Kou Yoneda – DMP/June – 2015 – 3+ volumes

The first review was so long, I don’t have as much to say about the second volume.  It’s still really, really good.  Among the best BL books I’ve read.

This is still mostly because Yashiro is a very interesting character.  He’s a powerful man who loves to be sexually debased by basically anyone and everyone.  But one of his superiors marks him as misanthropic, and Yashiro realizes he’s right.  He enjoys masochistic sex best, and got into the Yakuza because he preferred the beatings the members gave him while they had sex with him, presumably because they hated him and he only liked them for their hatred.

There’s a long flashback in the second half of the volume that shows Yashiro’s entrance to the Yakuza through the eyes of Misumi, one of his superiors.  Misumi adopted him after he found him getting gang-banged, beat up, and begging for more in a Mah Jong parlor.  He basically fabricated a debt to keep Yashiro around and semi-working for him, and after Yashiro gets in trouble with one of the other homophobic bosses, Misumi officially inducts him into the Yakuza and takes him on as a partner, both sex and professional.

Yashiro has a lot of sex, and it is very brutal and frequent.  But one of the things I like about Yoneda’s writing is that it isn’t romanticized.  Most sex scenes with Yashiro are only shown for 1 panel, for the purposes of proving it’s going on and that it’s graphic.  There’s no pages-long sex scene of Yashiro getting tied up and burned by an anonymous partner.  Yashiro’s habits and fetishes are meant to be repellant and disturbing, and aren’t fetishized for the reader as you would expect.  The only romanticized sex scene was a rather intense one where Doumeki describes an encounter he had while Yashiro masturbates.  There’s a difference, and I love that Yoneda is a subtle enough writer to convey it.

Also lovely is that Doumeki and Yashiro seem to have hit a wall here.  Yashiro has only ever loved one person in his life, and seems to be falling for Doumeki.  Doumeki knows he is falling for Yashiro, but refuses to let Yashiro know, for fear that Yashiro will send him away in an attempt to keep a coworker from falling for him.  Yashiro begins to seem ashamed of having Doumeki know (or at least watch) his sexual habits.  Doumeki begins to pull away from the physical sexual encounters they have, as sexual attraction to Yashiro is beginning to cure him of his impotence.  And there’s one subtle scene where it’s implied that Yashiro may have kissed Doumeki in his sleep.  I didn’t pick up on that until the second time through.

A lot of the story is about the situation in the Yakuza, but the snippets of the developing relationship between Yashiro and Doumeki are tantalizing.  It’s not going quickly, or smoothly, and I’m not sure how long it will stall like this.  But I will enjoy every page until the end.

Doumeki also fails Yashiro professionally as a yakuza, and while there’s plenty of feedback here surrounding the incident, I suspect we’ll see the meat of the situation in the next volume.

And now, the wait.

Kou Yoneda – DMP/June – 2015 – 3+ volumes

Ahh, I was so excited that a new Kou Yoneda series was coming out!  I’ve loved the other books I’ve read by her (No Touching at All and Nights), and I wanted to wait for the sequel volume to come out before I dug into this one.

This was fantastic.  It has the making of a BL classic.  It’s thoughtful, has great art, interesting characters, and Yoneda is taking her time to develop both the plot and characters.  I was a little worried it was going to be a generic yakuza-themed book, but it’s fairly obvious from the first that there’s more going on.  DMP releases so few books that I’m worried volume 3 might not come out unless this sells really well, so pick it up if you are at all inclined.

The intro is a little sad and a bit deceiving.  A doctor that works for the yakuza begins treating and offering hospitality to a young punk the boss picks up.  The two appear somewhat drawn to one another, but the doctor doesn’t seem to know how to connect with the young man (he’s 22, so I was happy he was actually a young man).  They wind up together after the boss makes some remarks that at first seem appalling, but are actually meant to drive them into each other’s arms.  It was a cute ending.

The rest of the book is about the boss, Yashiro.  And when I said that the intro was a little sad and a bit deceiving, I meant that the rest of the book is about a different couple, and is one of the most depressing BL stories I’ve read.  And I’ve read a lot of sad BL.  Don’t get me wrong though, this was great.  I’m used to ridiculous over-the-top drama in series like Kizuna and Embracing Love, but this series is on a different level.

