Asexuality in Manga 2: Catch These Hands! & Is Love the Answer?
We’re back for another round of Ace representation in manga discussing Is Love the Answer? & Catch These Hands! also known as Accept my Fist of Love!
Royce: Hello everyone and welcome back to the podcast. My name is Royce, I’m here with my spouse, Courtney, and together we are The Ace Couple. And I’ve read a few more things with ace representation and we can talk about them today.
Courtney: Music to my ears. Never gets old. 10 out of 10. More Royce. People got really excited last time that you did that for the first time. Everyone was like, “Yes! Royce!” [laughs]
Royce: I saw a comment or two like that. [Courtney laughs] Well, during the last episode where I led, I talked about three different manga. Today I have two more.
Courtney: All right, lay it on me.
Royce: And the first is Catch These Hands, which I saw an alternate translation of the title that was Accept My Fist of Love. That, I think, is a much better translation.
Courtney: I remember telling you about this, and when I brought it to you I was like, “There’s a manga called Accept My Fist Of Love,” and you were like, “Well, we’re looking into that!” But I suppose Catch These Hands works.
Royce: I saw some other people commenting how that seems like an odder choice in translation. I think that Accept My Fist Of Love is more fitting given the tropes present in the manga. But we’ll get into that.
Royce: We’ll go through these in order. We’ll talk about that one first. The second one is: Is Love The Answer? which I have a lot to say about.
Courtney: Very good. Now, I will say just real quick before we get off the bat. After the last episode, multiple people asked us to cover Is Love the Answer? and Royce had already read this before most of those comments came in, so we are on it, listeners.
Royce: Yeah, I think it had come up before. But Is Love the Answer is by the same author as Mine-kun Is Asexual, but it’s a full story instead of a one-shot.
Courtney: Right, and a lot of these, or some of these at least, have been on our list for a very long time. Because we kind of just collect a list of things that we can get to when we get to. And even though something like Is Love The Answer? was already on our radar, already read, we already planned to do this episode before we started getting those comments. I just want to say, please do keep those comments and recommendations coming. I would say at this point, nine times out of ten, we have already heard about whatever it is you’re recommending, but occasionally a listener of ours will send us something that we’ve never heard of, and that’s wonderful. So do keep them coming. Don’t worry about being repetitive in case we’ve heard things before. Give us all your ace rep.
Royce: They’ll go on a list somewhere and we’ll probably get around to consuming that media one way or another.
Courtney: Yes, one way or another, if it kills us.
Royce: But to start out, the manga Accept My Fist Of Love is a relatively short story. It is complete, it’s 20 chapters and each chapter is not particularly long. But it features two former delinquents who were rivals back in their high school days and sort of a new relationship that starts between them as they are adults. And so the high school delinquent trope is something that is very commonly depicted in anime and manga and is often taken to almost like absurdist means, where huge gangs of people will just show up at like another school and there will be two rival gangs fighting in ridiculous, overblown anime fights.
Courtney: I mean, didn’t you have any full-blown gang fights at your high school? ’Cause I sure did. [laughs] Am I the former delinquent?
Royce: Yeah… [Courtney laughs] actually.
Courtney: No, I was a good kid. I was mostly a good kid. I was a good kid who did what she had to to survive.
Royce: Okay, so you started with ‘good kid’ [Courtney laughs] and then you kept adding qualifiers unprompted.
Courtney: No, I was. I was a good kid, I promise.
Royce: But the story starts out with one of our protagonists, Takebe, getting a phone call while out grocery shopping. And yet another one of her friends is getting married and she’s a bit down that – quote – “Everyone’s getting love struck over some guy and never spending any time with me.”
Courtney: Mmh. Relatable.
Royce: And she’s going back and forth sort of contemplating where she’s at in life because she is seeing all of her friends– She was the leader of the delinquent gang at her high school, so a lot of people who are basically subordinates in that gang and other friends from high school who she was really close with, everyone is moving on, getting married, has kids, or is in the process of having kids. And she feels that she’s been coasting for long enough that she’s going to do whatever it takes to start acting more like an adult. Like, whatever that means. I don’t think at this point in time she’s even really sure what that is. But she sort of points to her employment and her wardrobe. She’s considered a freeter, which is short for free labor, or someone who is underemployed or not working a full time job. They’re just kind of doing gigs or temporary employment back to back sort of thing. So it’s being underemployed and not really seeing or having a plan for her future. And an entire wardrobe full of stuff that still screams delinquent.
Courtney: Oh! Okay.
Royce: And so her first step is to run off to the mall. And she goes into a store and is kind of overwhelmed, doesn’t know what she’s looking for, isn’t sure what to pick out or what is fashionable or anything like that. And she runs into the employee who’s working there, sees her name tag, and recognizes her as her biggest rival from back in her school days.
Courtney: [Gasps] Drama.
Royce: And it’s kind of funny when this happens, because this character has a name that I’m going to have a hard time pronouncing for the rest of this segment. I really struggle with R’s in the Japanese language, and her name has four of them. Her full name is Soramori Kirara. Almost.
Courtney: The emphasis is a little all over the place.
Royce: Yeah, but it’s interesting. We watched a show pretty recently on Netflix that was Korean and we were mentioning how there were sometimes comments being made about the names that we have no reference for.
Courtney: Yeah, someone would be like, “Oh, hello class, this is a new student, my name is Such-and-So,” and everyone would be like, “Haha! What kind of name is that?” And we’d be like what’s weird about that name?
