Sakae Kusama – SuBLime – 2012 – 1 volume
Since I have been relentlessly stalking eManga, you can bet I had my eye on the grand opening of SuBLime, the new digital BL imprint of Viz Media. If this succeeds, I hope like nobody’s business to see Zetsuai and the BL work of Setona Mizushiro, which are published by Shueisha and Shogakukan, companies that… uh, own Viz.
For my first foray on the site, I picked The Bed of My Dear King. Other launch titles include Oku-san’s Daily Fantasies (which sounds a little zany), Husband, Honeymoon (which I’ll read when the second volume comes out), and Love Pistols (which is all kinds of crazy disturbing I’ll talk about at a later time because I read it anyway). I’ll probably read all of these, honestly, especially since the digital editions only cost $6 and come with a PDF. That’s still a little more than I’d like to pay for something I don’t own a physical copy of (ideally, $5 would be the ceiling), but it’s a bit better than the $7 price tag at eManga, and I’ve paid that over and over again on that site.
I suspect The Bed of My Dear King is the best of the bunch. It’s more of a josei-ish romance than the usual (admittedly shallow) BL book. It’s a collection of three short stories. In the first, Koga, a repairman, visits Tohno to repair his phone and cable lines. Tohno lives on a remote mountain, and is an eccentric sculptor whose house holds all sorts of surprises for Koga. Koga tries to get the awkward repair over with as soon as possible, but the two wind up snowbound in the house and cut off from the outside world. This leads obvious places, but the mix of timid and frank behavior from both is interesting, as are the continued and unexplained, unapologetic eccentricities of Tohno.
This was a decent story, and I liked it quite a bit when I finished it, but it’s the least interesting in the collection. The whole situation’s just a little too weird for my taste. But both characters are likable. Koga’s sexual orientation remains ambiguous throughout (so he’s not necessarily a straight man that falls inexplicably in love with a gay man after one day), and Tohno is fairly frank about his orientation, and that he’s not really interested in Koga sexually. Koga is the one that initiates, at the very end of the story. It’s a cute one, and more about Tohno’s insecurities and whatnot than it is about love or sex.
But, more to the point, what is up with all these BL books about sculptors? I suppose it gives one a reason to touch another, but it’s been coming up pretty frequently for me lately. This, Gentle Cage, the aforementioned Love Pistols, and Tonight’s Take-Out Night. All of these I’ve read in the past month. It’s a little weird.
The second story, Cherry, is a cute and light romance between two students. It’s a slow burn, and it’s nice to see the two stepping so delicately around the subject when they’re together. This reminded me a lot of the wonderful stories I’d just read in Kyudo Boys, by Keiko Nishi. It’s a fluffy, nice story to read.
Flowers, the last story, is the longest and my personal favorite. It tells the story of two students who appear to be quietly attracted to one another. The one that initiates the relationship, Ozu, appears to be forcing physical affection on Kumon, who is a compliant partner. The relationship, however, appears to be founded on gossip. As the story continues, and Kumon continues to meet with Ozu to hear the next part of the story, we find out that Ozu was involved in a local and family tragedy with a young woman. The gory details are given to reader through random lines of gossip at the beginning of the story, but as Ozu tells his side, the facts only get sadder and sadder. Kumon is mostly silent through all this, and appears to be listening to the story, but he starts to speak up towards the end.
Kusama has a knack for characters and pacing, which is extremely key in BL. Finesse such as hers makes a book like this more than simply BL. It’s a worthy shoujo/josei read, as well. Sex is only really depicted in the last story, and the physical relationship is key to the narrative and relationship there. All of the stories in here are gentle, in their way, and none of the usual bodice-rippers or high drama that I usually favor. Even the tragic final story is not so much dramatic as it is… well, just sad.
Overall, this is definitely worth a read by romance and shoujo fans who aren’t necessarily into BL. Romance is still key in all three stories, but all three study the characters and relationships in far more depth than the usual BL one-shot, and the context of all three is important as well. They read as slice-of-life, as well. I was just all sorts of impressed with this. I sincerely hope that we can see more from Sakae Kusama in the future.