"Ritsuka, it's okay to close your eyes. I love you, Ritsuka."

Loveless is a fantasy/drama manga series with heavy-handed shounen-ai hints by Kouga Yun that focuses on a modern-day Japan where the lines between adolescence and adulthood are distinctly drawn. In this alternate version of today, people are born with cat ears and a tail – both of which they lose when they’ve become adults which is basically a more poetic way of saying when they lose their virginity. To that effect, Loveless serves as quite the engaging social commentary for a subject matter that is rarely discussed and often frowned upon.

In this setting, we meet Agatsuma Soubi, a twenty-something-year-old art student who is the poster-boy for how loss and pain shape an individual. Orphaned at a young age, Soubi has experienced more in his life than most can ever imagine: death of loved ones, emotional abuse, verbal beatings, physical torture in the name of “progressive education”, psychological breaks, and even mutilation. He has been rejected by anyone and everyone he allowed himself to grow close to and depend on, and so, he keeps people at arms length and wraps himself in a protective armor on top of all that. Repeatedly told that his sole purpose in life is to be the “perfect” Fighter for his Sacrifice, Soubi literally came to believe this was all that was meant for him. He was molded into what others wanted for him, with little regard for what Soubi wanted for himself. Eventually, he stopped living for himself entirely, and his existence became about living for someone else: his Sacrifice. No matter how much pain or hurt were inflicted upon him, if it was what his Sacrifice wanted, Soubi was content and did everything in his power to obey.

And then Soubi meets Ritsuka.

With his Sacrifice dead (and himself still branded as Beloved), Soubi has no business acting as Ritsuka’s Fighter, despite his state as a Blank. He initially chooses to do so as a final command given to him by his previous Sacrifice. He teases Ritsuka, he keeps him at an emotional distance despite not respecting a physical one, and he amuses himself with coming-and-going in and out of Ritsuka’s life as he sees fit. He carries out his duty, but that’s about it. While he claims to “love” the younger boy right from their first meeting, it’s very obvious that Soubi views him as plainly as the rest of the world does: as a child.

But Ritsuka soon proves to him that ears and a tail don’t necessarily amount to immaturity, and not having them doesn’t automatically qualify someone to be called an adult. One of the interesting facets of Loveless is the way this distinction plays off of these two characters. There are times Ritsuka acts like a man beyond his years in wisdom, and there are times Soubi becomes so emotionally stunted; you have to wonder if he’s still not just a child himself.

Through his Sacrifice, Soubi finds someone he can truly rely on. Someone who cares about him and his needs vs. what they want and whether he can accomplish that. Through his Sacrifice, Soubi wields his title as the Strongest Fighter with a determination and power that no other team can match – this despite his disadvantage by not sharing the name Loveless. He is a multifaceted individual finally recalling the bits and pieces of himself and gluing them back together. Soubi might outwardly appear the suave debonair, completely confident and unabashed, but on the inside, he struggles with his own place in the world and whether he has the right to be happy. He is an extremely complicated individual – terribly hard to read and even harder to understand; but as more time goes by and as more secrets are revealed, he starts to understand that it’s okay for him to exist – that it’s okay for him to be happy – and that Ritsuka is the catalyst for his growing acceptance.

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