April 12, 2015
Tarako Kotobuki – SuBLime – 2012 – 8+ volumes
OH GOD THIS SERIES. I randomly picked up volume 3 after a two-year hiatus, since I hadn’t reviewed it here yet. I remember liking it, and I actually read the first four Tokyopop volumes before the SuBLime release. The books tend to cover different couples, and usually has all the notes about the “Zooman” system inside each volume, so I thought I’d be okay.
And it started off great! There’s a cute story about a surgeon and nurse. They were childhood friends, and the nurse’s twin brother dated the surgeon when they were all in high school. But it was the nurse that wound up having a connection, and the two fooled around casually in high school. But their families didn’t get along, so they were separated until the surgeon wound up at the same hospital as the nurse. The two start up another friendship, and become casual sex partners, no strings attached. But the twin still has a major crush, and the nurse runs away when the twin declares his feelings for the surgeon.
Cool BL story, right? It pretty much had me until the (male) nurse got knocked up, and then I remembered how weird and sorta freaky this series is. I forgot the zoomans were all about “fertility” and had special “womb worms” that aided homosexual couples in childbearing. Thankfully, they don’t go much past the mechanics of that, because it freaks me out a little bit.
If you’re curious about the zooman connection, the couple is a snake and a mongoose (some category of cat?). Also, the snake is one of those seme giants, the type that are, like, twice the size of the uke, that periodically show up in BL. Norio is pretty tiny compared to Kunimasa, but man. The surgeon’s huge.
But most of the book goes back to Norio and Kunimasa. Kunimasa is rather heartless, and while their relationship is passionate, it’s not very romantic, and Kunimasa is treating Norio badly here. Unusually for BL, this story explores that, and has Norio… kind of break up with Kunimasa after Kunimasa makes jokes about sharing Norio and comes right out and says he doesn’t love him. This is a cliffhanger ending, and I assume that Kunimasa will see the error of his ways and reform next time, because this is BL and that’s what happens. But again, that it bothered to call attention to the poor treatment is unusual.
If I recall, the woman that shows up on the last page is one of the reasons this series stuck with me for so many years, and why it’s worth a re-read. It is, again, batshit crazy in nearly every way, but it’s just so creative, and fairly easy to follow in its mechanics, that it’s worth the read for the brave souls that try.
Also, I love author notes in BL books that are super cheerful and innocent that come right on the heels of something absolutely filthy in the afterward. This book may have the best transition yet. The last sentence on one page is Kunimasa’s wish: “Penetrate him and come deep inside him. But first, just do him.” At the top of the next page is Kotobuki’s author note: “Thank you so much. This is Tarako Kotobuki. I’m so happy you’ve been reading my series. Please continue reading!” I… got whiplash.
April 12, 2015
Ayano Yamane – DMP/June – 2014 – 7+ volumes
Ah, more Finder. And even more than this, as all the volumes of the series recently got funded for a reprint via Kickstarter (holy crap, I can’t believe that raised $60,000). Again, my links aren’t working in WordPress, so you’re going to have to take my word for that. But that’s wonderful, as someone who knows the pain of trying to track down an OOP BL book. I hate you, All You Need is Love Volume 1!
Anyway. This is the start of a new storyline. After Akihito takes a photo of a politician with a hostess, the politician is embroiled in a scandal, the hostess disappears, and the club they are at is in danger. Said club is owned by Asami, of course. Asami doesn’t seem to care what Akihito does to the club’s reputation, but Akihito is hit by a wave of jealousy when he sees Asami with the weeping manager. Ai, the idol from last volume, is friends with the disappeared girl, and asks Akihito to find her. Along the way, Akihito runs into some rather unpleasant associates of Asami’s, and begins to wonder why Asami hangs out with a low class guy like him.
