Welcome to 2012’s first installment of BL Bookrack! This month, MJand Michelle take a look at two offerings from the Digital Manga Guild, Love & Trap and My Sempai, as well as Men of Tattoos from Digital Manga Publishing’s Juné imprint.
Love & Trap| By Kotetsuko Yamamoto | Digital Manga Guild | Young Adult (16+) – High school student Mochida Masaki will do anything to keep himself safe from bullies, even if it means using his body to “trap” someone stronger or more powerful into becoming his protector. Having only ever used sex as a tool for persuasion, it’s a tremendous shock to Masaki when he finds himself experiencing real attraction to Aihara, the class loner whose family is rumored to be connected to the Yakuza. Are Masaki’s feelings real, or is he just gravitating towards his next target?
Building a romance manga around real societal or psychological issues is tricky business, especially when one of those issues is as serious as teen prostitution, which is essentially what Yamamoto attempts to tackle with Love & Trap. Regardless of the writer’s knowledge of the subject, it’s incredibly difficult to balance complex reality with the demands of the genre, without either trivializing the issue or doling it out with an insufferably heavy hand. This balance is even more challenging to achieve if one must do so over the course of a single volume (or less).
With all that in mind, it’s not surprising to note that Love & Trap leans towards the former. Despite the manga’s dramatic setup, Yamamoto quickly resolves issues that would take most therapists years to unravel, just in time to grant Masaki his genre-approved happy ending. She fares a little better with the book’s obligatory (unrelated) side-stories, “Love Blood,” a dreamy little tale of sexual awakening that reads like a light-BL letter to Penthouse Forum, and “We’re Blooming,” a breezy workplace love-triangle romance set in a florist’s shop.
Yamamato’s artwork is a highlight throughout, clean and expressive, with an almost-classic sensibility that reflects some impressive influences, including Moto Hagio, whose character “Jeremy” (from A Cruel God Reigns) was Yamamoto’s model for the lead in “Love Blood.” On the strength of this alone, I’d be interested in seeking out her other works. Fortunately, the DMG seems to have licensed quite a few, including Blooming Darling, a two-volume sequel to the charming “We’re Blooming.” Stay tuned!
– Review by MJ
Men of Tattoos | By Yuiji Aniya | Digital Manga Publishing | Mature (18+) – I have recognized in myself a fondness for yakuza-themed BL, so when Deb Aoki named Men of Tattoos her Best New Yaoi Manga of 2011 and described it as “strange, funny, heartbreaking and surreal,” I knew I had to read it for myself.
Deb was absolutely right in her description of the series. The first four stories feature yakuza and are interconnected in various unexpected ways. “My Katagi-kun” is the story of a pair of childhood friends who reconnect and become lovers, “Dog of the Ranunculus” is about a guy who’s relatively high up in the organization falling in love with the boss’s son, “Cinderella and the Mad Shark” is about getting revenge, and “Everyone’s Song” is about dreams that don’t come true. Probably the last one packs the biggest punch, but it needs the other three stories to put it into context.
Rounding out the collection are two stories about a pair of college students who keep having dreams about each other. It’s more interesting than it sounds—and fairly steamy besides—and functions like a mental palate cleanser, as it allows the book to actually end on a happy note.
Even if you’re not a particular fan of yakuza stories or of BL in general, I’d still recommend Men of Tattoos. Aniya does some clever things with storytelling that can be appreciated by any manga fan.
– Review by Michelle Smith
My Sempai | Hebiko Habuyama | Digital Manga Guild | Young Adult (16+) – In terms of premise, My Sempai doesn’t sound terribly unique. A fresh-faced teenager, Hajime Amemiya, is being hassled by some thugs when he is rescued by cool and intimidating Saburo Ninomiya, who turns out to be an upperclassman at Hajime’s school. Immediately, a comedic tone is set when Hajime proceeds to stalk Ninomiya, pouncing on him from time to time while absurdly declaring, “I am a love vulture!!” Saburo attempts to discourage his interest at first, but when faced when Hajime’s inextinguishable belief in his being a better person than rumors suggest, he relents.
The boys start spending time together on the weekends—seeing movies, playing video games—and gradually get closer. Saburo’s not a very communicative guy, so instead of volunteering information about himself, he tells Hajime that he can ask anything he likes. It’s tough for Hajime to do this, though, so he’s pretty uncertain about how Saburo feels about him, and also feels left out when one of Saburo’s obnoxious friends (my least favorite character by far) spills the beans about a post-graduation job offer in Okinawa. They do make a cute couple, though, so I enjoyed their interactions. In addition, the chaste, fade-to-black consummation of their relationship has to be one of the happiest-looking I’ve ever seen in BL.
Habuyama’s artwork takes a bit of getting used to, as screentone (and maybe everything else, who knows?) appears to be rendered by computer. Eventually, though, I discovered that her style is particularly suited for outdoor scenes, especially at night, and there were quite a few wide-shot panels with composition worth admiring. I’m always a sucker for drawings of buildings, and there’s a particular image of a dejected Hajime standing on Saburo’s shadowy front porch that I remember as especially striking.
While some elements of My Sempai are not exactly original, I still found it a pleasant and generally humorous read. Habuyama writes in her afterword, “All that matters is that you laughed and enjoyed yourself. I draw with that intention.” I did both, so I’d call that a success.
– Review by Michelle Smith
Review copies provided by the publisher.
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.