A grown man takes up knitting as a hobby.
Sekine-kun no Koi (関根くんの恋, Sekine’s Love) is a josei (for adult women) romance manga by Kawachi Haruka (河内遙) that I honestly think works just as well for men as it might for women, despite the demographic. I haven’t read many josei manga at all and have only recently bothered examining the category. As a man, I simply wasn’t very interested in manga for women. Sekine-kun made me reconsider, although to be fair I may not find much else like it. Kawachi-sensei has been noted for her unique style and ability to appeal to both sexes, and with Sekine-kun I can really see why. This was a very pleasant, very easy to read, charming little story about a broken man stumbling through his first true love. In some ways I found this man’s awkwardness relatable, but mostly I found him fascinating, pitiful, and adorable. I consider the titular Sekine to be a subversion of the “perfect man” archetype…perhaps even…a deconstruction!? But I’m honestly never one to use that word outside of sarcastically and Sekine-kun isn’t really so serious. While I can certainly say this series feels like the author asked the questions “How would those perfect, prince-like shoujo heroes end up like they are, and what would it mean for them? How would they feel?”, in her answers she remained mostly lighthearted. Kawachi-sensei does not treat any of the subject matter dismissively, per se — this is certainly a mature story — but her delightful sense of humor dulls drama and makes dealing with it all less difficult.
Sekine Keiichiro (30) is many a woman’s ideal man. Cool, gorgeous, tall, and gentlemanly to start, he is also a hard worker, easily good at basically anything, athletic, intelligent, and so passive that he isn’t difficult to approach. That passivity is a severe flaw of his, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Sekine is a salaryman at a company. I don’t believe we ever actually learn what kind of company it is, and when Sekine is eventually asked about it he delivers a perfectly generic description. His longtime friend, Konno, works somewhere else and bothers him regularly by roping him into mixers because Sekine is attractive and women flock to him. That said, Konno is a married man, married to one of Sekine’s senpai from back in high school, and this bothers Sekine more than the women he has reverse interest in.
While getting increasingly frustrated at one of these mixers, Sekine tries to redirect interest from him so that the girls present can stop pestering him. He asks about hobbies/interests and accidentally ends up opening the floor for discussion of such. The conversation rounds back to him and he’s like “Alright, fine. Hobbies? Easy. Of course I have–“
Actually, Sekine has no interests at all.
He thinks about it, and all his life he’s passively accepted roles thrust onto him without thinking much about it, and of course in all those years he picked up no hobbies for his spare time. In work, in sports, in clubs and so on he carelessly moved forward because people wanted him to do it. In his “love life”, too, he has simply accepted that women were interested in him and dully entered relationships. As he sits down at home and thinks this all over — having come to the realization that he is a boring, hollow person — he begins to tear up.
He decides he needs to remedy this emptiness inside of him, and since he happens to spot something related to it, he figures he’ll start with “learning how to knit”.
Sekine actually doesn’t learn how to knit immediately. At first, he goes to a handicrafts store and encounters a bizarre old man who misunderstands (or, more like ignores) Sekine’s intentions and starts teaching him magic tricks for what amounts to about ten bucks a trick. Since Sekine isn’t really concerned with what hobby he picks up, he absently starts to learn magic with the old man every Friday for a while. He eventually learns knitting from this old man’s granddaughter.
The astute might come to the immediate understanding that the grandchild, Kisaragi Sara, is the series’ main heroine and Sekine’s love interest, but I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t sure at first. It takes him a bit to even be interested in her.
On that note, this series really did defy me at several points by going against my expectations. Like, let’s see…
- Sekine is a pretty boy princely sort, must be annoying. -> Sekine is awkward and dorky: cute.
- Sekine will learn knitting at first! -> Sekine becomes a hobby magician first, and kind of keeps with it a bit the whole time.
- Konno and his wife will be really important characters. -> Sort of, they don’t show up a lot.
- The granddaughter is the main love interest? -> No, doesn’t look like it (wrong).
- Konno’s wife is the main love interest! -> No, no: it’s the granddaughter.
- This rival character is going to be really annoying and cause a lot of trouble… -> No, not really. Actually, he’s not really a rival is he?
- Sekine’s past is dark, and this is a romance, surely there will be tons of drama. -> Nope.
The manga also has a kind of snappy pace despite the…hm, “flow”-like progression of narration, panels, and pages, so many times expectations I had were very quickly dashed. This is good. Like I said earlier, reading the manga is pleasant and charming. There is rarely any tension until the series nears its end, which is impressive considering my point no. 7: Sekine’s past really is dark.
Let’s put it bluntly: Sekine has from a young age been a victim of regular sexual abuse: harassment, molestation, and rape. He’s so attractive, yes? So women and men, both, have always come to him whether or not he wants it. At the risk of sounding twisted, I like this. I like this because male sexual abuse is something not too often addressed in this world, be it in reality or in fiction, and in fact it’s often made light of despite being a serious matter. Kawachi-sensei handles it very maturely without dwelling on it such that it feels exploitative or like a cheap way of making Sekine sympathetic. Instead, it feels like it makes sense. It makes sense that people pushed themselves onto him, and in turn it makes sense why Sekine has always locked up and accepted things passively. What seems to be his first trauma involving molestation was a memory he actually kept buried away (which is different from his many other memories of being abused) and judging from what transpired, it may explain why he has chosen to not fight things and feign apathy when put in these situations.
