Maki Motoharu is a professional architect content to let his conservative clients think he’s too devoted to his job to take a wife. The truth is that Motoharu is a closeted homosexual with a thing for younger men. He is also workaholic who is too busy to take proper care of his pet cat, Shinobu. It’s no small wonder, then, that Shinobu disappears one day, seemingly gone for good.
Master and pet are fortuitously reunited a few days later, thanks to Ohki Kouta—a construction worker who found Shiobu on the street. Unfortunately, his act of kindness toward a lost animal caused Kouta to be kicked out of his apartment, as his complex does not allow pets. Half in thanks and half because of his attraction to the young teenager, Motoharu agrees to let Kouta move in with him. The two quickly fall into bed with one another…but have they also fallen in love?
The plot of Punch Up! is a collection of the worst romance novel clichés, from ex-gangster lovers to plot-induced amnesia. The first two books are made up primarily of a series of random arguments between our two male protagonists. These scenes are interrupted by Motoharu and Kouta having fantastic sex and scenes of the two men at work, where they mostly talk with their gay male co-workers about the fantastic sex they had the night before.
There is no serious drama until Volume 3, when an accident at work leaves Kouta with a serious case of amnesia that not only removes his memories of Motoharu, but also all his memories of being gay. Even then the only gripping part of the story lies in Kouta’s stress over everyone’s expectations that he will turn into a man that he sees as a total stranger and his fears that nobody loves who he is now.
The biggest problem with this series is that one of our main characters is entirely unsympathetic. One of the supporting cast says it best in Volume 4: “Motoharu is arrogant, moody, flaky, warped, and eternally horny. The only good things about him are his looks and job talent.” Motoharu flirts shamelessly with any cute younger man who comes into his office, yet pitches a fit when his boyfriend/roommate dares to have a conversation with another man.
This might be written off as an acceptable character quirk were it not for Motoharu being completely unsympathetic even before he nearly rapes the amnesic Kouta. The only thing that stops Motoharu from going through with the rape is a fear that it would cause Kouta to hate him forever, not the fact that Kouta is mentally 15 years old and still in denial about his homosexuality. Another vexing point is the implication that Kouta’s homosexuality is the result of his being molested by his transsexual brother’s Yakuza boyfriend as a teenager.
The artwork of Shiuko Kano is decent, but not particularly memorable. Indeed, her characters look so similar that the only thing that differentiates them from one another is hairstyles. There are some anatomical oddities throughout the book, such as Motoharu’s freakishly long neck on the cover of Volume 3.
This series is rated M for Mature and it earns its rating. Ignoring the explicit content in the artwork, the plot requires a degree of maturity and experience even older teen audiences are unlikely to possess. Unfortunately, immature audiences are the only ones who may find anything erotic in the increasingly creepy relationship between Kouta and Motoharu as the story progresses.
Punch Up! Vol. 1-4
by Shiuko Kano
Art by Shiuko Kano
Volume 1 ISBN: 9781421543482
Volume 2 ISBN: 9781421543505
Volume 3 ISBN: 9781421543543
Volume 4 ISBN: 9781421543550
Publisher Age Rating: M (18+)