But of course Akihito doesn’t ask Asami about this, because this is a BL series. Their relationship is rather stilted throughout, and the normally distant Asami is completely unapproachable here, so Akihito can’t ask for reassurance. At one point, after crossing the club owner wrong, the club owner spells it out for him: Asami doesn’t love Akihito, and Akihito can choose his career or Asami. And, of course, though he would never admit it out loud, he wants both. And he wants Asami to be a more normal guy.
It’s cute (if you read between the lines), when it’s not frustratingly distant. But there is a ton of sex, even with the distance, which is what Ayano Yamane kind of does. It’s also disturbing, which is what Finder does, but that’s par for the course.
I probably don’t mention this a lot, but I do like Yamane’s art quite a bit. Her dark eyes, gritty style, and sharp faces suit this series well. She’s got a bit of an annoying size discrepancy going on between Akihito and Asami, but it’s more rare for that not to be a thing.
The bonus story is worth the price of admission. It starts off a little weird and confusing, with a fake scenario where Akihito is manager of a company staffed by Asami, Fei Long, and a few of the other dangerous men from the series. Only Asami will go with him for a difficult meeting, where the client makes fun of Akihito, and makes him tie up and abuse Asami. I was so relieved when Akihito woke up, and this turned out to be a dream, because it was far too corny for Ayano Yamane. Not only was it a dream, it was a dream he had while passed out from having too much sex. He then tricks Asami into being tied up and abused. Asami breaks free, and there is hell to pay.
What can I say. It’s the little things.
I was also deeply touched by the essay Yamane wrote in the back about writing this volume. Apparently her father died during a rather intense part of the story, and she wrote the rest of it while horribly depressed and unmotivated. I have to say, I imagine that being exquisite torture. Your beloved parent dies, and when you don’t want to do anything from grief, you are forced to write porn. I felt really bad about that.
March 18, 2015
Makoto Tateno – DMP/June – 2014 – 1 volume
Another new-ish one! I grabbed this one because I liked Tateno’s Yellow quite a bit. But this one didn’t really do it for me. It was okay, but not spectacular. Looking back through the other books by her, I see I apparently didn’t like most of the other books, either. A shame.
The story is about two doctors. One is a surgeon ladies’ man, and the other is a physician with a crush on him. An intern notices the physician’s crush, coerces him into sex in the break room one day, and the surgeon walks in. The Physician is devastated, but begins kind-of dating the intern while the Surgeon kind of simmers in the background. Turns out, the Surgeon liked the Physician all along! There’s lots of doctor stuff liberally spread throughout, including a little girl with a bad heart whose condition kind of holds the story together.
It is unusual for these books not to have both main characters pining after each other the whole time, or at least unsure. The Surgeon literally flips a switch and hops into bed with the Physician at the end, though. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but it kind of didn’t read right.
Meh. It was okay, a quick read, but there are better books out there. It didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of romance here, and I didn’t wind up liking any of the characters.
March 18, 2015
SPRAY / You Higuri – Blu – 2010 – 1 volume
I was disappointed when I realized that this was a spinoff of the original Gakuen Heaven series. The “series” is actually a BL game, but I was expecting this to be a manga version of the story. Instead, it’s kind of a sequel-spinoff focusing on one of the characters. Endo. Who isn’t actually in it that much. But really, I bought it because I really like You Higuri.
After the events of the first series (Keita was almost expelled from school), Bell Liberty seems like a happier place for Keita. He’s hooked up with his childhood friend/secret rich dude head of school, and the festival where everyone gets to show off what they’re best at is coming up. Exciting! But it turns out Keita’s boyfriend, Endo, is being forced to leave the school by his rich father, and is being replaced with a jerk VP that spreads rumors about him. Also, Keita is in charge of the huge festival, which is actually enormously stressful, but even more so when people realize they have to excel or be expelled when the VP spreads rumors to wreck the mood of the school.
