Welcome to the June installment of BL Bookrack! This month, Michelle takes a look at Honey Darling, a rare print release from SuBLime Manga, while MJchecks out Juné’s recent reprinting of fan favorite Only the Ring Finger Knows. In Brief: Kaoru Kun from the Digital Manga Guild, and an early look at The Young Protectors from Yaoi 911.
Honey Darling | By Norikazu Akira | Published by SuBLime | Rated Mature – In a word, Honey Darling is “adorable.” So adorable, in fact, that I am perfectly willing to forget the few minor quibbles I have with it.
Chihiro Takahashi is a young man “just drifting through life.” He doesn’t have any goals or aspirations, and he’s never had a serious relationship. When he happens past an abandoned kitten, however, he can’t just ignore her, and ends up becoming a well-intentioned, if uninformed, pet owner. When the kitty (Shiro) develops a cold, a frantic Chihiro takes to the streets where he conveniently runs into Daisuke Kumazawa, gruff but kind veterinarian. Kumazawa gives Chihiro a stern lecture about the responsibilities of pet ownership, and after Chihiro tears up at the enormity of his error, offers him a job as a live-in housekeeper, saying, “You’d be like… my wife.”
I was fully prepared for Chihiro to be incompetent at the tasks assigned, but he actually does a good job and works hard. Over time, he decides that he’d like to become a veterinary nurse. And really, it’s the amount of weight given to this plot point that really makes me love Honey Darling. Sure, a romance is slowly developing between Chihiro and Kumazawa, but the story reads like the main point of it all is Chihiro finding a place where he belongs, and discovering something to be passionate about. And that will always, always be my favorite plot ever, no matter how many times I read it.
There’s no crazy, out-of-left-field drama in Honey Darling. Sure, it’s not the most realistic thing ever, but it’s sweet and cute and cheery. I’m not fond of Daisuke referring to menial labor as the wifely role, true, and the character designs are a little bland, but I enjoyed this oneshot very much and honestly wish there were more of it.
– Review by Michelle Smith
Only the Ring Finger Knows | By Satoru Kannagi & Hotaru Odagiri | Published by Juné | Rated YA – What makes a romance story work? This was the question most on my mind as I breathlessly finished Only the Ring Finger Knows, a sort of neo-classic BL manga (based on a popular light novel series) which was originally released in English in 2004—three full years before I began reading manga, and long before I started reading in the boys’ love genre. It’s been out of print for some time, but with the final volume of the light novel series due for release this fall, DMP has reprinted the manga, allowing latecomers like me to finally join the party. And what a lovely party it is.
The setup is typical of standard high school romance. There’s a fad sweeping through Wataru’s high school, in which students indicate their relationship status by the placement of (sometimes matching) rings on their fingers. Various configurations indicate friendship, availability, or (of course) love. When Wataru discovers that his own ring (bought on a whim) matches that of a popular upperclassman, Yuichi Kazuki, the situation is primarily annoying, as every girl in school wants to know where he got his ring. Furthermore, Kazuki himself is inexplicably hostile to Wataru, though he seems to be kind to everyone else.
Of course this is BL, so we know that all signs point to love, but as with all romance, the story’s success depends on its execution, and here’s where my opening question comes up again. What makes a romance story work? I’ve stated many criteria in the past, including compelling characters, believable relationship development, emotional truth, blah blah blah, but what is it really that makes the difference between a perfectly pleasant tale of romance and the kind that sweeps us away completely, filling our hearts with joy and a sweet, sweet anxiety that lingers long after we’ve turned the last page?
I tend to be a big-picture thinker, but in this case, I suspect that the devil is in the details. Within this questionably original setup, it’s the little things that matter. The tilt of a chin, a hurried glance, the tentative movement of a hand—these are the details that accent the story’s most significant emotional beats. With these perfect details, the tension between Wataru and Kazuki is thick and volatile from the start, far ahead of Wataru’s own understanding of what’s happening in his own heart and mind. The combination of intense interest and awkwardness between the two main characters seems so real, to continue reading almost feels like an intrusion. It’s painfully delicate and honestly breathtaking in a way that only romance can be, and to a great extent, it’s reminded me why I like the genre so much in the first place.
Satoru Kannagi’s original light novel is no longer in print in English, but as much as I’d like to read it, I must admit that Hotaru Odagiri’s expressive artwork does so much of the heavy lifting here, it’s difficult to imagine the story playing out so gracefully in prose. If, like me, you missed Only the Ring Finger Knows the first time around, don’t let this reprinting pass you by. Joyfully recommended.
