Gorgeous Carat 4

November 2, 2011

You Higuri – Blu – 2007 – 4 volumes

With this volume, Gorgeous Carat has secured its place in my personal BL hall of fame for being the only yaoi manga I’ve ever read that turns into an Indiana Jones movie. Seriously. Crumbling temples, secret organizations, hidden treasures, flooding booby trapped chambers, daring romantic escapes… and I think Azura ate the still-beating heart of a minion. I could be wrong, though.

This volume is good cover to cover, though. It starts with a sad scene between Ray and Florian, where Ray regrets having trusted Azura, who tortured Florian until he fell into a catatonic state. It ends with an amazing escape, a wonderful write-off of the whole adventure in this volume, and a lie from Ray. There’s puzzle solving, digging around for lost legends, lots of escapes through temples with guns, excavation of relics sites, doors that unlock with rings, secret societies, and even a little romance. I’m weak to all these things. What can I say?

The romance is still… all but nonexistent. Higuri gives enough hints to confirm that it’s there. But don’t expect too much from Ray or Florian. Ray is actually the one that gives in a little in this volume, which makes it that much better. But when I say “give in,” I mean… something minor. And we don’t even get to see it.

It reads more like a shoujo adventure than it does a romance. But that’s okay. Because it’s wonderful stuff all the way through, and there’s just enough hints for a romance junky like me to keep me engaged. I still think Higuri’s best work is Ludwig II, but that’s more to my tastes. This series is probably technically the best that I’ve read by her. I’m dying to read the La Esperanza volumes now, and I’m super-curious about the current sequel, which is a cell phone manga, but still.

Gorgeous Carat 3

October 26, 2011

You Higuri – Blu – 2006 – 4 volumes

This volume deals largely with the conflict between Azura, Ray, and Florian. Ray manages to be held hostage by Azura twice, and escape both times, but Azura relentlessly and ruthlessly hunts him down.

There’s some drama when Ray and all the others believe that Florian is dead, but Florian was saved from his fate by a kind old man. Unfortunately, opium addiction and trauma seems to have erased all of Florian’s memories, so he doesn’t know who he is, or that he should go back to Ray and the others. Ray, meanwhile, believes that Florian is dead, and blames himself. Of course this situation can’t last forever, and most of it is resolved by the end of the volume. Some of it isn’t, and it makes for some pretty sad stuff.

Strangely, this still hasn’t verged into BL territory. It’s dancing all around it, certainly, but there’s still nothing terribly overt between Ray and Florian. I’m just saying. Blu titles are usually pretty explicit, and I doubt very much the last volume is going to pay off in any way like that. But I would be happy with just a little confirmation, maybe.

Meanwhile, I like that the central plot of the series seems to be moving into Indiana Jones territory. Ray puzzles through a secret message about the lost treasure of the Knights Templar that Azura asked him for assistance in solving and translating. After Azura betrays him, Ray decides to find the treasure himself, and the volume ends with the characters going on a trip to Tunisia. While this hasn’t been very BL-y so far, it has paid off in the action/adventure department, so I’m looking forward very much to what happens in Tunisia.

Gorgeous Carat 2

October 9, 2011

You Higuri – Blu – 2006 – 4 volumes

Again, though this series is published by Blu, it’s fairly light on the BL. It’s basically non-existent in this volume, actually, aside from some compliments and possessive comments. But the phantom thief elements ramp way up in this volume.

I’ll be honest and admit I read the last three volumes of this, along with the Galaxy volume, all together. I began to wonder if Higuri had been inspired by From Eroica With Love, but it’s the later volumes that strike me as a cross between that series and Indiana Jones. In theory, that makes Gorgeous Carat one of the best series ever, but I’ll get to that another time.

There are two stories in this volume. The first is the resolution to the Noel storyline from the first volume. The Black Hand organization are still after the jewels hidden in young Noel’s teddy bear, Betty Deux. They capture Florian as he tries to save Noel, and Noir winds up having to swoop in and save the day. It’s a fairly classy, if low-impact story. Afterwards, I felt like there were slightly too many characters running around for me to keep tabs on. But Noel is a cute kid who sticks around, and the Florian/Noir escape at the end was worth waiting for.

The second story is the beginning of The Blue Devil of Maghreb, which lasts through the end of volume four. It starts with a scene revealing that Florian is eventually hooked on opium, then cuts back to a letter that Noir gets from Azura, an old friend. Noir’s gang of merry men set forth to Morocco, where flashes of Noir’s past are interspersed with the city streets, some gang violence, and the group’s entrance to Azura’s mansion.

