Thursday, May 4, 2023

Doughnuts under a Crescent Moon volume 4 (Manga Review)

Two adult women holding hands smiling and in love
10/9/23 - There was a comment below that had me really thinking, and I responded to it. But I haven't been able to let it go, because while I think the commenter raises some good and very true issues with my perspective, I also think that the quality of my own writing didn't express what I was trying to get across. So with that, I've edited and added to this review to better represent what I meant. So that the edits don't undermine the original commenter, I have left anything I'm removing in the post but with strikethroughs. Anything I'm adding from the original are now colored blue so you can all see what was changed. I appreciate whenever a comment has me doing so much introspection. In this case, it was a mix of unpacking my own bias mixed with realizing that a fast-take no-edit post probably didn't do my underlying issue with the series/volume any help. On to the edited review:

Whelp, "Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon" volume 4 (the final volume) manages to take a very mediocre manga and absolutely destroy it with a major "fuck you" conclude it with an unexpected and poorly set-up character-based explanation at the very end. 
    Basically, I spent all but last page or so of this 4 volume series thinking/hoping/expecting that it was about two adult women's burgeoning understanding of themselves and desire to be in a relationship with each other. I'm always hoping for that because there either isn't much romance Josei being written or just isn't that much being translated (or a combination). So I'm pretty desperate for adult lesbian representation that isn't too trashy (written by men?) or too emotionally dark. Sometimes I just want that nice "cup of evening hot chocolate" type lesbian romance (I don't even know if that metaphor makes sense, lol). And while Doughnuts (my American brain cannot adjust to it being spelled that way - come on, it's DONUTS! amiright!?!?! lol) does deliver on the LGBTQ representation in its own way, it didn't deliver on its final reveal in a literarily-solid way (now I'm just making up words, so sue me!). If you don't want spoilers, don't read the rest of this post. 
    Basically, for 3.99 volumes it's been a series about two women gradually coming to see that what they want from the other is an actual romantic relationship. And while it's been fairly pedestrian in writing, and a bit sub-par in art, it's been harmless enough. Boring really, but harmless.
    However, and here's Here's the big SPOILER: at the very end of the very last chapter, when they finally get together as a couple, the volume is concluded with (I'm paraphrasing here): "Even though we are romantically into each other, in love, want to live and spend the rest of our lives together, we don't actually want to touch or kiss each other." Hinako comes out as asexual (not in so many words) to Asahi and she's frightened Asahi will want more than she can give. But then Asahi reassures her that she's asexual too (again, not in so many words).  It's not that message that's the issue, but the blunt way Asahi's response to Hinako's coming out to her about her asexuality is written that undermines the reveal and the series' tension. It seems out of nowhere that Asahi just goes "welp, I'm the same" - conflict resolved. Too fast.
    Now before you get upset at me, I fully and wholeheartedly support folks on the asexual spectrum. But "Bloom Into You" this is not. There have been zero, I mean NO, hints at any point throughout the series that these were asexual individuals looking for romance only   I would love a low-key, low-stakes, slow-burn aroace, or aroace series. But just like Chekov's gun in reverse, shouldn't there be some hints that this is a possible orientation/identity/spectrum the characters find themselves on? Shouldn't coming to understand that about oneself or each other be part of the character development and/or plot arc of a series explicitly about two people coming together as a couple (some foreshadowing)? I don't know. (editor's note, the original commenter below makes a good point about people - including me - assuming default socially standard identities when no indication is given and making minority identities have to be blatantly portrayed to be believable in media. It's a good point.) So on my first read, I just didn't find any evidence that this was a possible resolution to the series' dramatic theme AND/OR did I miss a lot in the text and there was the literary foreshadowing all along? If that had been the point of the series, then fine, I would love the nonchalant representation. But, there was no indication that was the point. 
    I would also have been fine if they got together and left the details of their sexual interest totally unspoken and up to the reader to imagine for the future.  But that this manga, after spending four volumes getting two adult women together (and boy howdy do we need  some real Josei instead), it just ups and gives a big "fuck you" to lesbians by refusing to acknowledge that it is OKAY that they have sexual lives.  
       So I decided to go back to the four volumes to see what I might have missed, what might have led me astray, and try and understand how much was me (big hint, I do have a lot of bias) and how much was marketing (none really, actually give them some credit), and how much was poor writing (at the very least, it was a perfunctory series regardless of the ending).
    Starting with the covers (front and back). All four front covers (US English versions) were pretty basic with just the two women enjoying time together. There's some non-romantic hand holding on volume 2's cover, some light finger touching and staring into each other's eyes on volume 3, and a warm - but not particularly clear - embrace on volume 4. (Score 1 for my bias, the covers really aren't suggestive of what direction the representation might make).
    Looking at the back covers, Volume 1 starts with "A Yuri Romance For the Modern Career Woman!" - without highlighting too much of what is or isn't Yuri, it's clear that my bias shows through here. While I have been a huge supporter of and believer in a wide definition of Yuri and my favorite show of all time (Maria Watches Over Us) really doesn't define the nature of the relationships between Yumi and Sachiko or Yumi and Touko, I know my brain hears "yuri" and jumps straight to an allo-romantic, allo-sexual default. (1 point for my bias). The other text on the back cover does talk about how Hinako doesn't feel like "normal" romance is working for her, but it does indicate that her relationship with Asahi "starts as respect and then it becomes far more intimate" - well, intimacy doesn't necessarily mean romantic or sexual intimacy - so maybe another point for my bias.
    Volume 2's back cover talks about whether they can be "more than friends" and "could this be love?" - I guess I assumed, wrongly again, we were talking about allo-romantic and allo-sexual love. But while I continue see them as having at least some level of romantic attraction, the final volume does make clear they aren't interested in sexual intimacy. So there's nothing here that overrides what volume 4 does, another point for my bias I suppose. 
    Volume 3's back cover is more of the same, lots of romance talk. No real talk of anything else. But I suppose I conflate romance with some eventual sexual interest. That's my bias again, because clearly people can be romantically attracted and not interested in sexual intimacy. Another point against my bias.
