Saika Kunieda’s two-volume Future Lovers (Deux) is an unexpected treat. It’s a title in the yaoi category, which is focused on romantic relationships between men but doesn’t customarily concern itself with nuances of sexual orientation. There are some fine examples that do (and some fine works that don’t), but none incorporate the layers of a gay relationship – family, politics, work – as seamlessly as Future Lovers.
As I mentioned in my review of the first volume over at The Comics Reporter, it’s about an unlikely couple. Conservative Kento was a late bloomer in terms of sexual orientation, not even considering the possibility that he was gay until he met cynical, campy Akira, who probably twigged to his gayness in the womb. By the end of the first volume, chemistry teacher Kento and art teacher Akira were reasonably settled in a steady relationship (after some roadblocks, obviously.)
The second is dedicated to solidifying that relationship. Roadblocks persist, but they’re very down-to-earth. Kento’s doting grandparents still don’t like Akira. Akira’s trust issues, the disparity in the couple’s levels of experience and the simple awkwardness of being out as a couple all thread through the chapters of the story. Fortunately, their chemistry is enduring, and Kunieda has done such a fine job of establishing the characters’ individual identities that the relationship never feels like a documentary or case study.
I’m of the opinion that it’s easier to dramatize the build-up to a relationship than the day-to-day realities, so Kunieda’s accomplishment here is particularly impressive. They’re a sexy couple, but they also deal with relatable, everyday issues. And I don’t think I can recall ever reading a comic about a couple talking about being recognized as a couple, not just emotionally by their families and colleagues, but legally.
I’m one of those people who tend to bitch when GLAAD announces its annual Media Award nominees for comics that require you to squint to actually spot the gay content. I’m fairly certain that GLAAD will probably ignore Future Lovers, in spite of the fact that it incorporates as good a portrayal of the value of legal recognition for gay relationships as you’re likely to find. And beyond that, it’s wonderfully entertaining – sexy, funny, dramatic, smart. It’s even triumphant by the end – a little ridiculous, but even that feels intentional, and it supports the moment.
Seriously, Future Lovers may not have been designed that way, but it ends up being one of the best gay comics I’ve ever read.