Welcome to the February installment of BL Bookrack! This month, Melinda and Michelle take a look at two offerings from SuBLime Manga, VIZ Media’s new BL imprint, The Bed of My Dear King and Oku-San’s Daily Fantasies, as well as Rainy Day Love from the Digital Manga Guild. In Brief: volume two of Only Serious About You from Digital Manga Publishing’s Juné imprint, and volume one of Love Pistols from SuBLime.
The Bed of My Dear King | By Sakae Kusama | SuBLime Manga | Rated M (Mature) – This is my first SuBLime title—one of the first batch of digital-only releases, in fact. It appealed to me because it was described as “a suite of emotionally resonant, romantic stories.” Plus, the description included the words “unexpected” and “poignant.” So, does The Bed of My Dear King deliver on its claims? Well, mostly. Although, instead of “emotionally resonant” and “romantic,” the first words I’d use to describe the stories herein would be “quirky” and “memorable.”
The title story is about an electrician named Koga who visits the isolated mountain home of an initially surly sculptor to make a repair. The sculptor, who eventually reveals that his name is Takashi Tohno, gets a little more friendly and helpful as Koga attempts to get to the root of the problem, and when a sudden snow storm traps them together, a bit of booze leads to a “let me feel you up for my art” kind of encounter. I love Kusama’s use of big panels to evoke the wide open spaces around Tohno’s home, and though the pair decide to date pretty durn swiftly, the result is still an unforgettable story.
“Cherry” is about Ueno, an overachieving student council member who only slows down once his glasses get broken, and Tama, a boy who’s friendly to everyone in class but treats Ueno more formally than the rest. Ueno’s near-blind state results in a terribly cute “I’ll take you home by bike” scene and a promise that they can kiss or something after the school festival. You wouldn’t think a bike scene would make a story stand out so much from its BL compatriots, but it does.
The third and final story, “Flowers,” is the weakest of the three. Kumon, a runner, is curious about Ozu, his classmate. Rumors begin swirling that Ozu has impregnated a girl, and when Kumon asks him about it, Ozu trades the details for gradually escalating intimacy. This story has the potential to deal with some weighty issues, but doesn’t delve too deeply, and the ending is just kind of dumb. Kusama writes in her notes that these stories were serialized at different times, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was an earlier effort.
All in all, this is an intriguing collection of stories and I’m glad I read it.
- Review by Michelle Smith
Oku-San’s Daily Fantasies| By Noboru Takatsuki | SuBLime Manga | Rated M (Mature) - I’ll be honest, here. Looking over the list of SuBLime Manga’s debut offerings, my initial reaction was one of disappointment. As a BL reader whose preferences lean towards thoughtful, carefully-developed romance and long-form storytelling, it was depressing to note that the imprint’s first few titles seemed to fall mainly into the categories of short stories, fluffy comedy, and gratuitous smut. Oku-San’s Daily Fantasies could be described as all three, but to a far more satisfying end than I ever would have imagined.
Oku is a bored office drone, whose single joy in life is fantasizing about Sudo, a local delivery man from a popular shipping company. In order to see Sudo as often as possible, Oku constantly orders things online, each time fantasizing about what might happen when his dream man arrives to deliver the package. Eventually, his orders extend to porn videos and sex toys, which he soon discovers are being sold to him by the company his neighbor works for. Once this discovery has been made, the neighbor, Yokoshima, drops by often, interrupting Oku’s fantasies with overly-exuberant friendliness and requests to try out new products. Though Oku initially finds this annoying, little by little, he finds himself warming up to Yokoshima. But can a real relationship ever live up to Oku’s fantasies?
