Title: Honey Darling
Author: Norikazu Akira
Publisher: SuBLime (a division of Viz Media)
Volume: One-shot, $12.99
Vintage: 2011 by Libre Publishing in Japan, June 2012 by SuBLime
Genre: Yaoi (mature), romance, comedy
Chihiro aimlessly drifts through life with no ambition or individual purpose. He does little but go from work to home, rarely going out, and never building serious relationships. One day on his way home, he comes across an abandoned kitten in a box on the sidewalk. On a whim, he takes the kitten home, but her time outside and his inexperience with animals results in her falling ill. Chihiro rushes to the streets, desperate to find an animal hospital for Shiro, but just as he is about to give up his hunt, a large, gruff looking man offers to take him to the nearest animal clinic…which he happens to own and run. Shiro is saved, but the doctor, named Kumazawa, chastises Chihiro for not taking proper care of the kitten, and suggests that he find Shiro a new home if he doesn’t have the time to devote to her well being. Chihiro realizes that Kumazawa is probably right, and promises through tears to find a new home for Shiro as soon as he can. Before he leaves, Chihiro notices that the clinic is hiring, but Kuma tells him that the offer is for experienced applicants only. However, when Chihiro regretfully explains that he thought it might be nice to save lives, Kuma decides to hire him on as a live in housekeeper. Chihiro finds himself in over his head quickly. The list of chores he’s given surprises him with a rather large amount of responsibilities, but he works hard, and discovers that Kuma is surprisingly kind and gentle in the process. He even considers studying to be a real veterinarian nurse instead of just an assistant and housekeeper. Kuma’s other employees, specifically the nurse Inoguchi, encourage this path, worried for Chihiro’s future if the doctor finally decides to get married. Kuma has little interested in marriage, however, finding himself far too busy running the clinic to bother. And anyway, he has a housekeeper, so what’s he need a wife for? Somehow, Chihiro finds himself becoming more and more comfortable with his new life, and he falls into a regular routine, enjoying his life with Shiro and Kuma, and working in the animal clinic. However, Chihiro becomes worried when he learns Kuma will be attending a marriage meeting, fearing that the doctor will marry, and he’ll be kicked out and have to return to his previous aimless existence. Now that he’s finally found something he actually wants to do, the idea that he’ll be forced away makes him nervous. Then, one of the doctor’s canine patients dies after a long, hard battle against cancer. Chihiro goes to pay his respects, and when he returns home in tears, is comforted by Kuma, which sends his heart racing. He becomes worried he might be falling for the doctor, and becomes confused over his feelings, trying to brush them off as the result of a shared emotional trauma. But when he gets aroused seeing Kuma exit the bathroom half naked, he decides there’s nothing for it but to leave the house as soon as he can. A phone call from a friend gives him an immediate out, and Chihiro decides to take it. He tells Kuma that he’s decided to quit, but the other man, sensing something is wrong, encourages Chihiro to really think about what he wants out of his life. Moved by Kuma’s gentle words, Chihiro decides to confess his true feelings.
If I’d had to purchase this book based on its cover, I would have passed on it. Chihiro’s open-mouthed face and cat-eared hood do less than nothing for me, and are also a bit misleading. I feared some sort of weird furry or kinky fetish would be inside, and I would have been absolutely wrong and missed out on a charming story. I’ve read better, but it’s also the type of boys’ love story I enjoy the most – warm and fuzzy, gentle, and slowly building. It’s halfway through the book before Chiriho starts developing any sort of romantic feelings for Kuma, and they grow slowly. You know, like they might in a real person. First, he grows fond of Kuma’s kind nature. Then he grows comfortable around him, and becomes nervous when his new life, where he’s finally happy, might end. Then he has an emotional moment where Kuma holds him in comfort, and his feelings kind of explode, but he still holds off on really acknowledging them. Until he discovers that he’s jealous over the woman Kuma might marry, and finally becomes sexually aroused at the sight of his half naked body. Kuma’s journey is more subtle, since most of the story is from Chihiro’s point of view, and Kuma rarely talks and rarely really emotes. But when he does emote, it’s at just the right times, and it’s so subtle even Chihiro barely notices, if he catches it at all. Chihiro is drawn constantly showing his emotions and is fairly easy to read. But Norikazu holds back on Kuma’s facial expressions until just the right moments, showing us the slow growth of his own feelings right there on his face, since we’re given very little time inside his mind. Though, to be perfectly honest…Shiro steals the show on every page she’s on. Norikazu mentions in some of the author notes that she felt like she was drawing a cat manga at times. Shiro is ridiculously adorable, and Norikazu gives her textual thoughts without it being silly (well, unless it’s intended to be funny, of course, and it usually is). The kitten even gets her own bonus chapter (sort of) at the end of the book, where she gets upset that “mommy” and “daddy” (Chihiro and Kuma, respectively) are having fun and obviously eating yummy food behind closed doors without her. The story does have its problems, like how readily Kuma invites a complete stranger into his home to live, even if he is instantly taken by Chihiro’s simplistic and honest nature. The “Your my wife” sayings are always kind of weird when I read them. It suggests that one of the men in the relationship must perform the role of the “wife,” which is meant in both a domestic and sexual way here. Though this is a problem embedded in the yaoi genre as a whole, where the couple is divided into submissive and dominant roles, with the “submissive” playing the part of the woman in the relationship. There may be homosexual relationships like that out there, but this is a form that permeates the genre, and there is rarely an example where the partners are portrayed as genuine equals. But that’s an entirely different article, and one that I am not equipped to write myself. The bottom line is, Honey Darling is sweet, harmless yaoi fluff, and I never mind more of that.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.