Ogi’s Summer Break Volume 1 Review
He said we’d try it out, but I’m sure there’s no future in it. Ogi, thinking about Tago. So I’m going to treasure and value the time I have with Tago… and then say goodbye when summer break’s over.
Haruto Ogi (18, at university) falls for ‘legally blind’ Shinya Tago (18, still at high school, walks with a white stick) through a chance meeting at the start of the summer vacation. Tago – unfazed at having to ask the young man for assistance – is straightforward and suggests to Ogi that they try dating over the summer. Ogi likes wearing make-up (a little child comments on his nail varnish) and, the cover implies, he also likes to cross-dress. He claims he’s bi but with a bias towards men as when one of his fellow student friends Kanako asks him why he won’t go out with her, he’s put on the spot and confesses that he doesn’t see her as a potential partner. Early on in their relationship, Tago makes a kind of a pass at Ogi by playing some porno on his smartphone and suggesting they try acting it out together. Is it a joke? Tago says that he’d usually ask his older brother to assist him – but is this a joke as well? Ogi is freaked out and runs away.
Summer vacation continues and after some apologies, the two continue their on-off relationship. There are some fumbled, awkward attempts at kissing. They go to the summer fireworks and Ogi helps Tago to light sparklers which he’s never done before. But Tago gets lost on the way home and happens to bump into the still disgruntled Kanako who helps him but asks some very direct questions about their love life (or lack of it). Then one day Ogi goes to Tago’s house only to find that the big brother has come home. The brother’s first reaction is, “I thought Ogi was a girl” and then later, Ogi overhears him asking Tago, “Does he have like… the spirit of a guy in a girl’s body?” and feels called out.
There seems to be some confusion as to what the central premise of the story is: Ogi and Tago’s relationship or Ogi’s cross-dressing. Ogi – for the most part – is the main viewpoint character (and the manga’s called Ogi’s Summer Break, so that makes sense). Nevertheless, the fact that Ogi is outwardly presenting various feminine aspects of his personality is almost hidden from the readers as well as from Tago – and the moment at the end when Tago’s older brother calls Ogi’s bluff made me go back through the story, desperately searching for visual clues. Ogi’s hair is quite long; early on a little girl asks him why his nails are painted… and the cover image shows him wearing a skirt. But elsewhere, the clothes he’s wearing are in no way frilly or lolita-style like his friend Kanako, and at best could be described as a unisex look. So, I’m not honestly sure what the author Koikawa is trying to show us here. Unlike BL manga which unashamedly and honestly deal with cross-dressing like, for example, Hideyoshico’s excellent Udagawachou de Mattete yo, the first volume of Ogi’s Summer Break is so uncommitted as to what it’s trying to say that this reader ended up well and truly baffled.
And then, there’s the object of Ogi’s crush: Tago. Tago is still in high school, so the younger of the two – but his older brother is older than Ogi. When we meet the brother, the joke is that he looks younger than Tago (he’s shorter too). But Tago – who’s had to deal with his blindness since, one guesses, birth – is a cypher throughout. The porn episode doesn’t present him in a very sympathetic light and after that I was struggling to work out what made Ogi continue the friendship. We really don’t get to see what’s going on in Tago’s head; he’s a difficult character to warm to, which is enhanced by the way he’s drawn.
The story is cluttered with hints that might be significant but probably aren’t. Are we meant to read more into Tago’s mentions of his big brother or is this just superficial, throwaway gag-type stuff? Of course he doesn’t act out porn with his big brother etc. etc. Yet with a narrative that constantly hints at this and that, but never commits, we’re left with an unsatisfactory, dangling end to the first volume that just seems to stop in media res.
Ogi’s Summer Break is another entry in Tokyopop’s LOVE x LOVE collection and is translated by Christine Dashiell. It’s mangaka Koikawa’s second serialized work (according to the afterword) and appears to be ongoing. The mangaka has a very simple, unfussy graphic style with minimal backgrounds, although there’s plenty of varied layouts employed in panels, compensating to a certain extent for what’s lacking in the character drawing. There are three 4-koma strips at the end entitled Tago’s Break offering a wry look at Tago and his big brother and two colour pages at the front. It’s currently available in digital format with the paperback due out in May 2023.
The publisher’s blurb promises ‘A sweet love story about overcoming differences and accepting yourself for who you truly are’ but I struggled to find much sweetness or acceptance in this volume. I hope that the second volume (due in August 2023) will deliver greater insight into these two young men and their awkward relationship.