TEN COUNT by Rihito Takarai


The first time I read this manga, I was reading another shounen-ai story which is more engrossing and oh-so beautiful (I'll be re-reading that series again and posting a review some time in the coming months), so I easily put this down since it's only a casual read, especially when I reached at least ten chapters or so and I found the sudden shift into the sex a bit jarring and admittedly quite offensive. This is still an ongoing work, mind you, so I'm careful not to have a very definitive opinion about the narrative just yet although I must say that this has a very promising premise and it might have been a more compelling, emotionally mature read if it was published as a josei work and not simply a yaoi material. Sadly, the intended purpose for this manga was for some sexy times to commence, and therein lies the problem because I get the sense that author Takarai-sensei must really want to expand on the inner conflict his protagonist is struggling with but since this is published as a yaoi, he had to comply to the demands of editors to put some sexy stuff already because who wants to read about believable character development dealing with a phobia anyway?

Well, as it turns out, I do. Upon my second reading this week, I think that it's worth noting that Takarai eventually got to the point in this manga where he has provided readers with a very intriguing backstory that personally made me hope that he can recitify the unpleasant situation that his two leads got caught up in because of the early (and dubiously consented) sexual scenarios that happened between them. But I'm getting ahead of myself. There is a reason why I still re-read this work and that's because I want to give my insights on the direction of the writing and the portrayal of the characters' struggles concerning his phobia. I'm not sure I can recommend it just yet, however. Hopefully the author will publish more installments and that the story would improve along the way. I actually do want it to because I am intrigued with the conflict. So here we go then.

THE PLOT: A man in his thirties suffers with acute mysophobia (a fear of dirt and filth) and meets a therapist from a mental health clinic who volunteered to help him with his crippling affliction. The therapist puts him under what is known as 'exposure therapy'. To do so, the therapist had the mysophobe write down his Top 10 list of the things he is not comfortable doing and brings him the most anxiety; with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. Item 10 was left blank, and this is where the patient's trauma stems from which we will later find out more as the story progresses. 


An attraction develops between them which stemmed from said mysophobe's dependence on the therapist (also known as transference), and said therapist also begins to reciprocate the patient's feelings (also known as countertransference) because these things tend to happen in psychotheraphy. This manga examines the complexities of such a circumstance but also fails to address as of yet the serious repercussions of such an unhealthy relationship.

THE CHARACTERS: Shirotani is the mysophobe and Kurose is his therapist, a much younger man who has questionable ethics. From the very beginning, we see Shirotani has to wear gloves to counter his fear of touching dirty things, and he also obsessively washes his hands to the point that his skin is badly scarring and peeling in some place. He meets Kurose during a chance encounter, and the latter offered his services as a therapist. Things were going well for a while because Kurose seems dedicated to help Shirotani to overcome his phobia little by little, and he was patient enough to stay by his side even when Shirotani once broke down in the middle of a public transit because of a panic attack after being sneezed upon by accident. I thought Shirotani's characterization is well-written. I can sympathize with his struggle, and I'm also curious about the flashbacks from his past when he was a child which later on has a key importance as to why he developed his phobia in the first place.


On the other hand, I was already suspicious of Kurose which gradually faded when he made the wise, assertive decision to distance himself from Shirotani after he realizes that he is becoming attracted to his patient. Unfortunately, suddenly cutting ties from Shirotani (INSTEAD OF RECOMMENDING HIM TO ANOTEHR DOCTOR, HOW IRRESPONSIBLE COULD YOU BE?) was ill-advised because all the progress that Shirotani has made only regressed, and he became more withdrawn to the point where he stopped going to work. Kurose came to his aid, and finally admitted why he had to stay away from Shirotani. That pivotal scene where he wrapped a jacket around Shirotani so he can hug him was heartfelt in a way and made me forget for a while that what Kurose has done to Shirotani was already reckless, and I probably shouldn't trust him at this point. AND I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO RIGHT!

THE CONFLICT: Good-looking therapist in his late twenties and a hot mess of a man in his thirties with a crippling phobia as his deal-breaker baggage find themselves sexually attracted to each other. It's a delicious premise that would allow a more conscientious writer to explore issues concerning physical and emotional intimacy and co-dependence, all the while cautioning readers with the fall-outs and problems that could arise when a person such as Shirotani engages in a relationship that could only harm his progress and recovery, considering it's with a mental health physician who really should know better than to reciprocate his patient's feelings.

THE GOOD: Let me discuss my favorite part of this manga that was enough reason for me to re-read, review and look forward to the conclusion of its story. In a chapter that illustrated Shirotani's childhood, it was revealed that he was raised by a single father who is a high school teacher. They were close and his father was very sweet and affectionate to him. However, a student of his started lingering around the pair and it was implied that she was his lover. During a conversation at Shirotani's home, the girl asked if he wants to have a new mother, but Shirotani said he doesn't need one because he already has his dad. The girl pressed on that his dad needs someone special in his life aside from his son, and Shirotani--an innocent ten-year-old--casually remarked that he would marry his dad instead because he knows he can make his dad happy. It was a very naive comment from a child who didn't know better, but the girl--THIS HORRIBLE CUNT OF A HUMAN BEING--got angry and told Shirotani that he is a filthy boy for wanting to marry his father. Normally, someone who has a more compassionate heart would have laughed it off and just explain to the boy why the father would need to remarry. I could think of a dozen better ways to react than how that cunt did. 