– Review by MJ
Kaoru Kun | By Suguro Chayamachi | Digital Manga Guild | Rated YA – Most regular readers of Manga Bookshelf are by now pretty familiar with my personal tastes in BL, including a penchant for what I once described as “quiet/ideosyncratic character studies.” Kaoru Kun fits that description to a T, while also proving that this alone is not enough—or perhaps that not enough is not enough. The volume starts strong as mangaka Suguro Chayamichi introduces Kaoru, an abused, neglected child desperately searching for affection wherever he can find it. Later chapters check in with Kaoru as his life improves and he learns to let his naturally gentle nature heal the wounds of others. Unfortunately, just three chapters in, Chayamachi (or her publisher) drops the ball, abandoning the character we’ve learned to care so much for in favor of several unrelated stories that fail to fill the gap left by his absence. Though the result is ultimately unsatisfying, Kaoru’s unfinished story is still worth reading. Hesitantly recommended. – MJ
The Young Protectors | By Alex Woolfson, Adam DeKraker, & Veronica Gandini | Yaoi 911 – Probably the greatest weakness in Alex Woolfson’s otherwise terrific sci-fi webcomic Artifice is the author’s decision to shortchange his characters’ relationship development in order to get to the juicy bits. In his new comic, The Young Protectors, Woolfson accelerates this further by putting one of those bits right up front, but perhaps with better results. As the series opens, a young superhero is caught emerging from his first trip to a gay bar by a hunky supervillain, leading fairly quickly into a semi-coerced makeout session that *just* manages to avoid feeling unforgiveably creepy by the fact that it reads more like the boy’s fantasy than anything else. In another author’s hands, starting with that kind of hormone-heavy fantasy might read like an intro to plotless porn, but in this case it seems likely that we’re in for something deeper, and perhaps by getting some of this out of the way from the get-go, Woolfson will feel at leisure to take more time with the good stuff. I’m optimistic, and you should be too. Check it out. – MJ
Review copies provided by the publishers.
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.
Other recent BL reviews from MJ & Michelle: Honey Darling (SuBLime)
Michelle Smith saysJune 23, 2012 at 11:38 am
Yay, I’m glad you liked Only the Ring Finger Knows! That was one of my early BL favorites.
Geri-chan saysJune 24, 2012 at 5:26 am
Only the Ring Finger Knows was one of the first BL manga titles that I ever read, and it’s still one of my favorites. The light novels are pretty well written, and I enjoyed seeing what happens to Kazuki and Wataru after the manga ends. The language in the romantic scenes is a bit flowery for my taste, but I’d still highly recommend them if you can find used copies at a decent price. But the manga pretty much captures the essence of the first novel very well, and reading the manga first probably helped me to enjoy the novels more.
Cait saysJune 26, 2012 at 12:13 am
You might be happy to know that DMP is reprinting the entire Only the Ring Finger Knows novel series in anticipation of the fifth volume’s release this summer (I remember reading this on the June forums a while back). I would keep their Akadot store on your radar because while I’m sure it will end up in other outlets, it will be there first and in the greatest numbers.
Oliver saysJune 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm
Only the Ring Finger Knows was my first yaoi ever. I saw it in the bookstore amongst only a few Blu and June titles in ’06 and it will always hold special with me because it was my first. I don’t know how important it was to a little in-the-closet gay kid, but it seemed like the perfect teen romance I ever read. The artist’s new series is out now, but I hesitate to get it. Her art is breathtaking, however.
judi(togainunochi) saysJune 26, 2012 at 7:29 pm
I enjoyed Honey Darling for all the reasons you listed. I would love for it to go longer to see if Chihiro becomes a vetinary assistant. I keep thinking I would like to see how they interact in the hospital. The wife references did become a little annoying, but I could forgive that. I really enjoyed it very much.
Marfisa saysJuly 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm
You’re right—the manga version of “Only the Ring Finger Knows” does work better than the light novels. This is especially true in the later volumes. The fact that Kazuki acts like a jerk toward Wataru for much of the manga/the initial volume of the novel series can be interpreted as largely the result of his own internal resistance to the idea of falling in love with a guy, combined with frustration over the improbability of Wataru’s reciprocating his feelings if he ever found out what those feelings actually were. Once both boys finally realize why they’re so fixated on each other, and discover that the feeling is mutual, you would expect Kazuki to abandon his practice of insulting Wataru virtually nonstop in what struck me as a desperate attempt to hide his “unacceptable” romantic interest in him.
This is actually pretty much what happens at the end of the manga. But in the light novel series, in the next volume Kazuki just goes right back to treating Wataru like a dim-witted nuisance—while being conspicuously nice to everyone else—even after they’re an established couple. Possibly this is intended to come across as an m/m version of little boys’ notorious habit of expressing their affections by pulling the pigtails of girls they like. But, whether because of the novelist’s insufficient skill or some defect in the translation (which I thought read rather awkwardly in general), the prose version fails to convey any such psychological subtlety. At best, I suppose you could interpret Kazuki’s continued coldness and verbal mistreatment of Wataru as unresolved internalized homophobia that Kazuki persists in projecting onto the devoted boyfriend who he now knows loves him back. But it really comes across more as if Kazuki is just some kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde jerk who shows his jerk side only to Wataru.