Royce: But in this scene Takebe sees this person’s name and is like, “What kind of name is that?” And then says, “There’s only one person in the whole world who could have that kind of name.” [Courtney laughs] “And it’s my rival.” I did look this up and I found some comments of people speaking about it saying this is just like a really over-the-top name, like if you ran into someone called Seraphina Ashworth or something. It’s like– It’s a name that doesn’t sound like a real name. But anyway, the scene that follows, Takebe recognizes her but she isn’t sure if the feeling is mutual that they both recognize each other. And she tries to go through and get a nice pair of clothing and she can’t tell if her rival recognizes her and if she’s intentionally trying to troll her or not. [Courtney hums] Partially, because she’s not sure what clothing to get, what will work for her, what the current fashion is, but she ends up going into the store looking for what she would consider normal fashionable clothes and instead ends up leaving the store with a brand new biker jacket and a note that says letter of challenge on it.
Royce: Slipped into her bag. So her rival did recognize her. She was known back in her school days as Bloodstained Cardigan. Takebe was known as the Black Shadow of Mount Tengen.
Royce: But before going into a flashback sequence, Takebe says that her rival was – quote – “A fucking weirdo,” the whole time. It shows her coming to challenge Takebe at her school and then being anxious and saying, like right before they’re supposed to fight, just “Tell me a funny story so I can relax. I’m too anxious to do this right now,” [Courtney laughs] and then often leaving before the fight would actually start.
Courtney: Oh, okay.
Royce: But they meet up at a nearby park for this letter of challenge. Takebe goes here assuming that this is just going to be a fight to try to resolve things. Because back in their high school days things never seemed to finish completely, like something would come up and the fight would never really end, it just kept getting kicked down the road. It’d start up some other day.
Courtney: So now’s the time.
Royce: Now is the time, as adults.
Courtney: We must finish this. The time is now.
Royce: But it’s– Confessed to her that her rival has had a crush on her forever. The only reason that she became a delinquent in the first place and beat up all those people at her school was just to get close to Takebe. But she could never muster the courage to actually confess back in high school days– in her high school days. So she’s doing that now.
Courtney: So be gay, do crime.
Royce: Yeah. And so she challenges her to a fight, saying that if she wins, Takebe has to go on a date with her. And Takebe is immediately confused, surprised, not taking the situation seriously. And one sudden, frustrated, accidental judo throw later [Courtney laughs] the fight is settled. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Courtney: [laughing] I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Royce: I actually had to stop for a moment because there is a type of judo throw that is seen in anime very frequently, where someone will be surprised, or someone will bump into someone out of nowhere or something like that, and accidentally, frustrated, surprised judo throw someone across the classroom. [Courtney laughs] And I had to look it up. What move is this?
Courtney: You’re like, “I recognize this. This is a very recognizable situation, but how do I describe it?”
Royce: Well, I went and I looked up because I didn’t know anything about judo. Apparently there are about 40 traditional judo throws, but because real life humans are humans and not anime characters, actually throwing someone over your shoulder is hard.
Royce: Most judo throws go over the hip or something like that.
Courtney: I mean most martial arts are a lot more subtle, with smaller movements, than how they’re ever depicted on screen.
Courtney: Whether it’s live action, or whether it’s animated or what have you, so.
Royce: The closest thing I found was a throw called seoi nage, which is– I think it was literally translated to something like over the back or something like that. That looked very similar to the grabbing someone near the wrist or the forearm and wrenching them over your shoulder. Just, in practice, they don’t fly across the room or skid across the grass in a park in this instance, or something like that.
Courtney: It’s a shame really that we can’t just fling people far and wide.
Royce: But with that suddenly and somewhat anticlimactically settled, the two of them start going on dates. And Takebe is convinced in her head that she’s just going along with this and she has this series of schemes that’s going to cause a breakup. She’s going to intentionally do things that are going to frustrate her rival so that she won’t want to be around her. And none of that works. They get along very well.
Courtney: So, okay, I’ll go on a date with you, but I’m not going to like it. [laughs]
Royce: It’s very quickly apparent that this is a, “I actually do kind of like you, but I’m not going to admit it,” kind of thing.
Courtney: [conspiratorially] “I have succeeded in the doing crimes. It is now time to succeed in the gay.”
Royce: And this involves a lot of different things. There was one chapter that I thought was pretty funny where they– the two of them go to a carnival to try to get pictures of what is basically an Instagram parody, they call it onestagram. Neither of them have, like, any social media presence. They don’t even understand how to get likes properly or what makes a good photo, and they end up going about it all wrong.
Courtney: Also relatable. [laughs]
Royce: One of them gets really embarrassed because they have just made a bunch of staged photographs that are not like how anyone actually uses their Instagram in response to someone wanting to see their Instagram. And by the end of the chapter they realize, “Oh no, your entire feed is just you doing things with friends and having fun, and I just posted like 40 stylized pictures of objects I found within the last 12 hours. That’s going to look really suspicious.”
Courtney: So two delinquents at a carnival, did they con the carnies out of prizes?
Royce: The carnies weren’t really a focus. They were competing with each other in a way that was: Takebe was intending to be frustrating, but they actually both enjoyed.
Courtney: Did a carnie pull a knife on them?
Courtney: So what kind of delinquents are they?
Royce: They’re former delinquents.
Courtney: Oh, former delinquents.
Royce: But while these series of attempted, sort of, kind of, almost dates is happening, we do get a flashback that Takebe’s rival grew up in a sheltered, wealthy family and when she goes to high school she gets targeted by some delinquents one day, and to her own surprise, she accidentally beats them all up.
Royce: I want to say it was said that, being in a wealthy family, her parents had enrolled her in various self-defense training courses since she was very young and she just didn’t realize that she was really good at it.
Royce: But word gets out that she’s tough, and so now she has like a never ending line of people to fight, even though she doesn’t [Courtney laughs] really want to.
Courtney: She’s just getting challenges left and right.
Royce: Yes. And one day she’s a little banged up and she runs into Takebe who helps bandage her up and that’s how the crush started. In that moment Takebe says she only really remembers strong people. And a few days later the two of them run into each other and Takebe says she didn’t really remember running into her a few days prior.
Courtney: Oh… Burn.
Royce: So her rival’s like, “Well, I just– I need to become the strongest now.”
