In comparison, SuBLime just kept chugging on as steadily as ever. Their biggest license wasn't even a new one, but one that was instead poached from the competition. Still, they put out a few other new titles, including this one.
TEN COUNT (10 Kounto), by Rihito Takarai. First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016.
From the outside, Shirotani looks every part the poised and polished executive assistant. His well-groomed manner hides a terrible secret: Shirotani has OCD. He's so paranoid about germs and general dirtiness that he avoids contact, disinfects everything he touches, and wears gloves to hide the hands he washes until they are raw and cracked. When his boss gets into an accident, he meets up with Kurose, a therapist who recognizes Shirotani's condition right away. Together the two start a plan to help Shirotani cope with his condition, but what happens when the two start to feel something stronger than a patient/therapist bond?
Ten Count is the sort of BL I can get into. It's got a unique gimmick, takes its characters seriously, and throws the seme-uke dynamic to the side so it can actually get around to a story. Were it not for a needless conflict thrown in at the very end of the volume, I'd dare call it the best new BL manga of the year.
I'm glad that Takarai takes Shirotani's condition seriously. I can't speak as to how accurate it is to the experience of real-life OCD, but she does do a decent job at capturing the nauseous paranoia that dominate Shirotani's mind even during the most mundane activity. She shows us flashes of a time before his condition kicked in and makes its clear that while Shirotani can fake normalcy to a degree, he's clearly in denial over its severity and just how badly it inhibits his life.
You can feel the mood easing through the page once Kurose enters the picture. Shirotani might call him blunt, but if anything he's a calm and steadying presence. He's good at walking Shirotani through his treatment without coming off as patronizing, calming him down when things don't go well, and his friendliness not only gives Shirotani someone safe with whom he can discuss his condition, but also something akin to a friend. The transition from professional friendship to something deeper is subtle and nicely handled. It's what happens after that point that Ten Count starts to lose me.
If the first half of the story is the Meet Cute part of the traditional 3-act romance structure, then the second half is the Second Act Misunderstanding. You know, the point where the couple is just about to commit, but then some sort of plot contrivance throws a wrench into things, driving the two apart for a bit before the inevitable third act reconciliation. These two must suffer the same when for no apparent reason, Kurose completely detaches himself from Shirotani. Shirotani finds a way to keep working on his therapy without him, but their loss is keenly (and rather obviously) felt. While it may be the best thing for Kurose on an ethical level, it's also a move that makes no sense for where he and Shirotani were in the plot. It's such a naked plot device on Takarai's part and it kind of spoils what was otherwise an interesting and somewhat unique story.
Takarai's art is very restrained, especially for this genre, but that restraint works well with the story. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I do wish she was a little less restrained with the characters. The guys here all look rather generic and their faces are too neutral to get across the sort of suppressed emotion that the story is going for. She also doesn't do much with the backgrounds. To some degree, Takarai compensates with her paneling. She doesn't do anything revolutionary, but she's good at drawing a back-and-forth conversation in a way that feels engaging and natural. She varies up angles and closeness just enough to keep things varied without calling a lot of attention to itself. That doesn't sound like much, but considering how much of this book is made up of extended conversations, it's not an inconsiderable one either.
Ten Count starts strong but falters due to a weak second half and artwork that never quite rises beyond 'okay.' Maybe things pick up later, but as is it's not quite compelling enough to make it a must-read.
This series is published by Viz via their SuBLime imprint. This series is ongoing in Japan with 5 volumes currently available. 2 volumes have been released and are currently in print.
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