Dining Bar Akira by Tomoko Yamashita: A

diningbar12532-year-old Akira Koji doesn’t know how to handle it when Torihara Yasuyuki, a coworker six years his junior, says, “You know… I have feelings for you.” He has always considered himself to be straight and ultimately decides not to take the confession seriously. Still, he can’t help being a bit curious. As he and Torihara continue to interact at work, bickering a good bit yet dancing closer to each other, he becomes more and more intrigued. Eventually, the two begin dating but insecurities rear their heads when it’s time to think about taking their relationship to the next level.

The basic plot of Dining Bar Akira isn’t anything new, but what Tomoko Yamashita does with the characters is fascinating. Both Akira and Torihara are grown, experienced men and have learned over the years to erect defenses in order to keep from being hurt. Even after they begin dating, they must work to earn each other’s trust. Akira, for example, swears that he does have feelings for Torihara, but the idea of being physically intimate frightens him, like if he makes such a life change at age 32, there’ll be no turning back. Torihara, meanwhile, has a habitually negative outlook that makes it hard for him to believe Akira’s not merely with him out of sympathy; he needs tangible proof. To avoid responsibility, Akira unconsciously attempts to rile Torihara enough that he’ll take the decision out of his hands, but both know it would mean nothing unless it’s a step he chooses to take himself.

I love it when the obstacles a couple faces come from within and Dining Bar Akira pulls this off admirably. Like the best boys’ love manga, it focuses on the universality of its characters’ situation—the struggle of two people who like each other to achieve true intimacy. That they both happen to be sexy, professional men is completely beside the point. In this way, it reminds me of Future Lovers. (Other similarities include its sense of humor and the way the more cynical member of the pair has trouble shaking the worry that he’s robbed his optimistic partner of the security that comes with traditional married life.)

If Dining Bar Akira has a flaw, it’s that it seems to end too abruptly, but I’m not convinced that this truly is cause for complaint. In the final chapter, Torihara and Akira have developed a daily routine, but the days are slipping by so peacefully that Torihara worries the relationship will one day just naturally dissolve. There’s no real resolution to that situation, which is a little frustrating from a reader’s point of view—I, at least, tend to appreciate neat and tidy endings—but isn’t that more realistic? After such a complicated depiction of two people wrestling with feelings of fear and love, wouldn’t it cheapen the story to cap it off with a trite happy ever after? A similar tactic is employed with “Foggy Scene,” one of a pair of short bonus stories that round out the volume.

Yamashita’s art reminds me of est em, and those familiar with the latter’s work will recognize that for the compliment it is. There’s an elegant, expressive feel to her drawings that spills over into the story itself; Dining Bar Akira is positively bereft of any artistic clichés one might expect to encounter in boys’ love manga. Both leads look like adult men, and supporting characters (in the form of fellow coworkers) tend to be the same, with some approaching middle age.

I was unfamiliar with Tomoko Yamashita’s manga before this, and I’m sure many would say the same. With work of this quality, though, I hope that won’t remain the case for too much longer.

Dining Bar Akira is currently available only at NETCOMICS.com, but a print edition will be available soon. Another Tomoko Yamashita title, Black-Winged Love, is due later this year. I’ll definitely be checking it out.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

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  1. Danielle Leigh says

    ohhhh! Great review!

    I was planning to get already but it is nice to hear from someone who has read it that this one is worth it.

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