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If you are in the mood for a sweet tale of budding romance, Intriguing Secrets certainly fits the bill. Class clown Mizue is running to his locker at the end of the school day when he runs into classmate Umehara, who is running inside to clear up a paint accident. Unfortunately, they also ran into a teacher, whose Father's Day tie from his little girl gets spattered by paint from Umehara's brush. Forced to spend time weeding in the hot sun together as detention, Umehara is feeling pretty morose. Not only is it unbearably hot and humid, but he thinks Mizue is probably a waste of space. The guy is always clowning around, and the more serious Umehara has heard nothing but bad things about him from his own circle of friends.
Umehara learns a valuable lesson about not judging others based on rumour and speculation however, when Mizue stays to complete his share of the punishment, even texting to cancel the appointment he had been dashing to get to at the time of the incident. Not only that, but he works seriously, flashes a million dollar smile at Umehara, and when they are finished, treats him to a cold drink and accompanies him part of the way home. Umehara seems a bit shy, despite having acquaintances, he sits alone during free periods, and is often the only person in the art club room doing any painting. But there is just something about Mizue that has him intrigued, so he asks Mizue to meet up with him to help pick a tie out for sensei to make up for what they did. Mizue seems to be quite delighted, happy to keep hanging around Umehara regardless of the reason.
What follows is a series of moments where Umehara realises that he seems to have fallen for his new friend and is desperate to hide his feelings while the pair spend time together. It gets frustrating thanks to Mizue's sense of humour and the often teasing remarks he throws Umehara's way. Ultimately, it is the story of two young men discovering their sexuality, unaware of the mutual attraction, yet desperate to keep near the one they cherish. It's poignantly sweet watching each young man deal with their feelings of tender longing, with the other unaware and misinterpreting what he is seeing and hearing thanks to his own confusion. The confession scene is angsty but not overly so, and I quite liked how it did not turn into one of those scenes where one I suddenly pushed down for some intense sex and they live happily ever after. They ARE hormonal teens, so some sexual tension relief IS on the cards, but the mangaka keeps the tone of the piece on an even keel, so that this too is shy and slightly hesitant, and nothing full on.
Matching the almost painfully shy emotions, the art is soft and rather pretty to look at. This is not to say that it is spare in any sense of the word, merely that Shinba sensei has perfectly captured the narrow focus that Umehara has. When he is fully focussed on something, such as the weeding, the panel is alive with rich detail, and when he is not, the art reflects that too. It wonderfully evokes the emotions of the moment as it flits by, drawing the reader in deeper while building a sense of deep empathy for the gentle youth.
Rated a 16+ due to mature themes, this is a story certain to please fans of such works as Only The Ring Finger Knows and Words of Devotion, and is currently available as a paperback from June Manga. I'd like to thank DMP for providing me with the review copy.