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According to twenty-three-year-old Riku, he’s terrible at relationships. That means he’s never managed to be in one for over three months, with all ending with his boyfriend breaking up with him. Typically, it’s for the same host of reasons, which Riku thinks can be summed up by the fact that he’s too clingy. That may be true, and some of his behavior does support that – when we meet him, he’s coming off another bad break-up and very distraught. More of that seems to be self-recriminations than genuine affection for his ex, letting readers know early that there’s probably more going on than Riku himself is aware of.

Bergamot & Sunny Day is one of those romances that bides its time, at least in terms of its protagonist and point of view character putting the pieces together. Because of the close first-person narration (Josh gets one or two thought bubbles, as does Riku’s roommate Jing, but that’s it), readers are tasked with figuring out the truth of Riku’s string of exes while he remains at least mostly clueless. It’s an interesting way to tell the story, although it can sometimes be frustrating. For example, even without Josh’s thoughts when he hears Riku’s assumption that his boss is teasing him, we can guess that Josh has been sending signals that Riku hasn’t been reading, or at least not correctly. It makes the narrative at least as much about Riku learning to see the people around him as it is about him coming to understand Josh and their relationship.

The age and power gap between the two men is partly the issue. We don’t know Josh’s exact age, but Riku guesses that he’s in his forties, so there’s roughly a twenty-year age difference between them. Josh is also the owner of Sunny Day, the café where Riku works, and later in the volume, we learn that Josh was the person who initially hired him. This could make the book uncomfortable for some readers, although it’s important to point out that Josh is not grooming Riku or taking advantage of his age and position. Josh is very human and full of insecurities; at times he can feel like the “wise older man,” mostly he’s just trying to get Riku to understand how much he likes him without scaring him off. He only “flaunts” his money once, directly responding to Riku’s confession about what he thought dating Josh would be like. The only real way he could be said to be acting as the more mature partner is in how he helps Riku to understand that he’s not inherently “bad” at relationships or sex, and that’s less a teaching issue and more simply showing him what a good relationship is like.

The central theme of this single-volume story would be that open communication is important. Riku’s insecurities can all be traced back to an early lousy relationship that made him retreat inside his head, unwilling to speak out about what he wants and afraid that he’s going to drive everyone away just by existing. This pertains strictly to his dating life, which is interesting; he’s got a good relationship with his roommate and coworkers, and when he’s just hanging out with Josh and learning about tea or something similarly work-based, he’s calm and collected. By the time he realizes that he wants more out of his relationship with the other man, he’s so stuck in his head that he can’t hear what Josh is telling him (literally in one critical case), and so he begins telling himself stories about how Josh doesn’t like him. They aren’t dating when the exact opposite is evident to the readers. But Josh also isn’t being as transparent as he could be, not understanding that Riku needs both words and actions if he will be fully comfortable and secure.

If this makes Riku sound kind of needy, that’s a fair assessment. Riku is the make-or-break character here. The book is so much in his head that if you find him high maintenance or annoying, you’re probably not going to enjoy reading. The story itself is fairly positive, with Josh showing Riku that he isn’t inherently the problem in any of his failed relationships, in or out of bed – some of the blame (insomuch as there’s “blame”) has to fall on his ex-boyfriends as well, who didn’t see Riku’s insecurities for what they are. Could all of this have been better developed? Absolutely; this would have benefited from being a two-volume series. But it still works well enough, and the art does a decent job depicting a (very clean) New York City, which helps. This isn’t the strongest BL manga to come out in recent months, but it is a good enough one, especially if you like your romances with an age gap.

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Bergamot & Sunny Day Manga Review – Review