Azura requests Noir’s help in decoding a treasure map from the Knights Templar. Noir is more than happy to help him do it, as Azura is something like a big brother from Noir’s time as an orphan in Morocco. Meanwhile, Laila becomes increasingly jealous of the attention that Florian gets from Noir, and there’s tension among the group members. But while Noir is reminiscing and trying to decode the treasure map, Florian stumbles into some rather shady dealings that Azura has with Paris gangs. To cover it up without killing an acquaintance of Noir’s, Azura forces Florian to smoke opium and become his lover. Florian tries to take his troubles to Ray, but Ray doesn’t believe that Azura could really double-cross him, so Florian is drawn deeper and deeper into addiction.

The volume ends with Noir captured, Florian possibly dead, and everything in a pretty bad place.

This new Azura story arc has all the makings of the classic, highly enjoyable romantic action comic. There’s the childhood friend who’s set up to double cross, a strained relationship between Florian and Noir (that is still unacknowledged by either of them, but since this is a BLU manga I think it’s safe to assume), an exotic location, a fabulous treasure as the goal, and eventually, a lot of international espionage as well. There’s a lot to like here, and again, Higuri’s art always adds a lot to period stories like this. Her Morocco is rendered beautifully, the costumes are just right, and all the new characters are beautiful and highly individual. I like the plot, but I love her artwork.

There was just enough going on that was exactly to my taste that I kept reading. I actually read the last three volumes of this series in one sitting. The forward momentum is a wonderful motivator in this case. Since the volumes still aren’t very expensive, it would be worth tracking down if you are at all inclined.

Gorgeous Carat 1

April 2, 2011

You Higuri – Blu – 2006 – 4 volumes

Oooh… it’s depressing to think this series came out 5 years ago. I am so old.

Anyway. I mentioned You Higuri is an artist I like to pick up whenever I can, since she really knocked my socks off with Ludwig II. Unfortunately, most of her work is a little disappointing. It’s always got lots of fun stuff in it, and I love her European settings… but they are never quite as interesting as I hope. Not bad, just not nearly as engrossing as, say, a series about Cesare Borgia being possessed by a demon should be.

There are a lot of You Higuri series I have yet to pick up that came out before I read Ludwig II, most of them BL titles like this one. Gorgeous Carat and Gakuen Heaven seem to be her biggest claims to fame. Fans may be happy to hear that a new Gakuen Heaven series started a month or so ago in Princess Gold, so there’s more where that came from.

So far, I’ll admit, I really like this one. Again, I like the way Higuri uses European settings, I love her art, and so far, this series focuses on only two characters, one of whom is a mysterious jewel thief. There’s a lot of things going for it there. I also appreciated the fact that, while Florian, the busted aristocrat, was sold off and tortured, at least he wasn’t raped. In fact, there was no sex in this volume, which is unheard of for a BLU manga.

The Phantom Thief Noir, aka Ray, is after the largest diamond in the world, the Flame of Mughal, and Florian Rochefort’s family has possession of it. Florian’s mother, an aristocrat on a downslide and with no hope for more income, still has her aristocratic pride but refuses to part with the diamond. Unfortunately, several parties know she has possession of it, and all of them conspire against the Rocheforts. Ray, in his rich aristocrat role, offers to purchase the diamond for a considerable sum that would put Florian’s mother back into the Paris social spotlight, but she refuses. As a backup, Ray then offers to buy her beautiful son Florian. After some hand-wringing, Florian agrees to go with Ray for the good of his mother. He is promptly tortured for his efforts, and all is for naught when his family’s mansion burns to the ground. Another story in the second half of the volume sees both sheltering Petit Noel, the son of the wealthiest banker in Paris and the keeper of two very rare double star sapphires.

It’s got a promising beginning so far, and both wimpy Florian and testy Noir are fairly easy to like. I appreciate that they haven’t jumped into bed together yet (I assume, being a famous BL title, that it will happen eventually), and I like the two Phantom Thief Noir stories that took place in this volume. There are some bizarre plot twists (particularly at the end of the Flame of Mughal story), and sometimes the stories feel a little messy and fast-paced, but they’re easy to like, and of a much higher quality than most BL stories. I feel pretty confident that things will snap into place within the next volume or so, and the Phantom Thief Noir plots will grow tighter while both Florian and Noir are fleshed out into even more likable characters.

Unfortunately, this is one of those series that went out of print and experienced a price spike (the second volume is hard to come by… yikes!), but it’s one of the most enjoyable Higuri titles I’ve picked up since Ludwig II, and it might be worth the scramble for three and four. There’s also a supplementary volume called Gorgeous Carat Galaxy published by June that is still floating around, although it also looks like its at the end of its publishing life cycle, and might be worth getting sooner rather than later.