Then go die in a cleansing fire for extra measure, you bitch

But that's not the worst thing that she did, and the reason why I maintain that she deserves to be called the mightiest cunt of cunts (while being stoned to death) is because of the extremes she went through in order to prove to Shirotani--again, A TEN-YEAR-OLD BOY--that she is the only one who can make the father happy. Are you guys ready to read about it? It's sickening, I tell you. But here we go: One night in his father's office, the girl had Shirotani hide in one of the lockers. When the father arrived, she started seducing him until they ended up having sex RIGHT THERE AND THEN WITH SHIROTANI STILL HIDING IN THE CLOSET. Shirotani, shockingly witnessing his own parent engaging in sexual congress, was immediately unable to process and cope because he started getting aroused too and it terrified him. To relive himself, he started masturbating for the first time because he remembered one of his classmates telling him that if his penis starts to hurt then he should rub it. After the cunt got what she wanted, the father leaves because he thought he heard some noise in one of the classrooms. Smug with her new breed of malice, the girl then addresses Shirotani in the closet, bragging that he could never have sex with his father the way she just had and therefore she should be the one that gets married to the father. When he didn't answer, she opens the closet and finds him trembling with his pants down around his ankles, crying and very much stupefied about what just happened. And her reaction. She screams at him that HE IS DISGUSTING.

How does this affect the young Shirotani? TREMENDOUSLY. He was unable to speak to his father about it, of course, and his innocent familial affection for his own parent was tainted to the point where he outright refuses to be touched by him later on. IT WAS PAINFUL AND WRONG AND ALL KINDS OF HEARTBREAKING! What happened to Shirotani was definitely A SEXUAL TRAUMA. The worst thing is that his father might have gotten married to that selfish cunt which would explain why I never really get to see the father again now that Shirotani is an adult. As horrible as this part of the story was, I thought it was an interesting facet and a meaningful backstory that explained effectively why Shirotani is both simultaneously repulsed and aroused by sex, and why he thinks sexy is a dirty, dirty act. It's really sad to see him deny himself intimacy with his own father. This scene broke my heart:


THE BAD: So now we have established that Shirotani--even now as a man in his thirties--is still traumatized by the pain and loss that cost him the relationship he used to have with his father, and has suffered a gross violation pertaining to his childhood innocence. As a result, he developed an inability to get physically close with anyone without going through torturous bouts of self-loathing and disgust. And then here comes Kurose who at first was a positive influence in his life who aimed to help him overcome his phobia. For a while, Shirotani was making some progress but then he develops attraction for his therapist which does happen but there are fail-safes that must be in place when such scenarios do happen such as being referred to another doctor. However, this is a yaoi manga so the solution was still based on the fantasy of sexual dominance and submission where Kurose--blatantly expressing his interest and desire for Shirotani--gets close to Shirotani physically in spite of the dangerous effect that could have on the man. Shirotani has sexual trauma and mental anguish and badly needs the behavorial therapy and what does Kurose do instead?

Yeah, this fucking thing

THE UGLY: He proceeds to engage in increasingly sexual scenarios with him where Shirotani explicitly verbalized so many times that he is uncomfortable of the physical intimacy that Kurose initiates. Sure, he gives in anyway because his body craves physical enjoyment but that doesn't mean he is mentally prepared for it. AND IT DOESN'T GIVE KUROSE THE RIGHT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SHIROTANI'S TRUST. The dubious consent scenarios are on high alert for this manga but much like most yaoi, this is fetishize instead of being addressed as a serious problem that definitely almost crosses that thin line between consent and rape. I am appalled that Kurose even declared at some point that he wants to degrade Shirotani by making him feel the pleasurable agony of sexual arousal and completion. I also have a problem with the softening resolve that Shirotani displays every time Kurose outright rapes him. It's like he would fight back at first but his will starts to deflate as soon as his body starts feeling good. THAT IS STILL CONSIDERED RAPE because if the person receiving the pleasure feels guilty and disgusted of himself afterwards then there is a lack of true consent in the first place.

And it will continue to become a systematic abuse in the later chapters

Shirotani is not a normal person who can be held completely responsible for his decisions especially when he is at the mercy of the one person who should take a moral obligation to respect his boundaries and help him get better. Shirotani is vulnerable and damaged goods and Kurose is an absolute prick to have sex with him nilly-willy. And to do it as his therapist! It would have been less...evil if he gave up his professional relationship with Shirotani and just be some asshole who is taking advantage of someone else than be a care specialist and do this kind of things to said patient. Honestly, this has yet to be tackled in the story and that is why I have hopes that Shirotani will assert his agency and seek out help (probably from his boss and co-worker Mikami who are both genuinely concerned about him) because Kurose is not at all the person he should associate himself with regardless whether or not he is attracted to him, and especially then. I'M NOT EVEN GOING TO TALK ABOUT KUROSE PROCLAIMING HE LOVES SHIROTANI BECAUSE CLEARLY THIS IS NOT HOW YOU SHOW THAT YOU LOVE SOMEONE!

Just a normal heart-to-heart between a victim and his rapist

RATING SO FAR: 7/10

Comments

  1. I just found your blog while looking for the specific chapter that shows Shirotani's childhood trauma, and I really liked this review, mostly because the issues I have with the manga are the exact same ones you do

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