Courtney: I mean, look, I get it. [laughs]
Royce: But the two of them continue spending time with each other and it’s clear that they like each other, but they’re still, like, not really admitting that they’re dating at this point. And one of the common conflicts that keeps coming up between the two of them is that Takebe is still very focused on moving on from her adolescent days as a delinquent, but that’s something that Soramori really admired in her and wants to see her, I guess, be happy for who she is instead of feeling like she must change. During this time, this perception of, “Who am I supposed to be, what is life supposed to be like for me?” I think Takebe has frequently said at this point, “I should be at a point in my life where I am dating a guy, preparing to get married, preparing to have kids, because that’s what all of the other women around me are doing.”
Courtney: Yep, it’s that time, isn’t it? Chrono-normativity at its finest.
Royce: And while the two of them are spending time together, it is said at one point that, “I don’t really get what’s date-like and what isn’t,” and is trying to figure out spending time together like is this a date or where is the line here? And they end up making friends and spending some time with another couple. It’s another delinquent couple, two lesbian women who were in the same gang who are now together.
Courtney: Wow, so everyone in this world does crimes and be gay.
Royce: At least the primary characters. [Courtney laughs] I mean there are other people who are in straight relationships, but this was the leader and right hand of a different gang and they’re a bit older.
Courtney: Alright, be gay do crimes: the manga! I’m here for it.
Royce: But through some of their conversations, this older couple basically shows them that a relationship doesn’t have to be what they may typically think of a relationship as. And it’s right around that time that they do have, I guess, a more heated argument about Takebe’s future and they stop talking for a bit. Takebe falls into a bit of a slump and the passage of time in the panels makes it seem like there’s this long period where there’s silence and they’re trying to go back to their old lives and they’re both upset. But then you find out that they only went like four days without speaking to each other.
Courtney: Oh. [laughs] That’s kind of funny.
Royce: And Takebe realizes, or comes to the conclusion, that she wants the two of them to speak again, and this time she is going to convey her feelings with her fists.
Courtney: As you do!
Royce: She is out of training. She hasn’t been fighting people since high school days, so–
Courtney: Little rusty?
Royce: She’s a little rusty. Also, she lost like every fight back in the day.
Courtney: Oh no.
Royce: Like, the reason why it never ended was because her rival would take it easy on her and then would stop the fight right before it would end.
Royce: But throughout her training she gets training from the couple that I mentioned previously, because one of them was the head of a rival gang, and she has her do a bunch of just ridiculous training exercises that don’t make sense.
Courtney: Oh, okay.
Royce: And all of this is just to: one, build stamina; and two, build confidence.
Courtney: Okay, [laughs] so she’s intentionally putting her in ridiculous situations.
Royce: Yes. The three things were opening and closing drawers, really quickly running through the mall, only stepping on the decorative tiles, and thinking of oneself as a mountain gorilla.
Royce: So, the running around in public was definitely to stop thinking of how others perceive you.
Courtney: Love it.
Royce: And that’s what happens. She very quickly realizes that all of this is really silly, but that’s okay, because it shouldn’t matter what other people think. And that she can figure out how to live her own life instead of conforming to the life society that she’s supposed to have.
Courtney: Growth, character development. We love to see it.
Royce: And so the two of our protagonists meet back up in a park and they have a fight this time, and it’s not ended by a sudden judo throw. It’s actually a significant fight, like back when they were in high school. And it’s also one of the only times in this series that they figure out that they’re both doing something that they mutually enjoy, whereas previously, in all these dates it was always kind of one-sided and that was a frustration of how can we find something we like to do together? What are our common interests? And from this point on they actually start dating for real instead of kind of masking it or explaining it away as “Well, I lost that fight, so I have to be here.” And as the story rounds out, the two of them hold hands for the first time.
Royce: And this whole time, Soramori has been very touch averse. Any time they’ve bumped into one another or something like that, she sort of jumped back and flushed and all of this. And it’s been sort of portrayed as this, “I’m so excited or embarrassed that I’m going to reflexively punch you because I don’t know how to handle this,” sort of thing.
Courtney: As you do [laughs]
Royce: And she’s sort of expressed interest in being more intimate, but also doesn’t seem to be able to handle it. And so when that happened, she asked Takebe, like, “Do you ever think about things like this?” Like wanting to hold hands, or wanting to kiss, or anything like that. And Takebe says, “I don’t really understand that kind of thing.” And she doesn’t understand it, but she wants to try to figure out why that – in her words – her heart doesn’t beat any faster in moments like these, like it seems that other people do. But in that moment, trying to figure things out, Takebe does try to, like, lean in for a kiss and things like this just cause Soramori to, like, freeze or jump back or do basically anything else short of a nosebleed. And they talk it over and realize that they both care about each other, they don’t feel exactly the same way, their feelings don’t manifest exactly in the same way, but that’s fine. And that even though sort of their boundaries in the relationship, the way that their feelings for each other manifest, are different, they still love each other and can be together.
Courtney: So this is very much like an ace-allo partnership.
Royce: Presumably. I think that it would take the two of them some more time to discover exactly where they both fit. Takebe absolutely seems ace from what she said there at– towards the end. Probably aromantic. But with Soramori being touch averse, I don’t really know where she might fall.
Courtney: Oh, okay. So, without having the words for it, it could be an alloromantic-aromantic pairing. It could even be an aromantic and an asexual who are both allo in the opposite form of attraction. That was a convoluted way to say that, but– [laughs]
Royce: It could be a number of things. Takebe doesn’t seem to have any interest in physical things either, but she’s not averse to it and was okay with trying things to see if anything would provoke a potential reaction.
Courtney: I see.
Royce: But that is– that conversation happens in the final chapter and that’s really the point in the manga where they start to open up and try to talk about that thing. And then it ends with the two of them continuing their relationship.
