Ze 6

May 3, 2012

Yuki Shimizu – DMP / 801 Media – 2010 – 12 volumes

801 recently announced they’d be publishing the second half of this series. I’m going to do it. I’m a little scared, but I’m going to do it. A little fear is a healthy way to approach any 801 book, and I’ve heard… uh, scary things about the second half of this series. I hated a lot of stuff in the first half, but I really liked volumes 5-6.

The first half of this book is the second half of Ryuusei and Moriya’s story. I like the casual-yet-intense vibe of their present-day relationship, and I really enjoyed the first half of their lengthy flashback, where they lived together as roommates before their relationship developed. While this sounds only polite, the relationships in Ze are master/servant-based, and with the kami-sama existing only to… heal their masters through mucus membrane contact, the romance is mostly in the dominance, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m not, mostly because normally BL takes this to a scary extreme (Genma and Himi are a good example), but if there’s no non-con, it can be fun.

Ryuusei and Moriya’s story follows a crime-ish plot here, where a young boy gets attacked when Ryuusei doesn’t walk him all the way home, and a guilty Ryuusei tries everything he can to find the killer. The solution involves Ryuusei and Moriya growing closer, kotodama, and lots of injuries. I liked Ryuusei and Moriya a lot more than the cookie-cutter characters in the other couples featured, so I was a lot more into this story than the others. And again, I really enjoyed the way their relationship developed slowly, and that the two seem to respect each others boundaries. There’s no non-con, and the master-servant dynamic is handled strangely in their case. It really was good.

The second half of the book is short chapters about the other couples in the series. Raizou and Kon, mostly, but there’s also a Konoe and Kotoha story. The problem with these stories… hm. My taste runs to older couples, which Ryuusei and Moriya are, so it was hard to switch back to the younger ones. Especially Konoe and Kotoha. I like that couple, in theory, since the kami-sama is the one in power in that relationship. I think. But damn is Kotoha drawn to look young. I don’t think he actually is, I think he’s in his early 20s. Extra creep points since Konoe is drawn to look like a slightly scruffy 20-year-old… but technically isn’t, since he isn’t actually a real person? I don’t know? You see some of my problems with this series. I’d like to not have to think about it, but again, Kotoha and Kon are both drawn… yeah. But other than that, they’re cute short stories, heavy on the smut and light on some of the creepier things in this series, character designs aside.

Again, I’m a little shocked I liked the Ryuusei/Moriya story as much as I did. Dark, melancholy, reluctant, no non-con, older couple… all the stuff for me is in there. I’m… hoping some of the couples introduced in the second half of the series are like this. Maybe this is a trend. I’m going to tell myself that.

Ze 5

April 19, 2012

Yuki Shimizu – 801 Media – 2010 – 12 volumes

Wow. So I was a little shocked when the last volume, which was hard to read because the featured couple had such an abusive relationship, could be followed by something like this. This volume focuses on Moriya and Ryuusei. This is the first half of their story, and… the two are considerate of one another. They take their time to get to know each other. Their relationship almost isn’t romantic. It’s… really good. It’s what I’ve wanted from this series all along.

Moriya is the kami-sama this volume, and after an initial set-up, the rest of the volume is a flashback to how the two met. Moriya’s old master dies, and when he does not want to cease to be, with no master to serve, Waki suggests there’s one other person in the family he could serve, but he is an illegitimate son that does not want to use his powers. Somewhat snobbish and proper Moriya shows up at Ryuusei’s house anyway, and declares he will be living with him from now on. This gets on Ryuusei’s nerves, especially since Moriya insists on wearing a suit and is completely useless, whereas Ryuusei is somewhat sloppy and works a variety of odd jobs to earn a living. There is no sexual relationship between the two, and Ryuusei doesn’t really want to use Moriya as a kami-sama, they simply… live together for awhile, and Moriya follows Ryuusei everywhere.

The two do experiment with kami-sama healing powers, though eventually Ryuusei insists that they no longer do even that. Ryuusei absolutely refuses to use kotodama, both in the flashback and in the present, for tragic reasons that are explained later in the volume. The trouble is, if Ryuusei won’t use Moriya for healing, and he doesn’t want to use kotodama, then Moriya has failed at convincing Ryuusei to let him be a kami-sama, so Waki will convert him back to a paper doll.

It’s… strange as a BL book, too. Ryuusei and Moriya exchange the occasional kiss, and while these kisses are, for lack of a better term, super-hot (seriously, probably some of the best kissing I’ve ever seen in a BL book), I was still in doubt as to whether the two were actually a couple. In the flashback, Ryuusei sleeps with a number of women while Moriya lives with him, which sometimes irks Moriya and sometimes doesn’t. At one point, a friend of Ryuusei mentions that he is bi, and suspects that Moriya is his new lover, but other than a few kisses for healing, nothing really transpires between the two. It’s possible that Ryuusei puts a stop to the healing to try and push Moriya away, but I’m not sure.

This book was only the second half of their story, so these nuances might become more clear once… well, their relationship is inevitably consummated in the next volume.

