Earthian 3

August 30, 2015

Yun Kouga – Blu – 2006 – 4 volumes

Ahh… hm.  Hmm.  So, the story ends here.  The fourth volume is a gaiden volume, that sounds like it’s mostly about Raphael and Michael.

Honestly, I’m not really clear on what happened here?  Maybe because it took me a couple months to pick up volume 3 after I finished 2.  But I don’t think that’s it.

The ‘;plot comes back with a vengeance here.  The black angels are suddenly all about attacking Eden.  Also, when I say black angels, there’s also suddenly an army of them.  Some of them are offspring, which hasn’t come up before now.  Elvira also has a new lover who isn’t introduced… he’s just kind of there.  Also, just as suddenly, Raphael decides to attack and eradicate humans/Earthians.  It’s not really clear why he’s doing this, though he does mention offhandedly one time that it may be because the humans are destroying Earth.  But this doesn’t really make sense, since the angels have their own land/planet that is doing just fine, and killing all Earthians won’t save the angel race.  In fact, Michael points this out, and puzzles over it just as I did.

The story leaves a lot of loose ends.  It basically ends in the middle of an explosion.  An explosion that isn’t… really well explained?  They need to cripple the transporter on the Metatron, but since it’s already near Earth, this only makes it so they can’t go back?  Maybe they need to go back because the black angels also damaged the ship?  Maybe they get scared when they realize they can’t go back?  But then Chihaya, Kagetsuya, and Raphael are apparently back on Isana?

???

Hopefully more will be explained in one or two stores in the gaiden volume?

So let’s ignore the hot mess that is the second half of this volume.  What we actually came for is in the first half.  The second volume ended in a rather spicy place, but apparently that didn’t go anywhere.  It goes a little bit of (well-masked, because this is a Wings series) somewhere here.  Hilariously, Kagetsuya and Chihaya are interrupted almost immediately, which is the only way they would get in trouble for their relationship, other than their guilty consciences.  I say this is funny, because Michael and Raphael have obviously been involved for some time, but have never been caught.

The aftermath isn’t that funny though, and is rather heartbreaking.  I felt bad for everyone, but I thought it was a nice touch that Kouga spotlighted Michael here, Chihaya’s foster father.  Michael is torn up about it all, especially the fact that Chihaya and Kagetsuya are scheduled for execution for their homosexual indiscretion.  Again, I’m blown away by the logic in this series.  The race of angels are dying out, so they have strict laws against homosexuality since they want the birth rate to increase.  But to enforce this, they kill members of their dying race?  I suppose I really shouldn’t think too hard about it.

Kouga has some lovely art in this book, and there are even a couple color pages for us to ogle.  Some truly nice layouts, and even a few that incorporate both pages, which I am a sucker for.  That messy battle at the end may be confusing, but since it takes place in the sky, space, and the void, there’s some truly great composition at work there.

Hm.  The Blu editions aren’t pricey right now, and you can also buy the series digitally at eManga.  I suspect most will be disappointed with it.  But it does have lovely art, and there’s a beautiful love story buried in there somewhere (which I suspect will continue in volume 4, I can’t wait to read more about Michael and Raphael).  I’d say go for it if you’re up for a challenge.  If you’re a big book nerd, the Blu editions may be worth hunting down.  They’ve got colored pages, high quality paper, a textured, shiny cover, and are generally Very Nice.

Junjo Romantica 4

August 30, 2015

Shungiku Nakamura – Blu – 2007 – 18+ volumes

I dunno… on one hand, I’m ridiculously addicted.  On the other hand… I still don’t think there’s a whole lot of romance in here.

As weird as it is, I still think the Egoist story is my favorite.  In this volume, we get the second half of the story about Hiro’s past.  He pushes the older man away, and winds up going over to see Usami after Usami calls him on the day Misaki’s brother gets a girlfriend.  Hiro can’t come to terms with the fact Usami will never love him, and refuses to entertain the thought of dating someone else.  The older man is a little forceful for my taste (everyone in this series is, which is one of the reasons I’m still on the fence), but he gives somewhat good advice, and seems like a decent guy save for the forcefulness.  Which is… kinda rare in this series?  The story ends with Hiro thinking about what it is to be happy, and it’s sweet.

The second Egoist story is told from Nowaki’s perspective.  He’s not sure that Hiro’s all that into him.  Hiro’s just not that romantic, and doesn’t seem all that into the “couple” stuff that Nowaki fantasizes about (there’s a great page with Nowaki fantasizing a lot of couple-y stuff, and with a completely straight face, dismissing it all).  He loses it when he realizes there’s a handful of people that call Hiro by his first name, without an honorific, and the story concludes with Hiro doing his best to stammer out a mushy admission of how much he likes Nowaki.  ADORABLE.  Also, there’s sex.

The only thing was that I was a little lost as to when this was supposed to take place.  Nowaki still has his job at the flower shop, and talks about the two of them living together despite their difficulty connecting, so I thought it took place before he went to America… but then he goes from there to his internship at the hospital?  I guess I didn’t realize that medical interns could hold down a second job?

