Older and wiser, Naoto and Taichi are back again in Ogeretsu Tanaka’s second installment of the Escape Journey series.
The story picks up a few years after book one, with the charismatic couple busy finishing their senior year of college. The turbulence in their relationship is gone, thanks to their efforts to learn from one another and grow together. Things start to change, however, when Taichi decides to enter the Mr. S University pageant in hopes of winning a trip-for-two hot springs vacation. After Nishina, an angsty art student, spots Naoto and Taichi sharing an affectionate moment on campus, the drama returns. Blackmail, secrets, insecurity and an unknown future threaten the very foundation of a relationship they thought would last forever.
Tanaka’s sophomore effort is a strong one, tackling the issues introduced in book one to a greater extent. The lack of social acceptance for two men in a loving relationship is a sad reality. The two worry their families will disown them and their friends will shun them. And their worries are not without cause. Tradition is hard to break away from, especially familial pressure to marry and start a family of one’s own. Both of the young men’s families persistently pressure them about girlfriends and getting serious. After Taichi does muster enough courage to come out to his mother, her initial reaction is, “Is it… my fault?”
The decision to come out is another difficult issue the two must grapple with. While Taichi is ready to make their relationship public and handle whatever repercussions there may be, Naoto is ambivalent. As someone very close to his family, the threat of losing this bond for the sake of one relationship is a major risk. Discrimination also is a factor, as evidenced by the realtor who indicates that rental applications are approved or denied based on sexual orientation.
Additional stressors include the uncertainties that pop up in any committed relationship. Can they last forever? Is their love enough to justify all of the hardships? What happens next? And when it comes to the future, the two also face the uncertainties of graduation. From worry over credit load to finding a job, their struggles will resonate with many adults on the threshold of such a major transition.
Complementing the text, the highly detailed illustrations create expressive characters who pull readers in. Tanaka alternates between character close-ups and bird’s eye views to heighten the intensity of more intimate moments and convey action, respectively.
The bedroom scenes, quite explicit in nature, also rely more on image than text to tell the story. In fact, the text is reduced to auditory descriptors of the action unfolding within the illustrations. This effectively captures the physicality of the experience by engaging the senses. The pictures also reveal more about the characters’ inner emotional states. In many frames, Naoto looks pained during intimate moments, suggesting a lack of mutual enjoyment unexplored within the story itself.
Overall, I enjoyed observing how the main characters change from book one, growing as individuals and as lovers. The two have overcome their uncertainties about their relationship; and are committed to one another wholeheartedly. Taichi is much more thoughtful and attuned to Naoto’s needs, though he still borders on losing control when he becomes upset or impassioned. I do question why Tanaka made the decision to jump ahead several years. In doing so, readers miss out on watching this relationship evolve as well as the majority of Taichi’s and Naoto’s college experience.
I do commend the author for her commitment to creating a nuanced, complex, “other guy” character in Nishina. Neither good nor bad, his decision to blackmail is complicated by his strong morals and tragic past. Readers will struggle with their opinions about him, which makes for a compelling story that delves into the complications of life and relationships.
I also am glad to see the bike motif return. As in the first book, the bicycle serves as a symbol of the two’s relationship, connecting them as well as offering an “escape journey” from the physical and emotional confines of the city.
Ending in a cliffhanger, the book will keep readers wanting more. It is most appropriate for adults due to the explicit content.
Escape Journey Volume 2
By Ogeretsu Tanaka
Sublime Manga, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: M for Mature
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Character Traits: Gay