Under Grand Hotel 2

May 6, 2011

Mika Sadahiro – 801 Media – 2010 – 2 volumes

I’ve got a huge backlog of books to write about, and this is one of the oldest. I read it months ago, and really liked it. It’s one of those deeply passionate and romantic BL books that I’m fond of, though even I am embarrassed at the premise (prison lovers, and the relationship is tinged with violence). I talked about the characters last time, so I’ll talk about the plot this time.

There are… uh, several different places the story goes in this 2-volume bunko edition (love the 350+ page format!). I’m not sure if there’s meant to be an overarching plot aside from character drama, but it’s interesting watching all the small jealousies and interactions and seeing where they lead. Some are slightly unrealistic, but all are juicy. One of the ones that’s harder to swallow is the warden’s interest in Sen, but all the same, it makes for some wonderful drama and misunderstandings between Swordfish and Sen, especially given the Warden’s talent for meddling and misdirection. There’s also Norman, who loves Swordfish so much that he’s willing to kill and do anything to split up the main couple. These two plot elements come to bear off and on throughout most of the two volumes, but it’s interesting how Sen and Swordfish resolve both of them. Again, I have a hard time swallowing the “reality” of the plot, since neither Sen nor Swordfish is in any position to negotiate or manipulate, but all the same, it sounds good within the context of the story regardless of how realistic it is.

But if you don’t like unrealistic, don’t read the ending. I’m still having trouble wrapping my brain around that, and it’s been months since I’ve read it. It’s exactly the point of this type of story, a complete romantic fantasy with no basis in reality, and particularly relevant for Sen and Swordfish. Since it is a prison manga, it’s not giving too much away to say that it involves escape, but it doesn’t have the expected conclusion. Not at all. Except… in some ways, it also does, and I liked that about it. I liked that I could choose which I preferred.

I also liked that Sen wasn’t really a criminal, and that it was a theme throughout the series. What was Sen doing in the prison? Why didn’t he speak up? I know it was to make him more of a martyr and sympathetic, I suppose, but it was still an interesting plot element. Or maybe not. I guess there’s always an innocent man in prison.

This was more musing on my part, since it’s been so long since I’ve read it, but read the first volume review to get more of a sense of why I loved this. Namely, because it’s ridiculously romantic. Violent and unrealistic, yes, and it turned my stomach more than once, but it’s still good stuff if you don’t mind, and it’s still less reprehensible than some BL books I’ve read. It’s eared all its rave reviews.

Under Grand Hotel 1

March 9, 2011

Mika Sadahiro – 801 Media – 2010 – 2 volumes

Since I’ve talked about a macho male fantasy world completely divorced from reality, how about continuing the abuse train tonight with this, a series full of sex and female fantasies in a realm completely divorced from reality?

While I knew that one of my most hated BL plot devices was going to come up here (the premise is that it’s a BL romance set in a prison, so duh), I wasn’t expecting the level of brutality that was on display in the first chapter. Sen is raped with a broom handle by a man who was pretending to protect him from a violent gang. From there, we meet Sword Fish (first name Sword, last name Fish), the violent and temperamental “boss” of the prison inmates who initially keeps Sen as his “bitch” because Sen doesn’t like it, then the two of them fall passionately in love.

I wouldn’t have picked this up save for the fact I read several reviews where people raved about it. I wouldn’t normally believe that a prison BL story could be anything but the characters getting raped over and over again. Except this is genuinely passionate. Sen learns to take the abuse that is dished out to him out of fear of violence or death, or worse, getting gang raped rather than raped by Sword Fish. And this is the one time Stockholm Syndrome will ever be believable, because with nothing better to do, after going through the motions of lovemaking again and again in order to spite each other, Sen and Sword Fish really do fall in love. And it is a violent, men-in-prison kind of love, with lots of jealousy, mistrust, people meddling on both sides, and bad stuff in general, like when Sword Fish keeps having people killed.

The prison setting isn’t realistic at all, but it doesn’t really have to be. I don’t think there are any prisons where someone like Sword Fish can have inmates killed again and again, or distribute drugs as freely and under the watchful eye of the warden. Also, I doubt there are very many prison wardens that put a mask on and rape people in solitary confinement. For some reason, these elements take me out of the story, perhaps because the setting is such a big part of what’s going on. It is the story. So it calls attention to itself when anything is slightly wrong.

I read both volumes at once. I’ll talk a little bit about the plot of the series with the next review, but here I’ll talk about Sen and Sword Fish. I do like the way both of them develop over the course of these two books. I also enjoyed the contrast between their lives in and out of prison. We see little outside the routine violence, but it’s fascinating when they reveal little bits of who they were before they were put away. Sen was raped by the husband of his lover, and Sword Fish has a wife and kid that he sees rarely. Both are also straight before they fall in love with each other, deciding that with their life sentences, what use was there to resist their feelings? As much as Sword Fish forced sex on Sen, he was most resistant to homosexual love, saying his abuse was a form of “payment” to keep the other guys off Sen, that it was over if he ever thought Sen was enjoying anything they did together, et cetera. And Sword Fish is the one that denies his feelings longer than Sen does. Sen accepts it, and though the transition to the two of them being a couple is full of drama and abuse and murder, there is no big emotional scene where there is a love confession with lots of denials and whatnot. Both just pick up on it themselves. Sen realizes his feelings before Sword Fish does, but he keeps quiet about it until he thinks Sword Fish is ready to hear it.

I’ll probably talk more about those two next time too, especially when I discuss the Warden and Norman, but for now, there’s a little bit of analysis for you. It is hard to read with all the intense violence and abuse, but there’s also quite a bit of addicting and genuine passion and romance written into the characters, and for that, it succeeds where too many other BL books fail. And what’s the point of the sex if the characters don’t love each other? I think it’s boring without plenty of convincing romance. Though… again, much of the romance in this series is cringe-inducing and makes me sick to my stomach. Seriously. This is probably one of the most graphic BL series published in English.