By Hitomi Takano. Released in Japan as “Watashi no Shounen” by Futabasha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Monthly Action. Released in North America by Vertical Comics. Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian.
When this title was announced by Vertical, I raised an eyebrow. The concept seemed a bit… dangerous? That said, I probably should have trusted them. My Boy is an award-nominated work in Japan. And, much as it might look at it at times, it is most definitely not about the love story between an adult office lady and a 12-year-old boy. Instead it seems to be about found families, about how much you can support someone when technically you aren’t responsible for their upbringing, and the difficulties of child abuse, particularly “is this abusive enough to actually do anything about?”. And it’s also about how abuse can affect your basic mindset, to the point where you see acts of kindness as huge, impactful things that you need to repay rather than just everyday niceness. It is a good, meaningful work, told with a deft hand.
Satoko is an office worker dealing with an ex-boyfriend being a colleague at her job (and also showing off his new girlfriend), who takes her temperature every morning even though she can no longer seem to recall why. She runs into Mashuu, a pretty long-haired boy who is lurking at the local park and trying to play soccer by himself – badly. She gives him a few pointers and moves on, but he’s there again the next day (and easy prey for potential molesters), so she gradually learns more about his life. It’s not a pretty life – his dad works late and doesn’t seem to care enough to even make sure he’s changed clothes. His younger brother is named Ryouichi (ichi means “first” in Japan, and is not usually a name you give a second child). Little acts of kindness and caring make him cry. He’s a product of a neglectful home. As the days go by, Satoko gets more and more involved in his life, taking him to soccer games and a sushi restaurant. Is this what she wants in her life? And what *is* this?
The book is self-aware enough to know what some readers might be thinking. There are news reports at the start about abduction and molestation of children, and a creeper attempts to do the same to Mashuu until Satoko intervenes. Satoko and Mashuu’s relationship feels more familial, and the title “My Boy” suggests a parental substitute might be what’s going on here. Mashuu is a sweet kid, even at school, when he’s talking to the shy classmate who realizes there’s something going on, but he desperately needs basic affection and care, and right now only Satoko is the one that can give it to him. But of course she isn’t his mother. It’s implied, though I’m not sure if this is the case, that he’s from a previous marriage or similar. In fact, we never even see his family – the book, with the exception of the scenes at Mashuu’s school, is focused on the relationship between Satoko and Mashuu, and how it’s changing both of them.
Now, it’s possible this could develop in a different direction, and I’ve been wrong before – hi, Bunny Drop. But this doesn’t feel like a romance. It feels like a family story, about about how sometimes the family you make is better and more loving than the family you have. That said, I’m pretty sure there will be more drama in future volumes. I also recommend skipping the author’s notes at the end, which do play up the “older woman/young boy” fetish, to my annoyance. But definitely read My Boy. It’s a touching, heartaching story.