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.
Reiko Yoshihara – DMP/June – 2009 – 8 volumes
this is a novel series
One of the blessings and the curses of this novel series is that it’s very wrapped up in the world. That’s nice for a sci-fi series, and normally I would applaud a detailed world. But the flaw with Ai no Kusabi is that it tends to retread the same territory over and over again. Spending a whole chapter explaining just how shocking it is that Iason let Riki go, but kept him on file as a pet, might be something that it does. Explaining just how extreme things really are happens a lot, and it also re-treads a lot of the same ground from previous novels over and over again. Part of that is likely due to the nature of being a serialized novel, since you wouldn’t want to alienate new readers. But in a novel format, it’s a bit aggravating.
And I’m still just not that into the characters, or the relationships, but at the same time I sucked these novels down in an afternoon. I can’t really explain it.
This one mostly features the Darkmen, who come into Ceres looking for Kirie, who was recently a very bad boy. The Darkmen are an evil portent indeed, and despite the fact that Kirie has alienated basically all his friends in Ceres, they still do a lot to help him hide from the Darkmen. There’s some shuffling around and re-sorting in Ceres, along with missed connections, Katze comes back into play, and then… Kirie exits. Sort of.
Keep reading, is all I can say. If you’ve gotten this far, you know this kinda isn’t that good, but is addictive in its own way. Plus, as I said, the conclusion is finally coming out! Hooray!
You Higashino – SuBLime – 2012 – 1 volume
Another SuBLime title, and I’m a bit behind on my reading from them. This one I picked up purely because I’d read everything else from You Higashino in English. Eventually, I’ll learn that her books scare and disturb me greatly, and stop. Maybe. I mean, if I didn’t learn my lesson after A Fallen Saint’s Kiss, I’m not sure that lesson’s gonna stick.
You Higashino is a big fan of rough stuff. A Fallen Saint’s Kiss was a BDSM volume, but it was basically consensual the whole time. So while I was blown away by what was going on, my conscience wasn’t really crying out. Not about that, anyway. This book, though… it’s about demons, which I’m a big fan of. The demon takes what he wants, which I’m not a big fan of. There are two demons that do this. It’s really hard to read.
Yuzuru is the main character. He’s a small boy with glasses that gets bullied a lot, but the class president stands up for him, so Yuzuru admires him. His world is rocked one day when he goes to the nurse’s office and finds the school nurse, Kokuyo, having sex with a student. What’s worse, that student is found murdered the next day. Yuzuru tries to put it out of his mind… but it turns out Kokuyo wants Yuzuru! He shows up at his house and has sex with him! Yuzuru is terrified by him! But it turns out that it’s the class president, and not Kokuyo, that is murdering the students. Surprise! The class president tries to murder Yuzuru, but Kokuyo stops him in time.
Turns out there are a handful of demons running around campus. Kokuyo is an especially powerful demon, and he’s bonded with Yuzuru because he likes him. The class president isn’t a demon, though, he’s just a psychopath. Anyway, there’s lots of sex. Yuzuru never seems like he’s into it, though. He does consent at the end of the first chapter, but after that, he seems at best confused, and puts up a lot of resistance.
I do like Kokuyo’s powers, which is to say something and make it so. One of the bullies gets bugs in his face when Kokuyo whispers in his ear he should watch out for that. Someone’s tongue falls out at his suggestion. This part is pretty awesome, though it’s downplayed in favor of sex. Sometimes the two go hand in hand, though, like when Kokuyo summons tentacles to get Yuzuru off. Random stuff like that happens a lot.
It’s… it does what I expected, I suppose. You Higashino’s stories always have a lot of sex, though she says herself that this was her first book with supernatural elements. Her style is usually fairly random and lighthearted (aside from being fairly intense, it usually seems like she’s doing things a bit tongue-in-cheek), but I think the supernatural elements work against her here. There’s just an awful lot going on, and it doesn’t quite make sense. But I suppose making sense isn’t the point.
Admittedly, there aren’t very many hardcore BL books like this in English, so if this is what you’re looking for, it’s right here. Also, check out other books by Higashino. You won’t be disappointed. It’s a little too much for me, but at the same time, I do still like her. Her art’s good, her situations are generally ridiculous (as they are here), and as I said, I do kind of like that she doesn’t seem to be taking things very seriously. And I’ll admit that I do like to see a little more steam from time to time. But it has to be more consensual than this, because this creeped me out. So much, actually, that it didn’t even occur to me until just now that this was also a teacher/student relationship, which I also find inherently creepy at the best of times. But I’ll keep buying them. Maybe next time.
