“Kabe Koji” Series Review (Ep.3 to 8)

Depression is a multi-faceted mental health disorder that affects everyone it touches differently. Sometimes depression is visible. Sometimes it isn’t.

In the Japanese BL Kabe-Koji-Nekoyashiki-Kun Desires to be Recognized, viewers are faced with the different faces of depression tucked inside an over-the-top story of two childhood friends, Nekoyashiki Mamoru (Matsuoka Koudaiwith) and Kazama Issei (Nakao Masaki), who have obvious feelings for each other.

Adapted from the manga Kabe Sa Doujin Sakka no Neko Yashiki-kun wa Shouninyokkyuu wo Kojiraseteiru by Minamoto Kazuki, Kabe Koji offers a riveting, colorful example of what inferiority, fear, and depression can do to people, how it affects their relationships with others, and how it holds them back from realizing who they are and what they can be.

And it does it by delving into the lives of two very different people whose depression presents itself in different ways.

Doujinshi artist Nekoyashiki Mamoru visibly wears his depression for all to see, especially regarding his need for professional validation and approval. He’s coarse, sullen, blunt, and hard on himself. From his self-imposed isolation to his inferiority complex, he’s a perfect example that depression often convinces those who suffer from it that they don’t measure up to the people around them. His fans’ love gives him a temporary surge of adrenaline-induced serotonin, like a shot of espresso to a sleep-burdened brain. But eventually, it wears off, leaving him feeling unworthy and helpless.

On the other hand, Jpop idol Kazama Issei wears his depression inside his smile. He has an overwhelming need to please those around him, masking his doubts and hurts with overly friendly gestures. No matter the situation, he grins, absorbing all criticism with a smile. And it’s heartbreaking to watch.

Insecurity and anxiety often lead to uncertainty and deep feelings of inadequacy. Although they deal with these insecurities differently, it’s evident Mamoru and Issei share similar concerns that color how they interact with those around them.

Despite the comedy, Kabe Koji is deep. It deals with a genuine mental health issue, from how each depressed character deals with a situation to how those around them react to their responses.

It’s easy to fall into the need to be loved by those around you. Depression closes people off, leaving them wanting to be alone while also needing to be needed. Mamoru is the starkest example of this. His desire for approval and a place on the wall (the elite selling spot at the ComiKing event) makes him utterly dependent on his reader’s reactions to his art. His fan’s support creates a false sense of security that motivates him to develop generic art that sells rather than the personal art he wants to draw.

This brings me to why I love this drama.

Rather than being a romance, Kabe Koji is a drama about facing oneself. Even though there’s a complicated love story between Mamoru and Issei, the real magic inside Kabe Koji is facing the depression they deal with and the importance of having people who support them through that depression.

For Mamoru, his biggest supporter and confidante is also his biggest fan, Yamada Koharu (Yahagi Honoka). For Issei, it’s the members of his Jpop group, Shiny Smile: Tsubasa (Tateishi Toshiki), Ryuuji (Kihara Rui), and Kyou (Konishi Eito).

Through mishaps, obstacles, random conversations, and emotional breakdowns, Mamoru and Issei come to terms with themselves and each other through the support of those around them, love, and, most importantly, their acceptance of themselves.

For Mamoru, he finds final acceptance in his art. He first began drawing erotic gay mangas to channel his sexuality. He put those desires and feelings into his artwork, bringing him immense success. Depression, insecurities, and the heady feeling success gave him led to his removal from the wall. He lost the part of himself he first gained in drawing. He lost his truth. By later drawing his and Issei’s love story, he regained it.

For Issei, Mamoru is the reason he chose to pursue an idol career. Mamoru’s comments about his smile motivated Issei to channel that energy onto the stage. Being an idol brings him much success and new friendships, despite the initial conflict between himself and Tsubasa. But in the end, his truth still lies in Mamoru. Through Issei’s confession on stage, he regained the part of himself he’d denied.

While I could talk a lot about the romance in Kabe Koji, I found myself much less interested in the love story than I was in their personal journeys.

The only antagonist in Kabe Koji is the depression they face.

Kabe Koji teaches viewers as much as it makes them feel. Mental health is learning that being happy is about loving yourself without needing someone to validate that. Mental health is a challenging journey, which is why this drama never seems to grow. Until the finale, Mamoru doesn’t fully overcome the darkness that touches him. People who fight depression are always touched by darkness. They are always fighting to break free of it. But there’s light in learning to accept the darker parts of ourselves. There’s light in filling the emptiness the darkness leaves inside us with the things that make us happy, no matter how simple that happiness is.

The Japanese BL Kabe Koji is an eye-opener for people with depression, and I found power in that.

For a drama full of over-the-top madness with a serious undertone that strikes a chord, check out Kabe Koji on Viki.

Rating- 4 out of 5

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