Manga-ka: Kou Yoneda
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: November 2010
Synopsis: “On his very first day at a brand-new job, shy Shima is trapped in the elevator with a hungover mess of a guy…who turns out to be his boss! Togawa’s prickly exterior definitely puts the rookie recruit on-edge, but it doesn’t take long before Shima’s every waking thought is invaded by his overbearing yet totally thoughtful superior. Will Shima put aside a history of disappointment in order to take a chance on a complicated relationship?”
From the summary No Touching At All sounds like plenty of other workplace yaoi where an overbearing boss harasses his shy subordinate into some after-hours hanky-panky. But No Touching At All is a less a sordid office scandal and more of a laid-back love story. The slow pacing really helps sell the realism of the characters and the world. If you’re looking for a yaoi where the characters are going at it from page one, this isn’t it. The characters spend more time working at their cubicles than they do making out (another touch of realism).
The story does start with the characters in bed together, one sleeping while the other watches. The first few pages are beautifully laid out with amazing toning. It’s a nice little prelude before getting thrown into the actual story, going back a few months to when the characters first met. Shima is starting a new job at a computer company. On his first day he gets off on the wrong foot with Togawa, his boss. Togawa is an outgoing guy who sometimes goes too far with his teasing, while Shima is a surly, sensitive quiet guy who often takes things the wrong way. In other words, not a good combination.
As the two work together, Togawa learns to hold back on his caustic comments and Shima slowly comes out of his shell. As they grow closer Shima starts to fall for his straight superior, and Togawa starts to fall in love with a guy for the first time. But even once they admit their feelings, they still have to deal with their pasts as well as their uncertain future.
It’s a simple story, but what makes it work is that the manga-ka doesn’t try to turn it into a wrung out melodrama. Even the more extreme, angsty parts of the story are revealed in a low-key way. Both Shima and Togawa have tragic pasts, but the subtle way the manga-ka reveals them keeps things from going over the top. One way the manga-ka does this is by having the characters react to the things in realistic ways, such as in the scene where Togawa tells Shima about his family. In a more cliché yaoi, the uke would listen to Togawa’s tragic story and then tearfully launch himself at him, telling him that he doesn’t have to worry, they’ll always have each other. But in this manga Shima acts differently. Instead of comforting Togawa, Shima acts like a selfish jerk. It’s not a nice response, but it’s one that rings true to the character and to real life.
The pacing is both the series greatest strength and weakness. The slow pace makes the Shima and Togawa’s relationship believable, but at times it almost seems like too much build-up. However the manga-ka does use the time to develop the characters and set up plot points for later, so it’s not as though there’s much filler.
The art is beautiful throughout. Yoneda has a very solid, clear style. Even inanimate objects look like they have texture and weight to them, and the backgrounds look like places where people actually live and work rather than just a setting for a story. But the real highlight is the characters. There’s no denying that both Togawa and Shima are pretty boys, but they’re not super-beautiful or extremely feminine. They just look like a couple of normal guys who are slightly more good looking than people in real life. Their different personalities shine through in their body language, and there are some great moments in the manga where the characters figure things out just from observing each other.
No Touching At All is a great drama that would appeal to anyone who likes a good story with interesting characters and fantastic art. As the story drew closer to the end I thought for sure the manga-ka was going to take the easy way out and go for a conventional ending. Instead she stays true to her work by having Togawa and Shima make a choice that is both grounded in reality and in character. I’m very excited to see future work from such a mature story-teller.