Sequels to stories that already have an established happily-ever-after are tricky. The author needs to build upon the original happy ending without destroying it, but there also needs to be believable new tension to the romance. I am pleased to report that Dekoboko Bittersweet Dayssequel to Dekoboko Sugar Days, does a lovely job with this, incorporating realistic relationship problems while still allowing us to believe, even in the worst moments, that Yuujirou and Rui will be able to find happiness together. That’s not to say that there isn’t enough angst to merit the change in the title – it would have been far easier to just call this Dekoboko Sugar Days volume 2, but the sequel really isn’t sugary sweet; Rather, it reminds us that even “happily ever after” isn’t without its pitfalls and that life rarely stands still, even in our best moments.
Since the first volume took place in high school, this means that Atsuko Yusen has a built-in easy way to throw a hurdle in their path: college. With graduation looming, Rui and Yuujirou have to reconcile their individual career dreams with their mutual desire to stay together, and this gives Rui a much-needed chance to prove that he’s more than just the sweet boy who follows Yuujirou’s lead. The story begins to play with ideas of masculinity, both in a performative sense and as something a bit more rooted in Rui’s sense of self. Fortunately, it has nothing to do with the book’s racier content – it would have been easy (albeit wrong) to tie the whole “top and bottom” thing to Rui’s perception of himself as just as much of a man as Yuujirou, but their sex life is never brought into the equation as anything but an expression of their mutual feelings. Instead, it’s about Rui having the wherewithal to not take the easy way out of things – he could have easily decided Yuujirou over his dream education, but that would have been “choosing” rather than making a real, difficult decision. It’s important to him that he’s financially able to help support Yuujirou just as Yuujirou wants to support him – he doesn’t want to be dependent, but an equal partner. This comes out in the much more stereotypically masculine phrasing of manga; Rui expresses his performative manhood by saying that he wants to “support” his boyfriend, but we can read this as framing their relationship as not being in relation to anything or anyone but themselves, rather than one of them being seen as more feminine than the other.
This is doubly important because Yuujirou, used to thinking of himself as the more manly figure, is already planning their post-high school domestic bliss. He’s always been there for Rui, and he sees their adult lives as merely an extension of what they’ve done thus far – they’ll move to a prefecture with common-law partnerships, fill out the paperwork, and keep going as they have before. He doesn’t even consider that Rui might have other plans, and when he finds out, he’s hurt that, in essence, Rui has a different goal than he does. That Rui might want to get that partnership certificate later, after they have careers, doesn’t quite register with Yuujirou; He instead simply sees it as a betrayal, and in some ways that shows just how much more mature Rui is despite Yuujirou being the one thinking about their domestic future.
Simply put, they both have to grow up. For Rui that means speaking up, and for Yuujirou it means accepting that things won’t always go the way he plans, and those are both very difficult things to do. It hits especially hard because up until Rui says something, their story has been blissfully happy: they are out to two of their friends and basically living the romance novel dream. But Yusen seems to want them to learn that a successful long-term relationship means that there’ll be some bumps in the road along the way, and that the true test of their romance will be how well they manage to navigate them. Part of that, of course, is also eventually coming out to their parents, which is handled fairly well – and the revelation that Yuujirou’s older brother Yuichiro has known all along and is perfectly happy for them is a very nice touch. Ultimately everyone just wants everyone else to be happy; The purpose of the book is to get them to the place where they can be.
Dekoboko Bittersweet Days is a successful follow-up to Dekoboko Sugar Days. It balances the bitter with the sweet, dealing with both protagonists’ insecurities and sets them on a much firmer path towards happiness, and the chapter about Umino and Takenaka is a very charming addition to the volume even if you don’t choose to read their relationship as romantic. I didn’t think it was possible to follow up the first book so well. I’m glad to be proven wrong.