The Two Lions GN – Review

The Two Lions is Nagisa Furuya‘s third English language release – Rent! brought over S & N and Kodansha released My Summer of You – and if there’s one thing all three titles have in common, it’s the quiet charm of their stories. One of Furuya’s strengths as a storyteller is the ability to carefully and quietly capture real emotions of the sort that we typically hide inside ourselves; the insecurities that grow unchecked in our psyches and cause people to misunderstand us. In the case of The Two Lionsthat feeling isn’t Junpei’s realization that he’s gay or bi (we don’t know for certain that he’s ever been attracted to women, just that he didn’t know he was attracted to men), but rather Leo’s insecurity and social anxiety , which is mingled with his grief over losing his grandfather in high school.

Junpei and Leo attended the same high school, but that’s already in the past when the story begins. Both of them have moved far away to attend university, and in Leo’s case, that was 100% on purpose: he in no way ever wants to meet anyone from high school again. That’s because, while he wasn’t bullied in the way we’re used to seeing in manga, he was made to feel Othered and ostracized by rumors run amok. Raised by his grandfather (since his parents traveled a lot for business), Leo learned early on how to defend himself, absorbing his ex-military grandpa’s belief that the two greatest things a man can be strong and kind, not necessarily in that order . That led Leo to stop a group of thugs beating up a homeless man one day, and even though he didn’t cause the other boys lasting damage, someone from school saw the altercation and rumors began to circulate unchecked. That Leo was already quiet certainly didn’t help his case, and the light hair he inherited from his half-foreign grandfather simply added to the myth of his supposed thuggishly evil nature. After three years of this, Leo was pretty well convinced that no one would ever like him and that if anyone was ever to blame in a social situation, it was him and him alone.

For some readers, this will be all too familiar as a relatively common reaction to the sort of social ostracization that Leo suffered through. Because he spent three years being treated like garbage, he is now highly suspicious of anyone who approaches him and carries the lingering belief that maybe he is Garbage, even though the act that got him into trouble was undoubtedly the right thing to do. When he and Junpei meet up again, Junpei almost doesn’t recognize him because he’s dyed his hair black to avoid standing out, and he’s unable to see that Junpei honestly likes him and wants to be friends because that’s the sort of earnest extrovert Junpei is .

On Junpei’s part, there’s a sense that he didn’t really realize what Leo was going through in high school, which feels less like a condemnation and more a statement of how established Leo’s bad reputation was. But he absolutely recognizes Leo as a fundamentally kind person from the start – their first college interaction is when Leo gives Junpei a bottle of water, something that strikes Junpei as unusually nice. While he’s fairly aggressive in attempting to form a friendship with Leo, he also very much wants to understand him and to be a good friend to him; it’s never about Junpei’s ego. And although Junpei is the point-of-view character for most of the book, we do end up knowing more about Leo than him, because it’s very much about how Junpei learns about him and falls for him even as Leo tries (and fails) to hold himself apart. That this works without making Junpei feel like a blank slate is largely due to the little moments. Certainly Leo’s inadvertent “in vino veritas” scene helps, but it’s also in the way Junpei notices Leo making more friends and feels a little jealous, in the slow realization of his feelings, and in the interactions he has with Leo’s childhood friend and younger sister . It’s not a book with dramatic declarations or torrid sex scenes, but it is one that does a very nice job of showing the quiet process of falling in love.

While this absolutely could have had a sequel that would be eagerly welcomed, it’s also perfectly fine as a self-contained story with a hopeful ending. Furuya does a good job of following through on Leo’s story with the homeless man and Junpei’s earnestness meshes nicely with Leo’s learned distrust of others, helping both of them to move forward. The art is pleasant to look at, and if some of the side characters are a little hard to tell apart, at least the two leads are distinct. If you enjoyed Furuya’s other works, this is worth picking up, and if you’re just in the mood for some gentle romance, as a whole story in a single volume, this is a safe bet.

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