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The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese is a Japanese josei manga written and illustrated by Eisner-nominated manga artist Setona Mizushiro. Originally serialized in manga magazine Judy between 2005-2006, it has finally seen its first English-language release thanks to Seven Seas Entertainment, who released the book in November 2019. To celebrate its release, here at MANGA.TOKYO we managed to get our fujoshi hands on a copy and present to you our thoughts and impressions of this comic!
‘Well, I just couldn’t help it, could I?’
When Otomo Kyoichi’s wife starts to suspect that her husband is cheating on her, she hires a private eye, Imagase, to investigate him. However, not only does Imagase know Kyoichi from college, but he’s been nursing a crush on the latter for years. Imagase gives Kyoichi an ultimatum: if Kyoichi wants to keep his cheating ways under wraps, then he has to give Imagase something in return. Imagase’s demands start with a kiss, but as the two men become entangled in each other’s lives, it soon becomes clear they each might want more than the other can give. (Seven Seas Entertainment)
Manga Title: The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese (窮鼠はチーズの夢を見る)
Art and Story: Setona Mizushiro
Released: 26 November 2019
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese stands apart from other BL manga out there in a number of ways whilst simultaneously being very much a product of its time and genre. Our two main characters, the spineless, cheating Kyoichi and the assertive Imagase, have chemistry from the very first page we see them. While their companionship has both tender and passionate moments as it unfolds, I found myself rooting for neither of them. Kyoichi has a history of unfaithfulness, which is what initially led to his wife hiring Imagase in the first place. Not only has he cheated on his wife a number of times, but he lacks the emotional capacity to accept liability for his actions— no matter how hard Imagase presses him for it. Imagase, while having depth in other ways, is built around the unfortunate trope of the overly-forceful-won’t-take-no-for-an-answer gay character. The manga begins with him literally blackmailing Kyoichi into fulfilling his sexual desires against his will, for fear of his marriage being destroyed by the investigation. Luckily for Imagase, Kyoichi is actually super into it, but this tired trope causes this story to show its age rather quickly.
As the drama unfolds there are more and more ‘bedroom’ scenes between Imagase and Kyoichi, but unlike some BL, Mizushiro is very clever about what she does and doesn’t reveal. The scenes between them start coyly, the very first not even disclosing the moment their lips touch, and Mizushiro channels the mood of these scenes simply but with an expert hand. I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve put down once the sex scenes began as they did absolutely nothing for me. They may be somewhat unremarkable, there is an edge to the manner in which Mizushiro draws Imagase and Kyoichi together that kept me drawn to the pair ’til the very end.
Despite the reality of the drama within the story, the author doesn’t quite seem to have grasped the concept of bisexuality, sigh. Kyoichi insists he is not gay throughout the story, but it is evident from the get-go that he is attracted to Imagase and responds to his advances, willingly or not, whilst keeping frequent female company. There’s a word for that, you know!
Kyoichi always has his options laid out plainly before him and the people around him patiently explain his choices clearly time and time again, yet as the story goes, on he never seems able to make a choice he doesn’t end up regretting in some way. Imagase, despite being the victim of an unfortunate homophobic trope, is a refreshing character in the sense that he is always one step ahead of the others and is well aware of what’s going on. Kyoichi, on the other hand, is hopeless when it comes to communication and acts in the moment on pure instinct rather than thinking anything through. As you’d expect, this combination of personalities leads to repeated turbulence and turmoil between the two, but rather than becoming repetitive or tiresome, the drama and tension between Kyoichi and Imagase ramp up nicely until the final chapter, after which this collected edition is named.
Each chapter brings a new element of conflict and accountability that Kyoichi must face, and each one managed to end in a way that I didn’t quite expect. In between some of these chapters are very short four-page mini-chapters that explore a small element of Kyoichi and Imagase’s relationship in some way, sometimes in a way that tonally wouldn’t fit into the main chapters, which I found quite enjoyable.
Another way in which this manga stood out to me was its presentation of female characters — while Kyoichi’s wife unfortunately exits the story a little too early for us to really get a sense of her as a person, neither her nor any of the other characters are treated like ~the enemy~, as female characters often are in BL. Natsuki, an ex-girlfriend of Kyoichi’s from university, ends up being quite pivotal in regards to his relationship with Imagase, but instead of coming across as a plain threat, she is not only relatable but admirable in her own right, standing her ground and giving Kyoichi some hard-to-hear advice. Sadly, for one reason or another, even if she wasn’t made out to be a bad guy, she is left in the dust by the end of the story and we don’t find out what happens to her, which I felt a little disappointed by. She deserved better!
Another way in which this manga’s age rears its ugly head is these persistent and frustrating homophobic and sexist comments which are dusted all over the book. Anyone into BL is not unfamiliar with the internalized I’m Not Gay But If It’s You, It’s Okay type-trope, but I was a little unprepared for some of the other comments characters make in this book. Kyoichi refers to Imagase as a ‘dangerous stalker gay guy’ and a ‘homo’ on at least one occasion and he often talks about how much better things would be for him ‘if Imagase were a woman’, but that’s only because he’s worried about what people and society would think of him if they knew he was with a man — nothing about their relationship would actually be any different. Even when having sex with other women in the story, all he can think of is Imagase. Even Imagase makes some pretty unsavory comments to Natsuki about her age and her single status!
The rhetoric of a ‘normal’ kind of relationship and a ‘normal’ kind of happiness is constantly equated to being heterosexual, but even Kyoichi’s imaginations of a ‘normal’, straight relationship suck. I kind of feel bad for the women that have dated him previously, but I think that’s the point. The more we learn about how much he sucked ’til now, maybe we can start to see that Imagase is the right choice for him after all.
For all its faults, The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese makes for an emotional and exciting drama between a man on the brink of losing everything and another who has nothing to lose at all. Stained with realism, the heated highs and lows of the story hit all the right beats and keep you hooked until the end. No matter how different you may be from Kyoichi and the rest, these misfit characters full of faults and bad decisions make it easy to relate to them and see how they came to one conclusion from the next, and I ended up having a soft spot in my heart for Imagase in particular. Bring on the sequel!
Keep warm this winter season with the latest anime info at MANGA.TOKYO!