There are a LOT of characters here, but they are easy to ignore, and most of them don’t really have more than a few lines. Those who do… aren’t really introduced. Surprisingly, the story isn’t that hard to follow, and Keita makes for a cute protagonist. It’s a pretty standard “save the school and my boyfriend!” storyline, so if you’re looking for a fun read, this will do the trick. There’s definitely better out there.
And while Keita and Endo are adorable, they are almost never together. There’s a couple scenes of them kissing that cut away with heavily implied sex (they live together), and one slightly more graphic scene at the end. I was a little shocked since I’d read part of a different Gakuen Heaven series in Princess Gold magazine, and there’s a suggestion of a rimjob in one panel, which is very un-Princess-like behavior. Apparently this was a Libre series, though. There’s a single panel where you can kind of make that out, but the rest of the scene is them naked and hugging each other, and it lasts two pages. Nothing graphic.
Higuri points out my favorite part of this story in the author’s notes. Endo is a student, but also the chairman of the school. His father wants him to move on to head their banking division, which implies that this guy is probably not high-school age (the flashbacks also make him look a bit older than Keita, but Keita is drawn to look young anyway). Higuri wants to know how old Endo is, as do I.
Higuri’s art is good, as always. With all the male characters, her art makes them easy to tell apart, which isn’t always the case in BL stories with a big cast like this. I read this because I am woefully low on Higuri books in English now. You can read her other stories though, and they are better than this. Try Ludwig II.
Also, in case the Bell Liberty Academy joke sailed over your head as it did mine, the characters refer to it as BL Academy after the first page.
February 13, 2015
Ayano Yamane – SuBLime – 2014 – 5+ volumes
Surprisingly, Vald and Havi spend most of this volume apart. I love that the schism occurs because Havi kisses Vald while he’s not a demon. But it’s not really because of the kiss that they wind up apart. They go to a town thanks to a thief that steals Havi’s books, and the town is infested by demons, there’s some big baddies after Vald and Havi, blah blah blah. It’s pretty good though, and better because Amane is not forcing the characters to have sex. Actually, they pretty much don’t in this volume, which is a little shocking for an Ayano Yamane story. I still liked it a lot, though.
The big baddies are mainly aiming for Havi, to use him as a source of power/take him over to get to Vald. The bad guys have a really hard time taking Havi over completely (they need to try, like, three times after capturing him), and Vald feels bad since it’s supposed to be his job to defend Havi, since the latter isn’t a fighter.
I don’t have that much else to say here. I was still delighted, despite most of the content flying under the radar, so to speak. But I’m tickled that Amane is taking the time to build up the story like this, since I’m all about well-done smutty fantasy like this. And again, I binge-bought the rest of the available volumes, so I’m having myself a little marathon. On to the next!
February 13, 2015
love – Gen Manga Entertainment – 2013 – 1 volume
So, I am slowly working my way through the catalog at Gen Manga (http://www.genmanga.com, apparently my hyperlinks stopped working). I gave this one a try sooner rather than later, because obviously I’m a big fan of BL stories, and I was curious to see a doujinshi-style one.
I do like the stories published by Gen. They are usually a little less polished, but less hands touch them, and they do often have some interesting ideas and styles as a result, stuff you wouldn’t find anywhere else. I like what they’re doing.
One is Enough reads… kind of like the Outsider Art version of a BL story. When I think of a doujinshi or amateur work, I think of something that’s so much like a regular story that there’s not a whole lot interesting about it. One is Enough reads like it contains the basics of a BL story, but… uh, doesn’t really know what to do after that.
The art and story are so different that I almost don’t think this is Japanese. There are panels of sublime beauty in here, but overall the style put me off and was kinda all over the place (sometimes detailed, sometimes sketchy, sometimes I couldn’t tell who the characters were, etc). Again, I don’t really hold that against it, as the different styles are part of what makes Gen Manga interesting. It didn’t really work for this title, though.
