New Season of Young Leaves

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.

 

Crimson Spell 1

November 16, 2014

Ayano Yamane – SuBLime – 2013 – 5+ volumes

Again, trying to shake off my manga funk, I’m picking and choosing titles carefully.  I was in the mood for some BL, and have a towering stack of unread volumes to choose from… but I didn’t want a bad experience to sour me.  I’m glad I went for Ayano Yamane.  She’d never do me wrong.

This was perfect, because this is basically a fantasy series with a lot of sex.  I was a little shocked by how much sex, though I shouldn’t have been, because… well, I’ve read the Finder series.  This series is about a gentleman/prince named Vald who is crippled by a curse from his family’s heirloom sword.  He turns into a bloodthirsty demon and does he doesn’t know what to innocent people while in this state.  So he seeks out the help of magician Havi, so he can go back and live in his kingdom.

Havi is an aloof magician with a fondness for really weird artifacts.  He agrees to help Vald if Vald helps him on a dragon-slaying quest.  Vald agrees, as he’s “good at that sort of thing.”

The sex comes in when Vald has to sleep at night in some magically sealed shackles in order to keep his demon at bay.  Havi takes them off and binds the demon, then has sex with it.  Because this is an Ayano Yamane manga.

It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I like, but it keeps it light without drifting into overt comedy (unless you count the plant sex in the bonus chapter, which is a bonus chapter and shouldn’t count).  The story is kind of run-of-the-mill, but just interesting enough that it would keep my attention without the sex.  It straddles an uncomfortable line as to whether it’s non-con or not – Vald doesn’t know what happens to him when he’s a demon… and the demon seems to enjoy the rough treatment.  At least after the first time.

I like Yamane’s artwork a lot (nice character designs, and she’s got a flair for the medieval here), and I like fantasy stories as long as they have a bit of flavor for the plot and characters, which this one does.

I wish it ended with volume 5… not only because I can run out and buy the rest of it right now, but also because this series releases PAINFULLY SLOW in Japan.  We’ve only had 5 volumes since 2004.  I’m not sure that I’m going to like waiting several years for volume 6.  But I will anyway, because that’s what I do.

Castle Mango 2

November 16, 2014

Narise Konohara / Muku Ogura – DMP/June – 2014 – 2 volumes

How about that, another 2014 volume!  I’m slowly trying to whittle down my TBR pile, and this was on top.  Even though the Cold Trilogy still creeps me out, years after having read it, I still like Narise Konohara enough to pick up her newest books.  Especially since BL tends to disappear and get hard to obtain after a few months, sometimes.

I remember really, really liking the first volume of this, but the second left me rather cold.  I don’t recall there being an age gap relationship, which I have been trying to avoid lately.  Reading through my review, I apparently liked the slow development of the relationship in volume one, and the way the two main characters got to know one another.  Well… there’s none of that here.  Togame gives Yorozu the cold shoulder right away, and the rest of the volume is spent with Yorozu trying to figure out why Togame won’t answer his calls.

Also, his mom has heart problems, one of the rooms at his hotel burns up, he has to take care of his little brother, and get a part time job and wrestle with matters of the heart and… it was all a little too depressing and sad for me, and not very romantic.  Bummer.

I did like that Togame told Yorozu to wait at the end of the book, though.  I hate age gap relationships, but it tickled me that Togame didn’t want anything to do with him in part because of that.  Hooray.

Hm.  It’s been too long since I read the first volume.  But odds are, you’ll probably want to stop there.  This one’s okay, but… kinda eh.

Embracing Love Omnibus 1

November 9, 2014

Youka Nitta – SuBLime – 2013 – 7 volumes

I was surprised to see this!  I didn’t think the Japanese publisher would ever agree to another edition after all the negative publicity about Nitta’s artwork.  I guess the compromise was the removal of the chapter splash page illustrations.  They’re beautiful, but I’d rather have the whole thing.

