MJ: As BL discussions have cropped up in comments over the past couple of weeks, both in the 2012 fannish highlights thread and in this week’s Manga the Week of, Michelle and I thought we’d use this month’s BL Bookrack column to open up some official discussion on our favorite BL of the year. We’ve seen a wealth of new BL titles hitting the shelves in 2012, though our “shelves” have been largely virtual, thanks to new digital publishers like SuBLime, JManga, and the Digital Manga Guild. So before we get down to naming favorites, let’s talk a little about the genre’s move to digital.
Given the North American BL industry’s overall shift to digital distribution over the past year, I admit I was a bit surprised by the level of vitriol aimed at Hikaru Sasahara’s recent announcement regarding DMP’s print hiatus. Though comments run the gamut from reluctant understanding to pointed rage, at least half of the fans who took the time to weigh in specifically mentioned how little they like the company’s digital releases.
Part of my surprise, I think, is due to the largely positive feedback from BL fans regarding Viz’s SuBLime Manga—a mostly-digital imprint whose print releases make up a relatively small portion of their catalogue. In our “fannish highlights” thread, for example, a reader named Lee named DRM-free digital BL as her most significant fan experience of the year, crediting SuBLime as the leader of the pack. So does fan disappointment with DMP stem from the quality and delivery method of their digital releases, or digital in general?
I’m inclined to believe it’s a little of both, and I agree pretty strongly on the first bit. Though I haven’t been a fan of SuBLime’s licenses, they crush DMP so far in terms of both visual quality and ease of delivery. While manga delivered by way of DMP’s iPad app looks like a million bucks, their Kindle releases are far from it (see this article for an example), and eManga’s built-in reader is an incredibly limiting choice for those of us who don’t enjoy reading comics on our computers. I’ve been endlessly frustrated by the fact that I can’t read books from my eManga account in the iPad app (and vice-versa), and though downloadable PDFs wouldn’t be my first choice for delivery, they are at least transferrable from one device to the next. I have high hopes for the upcoming revamp of eManga—and I hope easing off their print schedule is helping to move that along more quickly—but for the moment, SuBLime is absolutely in the lead.
And then there’s JManga. Though not specifically (or even significantly) a BL publisher, JManga’s BL releases have been some of my favorites this year. They’re also behind in terms of delivery—their flash-based reader doesn’t work on my tablet, and though their Android app has been live for a month or so, their iOS release lags behind. And the potential for downloadable PDFs is not even on the table, to my knowledge.
As far as digital distribution in general… I never thought I’d be a convert. I love the look and feel of print books, and I really dislike reading comics on my computer. But I’m absolutely in love with my tablet. Reading on the iPad—both prose books and comics—is a real pleasure. I mentioned to someone at New York Comic Con—Robert Newman, maybe—that if I could read all the manga I wanted on my iPad, in high quality, I’d never buy a print book again. That’s probably not entirely true. High-end hardcover releases from companies like Vertical, Fantagraphics, and (recently) Yen Press would always have a place on my bookshelves. But my space for books is increasingly limited, and it would be relief to be able to just carry them all with me on one small device.
MICHELLE: My experience is pretty different, as I own neither smartphone nor tablet. All I have is a Kindle—which, as mentioned, is useless for manga—and a personal computer. Still, I am not peeved at all by the move toward digital distribution.
True, reading manga on my computer is not nearly as comfortable as curling up on the corner of the couch with a printed volume. However, when doing so gives me access to books I may like to read but not own permanently—as is largely the case with BL, I’m afraid—I have no complaints whatsoever. And when doing so has the additional bonus of giving me access to books that may never have seen the light of day in a printed edition—JManga’s licenses, some of the DMG ones, as well—I really have no complaints at all.
Honestly, what it boils down to for me is company survival. If this is what DMP thinks they need to do to stay afloat as a company, or to revamp their site, or whatever their aims are, then I am fine with it. Would fans rather have no BL at all if they can’t have printed copies?
MJ: So, let’s get to our favorite titles, shall we? I probably read fewer BL releases this year than last, but time constraints ensured that I was pickier about what I read, which means I liked more of them overall.