When thinking about his past abuse, Sekine gets extremely frustrated or sickened with himself, and usually wants to do something else. Unfortunately, Sekine has a bad habit of thinking about the past, repeating events and moments over and over in his head. This is why he “likes” knitting: it’s distracting. Knitting takes quite a while, demands a lot of concentration and complicated motions from his fingers, and serves as a means of pretending he is actually interested in something (and thus a “whole” individual). What he wants to do above all else is to not face his own muddled history, and aside from knitting he will also prefer to lie to himself if it means he can push away his feelings.
But this is a series about Sekine’s growth! Things are going to be different from now on! And so: Kisaragi Sara is the biggest instigator of change in Sekine’s life, although it doesn’t look like she necessarily will be at first.
Sara is the perfect girl for Sekine, so it makes sense that Sekine eventually starts developing feelings for her. In the first place, she’s somebody who doesn’t immediately put her own feelings and impressions on him, instead simply treating him as a customer of her handicrafts store that’s kind of evolving into an acquaintance. She recognizes that he’s handsome but doesn’t turn into a blushing mess around him like near all other girls. She’s also a weirdo, which is apparently Sekine’s “type”. She has a funny way of dressing, loves drinking, loves baseball games, and loves strange-looking things. Sekine eventually starts thinking she’s incredibly adorable, and I can’t disagree with him. It’s also adorable how Sekine’s feelings bloom, Sara eventually becoming a person he enjoys just for her presence, appearance, voice, and so on. Lastly, another big selling point for Sara to Sekine is that Sara doesn’t take any of Sekine’s shit.
Sekine is kind of a crybaby, which is understandable but can also be a bother. Without thinking, he can easily awaken instincts in others with the “help me ;-;” vibe he gives off. Even Konno recognizes Sekine as someone you want to lend a hand to, and furthermore a character introduced a bit later who “hates” talented people like Sekine ends up feeling bad for him and easing his mind on multiple occasions. Sara tends to describe this and the generally gentlemanly abilities of Sekine’s as “dangerous”, because she can tell a lot of women probably fall for him and his gloomy/aloof self. On that note, Sara doesn’t fall for him, actually — or at least not easily. This seems to only intrigue Sekine further, and he takes any words and advice Sara gives him deeply to heart (for better or for worse). On the other hand, much of Sekine’s thoughtless charm and grace that makes him look like he came straight out of a shoujo manga simply amuses Sara.
And really, this puts things into perspective. Sekine may be a subversion or a deconstruction of the “shoujo prince”, but “parody” may be just as fitting a description. Not only is it quite funny to see him pull off enchanting and lovely maneuvers with impeccable grace, but it’s also funny seeing his thought process during and after these maneuvers. He’ll sigh or panic or furrow his brow because he often feels embarrassed or ridiculous, unsure he’s doing anything right. Sekine has been in love before, but that love ended unspoken and nearly gave him a whole other psychological issue atop all the rest, so this attempt at romance with Sara is his first real go at trying to earn someone’s affections earnestly. In the end I’ll say it again: Sekine is cute. I really love the guy, watching him fumble and fall due to his love even over simple things like getting contact information. You really want to root for him.
And here is where my discussion ends. There is only one other character in the series who I could talk about, but he has his own barrel of issues such that it’s not worth getting into him. I’ve touched on him a little in this review, but that’s about all I’ll do. If you read the manga, it’ll be obvious who I’m talking about. He seems like he’ll be awful at first, but he pretty quickly becomes a fun character. I like him a lot.
There is quite a lot that Sekine-kun no Koi does right. It is funny enough to get me to laugh quite often, it’s mature and thoughtful so I feel a bit more open-minded after reading it, and it’s a really sweet romance that makes my heart smile. It has vast amounts of my respect for examining real troubling psychological issues in a way that doesn’t make me feel like garbage. Eliciting “uncomfort” from the reader is a valuable and effective way to get across why a bad thing is bad in fiction, but to largely avoid causing the feeling of being wholly disgusted or uncomfortable while also demanding you seriously consider the implications of some messed up events is truly impressive. Because his abuse does not define him and its portrayal does not distract from other things about him, I was able to really think about Sekine’s character as a whole, and I really appreciate that.
To finish up, art-wise I really like what Kawachi-sensei was doing here. This manga is very pretty and the way it’s presented, as I mentioned early in the review, is much like a “flow”. It’s a smooth ride and getting through its 30-some-odd chapters is easy peasy, and quite nice at that. This series is definitely best read all at once, though. I enjoyed my read-through of the series for review much more than I did when I was reading it as it released, and for the record I distinctly remember enjoying it a WHOLE lot when I was first reading it. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing I believe if you’re hoping to read the series entirely in English, you’re going to be waiting quite a while (potentially a full year or more). Having read the series raw, I can see why it takes the group who’s picked up Sekine-kun so long to get chapters out, on top of having life to contend with. They do an excellent job with the series, so I can’t complain, but if you decide to pick up the manga now and reach the end of the translated chapters I’m betting you’re going to feel pretty frustrated. If that is the case, I really think you should purchase the final volume and see for yourself how the series ends (you’ll get it even if you can’t read it). This is a manga most definitely worth reading and worth paying for, so I highly encourage this action.
Scratch that, the series has been completely translated!
The series was licensed in English but the company went defunct and only one volume was released. A common story!
Alright, thank you for reading! Next time, I’m not sure what I will be reviewing. Either something or something else. See you then!