Courtney: Interesting. I think I like even if an orientation label isn’t put on it. I really appreciate every time there is a media portrayal of different types of attraction and a relationship negotiation as a result of that. Because that’s helpful not only for aces and aros, but everybody? Yeah, everybody.
Royce: Yeah. And I think that this conversation near the end was good because it finally got the two of them speaking more openly. I think that as a series it had quite a bit of fluff with them just spending time around each other through the middle, where we did slowly see bits of their character and their personalities come out, but it felt like the big, important details didn’t come out until the end.
Courtney: Had you read this without the preface that folks are considering this to be ace rep, do you think the way that conversation was handled and the way it was portrayed is enough that you would consider it ace rep, even without the actual labels?
Royce: Yeah, I think the conversation in the final chapter makes that abundantly clear. I think that for this medium in general, most of what was leading up to that, a lot of anime and manga particularly with slightly younger characters – because the two of them are adults now, I think they’re in their early 20s, if I remember right – will not quite go into physical contact or things like that. Or won’t go particularly into sex scenes or something like that nearly as often as a lot of Western media that we’re used to will.
Royce: So sometimes without that confirmation you can’t really say what was the nature of this relationship.
Courtney: Yeah. And that’s something that we have been really quite critical of other examples of alleged ace rep in the past. Because everyone’s going to be consuming media with their own preconceived notions, with their own lens, with their own experience that they’re bringing to the table. But even in situations where an ace spec person might see elements of their own story in a piece of media and therefore they’ll, you know, they’ll headcanon it, they’ll say like, “This character’s definitely ace,” or this character’s definitely aroace, or whatever the situation is, the really unfortunate fact of the matter is that a majority of the audience consuming the media is not going to be ace spec and they are not going to view it that way.
Courtney: And, to take it a step further, a certain percentage of those people are just going to be acephobic. So they will vehemently argue that there is no possible way that this character can be ace. And then it becomes a little less about the character and a little more about general acephobia in our world, because then real ace people are going to be seeing how much people loathe and detest the very idea that this character could be ace. So we have been pretty critical about portrayals that don’t use the word, because we know that audiences will use anything and everything for any amount of plausible deniability to be acephobic. But I really like the idea of be ace do crimes.
Courtney: I love that. I haven’t seen– Obviously, I haven’t seen any, like, fandom discourse around this. I don’t know how large this particular manga has or has not gotten. But I almost sometimes see the backlash to headcanoning things as ace rep even harder if the characters are in a same sex relationship. Because in a situation like this, I’ve seen this conversation time and time again, “Well, this character is ace or these characters are ace.” “No, actually it’s homophobic of you to call them ace. You just are uncomfortable with the idea of gay sex, so you’re using the word ace to justify your homophobia.” And that is a thing– That is a conversation that actually happens way too much online. Because also, completely disregarding the fact that people can be gay aces, that is a thing and that is no less queer than allo gay people. But that is good to hear that, from your own personal reading of it, it seemed obvious enough that you’re comfortable labeling it as such. I want to read it.
Royce: Yeah, this was one that was similar to what I experienced reading Doughnuts Under A Crescent Moon, where it wasn’t until late in the manga that the ace conversations really started happening. Before that, the characters just weren’t close enough to have those deeper personal conversations.
Courtney: Right. I think that I want to trade jobs. I want to review the ace manga and you can take the YA novels. [laughs]
Courtney: Aw… Why?!
Royce: So next up, Is Love the Answer? by Isaki Uta, who I mentioned was the same author as Mine-kun is Asexual and I’m glad to have this here, because the previous one shot, due to its length, ended up being very Ace 101-y, because there just wasn’t a whole lot of time to it, and this is a much more developed story.
Courtney: Good! Would you say, you personally liked this one better than Mine-kun?.
Royce: Yeah, I mentioned I really liked I Want to Be a Wall for the entertainment value and I’m really curious how that comes out.
Royce: There were also some scenes toward the end of the second release, second volume–
Courtney: Volume, that’s a good word.
Royce: Where some things were explained in a really interesting way. I thought that some of the conversations were pretty interesting. And I mentioned that Accept My Fist of Love felt a bit fluffy. This one, I thought, was paced pretty well and just had a lot of good character detail to it.
Royce: But this has been bound together into a single book that is around 250 pages, something like that.
Courtney: Did this one come after Mine-kun? Did this author basically give like a one-shot Ace 101 and use that as a lead-in to do a longer, more developed ace story? Because that’s actually pretty clever, if that’s how that came out. I don’t mind that at all. When I end up minding Ace 101 is when that’s, like, all anyone ever does is stay at the Ace 101 level.
Royce: That was my impression. And, yes, it looks like the one-shot came out about a year and a half at least before the full binding of the book. It looks like– Okay, there was still some time before the first chapter or the first volume of Is Love the Answer? came out.
Royce: So this story starts out with a guy named Kimijima asking out our protagonist Chika, and Chika seems a little taken aback, saying that the two of them are already pretty close and asking if officially going out is actually going to change anything between them. And Kimijima says yes, it’ll be totally different, it’ll be so much more fun, they’ll be happier. And so she, very visibly not really understanding the situation or the implications, sort of tentatively says yes and agrees. And there are some thoughts we see from her at this point saying, “If I learn to like someone, will I be more like everyone else?”
Royce: And that is a very common sentiment that I’ve seen potentially in all of these that I’ve looked at, almost all of them at least.