My greatest BL highlight of the year was absolutely JManga’s release of Setona Mizushiro’s Dousei Ai, an eleven-volume epic that has everything I want in a romance story—complicated, slow-building relationships, thoughtful characterization, and a multi-layered, soap-opera plot.
From my review: “This is no casual one-shot or simplistic BL romance. Setona Mizushiro has carefully crafted a complex emotional drama with some of the best-written characterization I’ve ever seen in this genre and a long game that is pretty obviously going to offer up significant payoff for the reader. I mean, going into this it’s clear that we’re in for a killer of a ride, along the lines of something like Sooyeon Won’s manhwa epic Let Dai, only better—much, much better.”
I’m four volumes in now, and just absolutely hooked. This is my kind of romance, for sure, and Mizushiro’s old-school shoujo artwork is just icing on the cake for me.
JManga was a particularly solid source of BL for me this year, also offering up the intensely charming series My Darling Kitten Hair (more, please, more!), the adorably awkward Doukyusei, est em’s awesome Apartments of Calle Feliz, the infectiously cute My Dear Prince, and Keiko Kinoshita’s fantastic set of short manga I Love You, Chief Clerk!
Speaking of Kinoshita, she’s been a favorite of mine since I read the first volume of Kiss Blue several years ago, but her work is suddenly all over the place here, thanks mainly to the Digital Manga Guild, who brought us (among others) You and Tonight and The Boyfriend Next Door—two of my very favorite BL reads this year. Elsewhere from DMP, their Juné imprint did me a solid by re-releasing the BL “classic” Only the Ring Finger Knows, which I honestly adored.
And if my biggest disappointment this year as a BL fan has been my lack of connection with SuBLime’s licenses in general (I talk about this a bit in our roundup this week, which has been continued in comments), books I did like from them include the sweet one-shot Honey Darling, and one of the only BL comedies I’ve ever been able to tolerate, Oku-San’s Daily Fantasies, which was a huge surprise for me.
What about you, Michelle?
MICHELLE: Despite buying several of JManga’s BL titles—mostly those you mentioned above—the only one I actually managed to read this year was The Apartments of Calle Feliz which, as usual for est em, was terrific. And thanks to DMP, I was also able to read another highly enjoyable est em short story collection, the sports-centric ULTRAS.
Like you, most of SuBLime’s licenses don’t really appeal to me, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been able to find titles to enjoy. The Bed of My Dear King was a quirky and memorable set of stories, The Scent of Apple Blossoms provided yet more proof that Toko Kawai writes my kind of BL, Honey Darling was absolutely flippin’ adorable, and Punch Up! was unexpectedly intriguing, given that it’s more explicit than my usual fare and not adorable at all.
DMP was also responsible for some of this year’s favorites, starting with the engrossing, yakuza-themed Men of Tattoos (which technically came out in 2011). Mangaka Yuiji Aniya does some clever things with this interconnected set of stories that make this a title I’d recommend to any manga fan. Another title I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend is Only Serious About You, whose second volume portrayed the evolving relationship between its main characters with sensitivity and realism.
But my favorite DMP offering, and my overall favorite BL release for the year, is Momoko Tenzen’s Flutter.
In my review, I wrote, “There are so many things to recommend this manga. The atmosphere is sort of… elegant and languid, which suits mysterious Mizuki well and makes an earnest everydude like Asada stand out all the more. The growing friendship between the men is believable—and they’re both completely professional adults, I might add—as is Mizuki’s wary reaction when Asada confesses his feelings.. It’s lovely and complicated, and when the guys do finally get together physically it’s wonderfully awkward.”
Looking back, it sure has been a good year for BL!
MJ: It really has!
Readers, we’d love to hear from you! What were your favorite BL titles this year? Where do you stand on digital distribution? Let us know in comments!
Disclosure: MJ is currently under contract with Digital Manga Publishing’s Digital Manga Guild, as necessitated for her ongoing report Inside the DMG. Any compensation earned by MJin her role as an editor with the DMG will be donated to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.