This review will contain spoilers for the manga and anime series Ten Count. While the manga may vary slightly from all other forms of media, it may have similar story elements and could be considered spoilers.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to sexual assault, obsessive-compulsive disorder, germaphobia, unhealthy dom and sub dynamics, suicide, child neglect, praise kinks, dubcon (dubious consent), statutory rape, and inappropriate relationships between minors and adults as it appears in the manga.
Shirotani suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. He spends every day in fear of being contaminated. The only way he can make it through his day-to-day life is by covering himself completely and avoiding as much human contact as possible. As a result, Shirotani is always in long sleeves and long pants along with a set of gloves to protect his hands. Even with all of the protection, though, the moment he enters his home, he must strip completely and put the contaminated clothes away, then he has to wash his hands as many times as possible until they are chapped and bleeding. This is Shirotani's routine.
At least it was, until the day his boss narrowly avoided being hit by a car. While parked on the side of the road, the company president received a phone call, which he took just outside the car. While on the phone, he failed to notice a car heading his way. Shirotani, seeing the oncoming vehicle, calls out to the president and reaches out to him, but at the very last second, his aversion to human touch stops him. Thankfully, though, a passerby on a bicycle saves the president. As it turns out, this savior is Kurose, a counselor at a psychiatric clinic, and the moment he sees Shirotani's gloves, he identifies that Shirotani has germophobia.
Ashamed by his inability to save the president and from Kurose's urging, Shirotani begins seeking help from Kurose. First, Kurose has Shirotani write down ten things he can't do due to his obsessive-compulsive disorder – 1 being the easiest to achieve, 10 being near impossible. Then, together, Kurose and Shirotani go through each one and try to overcome them with exposure therapy. However, the line between counselor and patient begins to blur, and soon Shirotani is doing things with Kurose that disgust him, yet he craves it. Does Kurose truly see Shirotani as a patient needing treatment, or is there something more? And if there is more, can Shirotani overcome enough of his aversions to let Kurose in?
This, thankfully, art-wise, lives up to the cover art. I sometimes find that the cover art depicts the very best version of the art, while the art through the series actually doesn't hold up or suffers from what I like to call “manga blur,” which is where because the color pallet is exclusively black, white, and grey tones, as manga typically is, all of the lines blend together, and it's near-impossible to distinguish what you are looking at. Based on the manga covers, which are all gorgeous, I was expecting some pretty clean artwork, and you will find that the artwork in the content itself is just as clean, and I really enjoyed the art in this; it is very pretty to look at while also being very polished. I don't think you'll be disappointed there at all.
I have to admit, this tickled a depraved itch of mine. Something about dirtying something/someone that is clean just does it for me, and that is the main draw of the smut in this. Kurose wants to contaminate Shirotani, which sets up this interesting dom/sub dynamic between them. We also get a little praise kink in there, which is a nice addition. However, it is worth noting that Shirotani's consent to all of this is questionable as there aren't any established rules or safeword as there typically would be for healthy BDSM play. Kurose takes advantage of Shirotani's trust, even to the point of outright lying when he says the therapy can cure him when, in reality, there really isn't a cure for these disorders (based on what Kurose says, that is. I am not an expert on any of these illnesses or disorders, so I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of any of the methods, treatments, or descriptions in this series).
What I found super interesting, though, is that it spins Shirotani's fear of germs and contamination on its head. He isn't just afraid of getting himself and his home contaminated, but he is equally terrified of getting close to others and inadvertently contaminating them. Germaphobia is often characterized as a way for the person with it to protect themselves. However, in this case, it is used to also protect others. Shirotani sees himself as dirty just as much as he sees the world around him as dirty, so there are a lot of times when he is with Kurose that he is begging Kurose not to touch him, not because he's worried Kurose will infect him, but instead that he will infect Kurose, whether it be with germs or with his dirty thoughts. It's a fascinating side of this I haven't seen before. It was refreshing to see this new angle and really made Shirotani that much more endearing.
I do feel the backstory for Kurose is a little halfhearted. I wish it had been fleshed out a bit more to give it more depth. When you compare Kurose's background to Shirotani's, the amount of effort that went into one versus the other is pretty clear. But it ultimately led to a very heartrending confession. He initially was attracted to Shirotani because he reminded Kurose of the recluse he couldn't save as a child, but in the end, he found they were completely different. But that was why Kurose fell so deeply in love with him. I am a sucker for those confessions like “yeah, you aren't x, y, or z, but that's why I love you.”
I love this. I am not going to even try and pretend that I don't. It's smutty and dark, and I love every bit of it. With the focus of the work being taking advantage of someone using their mental illness, though, I can't recommend it to everyone. It really is pretty, though, and has some of the sexiest scenes in all of BL manga (in my humble opinion, that is). If the trigger warnings aren't a problem, this is worth a go, for sure.
Have you read Ten Count? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!