Yashiro is a sex addict and a masochist.  He’s well-respected, and good at his job, but doesn’t seem to love himself that much.  He has an endless parade of men coming through his office to bend him over, bind him up, and have rough sex with him.  He had a years-long crush on the doctor from the intro, and was heartbroken when the doctor found a lover (though, as a symptom of his nymphomania, he mounted cameras so he could watch the doctor and his lover have sex).  Soon after this, he’s introduced to a new recruit named Doumeki.  Fresh out of prison, Doumeki doesn’t really have the brains to do a lot of the regular jobs, but he’s a big guy and can do bodyguard work.  Yashiro is drawn to him right away, and though he has a strict policy to keep his hands off employees, he finds himself giving a blowjob to Doumeki almost immediately.  Doumeki’s only opinion of this is to offer the fact he’s impotent after he’s opened his pants and let Yashiro go to town for a bit.  This turns Yashiro on more, and the two have several more liasons at Yashiro’s request.  Doumeki doesn’t offer an opinion either way on these exchanges, though he does admit that Yashiro is good-looking.

If Yashiro’s blatant self-loathing wasn’t obvious in that description, it is in the story.  It was pretty sad, until it got to the explanation of why Yashiro acts like this, and then it became devastating and hard to read.  He survived sexual abuse at the hands of someone who was never caught or punished, and he found that once his abuser moved on, his body and mind craved the horrible deprecation constantly.  He accepts this, and simply indulges himself constantly.  The story does not romantacize this, and Yoneda does a fairly good job of making it disturbing (though yes, I get what kind of book this is).

On one hand, I’m not sure if this is exactly a sensitive portrayal of an abuse survivor, but on the other hand, Yoneda is putting a lot more thought into it than other writers.  Yashiro doesn’t shy away from the experience, and uses it in a matter-of-fact way to relate to others.  He relates to someone who feels ostracized for their dark, sexual taste and makes the only friend he has that way.  In another scene, he talks about his past to a female survivor of abuse.  This scene was quite touching, and Yashiro later goes on to help her and her family live on.

The fact he is so up front about his sexual tastes is also fairly unique.  He has enemies that try to shame and demean him with his sexual escapades, but they can’t because he’s too willing to discuss, give details, and basically flaunt himself.  He was an interesting character, and actually kind of a good guy.  His reputation makes it easy for him to manipulate people into thinking he’s the scum of the earth and getting them to act, only to find out he was actually just helping them to act.

Doumeki’s trauma is different from Yashiro’s.  Less stereotypically BL.  Still pretty awful.

Doumeki doesn’t say much.  He sometimes acts in such a way to make you think he’s sharper than he seems, but other times he makes boneheaded mistakes.  Again, he doesn’t offer much of an opinion on Yashiro or what he does until almost the end of the book.  His wordless compliance with what’s going on is interesting in and of itself.  He always allows the blowjobs when Yashiro asks, but with no feedback as to why.  It’s more strange than uncomfortable, and Domeki is in control strictly because Yashiro is the one that needs dominated and abused.  So it’s never going to go the other way.

And if the main story didn’t depress you, the side story at the end of the volume, about the doctor and Yashiro as students, will make you want to seek the comfort of loved ones immediately.  Good God.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good read.  Just depressing.

Incongruously, the story does get off one good joke.  At one point, after waking up from a bender, Yashiro tells Doumeki he wants “a giant, limp sausage without the skin for breakfast.”  Doumeki stares at him, and turns around and says “I’ll go buy one.”  To which Yashiro tells him “Sorry, I was being too vague.  I want to suck your dick.”  It’s pretty much the only light moment in the book, and I did laugh aloud.

If you’re not into depressing BL, or like to avoid rape trauma (though the couples are all good to each other, the romantic relationships aren’t traumatic), you’re going to want to stay far away from this one.  But it’s a fantastic and fairly well-written read.  It’s not often we get such a quality book in BL, so if you want a more substantial read, or like older couples, or are tired of the same sorts of light romance-y stories, please check this out.

Keep reading through the intro.  I had a hard time starting this book because it’s not clear who’s talking until you get used to Yoneda’s dialogue flow, so just a head’s up about that.

Junjo Romantica 1

August 1, 2015

Shungiku Nakamura – Blu – 2006 – 18+ volumes

Whoops, I posted the 2nd volume before this one.  Here’s volume 1!