Ze 4

January 26, 2012

Yuki Shimizu – 801 Media – 2010 – 11 volumes

Yeah… this is not for me. I was hoping that the Genma/Himi story was finished as of last volume, but I forgot Waki was a doll maker and could just bring Himi back for more abuse at Genma’s hands. This storyline lasts through more than half the volume. Genma shows up to abuse Waki, then abuses Himi after he’s revived with no memories. Then abuses him some more. Somehow, Genma is the sad one in this scenario. It has a happy ending, but man. I hated reading through these parts.

Abuse and sex aside (a difficult thing, since there’s a lot of both in the story), Genma can’t come to terms with Himi’s death, so he approaches Waki and asks him to “fix” Himi, his kami-sama. Himi can’t be resurrected because his core was destroyed, but Waki promises to do it anyway if Genma just wants Himi back in any form. So of course Waki resurrects Himi without any of his memories. He also lacks his personality. Genma, who’s rude and abrupt at the best of times, can’t take this change and casts him out. Himi doesn’t understand what he’s done to upset his master. It takes all the members of the Mitou house to show Genma the error of his ways.

And yes. While it does have the outline of a touching story… uh. Genma rapes Himi a lot, and the story makes no concessions for this. It just happens.

But that story is a flashback with minor characters, and it ends. The story comes back to the present, where we’re reminded that Genma is meeting Raizou for the first time, and that all the kami-sama and kotodama-sama are converging on the Mitou mansion for kami-sama maintenance. During this event, we meet Seiji, Tsukito, and Hatsuhi.

Now, the Seiji/Tsukito/Hatsuhi story is neither a flashback nor drama-tastic, and is exactly what the series needed after that Genma business. Seiji and Tsukito are twins that make a living doing voice acting for BL drama CDs. This is revealed in the most hilarious way possible, with Seiji giving Raizou a CD of their work without telling him what it was, then Raizou listening to it all the way through with Seiji, Tsukito, and Hatsuhi filling the roles of stereotypical terrible BL characters in his mind. It’s beautiful. Seiji and Tsukito both have a light touch, and also know how best to rattle the cage of the most powerful kotodama in the house.

And later, they have a very long threesome with Hatsuhi. This was shocking only because it made me realize I’d never seen a threesome in a BL book before. How has it taken so long? Surely this is the perfect solution to a romantic triangle in a smutty book? I suppose the romantic triangle isn’t all that prevalent in BL, either.

So yes, while I did like the Seiji and Tsukito story, sitting through the rest of the Genma story was not my idea of fun. I do have the other two volumes of this series, so I’m just going to finish the English translation of it despite my feelings. I do wonder what volume five will bring, though. More Seiji and Tsukito, or a different set of side characters? Maybe more about Ouka’s family, mentioned briefly here? They seem to have a love of cosplay, and that might be a lot of fun.

On a different note, it blows my mind that this ran in Dear+ magazine. I thought that was mostly hand-hold-y vaguely BL/shoujo? So I guess lightweight series like Color and Kyudo Boys (which is totally not BL) run alongside smutfests like Ze in Dear+? Well… the more you know.

Ze 3

August 7, 2011

Yuki Shimizu – 801 Media – 2009 – 11 volumes

See, it’s volumes like this that ease my conscience about things like The Tyrant Falls in Love. This volume, all the way through, is full of non-con. This is about as bad as it gets. There’s no romance. No affection on either side. Genma simply takes what he wants, because Himi belongs to him. The story is about Himi living in fear with Genma. It was hard for me to read.

Genma’s a pretty terrible person. I mean, the book twists it around by the end so that it looks like it was just Genma’s way of showing Himi he loved him, but that’s not how it looks. for the first 180 or so pages. The violence towards Himi looks more like an act of revenge against Genma’s father (Himi was his father’s Kotodama, and Genma inherited him). Himi doesn’t like it. He asks Genma to stop. Genma does not. Genma is not gentle at all. In fact, Genma complains while he is doing it.

This is why I hate non-con in BL. Because while most of it is merely disturbing, with a confused submissive partner eventually falling in love with the forceful dominant partner (this is another set of problems, but I’ll set that aside for now), I know that there are also volumes like this, and I have to be careful about this stuff. This one puzzles me, because I really liked the first two volumes of this series. There was nothing like this in them. And I’m sure it won’t continue down this path, because it looks like Genma and Himi’s story is mostly over at the end of the volume. So why?

It’s a shame I waited so long to try this volume after reading the first two. I’m less excited about the next three volumes now.

Ze 2

August 28, 2010

Yuki Shimizu – 801 Media – 2009 – 7+ volumes

This wraps up the story between Raizou and Kon, and I assume the next volume will feature another troubled kotodama/kami relationship. Or not, since I’m still not clear on what “ZE” stands for. Maybe we will see other branches of mystical and vague magic at work mixed in with the romance next volume, but it’d be a shame for all that kotodama exposition to go to waste.

