Makoko Tateno's How to Capture a Martini is one of those yaoi works where everyone's emotional settings are always calibrated for maximum intensity.
The set up is simple but effective -- former high-school love birds meet up again as young adults after years of separation. Naoyuki comes across his old flame while looking for a good place to grab an after dinner drink with his current girlfriend. Shinobu, the aforementioned first love, now works as a bartender and has become a chilly and distant man, a far cry from the kind lover that Shinobu remembers. Poor Naoyuki was dumped without explanation or even a word when Sinobu graduated from their high school, and this lack of closure has left a deep emotional scar that neither man has recovered from. Of course, per romance regulations, one partner -- Naoyuki -- wears his heart on his sleeve, while the other -- Shinobu -- tries to mercilessly murder his own feelings of love.
Once he realizes he hasn't gotten over Shinobu, Naoyuki lets his generic girlfriend go and somehow gets himself accidentally hired at the same bar where Shinobu works. Now that Naoyuki's gotten the second chance he's always dreamed of, he finds himself up against an insurrmountable obstacle -- Shinobu himself. Tateno's worked out a kind of typical formula in her same-sex romances -- one partner declares his love in the most passionate, heartfelt terms while the other does his best to smother the relationship out all together. Usually, each partner imagines he is acting in the best interest of the other -- when they push forward it is because they think they can save the other and when they retreat it is only because their intense (but not forcible) wooing only seems to make things worse. Any attempt to move forward is met with an equally forceful attempt to shut things down. Of course, this being a rather traditional yaoi romance, characters with pure hearts are eventually rewarded for their tenacity, while fearful and tightly repressed hearts are blasted open by the power of young, untainted love.
Tateno is a skilled creator, although I'm frequently troubled by her somewhat cavalier attitude toward issues concerning consent, bodily agency, emotionally-tinged violence, as well as violent emotions. Clearly, though, Tateno is most comfortable as a writer of soap-operas that almost, but don't quite, reach train-wreck status. In certain cases I enjoy this about her works, particularly her portrait of a very rocky relationship between two male genre actors in Hero Heel. I wasn't quite as fond as How to Capture a Martini since the characters here didn't have as much depth as the "hero" and "villain" from Hero Heel. In spite of that, I must note that Tateno's contemporary romances always end up capturing my interest even when I have problems with some of her characterization choices (unlike her sci-fi yaoi titles which tend to leave me cold).
Extras of note: There's one side-story depicting a sexual relationship between brothers (side characters in the main story), which while consensual, is also quite disturbing, particularly since one of the brothers is underage. Another side story is inoffensive fluff about two boys who steal away for a moment of intimacy before they graduate.
Review copy provided by Digital Manga.