DOUBLE HOUSE by Haruno Nanae

This is my second shoujo ai for the year, and it's a rather promising story that was disappointingly only three chapters long! This was published in 2008 so there is no way this can have any more chapters which is really frustrating, considering how intriguing and layered the characters and themes are for this manga. To be honest, I believe this may have been discontinued because it wasn't providing enough sexy fanservice about ladies going at it and that's just sad! This has so much potential to be a very riveting, emotionally stirring story about women and their gender roles and sexuality but I suppose the author wasn't commissioned for any more chapters. I don't want to think she has lost interest, let alone stopped writing but I can't find any more of her works online.

And this is the dilemma I am facing right now as I write this review: I'm not even sure if I can recommend it. The reason for my hesitation to recommend this has nothing to do with the writing itself. In fact, if I will purely based my reasoning on that, then Double House will get a stellar rating and rec from me! However, since this manga has only three measly chapters that are just building up to what would have been an immensely intricate storyline, then I can't encourage more readers to give it a try because it will only lead to the disappointment that this was such a short-lived piece. Still, let me talk about it.

Double House centered around two characters: Maho, a male-to-female transsexual who works as a club hostess, who rescued a young girl named Fujiko from an attempted assault one late night on her way home. They turned out to be living in the same apartment complex so Fujiko began hanging around Maho who didn't mind her company. Pretty soon, Maho finds out certain truths about Fujiko who turned out to be a runaway heiress. She left home to get away from the pressures of her wealthy family who used to control every decision she makes. Meanwhile, we also get scenes about Maho's life as a hostess with other transgendered men. The atmosphere of this manga is light and leisure with a few comedic moments, but the writing mostly contemplates certain important issues like women's roles in Japanese society, discussions on the binary exclusion of gender, and the pursuit of individual happiness free of judgment. 

Here are some interesting dialogues that Fujiko and Maho have in the first chapter of the manga. Fujiko sagely imparts her belief about the wrongness of pigeonholing people for their gender, race or social status (don't forget to read the panels from left to right):

I enjoyed the depth of insights that deceptively youthful Fujiko has discussed here, and in the presence of Maho whose sympathies lie on a less conservative route as well. Both women--one who is biologically female and one who identifies as one--form a bond because they both dislike being labeled as a fixed thing. Fujiko left her stifling old-fashioned family upbringing because she wanted to discover more about herself without having to depend on other people to tell her who she is. As the second chapter rolls around, we see Fujiko cutting her hair shorter than what was expected from a young girl her age who also happens to be very attractive. Maho points out that it's as if Fujiko is purposefully downplaying whatever sexual appeal she may have. Meanwhile, Maho as a transgender person tends to dress up since it's also a part of her night job ritual, but we see her shedding her glamorous clothing for something more casual whenever she's doing chores with Fujiko. This is when we see her in a more masculine appearance but Maho is quietly displeased if people would point it out since he identifies as a 'she'. Luckily, Fujiko believes that Maho is already a 'complete picture' and admires her for choosing not to trapped in a 'frame'.

Fujiko casually also confesses that she is in love with Maho which the latter disbelieves, dismissing Fujiko's attraction nd infatuation to her to be nothing but sisterly. Maho never really discloses if she is attracted to men or women, or perhaps neither. As a transgendered male-to-female, Maho is more concerned making a livelihood and being left alone to live her life peacefully. She accepts Fujiko into her life because she is intrigued by the young girl, and perhaps she is also a little lonely and having an open-minded youngster like Fujiko engages her into becoming more aware of her own choices. The relationship between them that was established in these three installments of the manga is already nuanced enough and I'm sorely disappointed that this is how their story ends. 

There are a lot of possible plots that could be explored here. We were only allowed to get snippets of Fujiko's family life when her fiancĂ©e, a man she was arranged to be married with, made an appearance and immediately judges the friendship between Maho and Fujiko. What I liked about Fujiko's reasons for dumping him is because of his arrogance and complete disregard of her personhood when they're together. She pointed out that he wouldn't listen to her when she shares her opinions and that's why their conversations are limited and oppressive. The fact that Fujiko would stand up for herself because she wants to be heard and respected for having her own mind is very brave, and I'm so very interested to see how she even became so wise at such a young age.

In the last installment of this manga, we were introduced to another male-to-female transgender character (named Koko) who happens to be more on the obese side physically, has problems with her self-worth that she is unable to hold onto relationships because the men tend to leave her or not reciprocate the intensity of her feelings. One day she discovered an abandoned baby in the park and decided to adopt it. Maho was against this, and so were the other colleagues, and so they asked Maho to advice Koko otherwise. Eventually, Koko saw the error of her ways after also resolving her issues about herself and how she often gives too much to people that she is left with nothing for herself. It's an uplifting story of self-love and Fujiko gets to share another grain of precious insight:

Overall, Double House was such a wasted opportunity to tackle gender and sexuality in a Japanese yuri/shoujo ai manga. It's so disheartening that writer Haruno Nanae was able to write such interesting and multi-faceted characters in such a short span of chapters, but never got to further develop and explore their problems and issues. I wanted to give this a higher rating but I have to be objective because the story is just really lacking a more definitive pay-off and conclusion. I can still recommend this but I would warn you of its disappointing brevity.



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