Yugi Yamada – DMP/June – 2007 – 1 volume
I know I said I liked Keiko Kinoshita a lot, and I do. But my love for Kinoshita is nothing like my reverence for Yugi Yamada, which burns with the brightness of a thousand suns. She writes characters with a lot of personality, good banter, usually there’s friends involved (so rare in BL!), and her stories are always so funny. She’s one of my absolute favorites, and it’s making me sad that I’m running out of books by her to write about. Someone get on that!
Laugh Under the Sun is about boxing. From the cover, one might expect a story about boxers falling in love. But Yamada’s better than that. This is actually about a guy named Sohei who wants to be a boxer ever since reading Ashita no Joe when he was 15. But he injured someone during a fight at the age of 17, and he gave up the sport in favor of becoming a playboy that drifts from woman to woman. His two friends, Chika and Naoki, live successful lives as a columnist and a graphic designer, respectively, and Sohei feels out of place hanging out with them. Chika bullies Sohei into boxing again, for lack of anything else to do, and the story goes through the ups and downs of a 25-year-old boxer training to get his professional license while sorting through his two friend’s private lives.
Naoki, a somewhat flamboyant gay man, is the constant shoulder to cry on, whereas Chika never offers anything but sarcasm and unkindness. With Naoki and Chika as the two professionals who share an office, it’s hard to tell at first where the romance is going. But it eventually becomes clear that Chika’s bullying is a disguise to help Sohei, and he’s actually liked Sohei since they were in high school. Things go well from there.
I also tend to like Yamada’s books because they build everything up to a rather romantic climax. There’s nothing too explicit here, but the heavy romance scenes at the end of her books always feel great. Especially if the characters crack jokes at each other’s expense the whole time.
This isn’t my favorite by Yamada, but it’s up there, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Plus, it’s got the older character factor working for it in my personal taste range. If you run across it, it’s definitely worth a read.
Keiko Kinoshita – JManga – 2012 – 1 volume
As you may have heard, JManga is rather suddenly shutting their doors, and taking all their manga with them. I own a lot of volumes on there, many of which I haven’t talked about here yet. I should probably get that out of the way before I lose access.
I love Keiko Kinoshita dearly, and this was one of the first BL books JManga posted. I snapped it up immediately, and wasn’t disappointed. This is a short story collection, which isn’t my preference, but Kinoshita is good for her wonderful character dialogue and somewhat more realistic relationships (although here, there are still some that stretch credibility). She also has a nice style that goes well with her stories.
I was hooked here by the salarymen, in a way that I would have been anyway even if Kinoshita hadn’t drawn it. The first couple stories focus on the same couple, which is a boss/underling relationship where the underling goes after the older, senior office member. It’s a slow thing, though, where he confesses his love on the first few pages, then spends the rest of the time in a friendship with the Chief Clerk. The latter begins to accept his feelings more and more, but begins to wonder why their relationship isn’t going anywhere. And then it does. Nothing too explicit, but there’s some romance there.
The second set of stories are shorter, and focus on a sillier relationship between a young author and his much older editor. The editor is drawn to the author, and the author seems oblivious when he answers the door in only a towel and grills him for information on “adult” relationships. This is, of course, going exactly the way it seems. It wraps up nicely with a point of drama about a possible marriage for the editor. Of the stories, this was my least favorite couple.
The last stories are one-shots, one about a high school couple that reluctantly gets together when one uses the other as a scapegoat to break up with his girlfriend, and another that’s a rather PG teacher/student relationship. I hate those kinds of stories, but this one was much less creepy than they normally are. It was very sentimental and sweet, actually, and would probably go over well with readers who are more inclined to enjoy that.
I feel like I’m probably not doing this justice, but it’s another wonderful light read from Keiko Kinoshita. She has better books, but for me, these are always a very particular pleasure. Grab it while you can, if you’re still able.
Rieko Yoshihara – June – 2008 – 6 volumes
This is a series of BL novels.
