BL manga review: Labradorescence; opposites that help each other live better

A labradorite is a mineral that is known for its ability to reflect only certain colors, due to its internal structure. It’s no coincidence that Labradorescence is the name of ymz’s 2014 manga. This is a second in my planned series of reviews surrounding ymz’s manga, for no real reason, other than the aesthetic and mood that I was surprisingly drawn into. In my last review of said author’s Key ring lock, I reflected, while focusing on their loneliness, on the main couple not really fighting despite having in a sense opposite personalities. The same could be said for Labradorescence’s main characters, but let’s start from the beginning.

Labradorescence follows Shunji Fujishiro, a photographer, who wakes up one morning in a hospital bed. He is perplexed by the informal doctor that greets him, who turns out to be his age. We get a glimpse into Shunji’s life as a photographer pretty early. He’s insecure about his work, at the same time, caring for the little details. He stopped to appreciate the night’s sky and the only reason he hurt his wrist and wounded up in the hospital was due to him trying to protect his camera. He seems or at least seemed to have passion, but now feels apathetic and relieved that his injury will force him to take a break.

The doctor meets him back outside and even scolds him as if he was a child, as Shunji tries to smoke, still thinking about his career and the pressure he feels, unable to work on his own projects despite the finally acquired rest.

In the spur of a moment he invites the stranger, Mutsumi Higa, to his photography exhibition, feeling as if there was something between them. Shunji quickly gets tangled up in his feelings as he waits for Higa to visit, but is unsure of the reason of his uneasiness when he actually does.
Mutsumi Higa seems like his complete opposite, from his career choice and the circumstances surrounding it, to his stoic personality. Higa seems to be somewhat grumpy and methodical, a good balance to Shunji’s honest and impulsive character. Whenever he decides something he does it, but despite him seeming as someone who has his life together, he still doubts himself.

Despite it being only the 2nd story by ymz which I have read to completion, it seems that the thread joining all of their work is how human the characters and their conflicts feel. Witch no complex twists or menacing staked for our main couple to over come, character motivations and internal conflict are in the driving seat.

Higa takes care of others, yet hates it when it’s done to him. He genuinely wants to help and comfort others, so his job, as taxing as it is, seems perfect for him.
A problem that is almost universal is that people often have trouble picking between things. The more choices they have, the worse is their anxiety. Such a phenomenon can also be described as analysis paralysis. The more you overthink something, the more difficult it becomes to make a decision. Not good at expressing his feelings, he felt lost upon hearing “do what you want to”. Even more of a reason for Higa to be interested in the bubbly Shunji who seems to wear his emotions on his sleeve.

The grow closer and even get into a petty fight. Higa asks Shunji to contact him less often due to a difficult operation coming up that he needs to study for and subsequently gets angry when Shunji says he has other friends to meet, that he declined before in order to spend more time with Higa, although unwilling to admit that he, in fact, was making him a special case. Focusing more on his work and trying to think the whole thing over, he stumbles upon a box with previous photographs he has taken. He reminisces of the first time he took one and the person that it was of. A kind old lady that lived nearby and inspired him to think less about money as photography isn’t about it. Sadly, a few days later upon moving he learned that she passed away.

Regret plays a big part in Shunji’s character. He wishes he had taken a proper, beautiful picture of her facing front instead of the turned away one that he snapped quickly. More often than not, we tell ourselves, just like Shunji, that we’ll get to see that person next time, that there’s so much time left, not like they’ll go anywhere, right?

Meanwhile, Higa is still stuck sulking about their fight as a friend from work pushes him to think about his feelings more. “If it bothers you this much, you should talk to him about it. You can’t solve this by yourself. It’s something you have to do with the other person” is pretty solid advice, but Higa latches on to trying to look cool (as if it didn’t bother him):

Higa is logical, straightforward yet at the same time, completely out of touch with himself. He knows what “type” he is, but fails to understand his own feelings. He understands that by being more honest with himself he would take the risk to destroy everything and understands that he can’t afford it. Shunji comes in at the best moment, his straightforwardness rivaling that of his grumpy counterpart, who’s now worried of being selfish and thinking only about himself, despite reality being the complete opposite.

He boldly proclaims that he wants to take Higa’s picture and does so despite the latter claiming he hates his picture taken before he finally gives in. Mirroring Higa’s own doubts about being selfish, he talks about himself being the type to forget the important things. A person who was kind to him, things he had which will never come back, as if he’s not giving people the value they deserve. This pushes Higa to admit and accept that he was upset and the two admit that it’s okay to be selfish with each other (within reason). They even talk about their differing personalities and Higa thinks about how he hides his feelings in order to mask weakness. They admire each other without wanting to become like each other.

A surprise run in with an ex, reveals to Shunji that despite his awkwardness Higa is a gentle person. The ex even sees through Shunji wanting to know more and his own feelings towards Higa. She helps to reveal a key in why Shunji and Higa work while her relationship with Higa did not. Shunji understands that caring for others is ingrained into his personality, while she expected to be special. The conversation he has with Higa’s ex (more of a blessing) pushes him to finally talk with Higa about what they really want from this relationship and where they both stand.

With Higa learning to live for himself with the help of Shunji, he gives him the key to his appartment. The series title comes into play, as Shunji gives Higa a labradorite he used in a photo shoot, saying that it’s said to help with staying connected to yourself when faced with self-doubt. The two even tease one another over their mutual feelings and why they think about one another so much:

Their relationship progression seems both beneficial towards each of their growths as a character, all at the same time it flows naturally, with no dramatic events to rush or fully halt the flow. They think of each other when they are apart and it does not change when they are together. Caring and worrying for each other, both in their own way.

A short epilogue chapter gives more of their banter as well as a look into their daily life, as casual and sweet as it can get.In a way ymz’s Labradorescence teaches us to appreciate the little things more, taking the limited time we all have into consideration, in order to life a life with no regrets. Just like Shunji and Higa complement and complete each other, being more honest with yourself is another key step.

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