Brigid Alverson is giving away sets of Vertical’s new edition of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack to a few lucky winners who will be randomly chosen from her blog. To enter, leave a comment in this entry, telling her about your favorite new manga in 2008. I left my own comment there yesterday, and as I was trying to figure out just what my favorite new manga from 2008 was, I realized that the answer is probably one I haven’t posted about here yet at all.
It was actually a pretty difficult answer for me to come up with, mainly because all the manga I’ve become really obsessed with in 2008 have been either older series, or current series that are still being released, but which began publication in English well before this year. In fact, I realized sadly that I have read almost nothing genuinely new this year. Still, as I poked through the books on my shelf, one new manga jumped right out at me. That would be Est Em’s Seduce Me After the Show, published in Japan in 2006, and released by Deux Press in English in May of this year.
Buy This Book
I’d been thinking about picking up Seduce Me After the Show for a while, mostly on the strength of a recommendation from Michelle Smith, back when I posted my big whine about boys’ love manga, but it wasn’t until I spotted it at one of the sale tables at NYAF that I actually followed through. Even then, it sat on my shelf for a couple of weeks while I was busy getting wrapped up in NANA and catching up on newer volumes of series I’d already started. Despite my interest in the book, I do tend to be more ravenously drawn to long series, and somehow the prospect of a a neat little collection of short stories just couldn’t compete. Silly, silly me.
Seduce Me After the Show is, to a great extent, exactly what I’ve been missing in boy’s love manga. It is a nicely diverse collection of stories featuring love and/or attraction between men, with remarkably little fanservice. The first story, from which the title of the volume is taken, probably contains more fanservice than the rest of the stories combined, which is to say, very little. The characters are real and complex, and not overly pretty. Exactly none of them are bishōnen schoolboys, and one is even a middle-aged man (though I feel compelled to note that the older character is relegated to remembering love lost, rather than being granted an active love-life in the present). There is almost no “onscreen” sex, which isn’t something that would have bothered me, but its absence does ensure that the stories spend time focusing on characterization and building realistic relationships, without being able to rely on sex as a crutch. Are these still romance stories? Absolutely. But they are nuanced and subtle in a way I’m not accustomed to in my experience with the genre.
The stories are wistful, delicate pieces that focus on small moments between people rather than epic romance, as I suppose should be expected from a set of short stories, and the overall atmosphere is somewhat melancholy and nicely sparse. I’m a pretty big fan of “sparse,” though perhaps one area where a few of the stories are hurt by this is in the dialogue. I don’t know whether to attribute this to the adaptation, or whether the original pieces were written this way, but there are a few times when I actually wish I’d been told more, which is an unusual reaction from me. I found the second-to-last story, Nero, a bit confusing on the first read due to the extremely sparse writing. Overall, however, I appreciate the restrained style and the author’s trust in the art to tell the stories.
I do want to cut BL manga in general some slack here. I realize that writing a set of moody little short stories is a completely different thing than maintaining plot, characterization, and relationships over multiple volumes. I said in my comment to Brigid that if only I could find the things I loved about Seduce Me After the Show in a longer series, I’d be “just about perfectly happy.” This is a bit unfair. A major part of why these stories work so well for me is the wispy, fragmented quality that can really only be achieved in a short piece. It would be ridiculous of me to complain about not finding that quality in something longer. An epic story has to actually be epic to hold the reader’s interest over a sustained period, and twenty volumes of quiet moments and ambiguous relationships is not going to achieve that end. What I would love to read, however, is a long boys’ love series with characters like these. I’d like to read about real people in real, complex circumstances, who just happen to be gay. That would be something wonderful.
For now, however, I’ll re-read Seduce Me After the Show. I hope you’ll read it too.