For whatever reason, I wrote this two years ago and never posted it. With the ending of this series imminent, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit these volumes and write up the ones I didn’t get to. So expect 5-6 soon, too.
At this point, I was pretty well taken with the series. I read 4-6 in one day. Why? I’m not sure. Admittedly, the sci-fi elements are really well done, and I loved watching the characters slowly succumb to the forces bearing down on them from all sides. In that, it’s like watching a train wreck, because you can tell from a mile off that terrible things are going to happen, and you just have to sit back and watch.
But I still have a hard time stomaching the violence and abuse, or really sympathizing with the characters. Riki isn’t doing anybody any harm, and is doing the best for himself that he can, but his aggressive nature makes him a bit less likable, although it earns him points for fighting off the assaults as much as he can. Then there’s Kirie and Iason, who… well, are antagonists, and haven’t really shown a good side. The most sympathetic is Guy, Riki’s partner. He will stand by and do anything for Riki, even without an explanation about Riki’s recent habits. Plus, he’s in the middle of a scheme meant to trap Riki here. He’s nicer than Riki, though still aggressive. Perhaps he would be less likable if we saw more of him.
In this volume, we learn more about the Guardian facility and… what it’s really for? We also meet Manon and are introduced to a terrible scheme of Kirie’s that doesn’t look like it could possibly go anywhere good. Meanwhile, Iason comes to collect his pet. The collection process will last a good long while yet, but it begins here, and we learn that Riki is still… well, all to Iason, which is a shame. I was hoping he’d use the chance to somehow break away from the bonds.
Kotetsuko Yamamoto – DMP/June – 2008 – 1 volume
I think I skimmed this randomly out of the bargain bin at Right Stuf during a sale. It was cheap, and scratched the random BL itch nicely.
Basically, it’s the usual schoolboy-crush kind of story. The main characters are Keigo and Chihiro. They were best friends as children, but Keigo’s family moved overseas, and he was so unhappy that after a few years, they sent him back to Japan to live with Chihiro’s family. The story builds slowly, with Keigo realizing he completely loves Chihiro, and Chihiro’s slow acceptance. There’s complications with girlfriends from both sides, and Chihiro’s struggle to figure out what Keigo being gay means to him. You know how all these go eventually, though. This one’s pretty tame and very cute, for those who like the lighter side of BL.
It was also pretty decent for a random one-shot like this. The whole volume is the Keigo/Chihiro story, and it really takes its time exploring the emotions and personalities, which tends to make for a better story. Admittedly, it’s not reaching up into my personal BL Hall of Fame or anything. I tend to shy away from school-themed stories now, since I prefer stories about older men. And as cute and well-done as this story is, it’s also pretty forgettable. I read it about a year ago, and it didn’t leave enough of an impression to either write it up immediately or summarize it without re-reading it now. But it is good, and if you happen to run across it while trying to fill your cart elsewhere, I’d recommend it.
Happily, we’ve gotten around a half dozen other volumes of Yamamoto manga in English courtesy of the DMG, so I might try those out as a follow-up to this.
Rieko Yoshihara – June – 2008 – 6 volumes
I have a bunch of these reviews written up, but I never posted them. I’m going to do so now, but keep in mind that a few of them are super-sparse. There’s… just not a whole lot to say about what’s going on, honestly. It’s kinda the same, but more so in each volume. And I’m not quite sure what compelled me to keep reading…
We get more of the rape and abuse of Riki at the beginning here, and a look at just how “privileged” his life with Iason was. I mean… he wasn’t thrown out like the other pets, but I wouldn’t say he was living the good life, either.
Then the story catches up to where we picked up at the beginning. Kirie is beginning to make a name for himself on the black market and dealing with Iason himself. It’s clear that Kirie isn’t quite the same sort of pent-up tough guy that Riki is, and that Iason will likely not “go for” Kirie’s brand of egotism. But we also find out that Iason isn’t done with Riki yet. There are the barest hints that Iason may really love Riki, in his way, and that Riki’s release into his old life is short-lived. But… Iason isn’t even remotely affectionate. He just… he tortures Riki. Maybe it’s all he knows.
