I couldn’t help myself. After reading Secret XXX, I was eager to read more works by Meguru Hinohara and lucky for me I had volume 1 of her spin-off series Therapy Game sitting pretty at the top of my TBR pile. I planned on waiting until volume 2 was released to review the series, but September 8th is just a little too far off for my tastes, so I succumbed to the siren call and read the entire volume in one sitting… and I didn’t think it was possible, but Hinohara really outdid herself!
Therapy Game is a spin-off of Meguru Hinohara’s debut boys love manga Secret XXX, this time around the story focuses not on Shohei and Mito, but on their brothers, Shizuma and Minato—both of whom appeared as side characters in the prequel series. Shizuma was relegated to a background role in Secret XXX, but we spent quite a bit of time with Minato, so I was eager to see him stepping into a more prominent role in this series.
I’m going to be honest with you guys, at first the title of this manga really turned me off and if it weren’t for all the positive hype surrounding the release I might not have gotten it and it’s all because of Ten Count. So, you might be wondering what Ten Count has to do with Therapy Game—I mean, they both have completely different premises and authors, and on the surface there’s nothing remotely similar about them. Ten Count is about a guy with germaphobia and OCD learning to work through his compulsions and Therapy Game is about a one night stand that develops into something more.
It’s been awhile since I read Ten Count, but, I’m still not over how the series turned a mental health condition into a fetish. I studied psychology in school and I can’t tell you how horrifying it is seeing a COUNSELOR of all people exploiting their patient’s mental health condition for grooming purposes. So when Therapy Game came to my attention I assumed it would just be another repeat of Ten Count…I mean it has “therapy” in the title.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all, instead, I’d say story-wise, Therapy Game has more in common with The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese, where two characters enter into a casual sexual relationship that develops into something more. In Therapy Game, Shohei’s older brother Shizuma has just been dumped by his girlfriend Yuka, heartbroken, so he heads over to a local bar to drink away his sorrows. He gets smashed and ends up spilling his guts to Minato (Mito’s younger brother from Secret XXX) who feels sorry for him and lends him an ear. One thing leads to another and the two end up having a drunken one-night stand at a hotel. The next morning, Shizuma has no memory of their fling and apologizes to Minato for “whatever he may have done the night before”. Minato upset that the one person he thought he had a genuine connection with doesn’t remember their time together vows to get revenge by seducing him and dumping him.
We all know how this story goes—Minato catches feelings for Shizuma and he grapples with whether he is really committed to following through with his plan. I kind of thought this was going to turn into one of those stories where an established gay character “turns” the established straight character gay—Shizuma has never been in a relationship with another man and Minato is implied to have had his fair share of casual relationships. But, the chemistry between Minato and Shizuma is there otherwise they never would have ended up in bed together in the first place and while there is some morning after regret, most of it stems from Shizuma’s guilt at NOT remembering sleeping with Minato the night before.
I kept expecting Shizuma to constantly insist that he’s “not gay” or long drawn out angst ridden chapters where he wrestles with his newfound sexuality, but NOPE—I believe he makes one offhand comment that he didn’t know he was “bi-curious” and that’s it. There is no “oh god I’m gay” or any blaming of Minato for “turning him gay”, in fact Shizuma seems more surprised that someone like Minato is even interested in being with someone like him—someone broken. Minato too has his fair share of baggage and unresolved family issues, which he gradually reveals as the story progresses. I don’t know how I feel about Minato’s tragic family history, it kind of comes out of nowhere, but I’ll withhold judgement until I read volume 2. Really, Therapy Game is a story about two emotionally raw and damaged people coming together and finding comfort in one another and that is story I can really get behind.
Consent in BL media can be a bit of a mixed bag, so to read a story that focuses on two consenting adults makes all the steamy scenes so much more satisfying. There is a scene early on where Minato attempts to force himself on Shizuma and he SHUTS IT DOWN! He clearly says no and Minato stops (after Shizuma pushes him away), Shizuma draws a clear line of consent and Minato respects that. Sure they have sex a few times, but it is clear that this is something that both Minato and Shizuma want—so, what started as a drunken fling develops into a pretty cute consensual relationship.
Hinohara does a great job at developing the main pair as characters first; Shizuma is a straight laced college student who get’s swept up into a casual relationship with Minato, a fashionable playboy who is afraid to fall in love. They actually spend time getting to know one another—they talk, they go on dates, and they even get to spend time with the people in each other’s lives—you see Minato and Shizuma start to fall in love with one another. There are all these sweet little moments where it’s clear there’s something more going on beyond just casual sex and I will wholeheartedly admit that I invested in these characters. I WANT to know what happens next for them and a cliffhanger is a pretty good way to guarantee that I’ll pick up the next volume in September.
Volume 1 of Therapy Game was a fun read. The chemistry between Shizuma and Minato is great and there were a few moments that made me feel some genuine emotion and EVERYTIME Shizuma strokes Minato’s cheek I get a warm fuzzy feeling in my chest. The sex scenes are uncensored (thank you SuBLime) so none of the usual invisa-dick, black bars, or white mist—everything is anatomically present. I may have had some reservations going in to Therapy Game, but after finishing volume 1 I definitely recommend giving this series a chance.
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