Long before I blogged about anime, I wrote fan fiction. All of it is awful. The stories that made an attempt at romance are especially bad. My buildup and character development was solid; however, upon reaching the point where the two characters would actually be together, or admit their love for one another, I wouldn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to write romance competently, never mind any sort of sexual interaction. I still don’t.
Upon visiting a high school friend in Boston this past May, he asked me if I still wrote any sort of fiction, fan or otherwise. I disappointed him by saying no, and attributed my lack of production to numerous things – this blog being one of them – including my romance struggles mentioned above. As the former top writer of erotica for his university magazine, sex scenes are old hat for him at this point. He is still currently writing, and attempting to be published.
I asked him what his secret was. His response?
“Writing about sex somehow also has to be funny, but not too funny. Because sex is fucking awkward.”
Bonnouji is a manga that focuses on two adults: Zenji Oyamada, and Michiyo Ozawa. Picking up immediately following Ozawa’s breakup with her boyfriend, it focuses on the slow buildup of a friendship between Ozawa and her neighbor, Oyamada – prior to their inevitable romantic relationship – that begins when the former has to use the bathroom after a night of drinking. Oyamada’s apartment, nicknamed Bonnouji, is filled with mystery boxes and clutter that Oyamada’s brother randomly ships to him on his travels.
The charm in Bonnouji comes from its lack of tension. This is often considered a bad thing – no dramatic tension often translates to “boring” – but Bonnouji eschews this by making its central relationship, and the safe haven of the apartment itself, relaxing and worth returning to. One reads to watch Ozawa and Oyamada enjoy each others’ company without complication. Ozawa begins regularly visiting Oyamada to witness whatever is in the latest box from his brother. Each opening of a new package brings with it another odd piece of decor, media, or appliance that the two can share together. Like Ozawa and her curiosity with the boxes, we as an audience begin to regularly stop in to see the latest developments in Ozawa and Oyamada’s relationship.
When societal expectations of what a relationship should be inevitably creep in, Oyamada and Ozawa sort out their problems by speaking with one another. Specifically, a coworker berates Ozawa for not having slept with Oyamada after dating him for so long. She tells Ozawa to be more feminine and attractive. Later, the same coworker plays with Ozawa’s fear of not being married yet, along with the possibility that marriage will change her and Oyamada’s relationship. In each case, Ozawa and Oyamada make it through with little drama, reaffirming not only their love for one another, but the fact that they simply enjoy passing time with each other.
Any doubts that the two may have are not necessarily solved instantly. In fact, their sex life is fraught with awkward and shy moments, along with misunderstandings. Things don’t always fall in place. Often, as my friend asserted, sex is both funny and awkward. It is also intimate and soft. Bonnouji captures all of these aspects in a surprisingly realistic fashion, and envelopes them with an additionally warm layer of friendship.
If I were to ever return to fiction writing, I’d want to write a story like Bonnouji. Something pleasant and funny, where the emotional payoff lies not in one being cheated on, or who will choose to go out with whom, but in the enjoyment that two, admittedly weird, people can find in one another, regardless of societal expectations.