For years, Tokyopop specialized in a particular genre — call it “forbidden bromance,” for want of a better term — in which two handsome, impeccably groomed young men teetered on the brink of a relationship. That relationship usually faced a serious obstacle: one might be a demon and the other a human, for example, or one may have killed the other in a previous life. Most of the story was devoted to uncovering the reason that fate united them, providing the heroes ample time for impassioned conversations and meaningful looks.
At their best, titles like Tokyo Bablyon, Silver Diamond, and X-Kai were silly but engrossing, with plot twists as gloriously melodramatic as an episode of Passions; at their worst, they read like bad slash fic, with purple dialogue and an abundance of poorly explained plot details. Yen Press’ latest offering, The Betrayal Knows My Name, has all the requisite elements to be a gas — pretty-boy leads, past-life tragedy, perfectly moussed locks — but never quite rises to the level of a great guilty pleasure.
Not that volume one wants for activity; every chapter is packed with action sequences, murderous demons, dramatic confrontations, and shocking revelations. What Betrayal lacks is the kind of tightly constructed narrative that made the best bromances such a treat to read. The characters barely rise above type, while script flirts with incoherence at every turn, introducing new characters and subplots at such a furious pace that the central love story is often in danger of being overshadowed. Even the dialogue sags; when the characters aren’t explaining things to one another, they’re so wrapped up in their own thoughts that their monologues become tedious. (Sample: “We can’t survive on principles alone. And everyone would like to live without getting tainted at all. But that’s not how things are.”)
That’s a pity, because The Betrayal Knows My Name looks a lot like my favorite bromances. The character designs owe an obvious debt to CLAMP’s high Baroque period, when characters wore trench coats and dog collars and always had windswept hair. And Hotaru Odagiri certainly knows how to draw brooding men; her heroes, Yuki and Zess, spend a great deal of time staring into space while wearing soulful expressions. (They also know how to pop a pose for readers, allowing us to savor the sheer ridiculousness of their outfits, and the artful way in which they leave their shirts unbuttoned to the waist.)
Yet the prettiness of the character designs can’t camouflage the fact that Betrayal is straining too hard for effect; what should be a great, emo-porn pleasure is something of a chore to read, thanks to its relentless pace, clumsy dialogue, and chemistry-free leads. Readers who can’t get enough of the forbidden bromance genre may find Betrayal an adequate fix; others are encouraged to hold out for Tokyo Babylon‘s return this fall.
Review copy provided by Yen Press.
THE BETRAYAL KNOWS MY NAME, VOL. 1 • BY HOTARO ODAGIRI • YEN PRESS • 368 pp. • RATING: OLDER TEEN (16+)
Noura saysJune 29, 2011 at 12:40 am
Thanks for the review. I was actually contemplating getting this book but not sure anymore. While I like shoujo with BL hints, I don’t know if I will enjoy this one. I might get it just to check it out and if I didn’t like it, I will drop the series.
Katherine Dacey saysJune 29, 2011 at 8:01 am
You’re welcome! If you do pick it up, I’ll be curious to hear what you thought of it.
moriki saysJanuary 26, 2013 at 3:49 pm
love it so much i can not stop reading it
Tati saysMay 6, 2013 at 11:18 pm
It’s a great manga! I think it would be worth a try just because someone says it’s bad shouldn’t stop you from trying it everyone has different taste!
LG saysJune 29, 2011 at 7:03 am
Aw darn. I have to admit, this one was luring me in with its character designs and angsty drama. I’ll probably still try it and hope I have a better opinion of it.
Then again, I’ve never read Tokyo Babylon, so I suppose there’s that to look forward to.
Katherine Dacey saysJune 29, 2011 at 8:00 am
You’re not alone — I saw the cover and thought, “Beach read!” It just didn’t do anything for me, though, and I’ve read — and loved — a lot of other books in this vein.
Michelle Smith saysJune 29, 2011 at 9:26 am
I must step in here to defend Silver Diamond. I freely admit that the plot progresses at a slow pace while the male lead interacts with his friends, including one whom he seems to be verrrrrry slooooowly developing feelings for, but in the ten volumes I’ve read (I love it enough to buy it in foreign languages, now that TOKYOPOP is no more) it has never been melodramatic or possessed of purple dialogue.
Katherine Dacey saysJune 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm
Hi, Michelle! Sorry if you thought I was criticizing Silver Diamond; it’s one of my favorite examples of the BL-lite genre, and a title I’m very sorry to see disappear from the publication calendar. I don’t find he dialogue purple at all, though I do find the ideas behind the story… fervid? Overripe (but in a good way)? I’m scratching my head for the right adjective. If I wasn’t actively collecting so many other titles, I might be seeking it out in other languages, too!
Michelle Smith saysJune 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm
It is a bit grandiose in its “and I will save your land” plot line, but somehow still manages to feel fairly low-key about it all. In volume ten, you’ve got Chigusa obsessed with the idea of giving Rakan, who has given him so much, something in return and deciding that the only thing he has to give is himself. I guess that qualifies as overripe. :)
Rij saysJune 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm
Personally I feel that Silver Diamond is saved from overripeness (for lack of better adjective) by the humour. It never takes itself totally seriously.
