Naja is a 20-something Blerd that loves anime, manga, and everything in between. When she isn’t obsessing over a certain megane middle blocker, she’s a relatively well adjusted adult that just happens to have an impossibly long gaming backlog.
Physician-client privileges take on a new meaning in the newest BL title from critically acclaimed BL mangaka Takarai Rihito.
When you can do number ten on your list, you will be completely cured
An ambitious promise from an enigmatic counselor, but for germophobic secretary, Shirotani Takadaomi, it’s the beginning of an unusual relationship.
Ten Count (テンカウント ) is an ongoing psychological BL series from Takarai Rihito, the author behind well-known BL titles as Seven Days and Only the Flower Knows. The series started serialization in Dear+ in 2013, but as of 2016, it has been licensed for an English language audience by SuBLime.
The series follows the relationship between a mysophobic secretary, Shirotani Takadaomi, and his counselor Kurose Riku. Mysophobia is a pathological fear of being contaminated by germs and other external agents and can also manifest concurrently with symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). With the help of Kurose and his ten-step program, the pair work to cure Shirotani of his compulsion for good. But with each completed step, Shirotani develops an attraction for the straightforward therapist that is far from professional.
Looking forward to volumes 4 and 5! pic.twitter.com/ijoqc3AOXU
— Xeno Glossia (@XenoglossiaNV) May 3, 2017
With the overabundance of BL titles that focus on sex, finding stories of substance often requires sifting through volumes upon volumes of smut. Of course, there are a few mangaka that are known for producing stories of substance, but they are few and far between. However, Takarai Rihito happens to be one of those rare exceptions. Her works are known for their multi-dimensional characters and thought-provoking narratives. She adds a bit of complexity to her stories that is usually lacking in other BL manga.
Ten Count is no exception. I was genuinely surprised by this title because it’s not often that an author will tackle such a complex issue as mental health, let alone take the time to do it justice. It takes just three pages for Takarai to set the tone by establishing Shirotani’s mysophobia as a legitimate source of conflict within the overall narrative without overwhelming the reader with complex definitions or medical jargon. She allows Shirotani’s internal monologue to set the pace for his condition and in just a few lines we are given a great deal of insight into the effect it has on his life. For someone unfamiliar with mysophobia, this was a poignant way of introducing readers to the issue, while laying the foundation for Shirotani’s thoughts and feelings about his condition.
He has been living with his mysophobia for years, it’s nothing new, and Takarai treats it as such. Rather than drawing attention to Shirotani’s compulsive behaviors, Takarai establishes it as something commonplace. In fact, if I didn’t know anything about Shirotani’s condition, I would have just assumed that he was just a very tidy person. It’s only after knowing about his disorder that you begin to see the darker undertones of his behavior. Even something as mundane as washing his hands after work is another manifestation of his condition, but it is done in a way that subtly reveals to the reader the severity of Shirotani’s illness. Instead of keeping hand soap by his bathroom sink, there’s a bottle of rubbing alcohol, not an uncommon find in a bathroom, but the distinct lack of soap definitely hints at something deeper. Even his hands, which you’d expect to look smooth and clean, are instead covered with open sores and bruises from constant washing. The author doesn’t have to tell us how much of an impact his condition has on his life; we can see it.
There are also a few visual cues that give us brief glimpses in how the world looks through Shirotani’s eyes. When he is asked to touch a door handle with his bare hands, a seemingly impossible task for someone with his condition, we see dirty handprints all over the door’s surface. It’s clear that the marks are just a manifestation of his own mind, but that little detail was enough to give us a look at the world from his perspective. With character driven narratives, it’s important that the author lets the characters tell their own stories since it is the characters and their motivations that move the story along.
Ten Count is a large departure from the usual BL manga that focus mostly on the physical aspects of homosexual relationships. I appreciated the more relaxed pacing of the main couple’s relationship. While their relationship is important to the overall progression of the story, it isn’t the focus in this first volume. The relationship between Kurose Riku and Shirotani Tadaomi is still in its infancy at the start of the manga, so if you are expecting romantic development right off the bat, this is not the story for you. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an underlying subtext to the pair that extends beyond the normal counselor/patient relationship.