    Volume 4's back cover explicitly talks about how Asahi has "never been big on romantic love" - that she has other priorities. However, it goes on to say that "her feelings about romance seem to be changing." So if I leave out my presumption that sexual attraction will follow, all this cover seems to be talking about is romantic attraction. Another point against my bias.
    So while Seven Seas Entertainment does put out a lot of yuri, there is nothing about the yuri genre that request allo-sexual lead couples. In fact, yuri is littered with asexual representation big and small. And there is nothing in the cover images or text to imply anything other than a growing romantic relationship between the two. Just my bias exposed at this point.
    What about inside the volumes? Any hint that the resolution for both of their anxiety about the relationship would be that they are both asexual? It's in the final chapter, at the end, with Asahi's confession of love that Hinako comes out as asexual to Asahi, worried it will push Asahi away. But Asahi responds with "and fortunately, I don't have any of those desires either." It's not the asexuality reveal that was disappointing to me, but the way all four volumes of tension is dispelled without any foreshadowing that either this was Hinako's concern all along and/or that Asahi would (just by chance?) also be asexual. 
    The way Asahi's response is written was just too quick and neat a resolution that didn't work from a literary quality standpoint for me on my first read. Maybe it is how it works in the real world. But the quality of how Asahi's coming out is written undermines all the emotion and guts and courage behind Hinako's revelation to Asahi. It's not the asexual relationship that was disappointing to me, it was the actual word choices, sentence construction, and lack of lead-up that makes Asahi's statement so underwhelming. It was just a curt little bow to tie it up on basically the last page.
    You can't just drop something on the reader at the very end that ties it all up neatly when there is zero sense that that's coming. It doesn't make emotional sense. Unless of course, you assume, with no textual evidence, an allo-sexual default. Maybe if they had gotten together in a sexual way at the end, I would have felt better about the ending only because I had imagined sexual attraction all along when there was none. Maybe it wouldn't have been any better written, I just had been seeing what I wanted to see, not what was in the text. That's bias! So maybe it was actually poorly written no matter what the ending was (LOL)?
    To figure that out, let's go back through the text of the four volumes to see what, if anything (either allo- or asexual was in the text).
    Right from the opening panels of volume 1 Hinako expresses not liking being touched (is that dislike about being touched by a man or at all?). She even goes so far as to "feel gross" about the lingering after touch on the shoulder. On the other hand, she finds herself staring at Asahi's mouth mid-way through the volume. Is that a romantic attraction or a sexual one? Throughout the volumes, there is clear romantic attraction. When Hinako talks about not being normal, when she talks about not being able to fall in love, did I just assume the only thing she was figuring out was that she liked women? Why didn't I consider that maybe she was also figuring out that she was asexual? An intersectional identity?
    Volume 2 starts off with Asahi indicating that she has never fallen in love and never will. Again, did I assume it was because she felt she had to stay a closeted lesbian in Japanese society and not that it was because she was also asexual? My default bias kicking in again perhaps? However, she then says "Subaru [her sister] is everything to me" which clouds it - now is she saying she'll never fall in love so that she doesn't have to divide her love between her sister and her partner? Does this undermine the real point (her asexuality)? Is it that she consciously says that it's because of Subaru but it's really the later? Am I reading in more now that I've convinced myself that I was blinded by my bias? 
    Volume 2 also adds Hinako wanting to hold hands with Asahi and enjoying it when they do. Clearly this is in contrast to not liking a man to touch her shoulder in volume 1. I assumed that the discomfort was about gender, when it also ends up being more than that. Later Hinako touches Asahi's hands while doing her nails and finds herself in the position of the man from the first volume, wanting to touch the person she likes. When does touch (or what level of touch) cross from romance into sexual attraction? But of course, asexuality is a spectrum as well.
    Needless to say, I could go through volumes 3 and 4 as well like this. There are subtle hints, if read with knowledge of the ending in mind, that make the ending seem less jarring. 
    Is it pandering to Japan's conservative culture by trying to be a mainstream josei about two women that won't offend anyone? I don't know. Is it badly written, yes it is. Does that lack of sex life come out of nowhere? Yes it does. Do you hate it when people ask themselves questions and then answer them? Yes I do, but I'm doing it anyway.
    Back to the point. The series was bland, but at least it was about two adult women falling in love. As a 43 year old lesbian, I want adult LGBTQ+ representation in manga. But whether it doesn't exist, or just isn't being translated, I am so disappointed that this is the crap we get in English. Don't bother with this series. It isn't any sort of legitimate representation of lesbians, asexual individuals, or anything. What a waste of an opportunity.
    At the end of the day, the series was better in a re-read than it was the first time. Most probably because I was looking at it holistically, not with long periods of time between volumes, and because I was more focused on the details to try and see whether I had royally screwed up my original review (I had). 
    In the end, although it isn't the best written series and is a bit bland, it definitely has something to offer the yuri world - an adult asexual lesbian relationship. That's a thing to celebrate in mass media. While the foreshadowing that they are both asexual and that that will resolve the underlying tension isn't strong throughout the series, there also isn't anything to suggest the opposite (allo-sexuality). In fact, the restrained nature of the back cover blurbs should be celebrated for not hinting at things that aren't and actually staying true to the author's intent. 
    My original review was clearly biased by allo-sexuality defaults. It's still not a great series, but certainly better than I had initially indicated. It rests on it's opening chapter and closing chapter to give us the sense of asexuality that will resolve the dramatic tension while the middle sections are more about them coming together than it is about them understanding themselves and revealing that understanding to the reader. I wish that had been stronger and with some greater unpacking of Asahi's character. But it certainly isn't as bad as my original review made it to see. 
    I wouldn't recommend the series necessarily, but I wouldn't warn against it either. It was a perfectly nice story with bland art. What it brings is an important bit of representation, even if done imperfectly from a writer's craft standpoint. You're mileage may vary depending on what you are seeking.  Thank you again to the first commenter who pointed me in a new direction and caused me to reevaluate the series and my writing about it.