Courtney: That’s pretty true to a lot of real life ace experiences too, though. Because a lot of people whether or not they have the language, sometimes even more so before they have the language of the proper label and where they fit in asexuality, just sense that something is different. So many of us start– I mean, I’ve shared before, and so many of my ace friends have shared before, where it’s like dating back to childhood often there’s just a sense that something is different, even if you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Royce: So Chika goes back to her friend group and tells them the news, and they’re all excited. But some bits of the conversation that follows has some thing– saying things like, “Seriously we were wondering when it would happen,” and then asking how Chika feels. And through this conversation it’s sort of shown that her friend group knows that she’s never really expressed interest in things like this before. And her friend group sees it as kind of, like, cute and innocent, like she was just the last person to grow up, sort of thing. And they reassure her that you don’t have to feel anything right now, plenty of people enter a relationship without explicit romantic feelings and develop them along the way. But I’m not really sure how much time passes here, but it seems like the dude immediately gets controlling. He starts establishing relationship rules, or what he calls relationship rules. He says, like, “Hey, don’t take more than 10 minutes to respond to my text,” like that sort of thing. [Courtney hums] And he’s very easily able to say, “This is just how relationships go, this is how it’s supposed to be.”
Courtney: Oh, don’t like that!
Royce: And she’s trying to reason with it but is like, “Oh, I guess I didn’t understand this is how things are supposed to go now.”
Courtney: Don’t like that!
Royce: And she has this sort of– these thoughts going in her head, saying, well, she likes Kimijima, he’s fun to talk to and he’s upbeat, “But sometimes he seems like an alien to me.” And it shows her fighting an aversion to touch. There’s a couple of times when they’re just moving through the halls at school where he grabs her hand or her arm and, like, leads her in a certain direction and she doesn’t like it, but then in her head says, “I can’t not like this because,” [Courtney hums] Because that’s the expectation.
Courtney: Hate that.
Royce: And so, again, I’m not sure the passage of time. It seems like this is immediate, like a couple of days after they start dating. She goes to his house, after he invites her there and he tries to force himself on her. And she says no and leaves. He gets mad and they break up. And the next day she’s passing a group of guys at school and one of them calls her an alien and she says, “Oh, so I see, I’m the one that was from outer space.”
Courtney: No!! Oh, it hurts! It’s too real.
Royce: So she relates this to her friend group and they all call him a jerk, and say she’ll find someone better, and they take her out to karaoke.
Courtney: Ooh karaoke!
Royce: But she feels a bit out of place there too, because they’re all singing breakup songs and she doesn’t understand them.
Royce: And so she steps out to get a drink, heads to the bathroom before heading back into the room, into the karaoke room, and overhears a couple of her friends in the bathroom victim blaming. [Courtney hums] They’re saying, “Well, she should have known what going to a boy’s house meant,” and call her a prude and that sort of thing.
Courtney: [groans] Don’t like that!
Royce: And she– she doesn’t say anything. She sort of heads back in, is quiet the rest of the day and time moves on. One of her friends, one of the ones that she overheard in the bathroom, tries to hook her up with another guy but says that she’s going to try to find – quote – “A more decent guy.” And his name is Uchida, the two of them go on a date, they sit down– I can’t remember if it was for lunch or at a coffee shop or something like that. And he says, “I want to find someone I like at my own pace,” and is sort of uncomfortable, being rushed into this. Chika’s friend is actually constantly texting him through this and he’s like looking at his phone, feeling overwhelmed by the pressure, and is like mentioning this.
Royce: So Chika in her mind – after coming off this abusive relationship – is like, “This guy is so much better.” But they spend some more time together, one day they go out, like, on– on an official date somewhere. And he holds out his hand for her to grab, and there’s no contact, but in that moment everything from the assault, like, floods back to her. And she has this thought that, even though he seems patient, she thinks that no matter what, even if things go slowly, eventually they’re going to progress. Eventually they’re going to lead to that. Because that’s what she sees relationships as, and that doesn’t feel right.
Royce: So she breaks things off, and she does this without really explaining. She just says, “I don’t think I’m ready to date anyone yet,” and they go their separate ways.
Royce: And right around this time there is a thought that she says, “I wish someone would teach me How To Human 101 for aliens.”
Courtney: Aw…! [laughs]
Royce: And so time passes. She graduates from high school. She goes to Tokyo for college. And, entering into college, she gets caught up in this throng of people as everyone is out scouting freshmen for new recruits into clubs. [Courtney hums] And someone comes right up to her and starts asking her to join this club and she gets really flustered, and a nearby professor walking through sees this and makes an excuse to get her out and away from people. And this professor’s name is Ishii. They are a very well known psychology professor who wrote like a big name book in this universe and they’re actually the sole reason that Chika came to this university in the first place. And so Chika ends up opening up in front of this professor thinking through what she’s heard from allo people. She’s been around things that didn’t make sense to her, things that she’d make a mental note of– of like, “Oh, so that’s how that’s supposed to work. Okay, this is how you’re supposed to act. This is how relationships go.” And she does explicitly say here, “I’ve never liked anyone romantically and I don’t have any sexual urges.” She also says that the whole reason she came here, the whole reason why she wanted to learn under this instructor, this psychology professor, is because she wanted to learn how humans work.
Courtney: So we have an aroace confirmed. Love that.
Royce: Ishii here quickly and casually breaks down Chika’s thought process, saying she shouldn’t force herself to do anything that doesn’t feel right, that being forced into these situations is harassment, and that what she really should be doing is questioning what things like normal and regular even mean.
Courtney: Oh! Good professor.
Royce: And then they throw in that they also don’t fall in love with people and have almost no libido.
Courtney: [Gasps] Magical elder ace. [laughs] I do like that a little better than some of the other magical elder aces, though.
Royce: That just show up at a party?
Courtney: Yes, like just aroace ex-machina. Like, “Hello. I just happened upon you and you said the right thing at exactly the right moment.” This is like, “I respect this person and I am going to go confide in them.”
Royce: Yeah, or in I Want To Be A Wall it was just knowledgeable queer friends shows up.
Courtney: Uh-huh, which happens a lot. It happens so much. I’ve read books, I’ve seen TV shows where this happens.
Royce: But Chika follows Ishii back to their house, which is a shared living space with an odd architectural style and, because of the way that the top of the building looks, everyone around there calls it the UFO building.
Courtney: Ooh, for the aliens!