I’ve been hearing about this series for years, but avoided picking it up because normally pieces or all volumes of old BL series are expensive.  After The World’s Greatest First Love (technically a spin-off) was released by SuBLime last week, I looked into this one and was shocked to see Right Stuf still had all the volumes in stock new. As this came out almost 10 years ago, the Blu imprint has been closed for 5 years, and Tokyopop ceased production 4 years ago, I was a little incredulous.  This series is fairly popular, and there was even a recent anime.  There’s no way there was still unsold stock of all the volumes sitting around.

Part of me suspects it may be getting reprinted.  My copy of volume one has a different paper and cover stock than what Tokyopop used, and the print quality is… bad.  So bad that even I noticed.  Also, my copy of volume 4, which is the first I have that does use the usual paper and cover stock, is a 7th (!!!) printing, whereas the first three, on different stock (the same stock as my copy of volume 12), are apparently first printings.  Just an observation.  The 7th printing also tells me this was ridiculously popular.  Few series get a second printing, and seven is… wow.  Especially volume 4.  I doubt there is another BL series that has that many printings.

Anyway, as all the volumes were available now, I dove in.  DAMMIT, why do all of these have to start with a rape scene?  This one happens within a few pages, with only a few words passing between the characters.  It’s… wow.  Rather jarring.  Perhaps it “doesn’t count” because Misaki isn’t pushing Usami away because he “doesn’t want to lose,” but man.  I’ve read a lot of these, and that was still a little uncalled for.

Aside from that…  Usami’s a great character (kind of like a gay [bonus points for actually gay and not BL-I-only-love-him-gay] Tamaki Ohtori), though I’m a little bored by Misaki, who’s the usual BL reluctant lover… and their relationship isn’t all that passionate.  Or romantic.  But Usami is an eccentric rich person, and he does that well.  I also love that he’s an award-winning author, and turns his sexual fantasies into BL novels he writes under a pseudonym.  Excellent.

This volume also introduces another couple, Kamijo and Nowaki.  I was also not really into them at first, either.  The first 3/4 of their story is also the typical BL “one character gets close and the other character resists”-type thing, without a whole lot of romance.  And I require romance.  But man.  The last little bit of their story in this volume, where prideful Kamijo gets found spying on him and passing it off as nonchalance and almost dies of embarrassment, was adorable.  I hope they have more stories like that.  I’m also a little lukewarm for both of those characters right now, though I like that Nowaki is this good guy who’s trying to work his way into college the hard way, and I love Kamijo’s pride that can be picked apart by Nowaki.  I hope that continues.

I could warm up to it.  I need more romance, though.  It’s in the title!  Deliver!

No Touching At All

August 1, 2015

Kou Yoneda – DMP/June – 2010 – 1 volume

I can’t remember when I first read this, but it made a huge impression on me.  I wanted to read it again before I reviewed it, so it languished in my to-review pile for at least a couple years.  But I regret it terribly, because Kou Yoneda is, as of this year, probably among my top 3 BL writers.  She’s amazing.  Twittering Birds Never Fly is exceptional, but this one is good, in its own quiet way.

Quiet, standoffish Shima gets a new job, but his first impression of his new boss, Togawa, is terrible.  Togawa is a sloppy, ill-kempt drunk.  But he is personable, and tries his hardest to get Shima to fit in.  Shima can’t keep his eyes off him, though he flatly refuses all of Togawa’s attempts at friendliness.  Finally, Togawa gets tired of asking and forces Shima out to a business lunch.  As the two are parting, they wind up kissing, then having sex.

It’s hard to determine how the relationship goes in this series.  Neither man offers much commentary.  Togawa seems more genuinely fond of Shima than the other way around, though early on, the two men establish that Shima is gay and Togawa is not.  Still, Togawa can’t stop pursuing Shima, and Shima never turns him down for a dinner/sex date.  Shima also doesn’t really say anything affectionate or encouraging to Togawa.  So do they love each other?  The book is a little awkward and painful in this regard.  The conflict at the end is that Shima just can’t bring himself to get close and admit he likes Togawa, or engage in a more formal relationship.

There’s also a little drama, as there always is in BL books that I like.  Togawa has a sad childhood, and Shima left his old job after dating a coworker who began spreading nasty rumors about Shima in an attempt to deflect talk about their relationship away from himself.  Shima may have his own sad childhood, but this is only mentioned as a fleeting thought on one page, and the work thing weighs heavier.  I can’t believe he dated a coworker again, either.  One of the main reasons Shima can’t bring himself to “really date” Togawa is that Togawa really likes kids, and expressed interest in starting his own family right after they started working together, before they dated.  Shima can’t let this go, can’t stop suspecting he could be dumped at any time.