As for betrayal knows my name, I’ve only seen the anime and not even all of it. As far as I rcall, it took itself totally seriously. And that’s why I stopped watching. Still might give the manga a chance if I can get it for free.
Michelle Smith saysJune 29, 2011 at 3:56 pm
Silver Diamond is definitely quite funny and makes me giggle regularly, especially Koh. :)
Aaron saysJune 29, 2011 at 10:48 am
It reminded me of Alchino mood and artwise
Danielle Leigh saysJune 29, 2011 at 8:39 pm
Because I’ve been in this game long enough to know better, I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to be a great title and you’ve confirmed it. But damn, I could have used a little escapist BL-melodrama around now. Sigh….
Rena saysJuly 2, 2011 at 5:00 am
Ooo. I actually liked it. (Or at least, I found the anime to be very interesting and entertaining.)
Katherine Dacey saysJuly 2, 2011 at 7:54 am
Hi, Rena! I could see Betrayal working better as an anime than a manga; a good script-writer could sand away the rough edges and make the dialogue flow more smoothly. The manga is kind of a bumpy ride.
lovelyduckie saysJuly 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm
I’d like to read Silver Diamond but lets face it…9 volumes out of over 20 is unacceptable. Why bother? I’ll be left with too many burning questions.
lovelyduckie saysJuly 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm
Sorry double comment, have you read Otodama – Voice From the Dead? You might like it.
Katherine Dacey saysJuly 8, 2011 at 8:24 am
Otodama was very silly — in a good way! I really enjoyed it.
As for Silver Diamond, yes, it’s very frustrating that TOKYOPOP published less than 50% of the entire story. It makes me reluctant to recommend to English-speaking readers, since their only options for finishing the series would be buying Japanese or French editions.
osunale saysJuly 8, 2011 at 7:06 pm
I read this volume yesterday, and have to say that I really like it. Maybe because I’ve seen the anime and came into this already knowing the characters and story I didn’t really notice the pacing and chemistry issues that you did.
“What Betrayal lacks is the kind of tightly constructed narrative that made the best bromances such a treat to read. The characters barely rise above type, while script flirts with incoherence at every turn, introducing new characters and subplots at such a furious pace that the central love story is often in danger of being overshadowed.”
Of course (I know I’m probably in the minority here), I love sprawling narratives (with subplots aplenty!) and large casts. I love the fact that Yuki and Luka are often not the ones in the spotlight, and that their love story pretty much sits on the back burner while the rest of the characters and story are introduced. So basically, everything you don’t like about this is what I like best… :)
Katherine Dacey saysJuly 9, 2011 at 10:33 am
That’s the beautiful thing about manga — there really is something for every sensibility!
Candy77Sas saysJuly 14, 2011 at 3:14 am
I have to agree with osunale. I loved the anime and the manga a lot. It is different from a lot of the other ones that seem to keep going off of one another. The plots and characters are different from most other animes/ mangas. This manga keeps you interested by introducing new things here and there but still staying on the same path for the original plot. However, if you aren’t good at reading books or watching movies with the main plot being hidden behind many other ones then you wouldn’t like it. It’s just something that will keep you guessing.
Katherine Dacey saysJuly 14, 2011 at 7:46 am
However, if you aren’t good at reading books or watching movies with the main plot being hidden behind many other ones then you wouldn’t like it. It’s just something that will keep you guessing.
Not to sound like a jerk, Candy, but I’m perfectly “good at reading books” in English and in other languages. My objection to Betrayal wasn’t that it was too hard for me to understand — I’ve read Finnegan’s Wake, for Pete’s sake — but that it was poorly crafted and derivative. And I make that assessment precisely because I’ve read a lot of serious literature as well as a lot of manga.
Melinda Beasi saysJuly 14, 2011 at 8:57 am
I have to back Kate up here. One of the things I said in my own review of this book, is that I probably would have loved it when I was 13. Unfortunately, it’s the fact that I have read so much more sophisticated work (as well as a whole lot of books just like this one) since then that makes The Betrayal Knows My Name more difficult to enjoy as an adult. Kate’s stumbling block here is that she is very good at reading books of many kinds, and that she reads a lot of them.
Candy77Sas saysJuly 23, 2011 at 4:08 pm
I’m sorry if I insulted either of you. I wasn’t meaning that you couldn’t read them, just that some people have trouble keeping up so they dislike the book/manga because of it. I have friends who love books like that, however, they didn’t like it for other reasons. I guess if you are used to reading more sophisticated books then you wouldn’t like it. Again, sorry if i offended either of you.
Melinda Beasi saysJuly 23, 2011 at 4:13 pm
No worries, Candy. It’s easy for us to misunderstand each other on the internet. Thanks for clarifying. :)
Candy77Sas saysJuly 23, 2011 at 10:58 pm
No problem and yes it is very easy to misunderstand people on the internet.