Royce: And they start to have a conversation. Chika is trying to find answers, she wants a word, she wants an explanation. She basically wants this professor to, like, diagnose her real quick. [Courtney laughs] Like, not that it’s pathological, but to give her an answer that makes sense.
Royce: And someone who is sleeping on the couch wakes up and rather bluntly tells Chika to go figure things out on her own instead of asking others to solve her problems. And she leaves sort of frustrated at that point. But time passes a little bit and after a somewhat rough first day, Chika comes to the conclusion that college students, even in the psychology wing here, behave much like the people she knew back in high school when it comes to relationship stuff. And she ends up running back to Ishii’s place and asks to move in there, to the shared living space, and much to her surprise, Ishii’s like, “Yeah, sure, here’s a spare room, move in.” And so she brings a bunch of books with her and spends the night studying trying to get some answers, and she starts with a self-diagnosis test in some material in queer identities.
Royce: And so this includes both gender identity and orientation, and it shows her going through parts of the process and showing some of the questions in the panels. And she starts to think back at things she’s heard people say that she had assumed to mean that everyone was basically cis, allo, etc. And figuring that, by virtue of this being questioned in the book, like by virtue of the question being written in a certain way, more complex answers and situations have to exist. And so this thought process goes into gender-neutral identities, things outside the binary, split attraction, and other things like that. And she finds it really eye-opening. And the result of the self-diagnosis reads: you lean towards being asexual, which is where she first comes upon the word. And then takes that as a jumping point to research asexuality, specifically more. [Courtney hums] And at the end of this panel there are two titles written in the margins. One of them is The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality by Julie Sondra Decker.
Courtney: Wonderful! I don’t see that book get referenced very often, but that predates ACE by Angela Chen by quite a bit, and if you’re on social media, I definitely recommend following Julie too.
Royce: The other is A Beginner’s Guide to LGBT: The Basics to Current Trends by Hitoshi Ishida. [Courtney hums in surprise] Which I believe I searched for and is a Japanese language book that I don’t know if it has a translation.
Courtney: Yeah, I haven’t been able to get my hands on a translation myself, so. But that’s good to know as a resource for people who can read that language.
Royce: So immediately after this she gets excited to dig into more because she found a term that seems to fit, and then is immediately frustrated. Some of the other books she’s reading don’t mention asexuality at all. Others, like, only briefly mention them without any explanation, or just have a sentence or two. And she’s like, “What is with this lack of information?” [Courtney hums in agreement]. But anyway, she falls asleep a little frustrated, but hopeful at least, and wakes up late and rushes to class for the next day. And during the day, a couple of people from the group she was hanging out with on the first day of school come up to her and apologize. Because the discussion at that point in time got a little heated or got a little, I guess, insulting. She started to mention aspects of things that were leaning– that were very ace, and it just wasn’t received well, people started picking it apart, that sort of thing. [Courtney hums] That’s where she says, like, “Oh, even college psychology students are acting just like the people back in high school.”
Royce: But two of them come up and they apologize and say they should have stopped some of the others, like I said, basically trying to pathologize Chika’s orientation, but they were both kind of scared to. One of them is a gay guy, and he was worried that if he spoke out too much they might turn to him and start pressuring him into or suggesting that he should also have sex with a woman to try to figure out if he’s bi. [Courtney groans] And the other one who comes is a fujoshi who was a little pissed at one comment that was made because one of the other people at the table said that her otaku interests were just a substitute for actual love.
Royce: And so–
Courtney: Not great all around!
Royce: Yeah. But like that, in that moment, a small group of queer friends assemble, the three of them get really close.
Courtney: Queer friends assemble!
Royce: [laughs] The fujoshi character actually pulls out what she calls a BL Bible, [Courtney laughs] which is just a huge book of references that she carries with her at all times to spread the love.
Royce: Pretty soon thereafter they have an anime marathon in the UFO house where they watch a show that Chika really liked as a child. It was a show that she was kind of dismayed to find that all of her friends were growing out of as they started to turn towards, like, romance shows. [Courtney hums] And the three of them watch it, and discuss it, and cry, and really enjoy it. And afterwards they’re talking about what everyone enjoyed most, and Chika noticed something different watching it as an adult now, from when she was little. And she kind of has a thing that she can’t quite figure out for a butler character in the show.
Royce: And so from that she goes researching online, finding some sites that get into micro labels and talking through those, and the site that’s listed in the margins here is nijikou.com. It’s– the title is translated as Rainbow School. But after searching, after reading a bit, she still feels like she can’t quite figure things out. She says that she feels an attraction that she doesn’t quite understand and is having trouble figuring out if that means she potentially isn’t ace or her orientation may be more complicated than that.
Courtney: Mm-hmm. I do actually like this because I think I have said in the past when reviewing ace representation that the trope is, kind of, once you learn the word asexual, everything is great and wonderful and you know yourself and you’re happy now, and that’s what you are. But I’ve pointed out that very often discovering and identifying with the word asexual is rarely the end of the road. You might be, you know, really happy and content with that label alone for a period of time, but so many ace people I know have then started to question romantic orientation, going back and forth, questioning micro labels, things of that nature. So it sounds like this is kind of what they’re actually trying to depict. Is that questioning and further period of additional research.
Royce: Yeah, that’s something I really liked about this is that Chika’s character very much for the entire series has been about trying to understand these things, and it does show her thought process and her research and it’s not an immediate realization. There’s a lot that goes into it.
Courtney: And is there an element of like the ace imposter syndrome? Like, I don’t feel ace enough or can I still be ace if–? Because that’s a thing we see pretty frequently in real life.
Royce: “Can I still be Ace if–?” comes up.
Royce: Because that’s kind of what this feeling right here is. [Courtney hums] But time passes a bit from there and one day, to Chika’s surprise, Ishii’s husband shows up. She did not know that the professor was married. And it’s actually revealed that the two of them are married solely because they’re longtime colleagues and friends, neither of them have any family, and the medical system doesn’t handle that very well.
