When Toui gets focused on a novel he’s working on… he neglects everything around him. Tsukushi, brooding over his partner’s attitude to their relationship. Put nicely, he doesn’t care what other people think. Put meanly, it means he only cares about himself.
Told from alternating points of view, first of hairdresser Tsukushi Naruse, then his ex-boyfriend, novelist Toui Hayasaka, this is a story of what happens when lovers break up… or try to break up but something (habit? sex? love?) keeps pulling them back together. After four years, Tsukushi is the one who walks out, going back to his parents’ house when Toui’s workaholic lifestyle finally pushes him over the edge. (Toui forgetting to take out the trash yet again is the final straw.) But then Tsukushi finds himself back at their flat and the two end up sleeping together. Breaking up is hard…
And so it goes on for a while, as Tsukushi finds himself back at the flat on several occasions and each time it ends in them having sex. When did I start to hate… all the parts of him… I’d loved? he finds himself wondering. But he also wonders, Was Toui fed up with the way I am too?
A while back when Toui said that he was going to name the main character in his next novel after Tsukushi, Tsukushi thought he was joking. But when the novel’s published, he sees on the blurb that Toui has indeed named the protagonist ‘Tsukushi’. Toui’s editor is in the bookshop and, unaware that the two have broken up, tells him that Toui – in trying a new genre – got really blocked while writing this novel Blackened With Ash. Tsukushi can’t help but feel guilty as, looking back, he realizes that this was when Toui was at his most uncommunicative and that was what caused him to walk out in the first place.
As we get to know the two better, the more painful the break-up feels as mangaka Cocomi shows how difficult it is to unravel the strings of habit and affection that have bound them tightly together for so long. It’s not until Toui has persuaded Tsukushi to attend a crucial football match (a world cup qualifier) together as their ‘final date’ that, as he’s driving them to the match, he starts to say what’s really on his mind at last. “I’ve never kept at anything for this long. I always thought I’d be with you forever, Tsukushi.” And as his wistful smile fades, he adds, “But I guess it’s because I only thought it that things turned out this way.” It’s especially significant that of the two, it’s the novelist who finds it hardest to tell his partner how he feels; Toui might be gifted at writing fiction but he’s not good at communicating in real life, so this late attempt to explain to Tsukushi why he’s been so distant is a genuine step forward but is it too little too late?
Tokyopop LoveLove have quietly been acquiring some seriously good titles to their LGBTQIA+ list (there’s some fluff as well but variety is always fun!) and this title by Cocomi (Restart After Coming Back Home, Restart After Growing Hungry) is another very welcome addition to her slice-of-life Boys’ Love manga. Cocomi is skilled at telling stories about everyday life and its problems but always in an interesting and involving way. Send Them a Farewell Gift for the Lost Time is about the break-up of a relationship, something almost all readers will have experienced in their lives at one time or another. It could almost be seen as a banal subject were it not for the unobtrusive but clever way Cocomi draws the reader into the everyday lives of Tsukushi and Naruse until it’s impossible not to sympathize with them (even if sometimes you want to take them to counselling or just bang their heads together! Metaphorically, of course…). The opening panels where Tsukushi is styling a female client’s hair and having to listen to her thoughts on a BL TV drama with his professional smile fixed on his face sets the scene very effectively. “Same-sex relationships seem so romantic,” she says. “Like the two of them are destined to be together for life.” “Maybe,” says Tsukushi, forcing the smile. He’s just walked out on his significant other but he’s having to carry on at work as if nothing had happened. The mangaka’s afterword is especially illuminating in this respect when she says, “I wrote this story considering how communication is a lifelong struggle.” Is it also significant that, after the brilliant colour palette of the covers for the two Restart volumes, Cocomi uses a very limited, muted palette for the cover art and the internal colour picture of the two on/off lovers?
Christine Dashiell has translated many of the titles on Tokyopop’s LoveLove list and delivers another very convincing translation. The digital version (reviewed here) is available now with the paperback due out in mid-January 2024.
This story might seem quite ordinary on the surface; break-ups happen all the time. But it repays several readings as there’s some subtle writing (and drawing) conveying the characters’ complicated feelings and reactions. By the time you reach the bitter-sweet last chapter (and the bonus content) it’s impossible not be moved. This is one of those rare Boys’ Love manga where the sex scenes not only feel earned but are well drawn to reflect the characters’ feelings. Recommended.
This book contains sexual content and is intended for an audience aged 18 years and up.
Our review copy was supplied by the publisher Tokyopop.