And the story was much crazier than the usual BL story. The main character is swept off his feet one day by a guy who he thinks he gave a cut to. Cut guy inexplicably invites him over to his place. Main character then begins to crazily loiter outside cut guy’s apartment. When he sees cut guy out with a girlfriend, he confronts him in front of his girlfriend about how he dates women. Cut guy tells the main character to get lost, but the main character continues to hang outside his apartment for hours, uninvited. Main character then begins to get beat up at school for being gay, and at one point is raped. Later, the main character says he needs sex so much that he begs his best friend to anally pleasure him. Said best friend is sort of implied to have a crush on him, but this is still incredibly awkward. None of it makes a whole lot of sense.
It’s unfortunately not even very romantic. I’m pretty easy to please as far as that goes, but there was nothing for me in here.
I think one of the problems is that it’s taking plot elements from BL stories, then not really expanding on them. If you want your main character to loiter obsessively outside his love interest’s apartment, they should probably have more than one scene together first, or your main character needs to have a reason to like this person, or be likable himself. Confronting the love interest about having a girlfriend after one meeting where you don’t exchange names is not a good enough reason. Also, your main character should probably have an opinion about being raped, and dealing with that should probably take up some serious story time.
This got mixed reviews on Amazon, so I think it worked as a quick BL fix for some readers. By all means, give this a try. I love supporting Gen Manga, and for $3, it might be worth a look.
December 19, 2014
Venio Tachibana / Akeno Kitahata – DMP/June – 2014 – 1+ volume
I was super-excited about this one, since I loved Tachibana’s Seven Days so much. New Season of Young Leaves isn’t as good, but has some of the nice, subtle qualities that made Seven Days so good.
The two main characters are the popular, outgoing Mariya and quiet, introverted Nachi. Nachi has earned himself the nickname “Mr. Mannequin” for being so emotionless and unapproachable. The story opens with one of Mariya’s friends challenging the friendship between Mariya and Nachi, since it seems Mariya can’t hang out unless he asks Nachi’s permission.
Nachi winds up at a Mah Jong game with Mairya’s friends to make the number of players even, and they soon find out that no matter what Nachi does, he will be better than you at it. This leads to Nachi hanging out with Mairya’s friends a lot and Mariya getting jealous.
Nachi later tells the story about how the two of them met in Middle School to a friendly classmate. Nachi, who sees Mariya stand up for a friend and likes him for it, later asks him how they can be friends, as Nachi has none and doesn’t know how such things work (Nachi is painfully socially awkward. He has no pride or shame, and always asks or says what’s on his mind). This makes Mariya uncomfortable at first, but he soon realizes he loves being close, exclusive friends with Nachi. Later, a girl begins to try for Nachi’s affection, and there’s a little drama.
The nice thing about New Season of Young Leaves, and Seven Days, is that they’re both life-shattering drama-free. They’re mostly just regular people dealing with regular situations. The relationships move nice and slow, and they have sort of an embarrassed, hand-holding quality I like. It’s a rather unique, subtle flavor.
Having said that, I had a hard time getting into New Season of Young Leaves. I do like to see stories where the characters are in a regular setting, interacting with other students like they aren’t the only two people either of them know. But there are a few too many characters that are featured a little prominently for having no role in the story. I had a hard time telling Mariya and another character apart for the first chapter or so. The story is also… oddly fragmented. It’s about how Nachi is “Mr. Mannequin” and doesn’t fit in. It’s about their weird friendship/relationship that isn’t explained for a long time. It’s about Mariya getting jealous. Then it’s about them in middle school, then about the girl that came between them?
Apparently the story continues in another volume, which would explain why there are several characters whose specialty seems to be giving significant looks. But if there’s another volume, I’m not sure why the middle school flashback (which takes up half the book) wasn’t expanded into its own volume? That was my favorite part of the book, and I would have adored it if that was the first volume.
Good, but a little scattered. The second volume isn’t scheduled yet, but hopefully we’ll see it inside a year.