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. "i totally support asexual people but their existence is a gigantic fuck you to me personally and you have to wave around a giant asexual flag at all times in order to provide me with hints that you're asexual."

    you know asexual lesbians exist, right? i'm one. this blog post is extremely ignorant and acephobic. there's SO much allosexual representation out there, so god forbid we get an asexual romance. you have no place saying it's not "legitimate representation of lesbians, asexual individuals, or anything" when you're not an asexual lesbian. you're just a bigot. <3

    1. Your reply gave me a lot to think about, and I appreciate that. It's a lens I didn't consider when reading the book and perhaps I'll give it another read. I still don't find the writing or art compelling, but I hear you loud and clear about my limited perspective and how that came through in the way I interpreted the underlying content of the series. I suppose I never considered it from the standpoint of asexuality, and you are absolutely correct that that is my bias showing through. I do appreciate the bias check.

    2. Thank you again for your comment and in the month since I first responded, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. In response, you can now see that I basically rewrote the entire post. I kept all the original text in strikeouts (or black) so people would see what pissed you off. Hopefully my new analysis does a better job with explaining my experience with this series. It was better in a reread than it was the first time through, probably in large part because there wasn't so much time between volumes for me to forget the nuance that was critical to the ending. Hope you come back and keep reading.

  2. Hi!
    I thought doughnuts was interesting just because there isn't that much blatant Ace representation in general and I myself clocked the MC as ace from volume 1, but then again, I happen to relate a lot to the character's thoughts. So because I’m going into the manga with the opposite assumptions as you (characters are already ace, being ace is not the reveal), I’m reading the manga being more curious what that ace relationship will look like, whether it has the two main characters participating in things like kissing which isn't particularly sexual (to me at least), and how the characters would choose to show their intimacy (painting the nails), and what other conflicts the two have (the sister.)
    Of course Hinako has that big anxiety about her being ace and whether that's a good fit for the person she likes romantically, but that was that was just because she didn’t communicate that part of her as blatantly since the beginning seemed to be more about just getting to know Asahi as a person and the other things that comes with liking someone (jealousy, etc)

    But I really appreciate the perspective of this review and the follow up edits you made. I think it actually made me understand allosexuals more and how they view the unfolding of a story.

    1. Thank you for reading and your comment. I have learned so much through the journey of this particular review and your comments have continued me on that journey. I truly did either miss or miss-interpret things in the manga through my allosexual lens and so the perspectives of others have helped broaden me. Thank you!


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