In fact, this series seems to be all about demeaning the characters. We learn more about the Eos “furniture,” the people that are imprisoned in the Blondy apartments in order to take care of the Pet sex dolls and otherwise remain as unobtrusive as possible. Much is made of Kirie’s step up in life. And a reminder of just how low the Ceres slums rank in the social heierarchy. We’ll hear about that over and over and over again. Boy do they rank low.
And, mysteriously, there is talk of a gang going against Riki and the Bison gang, and while we know the before and after of what happened with them, we are never told what actually happens. Aggravating. The timeline also starts skipping around strangely here. While it does catch back up to the beginning of the story, we are treated to stories of Katze’s past as he tells them to Riki, and we also get a lot of flashbacks to Riki’s time as a pet, even though… we could’ve just learned that stuff while we were reading about him getting thrown out. But keeping that under wraps for as long as possible is interesting, and it’s not like I was confused about when and what was taking place.
Satoru Ishihara – DMP / June – 2008 – 1 volume
Satoru Ishihara is yet another BL artist/writer I fell in love with. I loved the work that appeared at eManga to pieces, The Boys With Tomorrow to Conquer and Betting My Life With You. I was a fan of the characters, who are a bit rougher around the edges and somewhat more manly and awkward than you usually see in BL one-shots. I was delighted to find that DMP had also published a couple older print volumes, the superb Dost Thou Know? and… God of Dogs.
Yeah, this one was my least favorite. Even with how much I adored all the other books, it took me two or three tries to get into this. This is… the direct middle of a story. There is a prequel series called Charisma that was not translated, and there is one more volume of this in Japan, but the series is still incomplete after a 5-year hiatus (read: it will probably remain that way). Ishihara is good, and I would read absolutely anything by her, but you would be better off checking out any other series in English.
It does have everything that I love in her other stories, though. It’s very dramatic, and the gangster flavor to this one works well with her melodrama and the too-cool-for-school dudes she puts in the story. The book opens with a character killing himself, and the ensuing funeral. Turns out the man was the heir to a large Chinese Mafia family, and they are required to track down the next head of the family related by blood, an estranged heir to a different son.
Meanwhile, a man breaks out of prison. The estranged heir, who has no intention of taking his rightful place in the family, and the prisoner, they cross paths. That’s where the romance works its way in. However, this volume is heavy on action and setting up a longer story, so it stops before the romance or the story really gets going.
Annoyingly, Betting My Life With You has the same problem with the story cutting off and no more volumes being available. She’s so good! I really wish more of her work would appear in English. The prequel to God of Dogs, Charisma, does sound good, and I suspect I would love Afuresou na Pool. Buying this… doesn’t really support more in English, I suspect, since it’s so old, but by all means, give the two titles I mentioned above on eManga a try. Or track down Dost Thou Know. So good!
Mayu Kurumazaki / Nitro+CHiRAL – SuBLime – 2012 – 2 volumes
Honestly? This was kind of an arbitrary purchase. I bought an eBook reader, and wanted some new stuff to read on it. This title seemed hilariously divisive based on the reader comments on SuBLime, but it was really that cover that did it for me. It has a very, very nice cover.
Admittedly, it also has very nice interior art. I would buy from this artist again, as long as the content wasn’t terrifying. I am glad that SuBLime seems to pick up multiple books from the same artist, because they do have some good ones over there and I tend to like that sort of thing.
This one though… hm. It’s an adaptation of a BL visual novel, and I wasn’t clear on what came first, but I gave it a whirl anyway. Adaptations usually aren’t great. This suffers a bit from being confusing… although I can’t tell if it’s because the story is being abridged or because the story is just confusing in general. I suspect it’s the latter.
The main character is Yoji, who is just getting back to school after an extended absence. He has… strange feelings now. Especially about his fellow classmate, Tetsuo. Both Yoji and Tetsuo seem normal enough, but interspersed in this weird narrative is outside commentary about Yoji being a… sort of “female,” and “ready.” A third boy begins harassing Yoji later in the story, as apparently he is a “male” of whatever is going on. There’s a really awkward scene where Yoji masturbates and ejaculates some sort of bloody meat. I’m not entirely sure if this is meant to be titillating or not.
It… definitely wasn’t my flavor. But it was weird enough, and with good enough art, that I’ll probably get the second volume in order to figure out what’s going on and finish the story. I don’t know if it’ll help, but the weirdness is also somehow addictive. I can definitely see how there would be a lot of people put off by this, though.