This is coming out very slowly, and unfortunately, I’ve already read these two volumes from Be Beautiful, so there wasn’t anything new here for me.  That’s okay, because this story is still utterly addictive.  Two adult film actors audition opposite each other for the lead role in a gay art film.  The winner is Iwaki, the older and more experienced of the two, and he winds up playing the submissive to the story’s writer, who turns out to be a gay man who prefers dressing like a woman.  The relationship between Iwaki and Katou doesn’t stop there though, as Katou is cast as the star in the drama version of the popular movie, called Embracing Love.  Katou, the younger and up-and-coming actor, creates controversy when he begins to blatantly lie about a relationship between himself and Iwaki in order to stir up media coverage for their drama.  Sullen, reluctant Iwaki is only having sex with Katou to punish him at first, but the two slowly fall in love.  The deep, passionate kind of love that you only see in the likes of Kizuna and this series.  Except this series is way more depressing and dramatic than Kizuna ever dreamed of being.  Which is saying something, because Kizuna is pretty damn depressing and dramatic most of the time.

Lots of short stories in these first couple volumes here.  Lots of “should we, shouldn’t we” indecisions between Iwaki and Katou, mostly from Iwaki, who feels like he’s mostly being drug along for a ride by Katou.  He loves him passionately after the first couple stories though, and Katou reveals that he’s always had a crush on Iwaki.  Stories about fans with crushes on Katou, trysts at work, bad publicity between the two, and family troubles fill up the volume.

Embracing Love does some clever things initially.  I loved that the main characters were porn stars, as that’s just not something you see very often.  That theme is dropped after the first couple chapters.  Well, mostly.  It’s used as a depression crutch, mostly for Iwaki, who often stresses that he will never be taken seriously as an actor because of his background, that his family disowned him because of his adult career, blah blah blah.  It’s also implied that, because they’re both sex experts, that the dominant and submissive roles are interchangeable in their relationship.  Sadly, this goes out the window after the second chapter, since Iwaki is the unsure one and is mostly submissive.  I hope it comes back later, though.

I’m not giving this series a very flattering description, but if you’re a BL fan, you can tell that this has all the good stuff in it.  Believe me when I say you want those depressing crutches.  You want unsure will-they-won’t-they characters if they are very good.  And believe me, Iwaki and Katou are very, very good together in their torrid, sudden relationship (the only part that bothered me was how quickly they hooked up).  You want the thousand bad things happening to them in every chapter, because that’s what makes an AWESOME boy’s love series.

If Kizuna was your thing, please do yourself a favor and pick this up.  It’s really one of the best.  I suspect many won’t be fans of the older art style (and, sadly, the older characters, which is the only type of BL I read for the most part anymore), but there are many of us that were waiting patiently for years and expecting this never to come out.  I am SO HAPPY you have no idea.  Volumes 3-4 come out in March, and I am so ready for them.

Tyrant Falls in Love 8

July 14, 2013

Hinako Takanaga – DMP/June – 2013 – 8 volumes

I’ve been refreshing akadot.com for the last month, waiting for this book to appear.  I may not have been reading very much manga lately, but I made damn sure I picked this one up.  Making me wait six months for the last book… on a cliffhanger!  Are you serious?!  But it only made getting my hands on the book that much sweeter.  And I’m thrilled that we got it at all, honestly, as that hiccup made me worry terribly.

And it was as good as I had hoped.  Very, very good.  Everything’s resolved.  It stays true to Souichi’s character and still had a happy end.  It had an appropriately apocalyptic “relationship moment” that seemed like a good crisis to end on.  There were some touches of humor at the end, but if I really had to level any sort of criticism at it, it’s that the funny character moments that made the series so much fun to read all the way through weren’t in this final volume.  But I’m a fan of drama, so I was all for this stuff.

The other thing is that it feels like it could keep going.  And it apparently does!  I think Takanaga has continued to write side stories about these two, which I hope she does forever.  The characters are so good that you could throw pretty much any situation at them and have it be funny, so I could see occasional volumes of their continued lives together being quite the treat.  I only hope we get to see them in English as well!  AND!  It looks like she decided not to write that sequel series about Morinaga’s brother after all!  Or, at least, hasn’t gotten around to it yet.  That makes me happy, because that couple was creepy, and I would have read it to see if there was more Tatsumi and Morinaga.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot or characters in this volume, since most people reading this will either have already read it or not want to be spoiled.  But if you’re trying to figure out if the ending is worth it, it is!  I couldn’t have been happier.  This is especially cheery considering the fact that I just wrote up the last volume of xxxHolic, which was… less than satisfactory.  But they can’t all be winners.

