There are, generally speaking, two types of josei titles: the down to earth ones and the Arlekin-like ones. Barairo My Honey is definitely the second type; I mean, the main love interest is the tall black-haired stern-face specimen who just so happens to have been born in wealth. Of course, we also have a rival who’s the laid-back boy next door. However, Ohmi Tomu, known for her Midnight Secretary and Spell of Desire, was in the mood of gifting us with an utterly cute and fresh romance. Let me tell you why this three-volume captured my affections.
Unlike a big percentage of romances, the female main character has actually… character and agency. Koume is a really pretty 19-year-old woman working at a printing house with a sharp tongue and admirable confidence. When she’s first introduced to the reader we see her dump publicly her ex-boyfriend for two-timing her. Yes, you read well: her ex-boyfriend. Although she’s a young adult and hasn’t yet stepped into her twenties, she’s not an inexperienced virgin -a trope in romance stories that’s honestly very dated and annoying as hell. More importantly she’s opiniated and stands her ground. Her spontaneity helps her give prompt replies in the right occasions and she’s also shown to be a fast-learner. Koume isn’t perfect though: her stubborness is expressed in a childish way and she can easily be coaxed into doing things others want of her.
I’ve also mentioned her consisted agency as a factor that sets her apart from the rest of Ohmi Tomu’s heroines as well as Arlekin-like josei (see also Enjouji Maki). Having read the majority of her works, her boy meets girl narratives often start as coersion in circumstances beyond the heroine’s control. In Anata ni Hana O Sasagemashou Seri’s and Yuzuki’s engagement is arranged by their families and Seri initially despises her fiancee; in Midnight Secretary Kaya is practically held hostage in her secretary position once she witnessed her vampire boss sucking blood from one of the woman he sleeps with in his office; in Ryuujin-sama to Oyome-sama Mizuho is “sold” by her father to a dragon god. Koume might be in a boss-subordinate relationship with Mikage but they fall in love mutually, she isn’t forced into any sexual activity even once, and she gets away from her kidnappers by threatening them.
What makes this series shine, however, is how it stomps on toxic masculinity. You know, how “men don’t cry” and “men should provide for their family” and “men should hit the hand on the table and their word is the law”, which lead to violence, depression and suicide. In the core of Barairo My Honey there’s the myth that gods gifted the Tomonaga group with exceptional power but as a side effect this power manifests as a tiger-spirit that may go rampant and hurt those around. Thus, Tomonaga sought to control the tiger through their affiliation with the Kazamori, who raised tiger tamers, although not every member had such powers. The presumption until the arrival of Koume in the picture was that the tiger is inherently harmful and should be kept inside at all costs, but what really happens is that the tiger appears as a result of suppressing every emotion. Mikage was pressured from a very young age to be the leader, to never show emotions -or he’d be considered weak-, and to meet everyone’s expectations of him.
Koume comes into Mikage’s life and gets through: she helps him connect with his feelings and express them little by little whenever possible, she hugs him and reassures him he won’t hurt anyone and even if she gets scraped, it won’t be his fault and she’ll stay by his side. What Koume does is actually breaking down the equation of masculinity with power and aggression and helping Mikage get rid of the guilt and fears he bottled up. She points out the misunderstandings caused by the combination of his laconic statements with his contantly stern face and shows he doesn’t need to reinforce any self-fulfilling prophecy on himself. Of course, one can’t break totally free of social etiquette, but it’s reassuring enough to know there’s a time and space where one can let some steam off.
Likewise when Koume has to oblige to the patriarchial strict rules of being a “proper lady” in order to prove herself as a suitable bride, she feels estranged from the people around her. The competitiveness she’s engaged in and the perfection she’s expected to display made her feel lonely, so it’s Mikage’s turn to show her tenderness, validate her feelings and encourage her to ask for help and not take everything up on her own.
Talking about expressing emotions and communicating, Tomu’s use of tiger doesn’t only please animal lovers, furries and kawaii fans but also acts as emotional fanservice since Mikage can’t change from one moment to the next and still acts a bit akward. If you ask people writing/ drawing/ filming porn for women or everyday women themselves, many will tell you that there are few things as enjoyable as watching the content/ excited/ embarassed face of their lovers. Women take as much satisfaction as men from reading the vulnerability across the face of the object of their desire and listening to their moaning. I find this reflection triggered by cute Mr. Tiger very important.
As for the other aspects of Barairo My Honey, the art is very much my cup of tea: highly detailed eyes and hair and great animal anatomy, too. The page layout has sufficient space to breath and Tomu demonstrates she’s comfortable in her work by using different panel shapes and sizes where she deems right. She draws in such a way that the reading is never hindered and flows nicely.
Her dialogs on the other hand feel unnatural at times and certain situations are tad hard to imagine in real life (eg. Koume’s straightforward reactions in the office without repurcussions), but the genre’s conventions give her free pass on this aspect. Some plot points could have been worked so as to give us something more innovative, for example Koutarou’s love for both Mikage and Koume could have given us a perfect OT3, but that’s my nitpicking.
At the end of vol3 there are two side stories which don’t add much to the main story, especially if you consider the second is totally unrelated. The publisher probably needed to fill the space, but I’d appreciated it more if it was about life within marriage for our couple and their friends. There was space to see Koume as wife, mother, PR-person and as a competent working woman -a chance waisted. Instead she gave us Night for Love and Good Luck Charm. It’s obvious Tomu was trying to convey a message with Good Luck Charm concerning getting over any Electra complex and depedency on men; but I’m not sure as to what she was trying to say with Night for Love, which is the story of the director and uncle of Mikage. Perhaps she wanted to comment on the idealization of women’s male interests and howmen’s attitudes are shaped from their surroundings, but she did so quite clumsily in my humble opinion.
All in all, Barairo My Honey is a fluff, pleasant little series with food for thought if you’re willing to put on your critical lenses. It might not be flawless but it is sure to engage you!