Say what you want Tokyo Pop as a publisher; they have in this incarnation sharpened a talent for selecting a single volume BL titles that are a cut above. Much of this is in terms of works that combine a sweet romance with some sort of tortured desire, and while nothing has quite reached the level of There are things that I can’t tell you, Glass syndrome combines the most lustful aspects of its genre with a heartfelt love story, creating characters that you desperately want to see happy because life has beaten them to the point where they’re not even sure it’s even possible anymore.
Glass syndrome follows two high school students, Toomi and Nijou. Nijou is outwardly the better of the two – he’s good looking, athletic, smart and always ready to lend a hand. What no one realizes, however, is that this is to some extent an act: somewhere along the line people put him in the role of “good-natured talent” and he. is unable to free himself from it. Partly this is because he’s afraid to do anything that contradicts the image people have of him, and even though he may refuse small things (playing basketball after school), he feels obligated to accept more important requests, such as those posed by a teacher. This is how he ends up meeting Toomi, a classmate of whom he had only peripheral awareness. Toomi has been away for far too many days according to the teachers’ tally, so Nijou ends up complying with his teacher’s request to stop by Toomi’s apartment and see what happens.
The answer is “no good”. Toomi is the not-so-proud owner of one of manga’s worst debt fathers; his father, after his mother died, started playing and ended up cleaning the safe at work and running away. Toomi finds himself with no money, no parents, and a feeling of abandonment that seems very real – his mother has died, sending his father spiraling downwards, who then abandoned him in two ways: first by withdrawing in his grief to the point where he didn’t pay attention to his son, and second in a more literal abandonment when he ran away. This is when Toomi becomes desperate; his father left the insurance money from his wife’s life insurance policy alone, but it was not enough for Toomi to live on. To support himself, he ends up turning to sex work: he dresses in drag and does what are essentially online chat-based peepshows. There is a very real feeling that it both allows her to eat and also gives her a slight sense of being needed; after all, if there are people who watch the performances of “Haruka”, then it means that there are people who care about him, even if only a little.
So the emotional thrust of the Hanime story is how Toomi and Nijou find what they lack in their lives within each other. Nijou provides Toomi with company based on who he really is, and Toomi grants Nijou permission to be fully himself without any performative aspect, which he doesn’t believe is possible even with his parents. (The only glimpse we have of Nijou’s family life is when his mother does not question his statement that he ate on the way home from high school, which could indicate confidence or that he doesn’t feel taken care of, depending on who’s point of view we’re engaging with.) When Nijou first arrives at Toomi’s apartment and the two of them realize what’s going on and get a Toomi’s sarcastic rebuke about him being a teacher’s pet, Nijou is forced to face himself in front of another person for the first time. time, vomiting in his emotional anguish. This shows Toomi that there is more to Nijou while allowing Nijou to see that there is are people he can let his guard down. It’s a relatively short scene, but one that colors the whole book, establishing the theme of feeling safe and cared for in a world that forces the two boys to feel pressured to put on masks to keep themselves afloat.
Romance isn’t quite perfect. Nijou finding a map with the web address for Toomi’s online activities seems artificial (why would Toomi leave this in a coat pocket?), And we can see why Toomi falls in love with Nijou much more clearly than the other way around. , in part because Toomi’s trajectory is more emotional while Nijou is at least partly busy finding what Toomi does online sexually stimulating. There is certainly nothing wrong with him being sexually attracted to Toomi, in or out of the drag, but it does create a complication in that Toomi is not. really work of their own free will; he was more or less forced into work by his circumstances. The epilogue chapter shows us that when it comes to Nijou, Toomi is comfortable with whatever her boyfriend likes, but in the main story it adds a bit to the romance and is the basis for Toomi to question Nijou’s feelings at some point. point.
Notwithstanding this problem, Glass syndrome overall is a good book. The plot nicely combines pathos and lust, and we have a very real feeling that the two protagonists deserve to be happy and that they can be together. Despite Toomi’s work, it’s not that self-explanatory, with the sex scene happening off the page and Nijou’s fantasy of Toomi more implicit than shown. There’s an unrelated short story also included (with its own epilogue) that isn’t as good as it doesn’t have the space to develop the romance or the characters, but overall it’s worth it. to be read if you like your romance on the angst side and don’t mind (or dislike) an explicit lack of sex in your BL.