This was one of my favorite BL series of all time, and I’ve already gushed about it plenty, so I’m just going to leave the ending at this.  I do hope to see more of it, but for the time being… YES.  I couldn’t be happier to have the whole thing in my hands.  I’m going to re-read it right about… now.

beast & feast

July 14, 2013

Norikazu Akira – DMP/June – 2012 – 1 volume

I hate funky caps and punctuation in titles, but part of me also thinks it’s very funny.  The lowercase title stays!

Guys, I wanted to like this book very badly.  Norikazu Akira’s art is AMAZING.  It’s so rare that we get books like this with manly-looking characters in English.  These dudes have stubble, they look like adults, and they’re grown-ups.  This book was all for me.  Plus she uses a lot of heavy inks and tones, which makes it look very dark and stylish.  Flipping through this book right now, I would buy any other book by Norikazu Akira they published in English (which, incidentally, includes Honey Darling from SuBLime).  Unfortunately, based on the two books I ready by her… she’s just not my flavor.

Part of the problem is that there’s no preamble, just sex.  Detective and Yakuza meet for the first time since junior high.  There’s some thinly veiled excuse to get them together again after the first meeting (yakuza knows something about the case detective is working on), and from there, yakuza throws detective into bed and the two start having sex.  There’s no romance, really, although they do like each other.  The romance consists of “I’ve always loved you!” “Why didn’t you say so you can do whatever you want with me!” which… I probably shouldn’t complain about after reading hundreds of these, but when that’s all there is?  That’s really boring.  There’s lots of struggling, et cetera.  Unfortunately, the yakuza is the only one that looks manly, as the detective is still kind of a small dude, which is less interesting than I made it sound.

The case goes on through the various chapters.  Unfortunately, I’m giving a somewhat abridged summary since I read it some time ago and the only impression it left was that I loved the art, but the book itself didn’t do much for me.  Flipping through it, it’s plenty steamy, and it does have good art, which is a tough combination to find sometimes.  So there’ll be plenty of people for whom this will be worth picking up.  I’d still recommend it to myself based on its good points alone, but it just wasn’t a very satisfying read.  Not everything can be Men of Tattoos, but I always kind of want it to be.

Picnic

April 21, 2013

Yugi Yamada – DMP/June – 2007 – 1 volume

This is a collection of short stories, which I tend to dislike. It’s hard for me to get into BL characters and/or the romance unless the characters are very good, which doesn’t usually happen with short stories. But since it was a Yugi Yamada volume, I had to read it. Happily, she’s very good at writing characters, and this wound up being my favorite volume of stories by her.

It’s mostly groups of related stories. The first section is the titular Picnic, which is a series of short stories that swap perspective between the two guys in the relationship. They’re a couple when the story starts, but from the first perspective, it seems like they might only be sex buddies. One of the guys is affectionate but scared the other doesn’t love him as much, and the other seems rather emotionally detached, but is really into the partner. The affectionate one is also very shy, while the emotionally detached one is somewhat bolder, if not as verbose. The perspective shifts are a nice touch, and it’s a wonderful way to tell the story, and neat to see the way the misconceptions work. It’s a sentimental piece, rather than her usual humorous work, but it reads just as well.

The second set of stories was very funny. It picks up in the middle of something, weirdly, and the story isn’t very good at rehashing the history of the two characters until the very end. But it doesn’t matter, because they’re the type of bickering couple that Yugi Yamada does better than almost anybody else. The two fight like nobody’s business, mostly about how bad one of them may or may not be at sex, whether or not they should have it, et cetera. Very funny stuff. I feel like I may have read the beginning of this relationship before elsewhere, but then again, I’m also re-reading this volume to write up the review, and I read it the first time over a year ago, so maybe I’m mistaken and am just remembering the story. Maybe it was part of Glass Sky?

There’s a creepy short story about an abandoned boy following around a guy that has sex with random partners and steals their money, but that’s followed up by the last set of stories, about a pair of shy salaryman that share an interest in literature. The younger one writes terrible books, and the older one comes over to get worked up about his lack of literary talent. Neither one can broach the subject of their feelings, and the younger one winds up getting transferred and moving away. They keep in touch via the story critiques, and the older one eventually makes a trip to Tokyo to see him, only to find that neither can still broach the subject of their feelings. It’s a subtle, sweet story that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Basically, Yugi Yamada is awesome, and you can pick up any one of her books without being disappointed. I preferred this to Glass Sky, in terms of short story collections. There haven’t been any new books by her translated into English in quite some time. Here’s hoping some will pop up soon.

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