It's not been quite two months since Misaki began living with Usami-san, but he and Usagi have moved quite quickly along in their relationship. Following on from his discovery (in Vol. 2) that he is indeed madly in love with Usagi, he has come to accept his emotions are true. But what are these butterflies churning about in his stomach? No longer suffering anxiety over his actual emotions, he comes to realise something else. He, Misaki, is in love with a man, and that means he is...GAY! Never having been in love before, he struggles with this, and even more so with what his love means. Usami calls him his lover, and Misaki is rocked to his core. He loves Usagi, and Usagi is a man, but lovers are somewhat beyond mere liking, even further than mere deep affection. It has certain connotations in his mind. Lovers are...they are...hang on a minute. They have indeed ticked all the mental boxes that the otherwise inexperienced and somewhat naïve Misaki has thought to be related t the topic of lovers, but they have never been on a date! Surely, dating must be involved?
Usagi promises to rectify this, and Misaki is over the moon, though feels somewhat awkward. He is in public, on an obvious date with a man. First steps perhaps towards self acceptance of his own sexuality and the truth of their relationship status, but is it doomed to failure? For mid date, another man appears, and it is more than obvious that he has known Usami far longer than Misaki ever could have, since childhood in fact, and from there, launches into a verbal attack. Being lovers means knowing the one you love in deep and meaningful ways. Is this true for Misaki, despite their brief time together? And what about the phone call out of the blue from Misaki's brother? His tenure in Osaka is brought to a surprisingly abrupt end, and he and his wife say they are taking Misaki back under their roof as he should live with family. What to do? Is it all over already, without Misaki ever truly knowing anything?
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Tokyo, winter brings new woes to our couple from the Egoist arc. Nowaki appears rather lifeless, and seems to wish to do nothing but sleep. Hiro of course, responds in his usual irascible way. Mild fever..ROAR! Time to go into overdrive and make sure Nowaki does what he is told. The truth is, Hiro feels a bit guilty. Feeling unusually playful, he lured Nowaki out into the snow to play. Obviously, it is his fault Nowaki is ill, right? Food, medicine, blankets, and obedience are now required to fix this lapse in judgement. Why can't Nowaki just co-operate for once? He's either a bad patient, or something other than a cold is wrong with him. Will Nowaki open up from his usual reticence and to say how he feels, and will Hiro stop obsessing and ranting long enough to see what is actually happening? And just who is this man from Hiro's past who suddenly shows up, seeming to want to stick his nose in?
This third volume of Junjo Romantica is a nice step back from the previous two volumes' chase me 'til you caught me plotlines. Having firmly caught each other, this time our two couples are exploring the ins and outs of what it means to actually be in a "proper" relationship. For our Egoist couple, it means learning to unbend and take time to actually communicate with each other instead of at each other. Hiro's promise from the end of volume 2, to take time to listen and pay attention to what is happening with Nowaki, seems to be sincere. He is making an effort here, but he has not quite gotten there yet. As for Nowaki, well, he still has not yet matched his pace to Hiro yet either, so his typhoon like existence still buffets Hiro's emotions all over the place.
In the case of Usagi and Misaki however, the issues faced are quite more profound. Never having even suffered so much as a crush before, nor gone on a date, Misaki has fallen headfirst into a genuine love affair. He tries desperately to figure out exactly what this means. In his naivety, he always assumed that love went Crush>Confession>Dates>Kissing>Lovers and as all his friends and indeed his own brother all went the route with girls, he just assumed someday he would meet the right girl and follow that trail. What he has gotten is completely different, and now not only is he having to try to sort out in his mind where in the relationship map this truly puts him and Usagi-san, but the realisation that he is gay. Yup, he is gay, and the only other gay person he knows is his own lover. He struggles desperately with is own concept of relationships and sexuality, while a surprisingly patient Usagi gently guides him along so that he can come to understand himself and their relationship. The disturbingly abrupt appearance of Usagi's long-time acquaintance with his jibing observations and probing questions unnerve the already anxious young man, and when it is shortly followed by his oblivious older brother summoning him "home" and Usagi-san's apparently aloof decision to send Misaki back there, the butterflies that flutter in his stomach go into full flight. Are they lovers or not? Is it okay to love Usagi-san? Did he mess up things by being so slow to accept things? Is it truly all over, just like that?
These are scenarios that I believe most of us can identify with. Uncertainty, miscommunication, and well meaning but ultimately interfering friends and relatives seem to be par for the course for most people in relationships. Adding in the poignancy of a young man locked in a struggle to fully come to terms with his own sexuality, in a world where he is not only in the minority, but in a culture which can be quite harsh about it, adds extra dimension to what otherwise would have merely been a rather run of the mill date story. Indeed, the turn of events brings questions about the relationship that neither Usagi-san nor Misaki had yet considered. That is, the reaction of friends and family, and even past lovers, to the knowledge of their affair. Having been safely cocooned within their own little bubble of the condo and university, and older brother Akihiko being far away in Osaka with his new bride, the couple were well able to dance around each other pretty much oblivious to anyone else. The real world comes crashing in however, and the effect is rather like having a cold wave of water suddenly come washing over.
The seemingly merely sweet side story of Nowaki and Hiro once more runs in a lovely symmetry with the Romantica arc, as having established their love publicly at the end of volume 2, the pair are trying to iron out the wrinkles in their relationship. It is the flip side of the coin, literally, as one couple struggles to reach that point that the other has unwittingly reached first. If either couple fail to reach a resolution, their relationships will falter, and possibly fail. Truly love each other they do, but can they hold on to that which they deeply cherish? It is a plunge that takes deep courage, with each party needing to be willing to take that step off the cliff top. Deep self examination and personal acceptance are the keys to courage this time around. Can they make it? And if they do, what does the future hold?
As with the preceding volumes, this volume comes with a mature rating. If you have watched the Junjou Romantica anime, you will already be familiar with the storyline, and with what is going to happen as the storylines move along. For those not in the know though, I will point out that this is not merely a sweet little romance story with just words, anxious glances, and hand holding. This is yaoi, shonen-ai (male-male pairings) with sex. Certain panels therefore genuinely put the graphic in the term graphic novel, with all that implies. So, if the human body and the touching there of sends you into a serious blush fest, this is not the book for you. That would be a shame however, as mangaka Shungiku Nakamara not only provides a visual feast with her lovely drawings, but a thought provoking story that still manages to raise a smile.