart before stealing your money. Then one magical day, Hajime notices a quiet young man with an intense stare, whose head hovers above the stacks of the book shop. Curiosity turns to attraction, as Hajime watches the young man reshelve the books that other patrons take out of their proper place. Eventually, he discovers the young man is named Keito and despite his model-good looks, he is painfully shy and can barely speak to strangers without breaking out in a cold sweat. The two will bond and become lovers, as Keito struggles to overcome his shyness and Hajime fights his own insecurity and his worries that such a successful storybook romance won’t last.
As is typical for the genre, most of Kawai’s men are very feminine and nearly androgynous – even by the usual manga standards. Still, the artwork is good, if not particularly outstanding. What truly sets this book apart from other manga romances is the relatable characters. While Keito seems to be a standard gentle-giant stock character at first, his hyper-sensitivity allows him to break the mold and become something unique. And – perhaps not surprisingly given my own job working with books – I found it easy to relate to the bookish Hajime, having a similarly cynical outlook on my own romantic life.
Speaking of romance, I should note that there is one sex scene in the middle of the book. Nothing is shown in any graphic detail and the scene is more romantic than sexual, for the most part. Indeed, the start of the scene actually reminded me of a similar scene in the first volume of Scott Pilgrim, though it does have enough moaning and suggestion to warrant the publisher’s 16 rating.
Cafe Latte Rhapsody
by Toko Kawai
June Manga, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: 16