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?
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.
February 29, 2012
Youka Nitta – Be Beautiful – 2005 – 14 volumes
So, I found the first two volumes of this in a used bookstore. I never thought I’d get to read this in English, so I was super-excited. Be Beautiful translated… five volumes, I think? But the volumes are quite expensive secondhand, and I never thought I’d get to read it, myself. This is kind of a BL classic that will likely never see another edition in English due to some copyright infringement issues in Japan. A shame, because the first volume was amazing.
So the story starts with Iwaki and and Katou, two adult film stars who are auditioning for a role in a new movie, Embracing Love. The role uses their particular… talents, but the film is a serious one, outside the adult film industry, and it would mean a step up for the career of whoever gets it. As part of the audition, the director, Sawa, asks the two men to have sex with each other. Both seem taken aback at first, but they are professional porn stars, and Iwaki wants the role badly, so he climbs on top of Iwaki and dominates. His prowess wins him the role…
As Sawa’s submissive sex partner. Because Sawa is also starring in the movie as well as directing. Katou laughs his way all the way out of the audition.
The movie, Embracing Love, is such a huge success that a television drama is announced, and this time Katou is cast in Sawa’s role. Iwaki is still not happy about playing the “woman” in the male/male relationship, so a follow-up story involves challenge sex with Katou to see who wins the “male” role. Iwaki is drunk, and loses. There’s also some issues about the popularity of both actors (Katou is more popular, and Iwaki is jealous) and how Iwaki isn’t proud of his roles in adult videos. So it’s not just sex, although it kind of is. I found it very interesting that the two switched in chapter two. That almost never happens in BL. But because both are “adult” actors and about to enter into a role that involves a relationship between the two, Iwaki (rather nonchalantly and easily) chalks the encounter up to drunk practice, and there’s not really a relationship developing between the two yet.
Though that changes in chapter three, Flesh Flute, when Sawa invites the two over to his house for a sexual experiment to help him write his new book about partner swapping. This doesn’t go very far, though it becomes obvious by the end of the story that Katou really does have feelings for Iwaki. I liked that, somewhere in here, there was a note explaining that “Flesh Flute” was a sexual metaphor, as if that wouldn’t be immediately obvious to anyone who picked this up.
Anyway. The rest of the book is about Katou trying to convince Iwaki he isn’t acting, that he’s in love For Real, and Iwaki resisting, thinking that Katou would stoop to any level for his professional career, or is so unprofessional that he falls in love with anyone he acts with. There’s another chapter about a man with an obsession with Katou that resembles Iwaki. That one’s a creepy story.
Mostly, it’s appealing because it’s an ace drama with acting to confuse things (as I said, Iwaki believes Katou isn’t really in love with him), and I like the layer of meta staging this in a BL drama gives the story. I also like that making them adult film stars makes sex between the two fine for both partners, even when there’s not really a relationship involved. It’s a little strange. Plus, Youka Nitta’s art is sort of an odd fit for a BL book, but I really like it. She has super-manly character designs.
But yes. I adored this book. It pushed all the right drama buttons for me. I’m looking forward to volume 2, though I’m afraid I’m going to have to put the other three English volumes on my “keep an eye for a cheap copy” BL list now. That’s a lot of work, but I always get my cheap book in the end.