“After you’ve been around the world together… marry me, okay?” Mitsuki cheerfully tells her boyfriend Asahi as they leave for Bangkok for the first stop on their epic trip / vacation of a lifetime. He’s only just admitted to Asahi on the plane that he’s scared to fly – but now that they’ve landed safely in Thailand, the young freelance photographer has regained his balance. Although in downtown Bangkok, they manage to get lost looking for their hotel. Lucky for them, they are saved by Layla (originally Reiji, as she freely admits) who takes them under her wing. Over dinner, she explains that in Thailand there are over eighteen sexual and gender identities. “The culture here allows people to be more open to their uniqueness.”
The countries Mitsuki and Asahi visit in Volume 1 are Thailand, India, and Georgia – and after their whirlwind trip to Thailand, India comes as a shock. With no one to help them, they find the intense heat oppressive, and Asahi begins to falter, showing signs of tension. Even before the trip (Asahi’s mom calls him at the airport to check he’s okay), we got little hints that Asahi suffered some sort of health-related episode that changed her. life and that the mangaka continues to leak more clues (a large scar on his chest, Mitsuki’s occasional question) as to what he must have been through six months earlier.
Tbilisi, Georgia offers welcome relief from the heat of India for the two young men – as well as the chance to visit Sioni Cathedral where they are captivated by the atmospheric interior and its frescoes. But – small world! – they are surprised when a young Japanese woman greets Mitsuki in the cathedral. This is none other than Kayo – his ex and girlfriend back in high school. Mitsuki doesn’t know how Asahi feels about this unexpected encounter and is surprised when Asahi suggests they have dinner with Kayo and her friend Ecchan. This leads to some really awkward exchanges as Asahi (who earlier admitted that her main reason for choosing Georgia was her love of wine) passed out after one glass of too much local red.
Anyone who has traveled overseas (before all the COVID restrictions, of course) will identify with Asahi and Mitsuki’s experiences. It is impossible to read this volume without a broad smile of gratitude in some places – and in others, a tear in the eye. Mitsuki’s reaction to the flight to Thailand take off is both fun and highly relevant – and immediately pulled me into the story! From the start, Mone Sorai cleverly reveals the life and personalities of the two intrepid travelers as their adventures lead them to learn more about each other away from the familiar world of home in Japan.
It’s the detailed research that thrills and convinces – lightly worn as it is carefully threaded into the story and the designs so that we, the readers, experience the journey through the dazzled eyes of Mitsuki and Asahi (and the lens of Mitsuki’s camera). The contrasting reactions of an outgoing and impulsive Mitsuki and a sensitive Asahi who tends to think too much about everything, make them a great pair of point-of-view characters. It will be fascinating to see how their relationship changes and evolves as their journeys continue and as they discover different attitudes towards sexual and gender identities.
Mone Sorai’s character designs for his main protagonists are unconventional for a BL series, somewhat reminding this reader of CLAMP in their xxxHOLIC fashion (legs so long and slender!) although the close-ups and depictions of the people they meet are very expressive; Mone Sorai’s distinctive graphic style remains his own. Particularly impressive is his gift for grayscale the places the two of them visit so vividly – and the food, too! (Check out its striking double-page image of the Ganges at sunset – with the awe-inspiring faces of the two travelers below.)
Tokyopop’s translation is by Katie Kimura and it flows very naturally, conveying the different voices of the people the two men meet, as well as the author’s voice in the background, setting the scene and sometimes adding an observation or two on the way things are going. for both protagonists.
It’s a charming and vivid travelogue, in which we follow the growth of a relationship against a backdrop of changing landscapes and cultures – with all its ups and downs. I look forward to the second volume (coming later this year) in which travelers head to Finland, Germany and Italy!