Royce: So, they’re very close and Ishii’s husband had sudden medical problems and they found out that Ishii was not in a position to really help with that, and so they decided to file all the paperwork necessary to get married so that they could take care of each other.
Courtney: Is it weird that I love a marriage of convenience in media? Because I have felt insulted when people will question or attack our marriage – as publicly ace people – as saying, like, “Oh, that’s not a real marriage,” or this is a sham marriage or it’s a marriage of convenience. I’ll feel really insulted by that because I know what they’re saying is if you’re asexual, you don’t actually have a real relationship. But in media, when there are genuine instances of, like, we’re getting married for some type of legal benefit or some type of security, I actually love that. I loved that in I Want to Be A Wall too. I was like, “Fantastic! Love a good marriage of convenience.”
Royce: There’s a line that comes out during this explanation where I believe it’s Ishii that says there’s no law stating that you have to have romance or sex to get married. Which– Is that true in Japan?
Courtney: Is that true?! Japanese legal scholars explain this to us.
Royce: Because we’ve already talked about all of the weird laws over here.
Courtney: Yes, absolutely. There are an alarming number of States that still have marriage consummation clauses. And there are entire conservative legal schools of thought that marriage and procreative sexual activity are synonymous and required for marriage, so. Maybe Japan is so much better about that! If so, if someone knows and has firsthand knowledge and experience on this, please hit us up. I’d love to hear more.
Royce: And so during this scene, Chika has some questions. She’s very curious about all of this. And Ishii goes on to say that they figured out their identity fairly early. They knew from about the age of 16, they had no sexual urges, no romantic interests, they identified as agender. And then they go on to mention some more about the ace spectrum and how the ace community can sometimes over-police identity.
Courtney: Whoa! They’re really saying it, aren’t they? Outstanding.
Royce: And what follows is a pretty good conversation about identity, how it can be fluid, how it’s okay to go with a label that feels best in the moment, even if you end up settling on something else in the future.
Courtney: Wow, I’m so impressed. [laughs]
Royce: And the story continues from there. A bit later, Chika ends up mediating between two people who are in the middle of a fight. Both of them were in this problematic group of people she was with on that first day of school. And basically one of them mentioned having a different view of what cheating actually is, different than I would say that most people, like the unspoken societal rules, it’s a bit different than that. Because to him, romance and sex are completely separate things. And this spirals into a discussion about what romance even is. And there’s one point, I believe it’s Chika who thinks even for people who – quote – “get romance naturally, do they really understand it?”
Royce: But what follows is a kind of interesting scene where she is mediating between the two, and she basically pulls them both into a classroom and is like, “Here are the rules. I’m going to mediate. This is how we’re going to go through this discussion.” It’s going to be very structured and everyone’s a bit taken aback by this setting that she’s created.
Royce: But they’re going to talk out their issues and figure things out in a very logical, structured manner. And the reason she says that they’re going to go about this is because the biggest mistake they made was not having these discussions in the first place before getting into the relationship. Like they didn’t agree upon boundaries and that’s why there’s this argument about boundaries potentially being crossed. And the scene gets a bit heated, because of course it does. These two characters don’t communicate particularly well. They’re not really used to this kind of discussions and they’re struggling with it a little. But after about an hour of hashing things out they walk away with a better perspective. They do end up breaking up, but it’s more amicable. [Courtney hums] They break up because they sort of agree, “Okay, we see relationships differently and that’s not compatible,” rather than just being angry at each other.
Royce: And I thought that was interesting because it seems fitting for Chika with all the relationship stuff she’s been researching and thinking about. But anytime you have an ace character who’s sort of mediating like an allo relationship is kind of interesting. Quite a bit of time passes from there. We see Chika going to a queer meetup, finding some more people. She creates a social media account to post to about all the things she’s learned, starts writing ace articles. And there’s one panel that shows that she was commented by a younger person who read her– one of her articles, and that was their introduction to the ace spectrum. [Courtney hums] And she finds that her friend group and the world around her is expanding, where earlier she felt very isolated.
Royce: And wrapping up that story, Chika, throughout all this time has been getting closer to the other person living in the UFO house who I haven’t really mentioned all that often. He’s a fairly significant character. He just hasn’t– he’s been present a lot but hasn’t been integral into a lot of these points I’ve been making. But he was the one who woke up on the couch when she first came into the UFO house and told her, like, quit expecting everyone to solve all your problems.
Royce: It is shown that he’s also ace but is in a different area of the spectrum. He regrets a lot of the relationships he got into while trying to figure himself out. He had basically had a lot of short flings that ended up being very physical or very sexual and then were broken off very quickly. And I think was kind of– in trying to figure out his orientation, he sort of got a reputation as a womanizer even though that’s like not what he was trying to do. [Courtney hums] By virtue of just dating a lot of people. And he talks to Chika through where he’s at and what his history is, and Chika ends up learning quite a bit more from him. In the final chapter, the two of them sort of discuss the nature of their own relationship because they’ve been getting closer, they’ve been becoming friends, and they specifically bring up QPRs.
Courtney: Oh, wow!
Royce: And so Chika says, “I’m not sure how to label it.” She says, “It’s a relationship that can’t be described with existing words.” And also says that, “I want to treasure this relationship because I’m convinced that this world is filled with those things that are one of a kind,” or that can’t be described. And the final story panel just shows Chika, her two closest friends, and all of the people living in the UFO house just outside having fun with each other.
Courtney: Amazing. I love it. I think Japanese media is way ahead of English media on ace representation. Because–
Royce: I thought this was really good.
Courtney: Because between this and Koisenu Futari, that seems to take it just so much further than I’ve seen in western ace rep.
