Mini Book Review: Mine-kun is Asexual by Uta Isaki

Japanese cover of Mine-kun is Asexual; a young man with dark hair and eyes looks straight at the viewer, smiling, while a young woman with long dark hair looks at him, her expression slightly quizzical. It is a landscape picture turned 90 degrees to fit on the book cover (the words in the title are oriented correctly)
峰くんはノンセクシャル | Mine-kun is Asexual by Uta Isaki
Digital download jp | en | Hardcopy (jp only)

Review

Mine-kun is Asexual is a doujinshi released in April 2020, translated in English in September(?) 2020. The main character, Murai, confesses to her friend Mine that she likes him, and he responds to this by clarifying that he’s asexual. After a little conversation, Mine admits that if she’s fine with a relationship without sex, he does like her a lot, so they begin to date.

I read this in Japanese, but there is a review of the translated version here, and I would like to shout out Mercedez both for the review and for alerting me to this doujin’s existence in the first place. Spoiler alert, but my opinion is going to differ from hers, so I encourage you to read her perspective as well especially if you’re one of the poor unsuspecting people who wander over from TAA for my media reviews unprepared for what you’re getting yourself into.

This is an #ownvoices work, though in the endnote the author, Uta Isaki, says that Mine is not based explicitly on their own asexuality. There are several places that strike me with their verisimilitude, both from Mine himself and the limits he puts on the kind of relationship he can imagine because of his understanding of his situation, and Murai’s difficulty in grokking the reality of hers. Murai also has a best friend who says all of those cynical, hurtful things we’re used to hearing (compounded by the fact that Mine is biromantic). There are several places that are painfully earnest, and some that are just genuinely funny; I laughed out loud at the last panel from their convo about sex maybe not being essential to relationships. It’s identified a real complicated spot for aces and those they date, and there are no heroes or villains (apart from Mine’s fannish devotion to the “Marbel” cinematic universe). Both Mine and Murai feel like real people who are not reduced to or defined by their sexual orientations.

That said, there are several things about this story I don’t like, most importantly the ending. It’s clear as day from the start that this is not going to end well, so just on a pure emotional level, it’s kind of hard to enjoy when you’re bracing for the mack truck to hit you. [Mild spoilers; highlight to read] I’m not mad that the ending is kind of a bummer, but rather I don’t think the emotional logic follows. You can’t just say with words that aces aren’t “less” when the plot inadvertently leads the reader to that conclusion. I know this a hobby horse of mine, but I don’t appreciate reproduction of such situations in the absence of clear authorial intent, though again, it’s not a dealbreaker. Moreover, I’m very put off that it seems that this was the end of their friendship as well. [/spoilers] I’m not the sort of person that demands that all representation has to be “good” and/or “positive,” but I’m concerned that Mine’s behavior and feelings might be particularly difficult for a non-ace audience to parse. This comes back to what I think is the main flaw in the work: Murai is the narrator, not Mine. To clarify: I have seen (and have written) works where we get the non-ace partner’s POV, and I think that can work well in certain situations or to achieve certain writing goals. Most of what we get from Murai’s narration is her confusion, though, which I think we could get pretty clearly already from the artwork. Mine is hard for me to empathize with in certain places, and I am a don’t-touch-me, hard-repulsed ace who had a similarly ill-advised relationship when I was younger (also, I’m a huge nerd). So what was the writing goal here? Could be same hat, but the person’s too far away to be sure? Don’t be mean to ace/bi people when they come out to you, even though you’ll probably find them impossible to understand?

If doujin are your preferred medium, then you’ll probably be glad to read Mine-kun is Asexual. But if you’re an English-speaker (and kudos for making it all the way through this review if you’re not!), there are plenty of better takes on this concept available to you, and you’re not missing anything if you skip it. If you’re looking for Japanese-language takes… well, I have two manga in the mail right now that might change this evaluation, but I can see why you might be a little starved for content, especially in this combination of male repulsed biromantic ace. But if you just want to get your heart stomped on in service of an examination of ace issues… Shuumatsu wa Kazoku has been right here for 9 years, and you actually get to hear what the ace has to say.

Not Review

So, you might be like, “that was harsh,” and I can see why you would think that. The truth is, I was :/ toward this from the title, and I think it’s worth taking a minute to clarify why.

The title of this work is not Mine-kun is Asexual; it is Mine-kun is Nonsexual. I have been Publicly Unhappy about this concept for the past decade, but to recap: “asexual” would map in English to “aromantic asexual” while “nonsexual” maps to “romantic asexual.” In my my practical experience, this line was created solely to enforce separation between the two groups (and enable elitism). Now, I’m nowhere near as plugged in to Japanese ace communities as I used to be, but my impression is that this language was falling by the wayside in favor of the double-barrel orientation we’re familiar with in English. I have mixed feelings about this too, for cultural reasons, but inasmuch as asexuality seems to be inextricably linked with the “new” and/or “foreign,” I prefer these communities I’ve seen that erase this line, both for reasons political and personal. To see this concept casually carry the entire doujin… well, it doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies, I’ll tell you that. I knew it wasn’t entirely gone, but the more it’s memorialized in print the worse, in my opinion.

Isaki recommends people read Arai Shou’s books to learn about LGBTQ+ topics, and I can’t speak to their content. However, the way Isaki phrases it, together with a couple of other things, leads me to wonder how much community they have access to. This is not a criticism—there are no minimum qualifications for writing about your own orientation, and we need perspectives from people in all sort of situations and stages of life. But it does inescapably color how Tired I am reading it.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for the shout-out, especialyl for something as important to me as “Mine-kun”. I also really appreciate your perspective: I think it’s incredibly valid and really important to the conversation around this one-shot. Really looking forward to seeing/reading more of your perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for coming by and reading! I kind of have a reputation as a negative nancy, and I try my best to say nice things about things I don’t like, but it’s so nice to have someone who enjoyed the work to link to for a change, so thank you again for writing your review!

    Like

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