Welcome to the August installment of BL Bookrack! This month, Melinda and Michelle take a look at three offerings from Digital Manga Publishing’s Juné imprint, Butterfly of the Distant Day, I Give to You, and A Liar in Love.
Butterfly of the Distant Day | By Tooko Miyagi | Published by Digital Manga Publishing | Rated Mature (18+) – As a fan of Miyagi’s Il Gatto Sul G., I was looking forward to reading this spin-off/sequel, in which Riya Narukawa, one of the main characters of Il Gatto and a gifted violinist now studying in New York, accompanies his pianist cousin Saki to the swanky Berkshires to perform in a concert for young musicians. There, Saki unexpectedly reunites with Irving Russell, a British man with whom he’d had a two-year fling, and ends up renewing this arrangement in an effort to prevent Irving from seducing Riya, which Saki has somehow convinced himself is bound to happen.
Those looking for more about Riya and his boyfriend Atsushi will likely be disappointed; aside from the opening chapter, Atsushi doesn’t appear at all, and Riya is mostly used in a supporting capacity. Instead, the story focuses on Saki and Irving. As Saki falls back into the same pattern of sleeping with Irving in the evening and being dismayed by his detachment the following day, he remembers more about their time together—how it began, how it ended, how he treated Irving—and eventually comes to realize that it was his own insecurity about Irving’s first love that made him defensively insist that what was going on in the present was merely a fling. Afraid to be hurt, Saki had denied the possibility that something real could grow between them and had instead kept Irving at arm’s length while pursuing a series of brief relationships with women. Now that he’s finally realized what Irving means to him, he wants to break this pattern.
There’s a lot to like about Butterfly of the Distant Day. First and foremost, the issues keeping the two leads apart are complicated, leading to the expression of some fairly complex emotions. Secondly, both of these men are adults, so we’re not dealing with a first-love BL scenario but rather a situation where one of the leads has already loved and lost. Miyagi-sensei has also done her homework where music is concerned—Riya and Saki are performing legitimately impressive compositions for the concert (notably a Fauré sonata for violin and piano) and when possible solo options for Saki are discussed, all of the composers mentioned genuinely did write suitable pieces for that instrument. The only glaring error occurs in a key signature; it’s too bad no one told Miyagi about the order of flats!
I did find it a little hard to get into at first and, looking back, the opening chapter with Riya and Atsushi doesn’t really fit with the rest, but overall, it’s quite an enjoyable one-shot.
-Review by Michelle Smith
I Give To You | By Maki Ebishi | Published by Juné | Rated YA (16+) | Buy at Akadot – I have a confession to make: I totally judged I Give to You by its cover. I didn’t know anything at all about the story, but the cover was so interesting and so unlike typical BL covers that I had to check it out. One of the characters has a kitty snoozing on his lap, for example, and there are a couple of cat toys on a nearby coffee table. How could I resist?!
In this case, it turns out that the atypical cover was indicative of the contents, because I Give to You eschews common BL artistic and story tropes. Instead, with its stark, high-contrast art and moody yakuza themes, it almost reads like a seinen series.
Ryoichi Iinuma is on the run. He cosigned a loan for his lover, Hiroshi, and when Hiroshi defaults, the debt collectors come looking for Ryoichi. He ends up at a tea house run by Ren Shirakawa, who allows him to work for room and board. Gradually, Ryoichi begins to learn more about Ren and his helper, Ritsu, like the fact that they’re both former yakuza who are shunned by their neighbors. In fact, the only customer the tea house has is a former detective who drops by periodically to keep an eye on the proprietors.
Ryoichi is openly gay, and that fact plays a big part in his choice to accept Ren, since he has been ostracized himself both for his sexual preference and his indebted status. He takes it upon himself to try to rehabilitate Ren’s reputation in the neighborhood, and though he soon recognizes that his feelings for Ren (whom he believes is straight) are romantic in nature, only gradually does he learn exactly why Ren is purposefully subjecting himself to the scorn and animosity of “civilians.”
I Give to You nicely balances dark and light elements—the story of Ren’s past, for example, is full of despair, but Ryoichi’s optimistic personality helps steer the story in a hopeful direction. (The occasional comic relief provided by the kitty helps, too.) One negative is that some lines of dialogue were difficult to comprehend; this may be a translation issue. On the positive side, I’ve never seen any other BL story depict the moment in childhood in which its protagonist realized he was different from others, and I loved how this experience enables Ryoichi to deflect Ren’s attempts to send him away to pursue a normal life.
Ultimately, I Give to You is unique, interesting, and definitely recommended.
-Review by Michelle Smith
A Liar in Love | By Kiyo Ueda | Published by Juné | Rated Mature (18+) | Buy at Akadot – When smooth operator Tatsuki gets a call from his younger brother seeking dating advice for a gay coworker, things seem pretty simple. Accustomed to letting his looks do all the heavy lifting, Tatsuki falls into his usual pickup routine, ready to love ’em and leave ’em as always. So what’s a jaded player to do when he finds he’s fallen in love?
Reading that description (or the even more generic official blurb) A Liar in Love sounds like nothing special, and in terms of premise, it’s not. Things progress exactly as you might imagine. Tatsuki reacts predictably to the discovery of his own feelings, pushing his lover further away, though there’s never even a moment’s doubt that we’ll eventually get our “happily ever after.” The story’s characters, too, are more of the same. There’s no shortage of beautiful playboy seme or quiet uke in BL manga, and mangaka Kiyo Ueda doesn’t stray much from type. What she does do, however, is bring enough real nuance into those types to remind us that they’re actually based on real, honest-to-goodness people, whom we probably all know or can relate to on some level.
Tatsuki is a typical playboy, confident in his ability to pick up whomever he wants, and dismissive of concepts like love and commitment. He makes his living translating romance novels, and seems content to live as someone who constantly pursues romance without ever dealing with the real-life stuff that follows.
Miura, his target, initially appears to be the typical shy, gullible uke and little else, but as the story goes on, he displays real maturity and insight, particularly concerning Tatsuki’s well-meaning younger brother who, at one point, imagines himself in love with Miura, though he’s never felt attracted to men. It’s a scene between Miura and the brother, in fact, where Ueda begins to display real brilliance, as she carefully exposes the brother’s feelings–sentiments that would pass for true love in most BL manga–for what they actually are: a childish crush with no meaningful connection to romantic love or grown-up sexuality.
Ultimately, A Liar in Love is a kind of rare gem, in that it manages to be a genuinely thoughtful, mature romance between grown-ups with jobs, while completely adhering to established BL tropes, and all in a single volume. Perhaps it actually is possible to please everyone?
-Review by Melinda Beasi
Review copies provided by the publisher.
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.