There are a number of reasons why this manga really works, not the least of which is the fact that Oku’s (often hilarious) fantasies provide the opportunity for the author to include a whole lot of deliberately over-the-top, porno-rific sex scenes that actually serve the story. While even in the most serious romantic tales, sex sequences have a tendency to get in the way of the storytelling more than anything else, here they are actually a significant aspect of Oku’s character development, and even help to forward the plot. Even more surprising, is mangaka Noboru Takatsuki’s ability to write sexually-charged comedy that is actually funny, which is not something I generally associate with humorous BL manga. Takatsuki’s artwork is a highlight as well, serving the story’s comedy and erotica with equal skill.
Though SuBLime may not yet be satisfying my desire for epic, nuanced BL romance, they’ve managed to win me over with this charming bit of humorous smut. Surprisingly recommended.
- Review by Melinda Beasi
Rainy Day Love | By Satomi Konno | Digital Manga Guild | Rated M (Mature)- One rainy day, Yuta Yoshizawa is working at his family’s senbei shop when Shizuno stops by. Graceful and handsome, Shizuno was a first-year member of the shogi club when Yuta was in his third year, and soon they’ve rekindled their friendship. In the blink of an eye, Yuta confesses his feelings, whereupon Shizuno reveals that he’s been in love with Yuta since sixth grade. After a brief interlude, during which these lovebirds realize that they don’t actually know each other at all, they start focusing their thoughts on consummating their relationship.
It’s not that Rainy Day Love is bad, really. It’s just really superficial. This is what I get for routinely judging BL by its covers—and this is a really nice one—but I somehow expected, from the title, more of a melancholy story. Instead, this is fast-paced and a little frivolous, with love confessions that are so abrupt and unconvincing that they made me go “Pfft!” and many scenes where super-deformed characters have dialogue like “Eep!” There is nothing wrong with a romance being silly—and there’s certainly something to be said for a story that doesn’t take its own drama seriously—but there’s nothing really compelling about it, either.
After Yuta and Shizuno manage to get it on, their story ends and the volume is rounded out with a couple tales about Yuta’s brother, Shoichi, and his friend Seigo, who’s been in love with him since elementary school. There’s really not much to recommend this, either, honestly. I guess if you like comedic BL about horndogs, then you might like Rainy Day Love. If you like more serious BL, like I do, then you’re probably going to be bored and disappointed.
- Review by Michelle Smith
Only Serious About You, Vol. 2 | By Kai Asou | Digital Manga Publishing | Rated YA (16+) - If volume one of Kai Asou’s Only Serious About You impressed me with its ability to craft a real, moving love story out of well-worn genre clichés, what’s most impressive about its second volume is its ability to make me forget that they were ever clichés to begin with. Though this volume’s primary conflict is divorced dad Oosawa’s struggle to maintain custody of his young daughter, the deeper issue here is his decision to accept his feelings for former playboy Yoshioka, and come out as his lover. Though the “only gay for you” syndrome is one of the genre’s least appealing tropes, here, it barely reads as a trope at all. On the negative side, Oosawa’s custody battle is resolved a tad too easily, but this is not nearly enough to sink a title this strong. Enthusiastically recommended. - Melinda Beasi
Love Pistols | By Tarako Kotobuki | SuBLime Manga | Rated M (Mature) - Among the first four titles offered up by SuBLime Manga, Love Pistols would appear to be the closest to “my kind of BL,” at least on the surface. It’s a steamy, dramatic romance, told in multiple volumes (seven and counting), with some pretty complicated world-building and supernatural themes. Unfortunately so far, it’s also got a dull, controlling love interest, stunningly unappealing sex scenes, and just enough exposition to drown in. And while the tragic rarity of multi-volume BL ensures that I’ll give this series at least one more chance to win me over, there’s no denying the fact that reading its first volume was a distressingly unpleasant chore. Better luck next time, Love Pistols? Let’s hope so. - Melinda Beasi
Review copies provided by the publishers. Cover art: The Bed of My Dear King © Sakae Kusama 2011, Oku-san’s Daily Fantasies © Noboru Takatsuki 2011, Love Pistols © Tarako Kotobuki 2004
Disclosure: Melinda Beasi 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 Melinda in her role as an editor with the DMG will be donated to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.