Anyway.  Even the Romantica story was kinda great this time around.  Misaki begins to wonder if he should read Usagi’s books, and winds up reading the BL.  In the full story, Usagi wins a prestigious literary award (for his real books), and when Misaki doesn’t know he won the award, and has no idea what book it even was, and has never read Usagi’s books… he realizes he doesn’t know anything about Usagi.  He tries to ask, which touches Usagi deeply, and actually did make for a really cute story.  And next time, I’m promised Usagi’s brother.  I’m excited about that.

Also next time is a new couple, though I’m not reeeeally looking forward to it.  I think the character we know was the rape-y teacher that Hiro works with, who I’m not a big fan of for obvious reasons.

Embracing Love Omnibus 2

August 23, 2015

Youka Nitta – SuBLime – 2014 – 14 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 3-4

Hm.  I read the first half of this book, and it didn’t really click with me, so I waited a week or two to give the second half a try.  It still didn’t click.  I’m not sure why, I loved the first one to pieces.  I found it to be incredibly romantic.  But this one felt like straight-up drama.

In the first half, the main plot point is that Iwaki and Katou are moving, and then they visit Iwaki’s family, who are homophobic and had previously disowned him when he started his career as an adult actor.  The second half has more short stories, but hanging over the whole of it is a rather ugly plot point involving Iwaki’s new manager attempting to sabotage their relationship.

What did this volume lack that the first one had?  Well, I really liked watching the two of them fall in love, and struggle to become legitimate actors.  I thought that made for a great story.  But here?  They… aren’t really struggling for anything.  They’re both incredibly famous.  They are together.  Each chapter has some sort of petty fight where one earnestly yells at the other over something silly, like not spending enough time together, being worried about the other’s mood, or whether the manager is trying to get in between them.  But there’s no real drama, because there’s never any doubt that the two love each other.  The fights become annoying and repetitive, and just read like drama drama drama without much substance.  The content of volume three was a bit more interesting… it did feel like the two were coming up against something serious when Iwaki struggled with the relationships in his family.  And there were some cute stories when the two moved, like when Katou found the box of Iwaki’s old adult films.

Part of my reservation is that I still have the content of volume 4 lingering in my memory, which is mostly just short stories that feature conflict without a serious ground.  The final story was interesting, since it was about the author of Embracing Love from volume one, and about how he turned from being an in-the-closet police officer to the feminine writer he is today (I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be transgender, the story has implied both genders at different points).  But it was condensed in one chapter.  It would have been better if it had been longer so we could learn to like him more.  It would have also been better if I never found out his lover was his younger nephew.

The key to a drama-filled series like this is that the drama has to feel like it’s actually affecting the lives of the characters, not that one misunderstood how much the other loved him.  Something tells me if someone threatened their relationship, one or both of these men would lose their minds.  So that would be intriguing if it was a real threat.  There’s also the old stand-bys for a series like this – career ending drama, major physical accidents (if you’re Zetsuai, you alternate between those two), family drama (which Kizuna does correctly)… and you’ve basically passed all the “how does he feel, I don’t know” drama you’re going to get out of Embracing Love.

It’s not like I’m ever going to stop reading.  At one volume a year, this doesn’t come out often enough to grow tiresome.  And it’s still pretty high-quality drama, which I like in BL.  So, after all that, really, I can’t wait for the third omnibus.  If only because there’s a shriveled black part of my heart waiting for their lives to crash and burn somewhere over the next ten volumes.

edit:  I waited long enough to post this review!  Volume three came out a week or two ago.  I wrote this up in… May?

Junjo Romantica 3

August 23, 2015

Shungiku Nakamura – Blu – 2007 – 18+ volumes

This was mostly a Misaki/Usami volume, though there’s a pretty good chunk of Nowaki/Kamijo at the back, and those two are growing on me.  Mostly because Kamjio is so obstinate.  The first story with those two is about how he assumes Nowaki caught a cold because Kamijo made him play in the snow, and he guiltily bosses him around with food, medicine, etc… until Nowaki finally gets a word in edgewise to tell him he’s not sick.  Then Kamijo gets all embarrassed, and it’s cute.  That’s why those two are fun.  Their relationship was much more normal and far less weird in this volume.

The second “Egoist” chapter was a flashback to Kamjio and an old boyfriend, Shinoda.  Shinoda’s observant, and thinks the two could get along, but because Kamijo has a crush on Usagi, he wants nothing to do with him.  The story ends on a cliffhanger.  Gasp!

Meanwhile, Usami and Misaki continue to get along.  The first story is about how it doesn’t feel like the pair are dating to Misaki, and the second is about how Misaki’s brother is insisting he move in with his wife and their new baby, to get the “family” vibe that Misaki didn’t grow up with.  Of course Misaki wants to stay with Usami.  And of course they do.

I’m still struggling a bit with the romance between Usami and Misaki… they’re a very physical couple, and while Usami is not shy about saying his feelings and expressing himself… Misaki isn’t.  He acts shy, and constantly tells Usagi no… and while his private thoughts are definitely about Usami, the fact that he doesn’t express them, and Usagi isn’t very good at holding normal conversations… just means they kinda lack chemistry for me.

Ah well.  It has time to grow on me.

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!

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