Manga-ka: Makoto Tateno
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: May 2010
Synopsis: “Naive and easy-going Kousaka is a bartender at a local popular hangout place. One night, a couple–a young mischievous, spirited guy and a rich, handsome and well-groomed man walk in. Kousaka noticed that they seemed a bit odd being together-but little did he know, they weren’t there for happy hour drinks! They were there to approach Kousaka and to be a part of their 3-way relationship. When he finally realizes that he is wanted by the two-Kousaka finds himself embroiled in a messy love triangle! Now what will he do?”
Some boys’ love manga can only be enjoyed by stretching your disbelief. For example, in How to Control a Sidecar, one of the characters goes through a horrible trauma, only to brush it off. In real life no one would react the way this guy reacts, but, this isn’t the real world. It’s still a little disconcerting to see a manga casually wave off something like rape, especially since otherwise How to Control a Sidecar is a fun manga.
Kousaka is shocked when he finally figures out that the bar he works at is a gay bar. Kousaka is straight but that doesn’t stop two certain patrons from hitting on him. Fumi and Kanashiro are a couple who order the same thing every night: a drink called a ‘sidecar’. Every night they proposition Kousaka, but Kousaka adamantly turns them down.
Gradually Kousaka gets to know the strange couple better. It turns out that the two aren’t really in a relationship. They used to have an arrangement with a third man where the man was both Fumi and Kanashiro’s boyfriend (Kanashiro and Fumi never got together). But one day the man left both of them, and the two are looking for someone who can be ‘their’ boyfriend. Both have taken a liking to Kousaka, since he not only looks like their former lover he also makes a mean sidecar (the lover’s favourite drink).
Kousaka is soon in over his head as he tries to help both Fumi and Kanashiro move on. They do manage to get over their abandonment, though both still like Kousaka. Kousaka still isn’t interested in a threesome, but leaves the door open to going out with one of them. This turns Fumi and Kanashiro into rivals as they playfully fight for Kousaka’s affection.
The most entertaining part of the series is when the two friends fight over Kousaka. It’s not just a matter of which guy Kousaka likes better, but also whether he wants to top or bottom: Fumi is an extremely girly-boy while Kanashiro is a stereotypical seme. According to the author’s notes, Kousaka was designed to look like he could fill either role, and it works. It’s a nice angle on the usual love triangle and different from say, two seme fighting over a uke or two ukes vying for a seme’s affection.
But even the nifty plot is weighed down by an event early on in the book. Kousaka gets raped and eventually not only forgives his attacker but ends up with him. The whole event seems out of place for an otherwise pretty light-hearted book. The rape gets brought up several times throughout the story by other characters (partly as a bit of a running joke) and it’s hard to shake the feeling of ‘what the hell?’ as Kousaka falls for the guy who raped him. It’s not so much a plot hole, since we follow Kousaka’s train of thought as he comes to forgive and forget, but it’s just such a leap from how the mind of any real-life sane person would work that it makes the book seem like something from another dimension.
At least Makoto Tateno’s art is consistent. Most yaoi fans will know her artwork from the popular series Yellow. Sometimes her faces a little off, especially when it’s from a 3/4s perspective, but overall her character designs are pretty. For the most part her layouts are pretty per functionary, but every now and then she’ll pull out a really effective layout (for example, the scene where Kanashiro kisses Kousaka for the first time perfectly encapsulates the flow of a stolen kiss).
Despite issues with the plot, readers can still enjoy How to Control a Sidecar, since the idea behind the love triangle was an intriguing one. It’s just worth wishing the plot it went with was a little better.