Tomoko Yamashita – Netcomics – 2009 – 1 volume
I bought this on the strength of the other BL volumes that Netcomics released at the same time (Love Full of Scars, Age Called Blue, Merry Family Plan), plus Dining Bar Akira by the same author had come highly recommended. I gave this one a try before DBA. My feelings were mixed, but I’m still looking forward to the other.
It was definitely the weakest of all the BL short story collections by Netcomics, but in terms of BL short story volumes, it was still quite good. I get tired of reading stories about boys in school who suddenly and forcefully come onto one another (or in some cases, come on strongly on one side), so sensitive stories like this, many covering slightly different topics and featuring older couples and different situations, is always recommended. Perhaps I was in the wrong frame of mind when I read the first half too, but the stories were a touch too melodramatic for my taste, and were mostly really angsty with happy endings. The last few stories were no less so, but I enjoyed them much more. And in retrospect, they weren’t that different from the first stories.
The topics ranged from a lifetime of unrequited love (A Villain’s Teeth) to a stressed-out older brother (It’s My Chocolate!), to an almost-gag story about an overly-enthusiastic escort (Photogenic), to a pair of middle-aged men who finally get together (Fool 4 U). The relationship and conflicts are all different, and the plots range to the older brother afraid to come out to his family to a mafia underling admitting his long-standing feelings for the boss to the boss’s daughter on his deathbed. Most of the stories are about gay men, as opposed to young boys experimenting, which I also appreciate, though frequently the partner is straight, or is suddenly revealed to be gay, a plot device I’m not particularly fond of when overused. And while the angst can be very thick, another thing I appreciated about the stories was the way their sense of humor occasionally showed through. It was just right in most situations.
Occasionally, I missed the point of the stories, I think: in Black-Winged Love, I did like it for the fact that the main character got a great deal of sexual pleasure from being verbally abused by his foul-mouthed coworker, but then the characters got into the philosophical ramifications of sexual deviance and whether they were for or against it. I did like the story, but it lost its point and dragged on in parts. Similarly, A Villain’s Teeth uses extended ping-pong symbolism that seem rather unnecessary. The most angsty and melodramatic was the first story, about a much older sister taking care of her younger brother who appears to be getting emotionally abused by a boy he likes in school. I don’t know if anything at all good came out of that story, but the bond between the siblings was very sweet. Another story was about high school boys fooling around while discussing Yukio Mishima, which seemed overly pretentious, but if high school kids can’t be pretentious, who can?
A great feature in this book that I haven’t seen anywhere else was the “short cuts” chapter, which featured an omitted page from several of the stories along with a reason it was omitted. Reasons ranged from “mood killer” to “too many erotic pages in this story.” They were all pretty funny.
My favorite story of the volume was “Fool 4 U,” which did have a brutal ending (the main character was assaulted by his lover after some hurtful actions on his part), but was the story of two men who had known each other for 20 years. The main character harbors a crush on the other, who is a complete scatterbrained airhead that routinely shows up at the other’s apartment after losing his keys and wrecking his car, saying hurtful things like “I’d marry you if you were a girl” and completely unaware of the other’s feelings. Given the angsty nature of the book, it’s not clear what the final outcome will be, so that was another point in its favor.
Basically, this is probably one of the better, more mature BL short story books out there. There’s lots to like about it, and it does plenty of different things to keep it interesting, you just have to forgive it a little angst and meandering. And really, if the BL audience isn’t willing to forgive these things, who is?