Royce: The final notes that I have on this, there is sort of an afterward with some notes from the author where they wanted to try to clarify some things throughout the series. And there’s a page with some more detailed information about Chika’s identity, and they mentioned the word X-Gender, which, from what I read, is a term used more commonly in Japan, which is defined as identifying as a woman but sometimes feeling genderless.
Courtney: Oh, so this is where that came from! Because you came to me, like a couple weeks ago, and you were like, “Have you ever heard this term before?” And I was like, “Yeah, I have.” [Royce agrees] So this is where you heard it, okay.
Royce: It also mentions that she wants a non-romantic relationship with a partner, but is unsure about how to define the word partner.
Courtney: Ah, mm-hmm. That’s another thing. That’s kind of interesting with manga, or even some webcomics, for that matter, where there sometimes are additional author notes at the end of chapters which are just like– it’s right there, like you read the chapter and then you see the author note. And sometimes it’s just something, like, really silly, or it’ll be a funny little drawing, or a little joke, and it’s not actually relative to the story. But sometimes it is a clarification, or defining things or something, and I really like that. Because I don’t like situations where– like, right off the top of my head, Owl House comes to mind where now everyone’s like, “There’s an aro ace character in Owl House!” But you could watch the entire show and have no idea who the aroace character is, because it was only confirmed well after a season had come out on a totally different platform of very niche, like, livestream that a majority of people are not going to see at all. And I think that that’s a cop out.
Courtney: That’s very a– dare I bring up JK Rowling? That’s very like “Dumbledore is gay” of everyone. Which at the time JK Rowling did say Dumbledore is gay, that was like a little more progressive than it would be today. Just because Harry Potter was so huge and people didn’t realize how problematic the author was towards trans people, in particular trans identity. So like, it was kind of cool for most people to be like, “Wow, such a big, important gay character in such a big, important book series!” But it wasn’t on the page, you would never know it on the page. So it’s still a big cop out.
Courtney: But in situations where any further clarifications or definitions are coming alongside the source material, I don’t mind that at all. Because I’ve started seeing more frequently in fact with, well, YA novels even, especially YA, like, historical fiction, where you may be trying to portray something, but at the time this was set, there wasn’t vocabulary for what was happening in terms of queer identity or disability, things of that nature, where an author might, at the end of the book, put in a like, “Yeah, here’s what this is actually explaining, but at the time we didn’t have this language.”
Courtney: Two books we’ve spoken about that did this. In fact, One For All had sort of a little mini chapter after the book talking about POTS and how this is what this character had that I was portraying, they didn’t have a language for that at the time. We also saw that in the Reckless Kind. We have had both of these authors on the podcast, by the way, so please go back and listen to those episodes. And I like that. I don’t like when just, like, social media is used, or like a Twitter post, or an Instagram story, just being like, “Yeah, this character is totally ace!” We also got the actress from the Umbrella Academy in literally an Instagram story, which is only up for 24 hours, just being, like, “I totally thought of this character as ace.” This is not representation. So that’s something, like, to this– to the credit of this medium. There is a way to tell the story you want to tell it, and then have further, like, you know, real talk. Real talk with you reader. Here’s some added information.
Royce: Yeah, it’s also not uncommon because this is a– an inherently visual medium to see character sketches or something like that at the end of a chapter that might point out details about their design and the reasons for them. So–
Royce: In something like– like, if Owl House was published in this medium, or as a webcomic or something, it wouldn’t be that out of place to have a breakdown of Lilith’s attire or color scheme.
Courtney: Yeah, exactly! So that– that is an enormous benefit of just this medium in particular that I appreciate. So, of these two manga, which one was your favorite?
Royce: I definitely liked Is Love the Answer? more. And to go back, now that we’ve covered four or five, I consider Mine-kun Is Asexual separate, because as a one shot it’s– I mean, it’s like comparing a YouTube video to a movie. It’s like– [Courtney laughs] It’s– It’s a different runtime, it’s a different length, the characterizations are different.
Courtney: Right, but of all the other ones, what– What is your overall favorite of all the manga we’ve covered so far?
Royce: Of the four, I definitely liked Is Love the Answer? and I Want to Be A Wall the best. I think that I like them for different reasons. I liked how deep Is Love The Answer? went into figuring out orientation. [Courtney hums in agreement] I thought that it did that very well.
Courtney: In a way we don’t often see.
Royce: In a way that we don’t often see. I liked the comedy in I Want to Be A Wall.
Royce: The other two, Doughnuts Under A Crescent Moon and Accept My Fist Of Love, I saw similarities in their storytelling style. I thought both of them were a bit slowly paced, maybe a little fluffy at times, although they did kind of round out to have the more intricate discussions later on in the series.
Royce: I think of the two, I liked the characters portrayed more in Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon.
Courtney: You’re not into the former delinquent type. [laughs]
Royce: I thought that the setup was funny and there were some funny moments in the series, but overall I thought it was kind of fluffy.
Royce: As in there was quite a bit of space in the series where not a lot was happening.
Courtney: I think next on our agenda is to journey into webcomics.
Royce: Yeah, there’s quite a bit out there.
Courtney: There is quite a bit out there. I think we have mentioned offhanded on a couple of occasions there is a Twitter account Aces In Comics. They’re frequently sharing comics either made by ace creators or including ace stories. There is a ton out there. And sometimes independent projects like this can get so much more nuanced than the mainstream media we see coming from corporations. So I’m really excited to start talking about some of those in the future.
Royce: Well, until then, I think that’s about all we have to say for today.
Courtney: Not quite yet. Royce, what is your verdict?
Royce: You can hit the gavel.
Courtney: Well, you have to give the verdict, then I will hit the gavel. It’s my gavel, I offered you the gavel last time and you turned it down, so now you never get to touch this thing. This is my gavel. But I’m gonna need your ruling, since I haven’t read these two manga yet.
Royce: What is the question?
Courtney: Are they good ace rep? [laughs]
Courtney: So it is told! [hits gavel] Now you may sign us off.
Royce: Goodbye everyone.