Because of the nature of his condition, Shirotani is extremely vulnerable. While it isn’t stated outright, the author hints that his mysophobia was caused by a past trauma. Whenever Shirotani is overwhelmed by the shortcomings of his condition, we are treated to brief (no more than one or two panels) flashbacks of a much younger Shirotani, before he developed his mysophobia. While these scenes are inconsistent and vague, they do hint at an underlying cause for his current state. It stands to reason that Shirotani is more than just a little susceptible to manipulation, so it would be easy for a predator to worm their way into his life and take advantage of him. Enter, Kurose.
After just a few moments of interacting with Shirotani, Kurose immediately recognizes that he has mysophobia and offers his assistance. There is something not quite right about the guy despite his supposedly harmless claims that he just wants to help Shirotani. It also doesn’t help that we don’t really know anything about him other than the fact that he is a counselor at a children’s clinic. As a counselor, he should have offered to see Shirotani in a much more professional setting, like the clinic, but he instead offers to meet him in a café. He also offers his services to Shirotani on a strictly casual basis, and while I am aware that semi-structured counseling is used to help treat some patients, the way Kurose approaches Shirotani threw up a lot of red flags. While Shirotani does note that his behavior is a bit suspicious, he doesn’t actually attempt to distance himself from Kurose. But, despite my reservations, I found myself trusting Kurose, since his proposed treatment method, the ten-step program, is a legitimate treatment for compulsive disorders like mysophobia. Rather than proposing an intensive therapy, Kurose asks Shirotani to list out ten tasks he has trouble performing due to his condition. However, Shirotani is only able to list out nine, but Kurose assures him that they will deal with that when the time comes and they set about tackling each of the items on the list. With each completed item, Kurose and Shirotani grow closer.
Kurose is very forthcoming with Shirotani about himself. However, there are a few instances where he pushes Shirotani’s established boundaries beyond what is proper for a counselor. There are definitely some darker undertones to their relationship and with Shirotani’s budding affection for Kurose, a genuine cause for concern. Under Kurose’s care, Shirotani’s condition does improve, albeit gradually, and in his defense, when Kurose realizes that he is crossing a line with Shirotani, he does stop their sessions. But, by that point, Shirotani has become dependent upon Kurose, to the point that it’s clear that his condition will take a nosedive without him. The volume ends on a bit of a low point for Shirotani and I am curious to see how Kurose’s premature abandonment affects his condition in the subsequent volumes.
— 🌦#FINE (@Taengu_89) May 3, 2017
Mental Health: If I had to choose one thing that impressed me the most with this manga, it would have to be the realistic depiction of Shirotani’s condition. Not only does Takarai take the time to explain and depict the nuances of mysophobia, but they also offer a realistic treatment method. Mental health is often used by authors to make their works seem edgy, without taking into consideration the severity of the conditions.
Ten-step Treatment: Kurose’s ten step program is an adaptation of the Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) method commonly used to treat complex cognitive disorders such as OCD and mysophobia.
Slow Romantic Progression: The pacing of Shirotani and Kurose’s relationship is a bit more gradual than what you’d expect from a BL manga, but it allows the reader to get a good feel of the characters as individuals first. Aside from a bit of blushing from Shirotani towards the end of the volume, there isn’t much in the way of physical contact, though there is more than enough belligerent sexual tension to make up for that.
Darker undertones & Mature Themes: This is a BL manga so there were bound to be a few mature themes, but Ten Count hints at a few darker themes, such as the nature of consent and co-dependency. Because Shirotani is suffering from a severe compulsive disorder, he is a bit more vulnerable than your average person and more susceptible to manipulation. The nature of his condition and his past trauma also hint at some darker plot points in future volumes.
— 小秋的天地#与ときやのみち (@tellenaki) April 23, 2017
Overall, I was impressed with the way the first volume of Ten Count handled Shirotani’s condition while also managing to set the foundation for the relationship between Shirotani and Kurose. There were a few moments where the volume fell back on some of the more traditional BL tropes, but it was nothing that took away from my overall enjoyment of the story. It is clear that the relationship between Shirotani and Kurose will eventually develop into something romantic, but the nature of Shirotani’s condition will have a defining role in how quickly that progresses.
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