It’s just… great.  Subtle, quiet, and sad, it hits all the right buttons for me.  If you wanted to try Yoneda, but Twittering Birds Never Fly sounds too intense, give this one a go.  This one isn’t as sexual, but has a lot of what makes Twittering Birds so good.  Twittering Birds has more of all the good stuff, though, so I would encourage you to pick that up first.

NightS

August 1, 2015

Kou Yoneda – SuBLime – 2014 – 1 volume

I’m always so worried when I read a new series with a really common word for a title.  Did I already read one called Nights?  Will I have to do something fancy with the categories so they don’t get sorted together?  Luckily, I haven’t had to cross that bridge yet.  It is weird I haven’t read a series called Nights yet, though.

I’ve read another book by Kou Yoneda, No Touching At All, which I’m apparently going to have to re-read in the near future, since I haven’t written it up here yet.  But I loved that one, and I liked Nights for the same reason – relationships between older men, and for the majority of both books, really adorable workplace romances.

Nights is technically a volume of short stories, so I’ve been putting off reading it.  But it has a great cover, and it was on top of my stack of unread BL, so I gave in the other day.  The first two stories in the volume are unrelated, but more than half the book is about a car dealership where mechanic Seki and salesman Takami work.  Takami is extremely poker-faced and distant, and doesn’t open up to anyone, or even realize he doesn’t open up to anyone.  Seki is a bit short-tempered, but a good guy.  After Seki helps out Takami one night, the two get dinner together and become friends.  After many more dinners and casually hanging out together, the two wind up getting tricked into a double-date by one of Seki’s friends.  When he gets jealous at the woman paired up with Takami, Seki realizes he needs to take a step back from their relationship.

The stories are adorable.  One of my favorite things was a technique Yoneda used with consecutive wordless panels showing the two eating at different restaurants, with time lapsing.  Seki is majorly shy, and Takami is kind of clueless about himself, and everything is handled rather subtly and very well.  The main story is in two parts, the first chapter is told from Seki’s point of view and ends with him confessing his feelings to Takami to drive him away.  The second story is from Seki’s point of view, where he takes that into consideration, and is increasingly distraught over the fact Seki no longer wants to be his friend, basically.  There’s some loving follow-up after the main story, but the meat of it are the two POV chapters.  They are lovely.

The first story in the volume is a hard-boiled crime kind of thing, where a gang is setting up a delivery with a “famous” deliveryman.  The latter insists on working one-on-one with the secretary to the underboss, and he eventually picks him up… there’s a bit of a twist ending, but not one that’s surprising to anyone that’s read these kind of crime-themed BL shorts before.  It was all right… fairly addictive, but the rest of the volume was better.  The second story is just a high school romance.  That one was pretty cute, but again, I prefer the stories with older men.

Overall it was pretty great, and it overcame my hesitation about reading a volume of short stories, and even overcame the fact I wasn’t that into the first couple stories.  It’s cheap if you buy it digitally on the SuBLime website (again, my links stopped working in wordpress, but it’s here: https://www.sublimemanga.com/reader/667), but the book is worth having.  SuBLime books are always very nice, and this one has color pages in the front, too.

EDIT:  SuBLime released a follow-up for 8/01 day!  I’m reading it in about a second, but probably won’t review it here since it’s a bonus chapter for this book:  https://www.sublimemanga.com/reader/693

Shungiku Nakamura – SuBLime – 2015 – 9+ volumes

This is a spin-off of Junjou Romantica (I wrote up a long anecdote about it, and shoved it down to the bottom of the review), though I believe requires no previous knowledge of that story or the characters in it.  I think the only link may be that Ritsu was Usami’s editor at some point edit: not as far as I’ve read in JR.  He switched companies, and now works on the (all male) editorial team of the shoujo manga magazine Emerald.  He knows nothing about manga, and hates romance in particular due to being spurned by a high school crush.

The Emerald editorial department is a wild place.  We get to hear a lot about manga production from the editorial side, which is awesome.  It’s like Bakuman in that way.  You may even catch the slightest whiff of misogyny from the all-male editorial staff, if you wish (that might also be a BL thing, I can’t tell right now).  But Bakuman is from the creator perspective.  This is about the editors.  What happens when a creator misses their deadlines?  How many fingers does the editor-in-chief have to break to keep the printer open long enough to submit a late work?  What might an editor change in a work, and why?  There’s lots of fun stuff in here, though it’s incidental to the story, unlike Bakuman, where it is the story.

