April 23, 2012
est em – JManga – 2012 – 1 volume
YES. I’ve wanted so badly to read this ever since I first saw it. The combination of est em and centaurs is a magical one, and the happily intoxicated salaryman centaur on the cover lets you know that you’re in for a real treat. JManga released this digitally last Thursday, and you can do yourself a favor by reading it over there.
One thing I should clarify: technically, this is BL. I had somehow forgotten that est em writes BL comics until I was three chapters in, then I broke out in a cold sweat because OH MY GOD NO. But there is nothing even remotely romantic in this book. I couldn’t be happier with that, because there are just some things I don’t want to think about, and centaur sex is one of them. The chapters are more about the novelty of a society with centaur inhabitants, and how the centaurs relate to the regular humans around them, and what makes them different. There are deeper bonds between some of the centaur/human pairs, and of course all of these are m/m, but none of them really approach romance.
Most of the chapters are unrelated short stories about different centaurs, though some of the stories have more than one chapter, and occasionally one centaur will know another from an earlier story. The first story introduces everyday life with centaurs, and it does a really good job. There are some interesting details here, such as a centaur-only lane in heavy traffic for galloping, modified housing, certain centaur-specific customs, and the hilarious reactions and faux pas that regular people make when around centaurs. These in particular are the most charming detail, because est em really nails human nature when it comes to this sort of thing. There are all sorts of awkward conversations about whether or not it’s okay for centaurs to have cordovan briefcases, whether it’s cool for regular people to ride them, et cetera.
The first story was also my favorite, but it was also the longest (4 chapters), and had the most developed characters. We learn about centaur life in the big city, and about the dos and don’ts of life with a centaur through a pair of salaryman. The centaur is a rookie salesman who just moved to Tokyo, and his human senior partner is constantly helping him out. This story is fun because there’s a lot of rookie salaryman scolding (one of the rookie’s biggest flaws is that he’s always running late, for instance), but with a centaur twist (when he runs late, he has to run to work, and the horse part gets all sweaty, and his senior has to clean him up before meetings since he can’t reach). There’s also other day-to-day stuff, like a chapter about the rookie getting sick and the senior making a home visit since the rookie lives alone. This gives us a chance to see centaur living conditions, like a higher counter and what the beds look like. All of it is very strange, but I love it. Again, it’s such an unusual idea for a story, and all the mundane details make it that much more surreal.
This story ends with a chapter about how much longer the centaur lifespan is compared to a regular human. The centaur rookie reveals that a centaur’s full name is actually a string of names, each one given by a different human that the centaur was close to until the human died. Using an elder centaur that they meet, the rookie explains to the senior salesman how the long name can reveal age, and even where the centaur has gone in their life and what parts of history they likely experienced. This is an incredibly interesting detail. Also, that the centaur lives after the human that names them dies is a rather bittersweet element, and the character story ends with the rookie centaur hoping that the senior partner will one day give him a name since the two of them are close. It’s the sweetest moment in the book, but again, it doesn’t really go any deeper than that. But I also don’t think it needs to. Not because of a bestiality gross-out factor, but just that the relationship between the two is perfect how it is at the end of the story.
The other stories in the volume are much shorter, and just a bit cuter. One is about a centaur who dreams of being an udon chef, but instead he is forced to be an incompetent delivery boy since the kitchen where he works is too small for him. He meets another young entrepreneur that causes him to give serious thought to his career, and the end of the story has a rather elegant (and very cute) solution. Another story is about a centaur that wants to make shoes, despite the fact he can’t wear them. This story also involves another close human relationship, but again, more of a “life partner”-kind of relationship than a sexual one. This story more directly references the fact that the centaur do not age compared to humans, and it’s even sadder here. One story is about a centaur model that has his horse half edited out, and how dissatisfied he is that he can’t meet the human ideals of beauty. And the last is a short, simple story about a centaur that wants to be true to his nature, rather than live together with humans. This relates back to the centaur in the first story, but not in any major way.
Basically, I loved this book dearly. It’s an unusual idea, a bit absurd, absolutely unique, and incredibly well-written. That the centaur concept is pulled off with such a straight face all the way through, and again, that the most mundane of details is captured along with the absurd nature of the concept, is what makes this great. And, of course, est em writes fantastic characters and always manages to capture the most subtle and very best of their natures.
Again, it’s not really a BL book, nor is it a romance. It is simply a fine volume of manga, and I would recommend it to anybody, honestly. Admittedly, it’s probably a bit too slow and mundane for some, but if you like this type of story, please. By all means. Read the book at JManga. If we’re lucky, they’ll release the other centaur volume from est em, Equus.