Saturday, April 23, 2022

Even Though We're Adults Volume 4 (manga review)

A young adult woman with shoulder length medium brown hair, stares at the reader by looking over her left shoulder while her body faces to the left.
    I'm going to say far I like "Even Though We're Adults" by Takako Shimura. I'll get to why in a moment. But Volume 4 continues the series about a married female school teacher who (emotionally) falls for another woman she meets, and is forced to confront new feelings as well as old problems in her marriage to a man.
    For a quick summary of volume 4, keep reading. If you don't want SPOILERS, then proceed to the wrap-up/discussion below. 

In summary, with volume 4, Ayano just can't keep away from Akari. She sees her living across the street now, runs into her at a local event, and just generally can't quit her. It ultimately culminates in her decision to move out of her home and return to her parents house while she sorts things out. Her mother-in-law prompts Ayano's husband to keep reaching out even with Ayano gone. But even after she moves out, Ayano keeps running into Akari who also decided to move away to try and give Ayano space. 
 So I started by saying that I like this series. And it needs to be discussed because Takako Shimura, for all the plaudits she receives, also gets a fair amount of criticism, particularly of her two prior big series "Sweet Blue Flowers" and "Wandering Son." For both of those series, a lot of the criticism has centered around whether or not Shimura-sensei is part of the LGBTQ+ community, and whether she should be telling these stories. It's also looked at what people view as unrealistic and somewhat naïve forms of representation in both series (and how both criticisms might intersect).
    I'm here to argue against those criticisms and my argument will also support why I like this new series so far. As a trans lesbian myself, I am not blind to what could be perceived as particularly problematic aspects to both prior series (particularly "Wandering Son") and yet I can say that both are profoundly important to me, but also that what others view as flaws, I actually see as important qualities in her work. And namely, that her stories are messy, her characters are messy, that these series don't fit into neat narratives about what the LGBTQ+ community wants as representation. 
    That messy-ness, that lack of perfect representation, is exactly what makes these interesting to me. They aren't predictable. In both the prior series we don't get the perfect happily-ever-after. Although "Sweet Blue Flowers" ending could be seen as a happy ending, it isn't for certain what their future holds in the long-run, or exactly what they are committing to. Also, the central love stories in "Wandering Son" don't come to the easy fruition they might have with other authors, to say nothing of the impact of puberty on our main characters. 
    But further, the individual characters in her stories are all imperfect people. They are complex, they don't fit into tropes or stock characterizations. Look at Akira ("Sweet Blue Flowers"), who could be the simple, happy-go-lucky, spunky character in a lesser mangaka's hands. But instead she takes risks (theater and moving schools), she is possibly aromatic/asexual, she pushes back multiple times on Fumi (our main character), she learns from her experiences and makes tough choices, etc... 
    Or take Ikumi (also "Sweet Blue Flowers"), one of my favorite characters, who is oft criticized as not being a "real" lesbian in this yuri work. She is viewed as someone infatuated with a girl, but who ultimately choses to marry her childhood male friend. But that's such a simple reading on her. She is passionate, she is complex, she makes mistakes, maybe she's bi?, maybe she's pan?, maybe she doesn't even really love Ko the way he loves her and she choses a different path for adult life and marriage than the fairy tale of passionate love that we expect in works of fiction. Or maybe she really was just infatuated with Sugimoto and not really in love with her, and really does fall in love with Ko. That's okay too!
    And what about Yoshino ("Wandering Son"), are they (and I'm using they/them pronouns for a variety of reasons) actually transgender or non-binary? Are they processing through other feelings instead and it's not really a gender thing? In any other story, they and Suichi would absolutely get together and be a couple in the end, a trans girl and a trans boy - what a perfect story to tell. But that's not happening here, we don't get perfect stories from Shimura-sensei. Yoshino is not necessarily even going to continue on the gender path that they start with as the series began. That has been one of many criticisms of this series, that this is a person who starts out clearly seeming to be a transgender boy but then doesn't fulfill our expectations of what representation of a transgender boy should be. We don't know where Yoshino's journey will go, but it doesn't seem to be the same, somewhat linear path of Suichi. 
    And I could go on and on and on about all the characters in both those series who are also equally complex and equally fail to fit into what we "want" in simple storytelling (Like how Makoto isn't attractive - cause not all trans women have to be super gorgeous you know!). But here's my point: These aren't stock characters, or stock stories with a direct path from initial angst to final love. 
    The "lead" in both series, Fumi ("Sweet Blue Flowers")and Suichi ("Wandering Son"), are actually the most straight-forward and predictable characters in these series if we look at their arcs. Fumi is clearly and simply a lesbian and is a beautiful representation that has been meaningful to me. Suichi is clearly a transgender woman, and equally important representation to me. But they are like the "straight men" in a comedy movie, they are who the funny people need to make the jokes land. But in these cases, they are the straight-forward LGBTQ+ representation that the love interests and side characters play off against to show just how messy real people in the real world are. 
    And that's why I like/love both series, and that's why I like "Even Though We're Adults." The series are messy. That's the word I keep using, and that's the word that keeps sticking in my mind. The characters aren't perfect, you can't always root for them, they don't always live up to what we "want." They are imperfect, fallible, and that to me is more rewarding as a reader than anything. 
    In many ways, Akari, is our straight-forward character in "Even Though We're Adults." She's the out lesbian, and she's fairly under-developed compared to the clearly LGBTQ+ characters Fumi and Suichi in the other series. Instead, it's Ayano, our seemingly straight married woman, who is now wrestling with feelings for a woman, as well as longstanding unrelated issues in her marriage, that is center stage and the lead in this series. A character that would be secondary, or the love-interest in the other series, is now our lead character here. Our messy character is our "heroine" and yet, it's hard to know what we want for her at the end, just as much as it's hard for her to know what she wants too. 
    And that's what has me excited by this series. It's hard to imagine it wrapping up in a nice little bow. I can think of so many wonderfully melancholy (that's not really the word I'm looking for, but I've been drawing a blank this whole time) endings that could come from this series. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Ayano divorced but also not with Akari at the end. I like that I don't know where Shimura-sensei's stories are going, I like that I can't predict what the characters will discover about themselves. That takes her works from being the straight-forward shoujo/josei/yuri to (dare I say it) literature! So I will most definitely keep reading "Even Though We're Adults." It hasn't gripped me quite as much as her prior series, and yet, Shimura-sensei is doing the messy thing again, and that's worth seeing through.


Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.


  1. This is really excellent. In the course of writing a pretty good review of Even Though We're Adults, you also managed to write probably the best and most insightful review of Sweet Blue Flowers that I've ever read --- and I've read literally dozens of them.

    I think you are correct that Ayano's journey is the heart of this story. You didn't mention it, but I also find it interesting how Akari and Ayano's husband are developing a strange connection themselves due to being caught up together in this whole messy and awkward situation.

    Finally, you wrote "I can think of so many wonderfully melancholy (that's not really the word I'm looking for, but I've been drawing a blank this whole time) endings that could come from this series." Perhaps the word you're looking for is "wistful"?

    1. Awww, thank you. I'm blushing. And yes, wistful is a wonderful word for that feeling. I was probably thinking of "bittersweet" which is a feeling I love in the endings of stories but that I have zero ability to recall when it's the word I want to write! :) I'm actually working on writing my first new album of music in 17 years and I'm thinking of calling it "Bittersweet."

      Ayano's husband is fascinating to me on many levels, and I hadn't totally noticed the growing "bond" with Akari until you mentioned it. One scene that continues to haunt me is from an earlier volume but then referenced here where he says that Ayano doesn't get to decide if they divorce or not. I've struggled to unravel that, is it a cultural thing? Is it an actual legal thing in Japan? Does he mean it more from a "we decide together" sort of thing? Is it misogynistic? That line haunts me.


Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3