"Hatsukoi." (meaning 'First Love' in Japanese) is the second book in the Ren'Ai Rensai series. The series is the story of the relationship of two Japanese women, Aiko and Reina. The series spans the time of about 20 years, from their first meeting to their marriage and beyond. Even though this is a series, the books can be read out of order and they themselves aren't in chronological order. For example, in the first book "Daisuki." (I Love You) we meet Aiko and Reina twenty years into their relationship. This second book, we are taken back to the winter of 1992 when they first meet and become a couple.
Reina is spending her time sleeping her way through the Tokyo lesbian scene (nothing new there) and performing in an idol group at a scummy theater. Aiko we find studying English at a women's university and trying to ward off her creepy ex-boyfriend, Daisuke. Michiko also appears throughout this book as she hasn't yet moved back to America (in the first book she resides in California).
Aiko is unsure of her sexuality during this time period. She's only dated men, but has never felt anything towards them. Even though she hasn't ever felt particularly amorous towards a man, she's never considered that she might not be straight. Meeting Reina, a member of the same musical group as her cousin, she's introduced to the first (two!) lesbians she's ever met. For some reason, she finds herself drawn to Reina. She can't get her off her mind. After some innocent flirting she accepts a date with Reina, but keeps their budding relationship secret from family and friends. Instead she tells them she's dating a mysterious fake man named Ren Itou.
Reina (aka Ren Itou, lol!) is unsure if she's ready to be someone's girlfriend. Many women have tried to get her to settle down, but she loves her life of promiscuity. The only woman she has feelings for is her best friend and lover, Michiko. Anyone else (Aiko included) will just have to accept that Reina will never be monogamous. Michiko also has her own issues, which I won't reveal due to spoilers. But, I was shocked. I didn't expect these particular issues from her.
Like the last book, I have a hard time even considering this book erotica. Sure, the sex in the book is explicit and maybe every other chapter or every few chapters. But this series just seems to be so much more. As a heterosexual, I can relate to the characters and their stories. It's all just typical relationship stuff that people in any relationship might deal with (for example, Reina's lack of emotional and verbal affection towards Aiko). This series is also fun and romantic and I'd recommend it to anyone straight or gay who is looking for a slightly sexier, unique read.
Also, anyone who is interested in Japan would love this series. I always learn so much and I love that the author focuses on modern Japanese culture. So much of the Japan we see in the media is the stereotypical ninjas, samurais, or geisha. These books are just focused on regular contemporary Japanese people which I enjoy so much more. It seems like in each chapter I learn something about Japanese society and traditions. Not to mention, some Japanese vocabulary to boot! I do wish that the author would include a dictionary of the Japanese words used throughout the book. Usually, I can guess by context clues, but having the reference point would really come in handy ;)
I'm giving "Hatsukoi." 4 out of 5 stars and I can't wait to read the next one.