When the Heavens Smile by Aki Senoo: B+

Book description:
Takagi, a rather cute and innocent guy, is best friends and classmates with Kumoi, a tall, intellectual guy. One day, Takagi is stunned to find a pencil sketch of a man between Kumoi’s notebook pages that resembles his older brother… who passed away six years ago! Could Kumoi have possibly known his brother?

I’ll admit that what initially appealed to me the most about When the Heavens Smile was its pretty, muted cover. It was quite a pleasant surprise to find that all eight of the stories within are quite good.

A common theme for the collection seems to be “friends in love,” though this isn’t true for all stories. “Fragment,” for example, is the tale of two students who meet, feel a connection, and give in to their impulses before they even learn each other’s names. “Absolute Condition” is about gentle-seeming Kusaka who turns out to be a closet mole fetishist and “Sirens” is about a high-school student and his relationship with an older man (though it’s clear that it was the student who made the first move). The first two are particularly good and both feature a take-charge uke.

The first of the “friends in love” stories is “I Love Strawberries the Most, Followed By My Dad,” which is a very sweet story with another take-charge uke. I love how the boys compare their affection for each other to how much they love various fruits. “Fever Mark” features another pair of friends becoming more, and “That Which Falls From Heaven” and “That Which is Still Here” are about Takagi and Kumoi who share a chaste love while being watched over by the ghost of Takagi’s elder brother.

My very favorite story in the collection concerns men rather than boys and is called “I Can’t Remember Now.” Midori works in a bar, and his friend Katsuhiro comes in constantly and gets plastered. Every time, Katsuhiro professes his love to Midori and tries to grope him, and all the other employees just assume they are a couple. Alas, Katsuhiro remembers nothing the next morning, which is painful for Midori since he does have feelings for his friend. Eventually, Midori can’t take it anymore and puts some distance between them. When a tipsy Katsuhiro tracks him down, Midori forces him to sober up before they can talk and, of course, they end up happily in bed with Katsuhiro comically uncertain if that was their first time or not.

Senoo’s art suits the stories well and there were several panels I had to pause and admire, even though the style is simple and backgrounds largely nonexistent. I like the character designs, and too I liked that none of the sex scenes (all of which are consensual, incidentally) are explicit. They’re plenty sexy as they are, without the need for details and slurpy sound effects, because the characters are interesting and their connections meaningful.

On the whole, this was exactly the sort of BL I like most; I hope more of Aki Senoo’s work is licensed in the future.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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