Ritsu Onodera is learning the ropes of this brave new world.  He transferred over from his father’s company, trying to shake cries of nepotism.  He requested the literature department, but wound up in shoujo manga instead.  He’s never read manga, and a bad relationship soured his views on romance.  His boss Masamune Takano, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, is also rude and obnoxious.

Most of the story is about how he hates his job, but is too stubborn to quit, and is slowly learning the ropes and interacting with the sundry bizarre personalities at the new publisher.

But because this is a BL story, Masamune is an old boyfriend from high school, and they broke up on bad terms.  Neither realizes this until later in the book.  Masamune is determined to have him back, and to get Ritsu to fall back in love with him.  Ritsu thinks otherwise.

Annoyingly, the first volume isn’t nearly enough story.  I should have waited for several volumes to come out and read it in one go.  It’s going to be torture to wait for more of this, even with an every-other-month schedule.  You got me, SuBLime.

I keep seeing a lot of negative feedback from people that hate SuBLime cover designs.  I don’t know why!  I think these are purists that like the original covers/logos… but man.  They must be looking at different books than me.  The logo design for this book mimics the Japanese logo, which uses a fancy pink-outlined typeface, and looks like it may have come from the 90s.  Most BL books look like this.  The SuBLime house design is way better.

———-

I saw a lot of hype surrounding this title, but realized later it was a spin-off of Junjou Romantica.  Crap!  I never read that!  Well, it’s odd that SuBLime would release a spin-off and not the original series, right?  I looked up Junjou Romantica, and noticed it was 18+ volumes long.  That’s probably an insane length for an imprint like SuBLime, and truthfully, most publishers who aren’t Viz (though I realize SuBLime is owned by them, I speculate it works on different rules).  Crimson Spell made the New York Times best-seller list, but I’m willing to bet most books don’t make enough money to keep an 18 volume series afloat, the same way Pokemon and Naruto probably keep something like Case Closed coming out.

On the other hand… I looked up Junjou Romantica to see if it was expensive to acquire second-hand.  Right Stuf actually carries the entire series new, and also releases the anime.  I suspect they or Tokyopop are still able to reprint the volumes already published in English, because there’s no way there’s still that much unsold new stock sitting around for a series as popular as Junjou Romantica.  Especially if an anime came out, and especially since the early volumes were released… almost ten (!!!) years ago?  No way.  So that might be another wrinkle.

Long story short, I bought all twelve volumes of Junjou Romantica that Blu published in English.  I literally cannot wait for that to come in the mail.  edit:  They did, and it was glorious.  I would re-buy it from SuBLime in a heartbeat, though.

Golden Cain

August 1, 2015

You Asagiri – Be Beautiful – 2004 – 1 volume

It’s been awhile since I talked about a Be Beautiful book!  Possibly because they are old, there aren’t that many of them, and I’ve found most of the ones I want to read.  There are probably still some gems that I haven’t run across yet.  Sadly, this isn’t one of them.

Shun, after an unspecified accident happened to his brother, is basically put down and ignored by his parents, constantly compared to his older brother, and always coming up short.  So he rebels, in his way, by going out drinking at night and hanging out with “the wrong sort.”

He gets into trouble one night after accidentally wandering into a black mass (?!) where they nearly rape him (??!!), but a mysterious blonde stranger saves him.  This turns out to be Cain, a model who was idolized by his older brother.

The two share a night of passion, and while Shun thinks this is a one-night stand with an exotic foreigner, turns out Cain has other plans.  Cain transfers into Shun’s school, and after some pushing, the two become lovers.  Shun thinks this is a coincidence, Cain keeps telling him otherwise.

This has very little going for it, even for a BL book.  The sex scenes aren’t that long or explicit, there’s not a great deal of passion in either the sex or the relationship between the two, the characters aren’t developed, and the plot… leads into some strange, nonsensical territory.

Asagiri has nice old-school art, though.  And Cain is a little interesting.  He was raised in Vietnam and was lately living in England.  He cares little for the social niceties in Japan, and is loud, outspoken, and unashamed to be Shun’s stalker.  So the book has that going for it.

Always amusing is Be Beautiful’s insistence that these books don’t take place in high school.  Shun wears a high school uniform and is clearly in 11th grade.  A handful of scenes take place in said high school.  The characters insist they are in college.

Eh… eh.  There are much better books out there.

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