This was mostly plot-driven, but to be fair, the plot ends about halfway through, and the second half features mostly romantic difficulties and bed scenes between Raizou and Kon. Given how unintentionally poorly they treat each other, there’s a lot of relationship stuff for them to work on and misunderstandings to iron out, so there’s not as much sex as an entire half volume would make you think. But you wouldn’t be remiss in assuming there was some there.

In the first half of the volume, both Raizou and Kon say hurtful things to one another as they try to fumble their way through the kotodama/kami/romantic relationship. They get into a fight, and things end badly when they are separated by Kon’s real kotodama. Kon is kidnapped, but isn’t entirely unhappy that he might get the opportunity to heal a real kotodama and do something useful. Most of the household is in an uproar, but of course, given the individual natures of the inhabitants, they leave it mostly to Raizou to get Kon back. The kotodama situation winds up being more sordid and abusive than Kon originally thought too, so he does indeed need to be rescued.

It’s a decent story, though I don’t think quite good enough to attract people outside the BL realm of interest. I still think the world that the series is set in is extraordinarily interesting, but I didn’t really like Kon and Raizou that much (Kon was too much of an emotionless doll, and Raizou was too apologetic and eager to please, although very heroic). The fact the main couple didn’t click with me is a great reason to praise the upcoming shift in narrative. I will be a little disappointed if things don’t come back to Waki and Ouka/Benio, since they were favorites of mine, but I’m also open to the possibility of new characters too, so it’s not the end of the world.

The romance was well done, even though I wasn’t fond of the main couple. I was dreading that second half, since I thought it would drag quite a bit without an appreciation for them, but the story is well-told enough that I could appreciate all the dynamics and problems being ironed out, which means that this is definitely a cut above the usual BL series.

This continues to be a more than solid BL series, and I am very much looking forward to the change of pace next time.

Ze 1

August 1, 2010

Yuki Shimizu – 801 Media – 2009 – 9+ volumes

So… August 1st. 8/01. The publisher of the same name. You see where I’m going with this. If I hadn’t found out about this late last night, then worked all day today, I would have done a huge BL feature. But since time is short, here is a volume I suddenly decided I had to have.

Somewhere (maybe more than once), I had heard this compared to Fruits Basket, and that was almost literally everything I knew about it. The Fruits Basket vibes are quite strong, especially early on, when our protagonist Raizou shows up at the Mitou house to be a cook and housekeeper after losing his only family, his grandmother. The Mitou house is a bustling place full of males with secrets. Raizou’s naivety is also a dead match for Tohru’s, as is his desire to solve people’s problems and do right by all. There’s even some of Shigure’s sarcasm in head-of-household Waki’s personality. If you can imagine Yuki and Kyo making out instead if fighting in that first volume (which I’m sure some people inclined to pick up this book have), you have a pretty good idea what’s going on in the first chapter of this book.

The two series diverge pretty quickly, though. The secret magic at play here isn’t that the characters turn into animals, but rather that the characters work in pairs of “kami” and “kotodama.” The kotodama casts spells and curses, and the kami absorbs damage from spell backlash and anything else that may hurt them. This is done through… “mucus membranes.” Also, Mitou family rules state that the kami/kotodama pairs have to be the same gender. Just because.

I liked this a lot, since it had a whole lot more plot and character development than I was expecting. The romance elements are toned down, and while some of the flirting and sex stuff among the side characters is pretty ostentatious, it’s more for comedic effect than titillation. There are some romantic scenes, and it’s clear that things between Raizou and his roommate Kon will heat up soon, but most of this volume laid the groundwork for the kami/kotodama rules and got the reader used to the many characters running around (ten characters are introduced in this volume, eight of whom live in the house, and one who is spoken of frequently but never shown). There’s a few too many characters for my liking at the beginning, and it took me nearly the whole volume to get things sorted out, but I like how things are working so far, and I really appreciate that this is a plot-heavy BL series with some bonus romance and danger thrown in for good measure.

And while there really aren’t that many jokes or gags, there was an Asari pun that made me laugh far harder than I would have liked.

I like the art, too. The supernatural themes give it a disconnect from the outside world, and while the characters clearly have other things going for them, the story never leaves the inside of the Mitou household. There are lots of artistic details and flourishes that make things seem both folklore-ish and modern, and while there wasn’t a whole lot of variation in the male character designs, there were enough differences that it didn’t take me long to figure out who was who.

Lots of exposition, and very heavy on plot, this joins the ranks of BL series like Yellow and Otodama that tell a story with plenty of romance on the side. I love this type of series, and I hope future volumes develop the Mitou family business a little more rather than falling back on the drama of the enigma of Kon’s existence, or Raizou’s need to prove his love over and over again. There are lots and lots of interesting places for this to go, and I’m excited to read more.

On a side note, am I the only one continuously bummed out by 801 Media’s web page? The rest of the DMP network has the best and easiest-to-use sites among almost all the manga publishers, and it’s an absolute dream to find any book, how many books they’ve published by a specific author, and their release schedule. 801’s page hasn’t been updated in a long, long time. I hope a facelift is in order soon, because it’ll be easier for me to find gems like this in their catalog. I have read very little from their catalog.