Most people’d be shocked to find out their friendly neighbourhood shop owner is gay. (Akira Minato)
Akira Minato has given up his office job (he collapsed from unpaid overtime) to run a shabby old laundromat that he’s inherited from his grandfather. Most of his customers are elderly so when a tall, good-looking high-school boy starts to turn up regularly, they get talking. Shintarou (Shin) Katsuki says that his family is so large that the only way to get his laundry done is to bring it to the laundromat. Then the AC breaks down, Minato is forced to close the laundromat – and when going back to open up for the AC engineer, finds Shin waiting for him in the full sun. Realizing that Shin’s suffering from heat-stroke, Minato takes him to his apartment to cool down and recover… but as he hurries back to the premises, he realizes that he’s in grave danger of falling for him.
©Sawa Kanzume, Yuzu Tsubaki, Yen Press
So how is it that one day, Minato carelessly lets slip that he’s gay? Only for Shin to disappear – then reappear a fortnight later (it’s now summer break). “Minato-san,” he says, solemnly taking Minato’s hand, “I have a sex drive.” Minato hastily tries to defuse the situation by asking, “Can we start by being friends?” which seems to satisfy Shin… for the time being.
As Shin’s on summer break, he often comes to hang out with ‘his friend’ Minato in the laundromat. It seems that they both like swimming; Minato was captain of the high school swim team. But there are misunderstandings between them too, especially when Minato sees Shin with a middle-school girl. And then Minato gets invited to a friend’s wedding (this happens a lot at his age) and eventually discloses that Sakuma-sensei, the teacher who supervised the swim team, is said to be attending too. Shin, sensing something is up, forces Minato to admit that he had feelings for Sakuma-sensei back in the day, even though he insists it was nothing but teenage hormones. Which leads into a full-on argument because Shin, knowing a comparison is being made, cries out, “My feelings aren’t a lie. You are the person I love, Akira Minato” and walks out. Has Minato finally managed to discourage him… even though he also has feelings for the much younger man?
Minato’s Laundromat has been a great success for author Yuzu Tsubaki, with a popular live-action TV drama (2022) in Japan based on the ongoing manga version (four volumes and counting) with art by Sawa Kanzume (there are light novels as well). This is the manga’s first appearance in English, thanks to Yen Press, and it is translated by Lisa Coffman. It’s a pleasant (enough) story with some darker (or maybe that should be regret-tinged) undertones when it comes to Akira Minato and his reflections on paths not taken earlier in life (he’s only thirty, but…). The day-to-day life of the laundromat and its customers (mostly senior citizens) sets the rhythm of the story and the visits of high-schooler Shin are counterpointed against the peaceful tedium of Minato’s daily routine.
However, it rarely manages to rise above the ‘pleasant’ level in terms of emotional stakes or action until the very end of this volume. I’m a great fan of slice-of-life stories, including romances, but this one seems strangely muted. Minato is the one who’s pursued – wooed, to coin an old-fashioned term – with impressive determination by Shintarou. However, Minato is very much aware of Shin’s age and the fact that he’s still in school. He behaves honourably by rejecting in a kindly or humorous way all the high-schooler’s advances. This, alone, sets this story apart from the countless other age-gap romances in Boys’ Love. There’s an underlying, as yet untold story to be uncovered as well. Why does Shin reveal that he’s been in love with Minato for ten years? And what about Minato’s feelings for his high school swim teacher? Were they unresolved?
With many more volumes to come, there’s plenty of time for these aspects and more to be explored. But it doesn’t explain why, with fertile material for character development, the story sometimes seems reluctant to come to life on the page. I suspect it’s because of the art. Sawa Kanzume’s colour images for the cover and the three pages at the front of the volume add another dimension that evokes the feel of a sleepy sunny afternoon in a suburban launderette/laundromat very effectively. But I find her depictions of the two main characters are rather too similar. Minato has light (dyed?) hair and Shin’s is dark – yet they both have relatively childlike faces, even though Minato is supposed to be thirteen years older. I can’t help feeling that under the pen of a different mangaka, Minato – would look and feel older. And that would have helped us to appreciate the age-gap better (thirteen years is quite a big difference at Shin’s age).
Lisa Coffman’s translation works well, as do her two pages of translation notes at the end; the lettering by Carolina Hernandez helps to convey the story and the many conversations between Minato and Shin that gradually become more intense as time passes and Shin refuses to give up on his crush. There are two bonus comics at the end and a bonus short story from Yuzu Tsubaki: ‘And tomorrow, and the day after’, as well as Afterwords from both author and artist which give some useful background to the genesis of the story.
The chapter endings have a nicely themed pattern of little messages/slogans to remind us of the laundromat setting such as ‘Minato’s Laundromat is Closed for the Day’ or ‘This week’s promotion – students get a free drink’ and then rounding off with variations on ‘We thank you for your patronage’.
The manga has been given a Teen rating by Yen Press, putting it in the same bracket as Sasaki and Miyano and I Cannot Reach You which surprised me just a little because of some crude and explicit sexual repartee between the two early on which is in no way matched anywhere in the two series mentioned above. Sure, it’s just two young men talking and it rings true to life but it feels more like Older Teen to me.
Volume 2 is slated for March 2024 from Yen Press, so it’s not long to wait to see where Yuzu Tsubaki takes Minato and Shin next. I have hopes that the tantalizing glimpses that we’re afforded in the last chapter are signs of interesting developments in their ‘friendship’.
Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.