I suspect that Kai Asou might have been indulging in little irony when she titled Only Serious About You (Digital Manga Publishing), as her storytelling is extremely conscientious. She fleshes out every beat of the story, which makes it a little slow to start, but it proves to be a very rewarding strategy as the plot moves along.
Oosawa is a single father who works as a cook at a pub. He juggles his demanding job with the needs of his young daughter, Chizu. Yoshioka is a regular customer, a gay guy with a string of exes who can’t quite seem to entirely let go or fully commit. Oosawa finds Yoshioka’s romantic life baffling and his flirting irksome, but Yoshioka steps up when Chizu gets sick. He takes father and daughter into his home, and the visit is prolonged when Oosawa comes down with a fever himself.
There’s a degree of implausibility to the set-up, and I’ve never quite understood the dire import the Japanese seem to place on the common cold. Still, it forces Oosawa and Yoshioka into close proximity, and it allows Asou to explore Yoshioka’s true nature, which is much more generous and sensitive than his behavior in the pub suggested.
There’s also the pesky “suddenly possibly gay” gambit that crops up a lot in this category, but Asou’s meticulous approach helps smooth this over. This volume is much more about Oosawa getting to know Yoshioka as a person than it is about an instantaneous, inexplicable attraction. Both guys are fairly guarded for different reasons, and it’s very sweet to see Oosawa start to want to figure out what makes Yoshioka tick, then build on his understanding of his surprisingly dependable and compassionate new friend.
Readers might also wonder why Asou would place so much trust in a stranger, especially when it comes to the care of his daughter, but Asou makes that fairly easy to set aside. Oosawa is a very dedicated father, and the rendering of the challenges faced by a single parent feels very authentic. Low key as the story generally is, there’s a real sharpness to Asou’s portrayal of how one small thing can throw Oosawa’s life out of whack. It allows the reader to share in both his anxiety when things go wrong and his relief when thing work out.
The art is generically attractive. Asou clearly favors the lanky body type, but it’s easy to distinguish one character from another. (This isn’t always true, not just in yaoi but in just about any type of manga that features a large, primarily male cast.) She does a nice job with body language and day-to-day activities that help ground the work. There are also some funny little visual grace notes that any mangaka should have in her or his toolkit.
Asou gets little moments so right. In the beginning, this feels too scrupulous and mundane. As things progress, and as readers get to know the characters better, these articulated bits of life gain more weight. By the halfway point, I found myself smiling in recognition or indulging in a little wistfulness at how things were progressing. It’s quite a lovely experience – not particularly urgent and certainly not stylized, but definitely immersive in a very gentle way. I’m really looking forward to seeing how things turn out for these characters.