Makoto Tateno Double Feature-- How to Capture a Martini and How to Control a Sidecar (manga)

I couldn't sleep last night, so I read some brand spanky new manga from DMP. Makoto Tateno, author of me-favorites (like fan-favorites, only more self-centered) Hero Heel and Yellow (and the less than stellar Fu Shin Ga: For Love or Money) has come out with two related manga centering around bartenders. I have a strong suspicion that Tateno really likes bar-culture and cocktails. Every single one of her manga has something to do with drinking. These two offerings center on the bartenders working at the upscale bar Maria Elena.  The first volume How to Capture a Martini is pretty standard fare for her in some ways. I always appreciate that she deals with more mature characters and themes. The main characters in Martini were former lovers in high-school who parted ways suddenly when the eldest of the two, Shinobu, graduated. Naoyuki, the one left behind without even a word, has held a torch for him ever sense. So, when the two bump into each other (while Naoyuki is with his current girlfriend) at Maria Elena, Naoyuki is shocked and pleased at first, until Shinobu refuses to give him an explanation and pushes him away harshly.

Makoto Tateno likes to write about drinking!
 Martini uses the martini (actual drink) as an overarching metaphor for the relationship between the two. The first cocktail Naoyuki ever has, made by Shinobu of course, is a martini. As Naoyuki explains, he expected it to be sweeter, but found it "much harsher and drier than I expected." The sentiment is a clear reflection of Naoyuki on Shinobu's character. He has been turned off by cocktails ever since, and yet, he forces himself into a position at Maria Elena to be near Shinobu again. It turns out that the martini Shinobu made all those years ago was intentionally extra-dry, something he knew Naoyuki would not like in order to push him away. Shinobu spends a lot of time pushing Naoyuki away, and indulging himself in a string of meaningless relationships. Ultimately, though, Naoyuki realizes that Shinobu's tactics hide his true feelings for Naoyuki. He begins to realize that the reason Shinobu ran from their relationship so many years ago was because he was scared.

Afraid of the pressure of a relationship and what Shinobu sees as inevitable heartbreak, he decides to abandon the relationship before he is destroyed. Happily the two, due to the sort of bizzare coincidences and intrigues that ONLY exist in manga, reunite and devote themselves to the love they abandoned so long ago.

Overall, it wasn't a bad manga, it was a little heavy-handed at times, but it didn't shy away from the kinds of mature issues that Tateno tends towards. The only thing I didn't like was the odd side-stories. They were weird, and incestuous, and fetishistic in a way that was fairly creepy. This should have been a sign. The sign should have read: JUST STOP HERE, DR. M!! But, I didn't stop there, did I, Dear Readers? No. I decided to read the second story.

I assumed, incorrectly, that How to Control a Sidecar would be a little bit of fun and minor angst from some of the other bartenders at Maria Elena. This time straight, super-star bartender Kousaka was in the spotlight. He was only a minor character foil to Shinobu in Martini, and seemed pretty standoffish and disinterested in that volume. It turns out that he's not so much standoffish as ridiculously oblivious to the kind of bar he works in. He fails to realize that about 90% of Maria Elena's clientele is gay. Even his co-workers find this oversight shockingly unobservant. It seems lighthearted at first; a clueless character getting hit on by all sorts of men without realizing the implications of their conversations. However, Dear Readers, it is NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT that kind of manga.

This is horrifically graphic stuff, not light hearted at all. And it includes a graphic depiction of extremely non-consensual sex which although treated seriously spins into something I am entirely uncomfortable with. Kousaka is attacked, beaten and raped by a customer, and to my distaste, not only forgives his attacker, but becomes involved in his life. NOT COOL! NOT COOL! NOT COOL! Kousaka isn't just oblivious, he's an idiot. He decides to "forget" it happened. AND he eventually falls in love with the man who raped him. Everything ends happily ever after...except that he was raped and beaten. I don't even know what to say about this except...every part of me objects to this story line. Traditionally Tateno deals with some dark themes, and some complications that seem troubling, but this crosses a line for me. Dr. M disapproves.

So, by all means, read How to Capture a Martini. It didn't blow my hair back in a manga-esque wind scene, but it does have some interesting moments. Avoid the creepy side stories in it though, you'll thank me when you have avoided reading about an incestuous relationship involving cat cosplay. And be seriously cautious about How to Make a Sidecar. Neither of these manga are appropriate for readers under 17, and I don't think How to Control a Sidecar is appropriate for any audience. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

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