Welcome to the April installment of BL Bookrack, a monthly feature co-written with Soliloquy in Blue‘s Michelle Smith.
This month, we take a look at two offerings from Digital Manga Publishing’s Juné imprint, Love Syndrome and Right Here, Right Now, as well as BLU Manga’s Crimson Snow.
Crimson Snow | By Hori Tomoki | Published by BLU Manga | Rated Mature (18+) | Buy at Amazon – “Crimson Snow,” the three-part title story in this collection, is a compelling character piece, focusing on the surprising bond that grows between two very dissimilar people. When Kazuma, a yakuza gangster, is shot in the act of exacting revenge for the killing of his beloved boss, he has nowhere to go. Pausing for a moment’s rest in the snow, which he stains red with his blood, he is discovered by Yukihiro Shibata, the rich bastard son of a renowned tea ceremony master. Without a moment’s hesitation, Yukihiro takes Kazuma in and begins to nurse him back to health.
This reaction utterly baffles Kazuma. “Don’t you know what kind of person I am?” he inquires. His background makes no difference to Yukihiro or his servants, however, and as Kazuma comes to know his caregivers, he begins to understand why they’re willing to help him. For one thing, one of the servants is himself a reformed gangster, and for another, Yukihiro is so used to accepting only what he is given—a holdover from many disappointments in his relationship with his absentee father—that when he is actually adamant about something, the servants will do anything to make sure he gets it.
Despite the yakuza connection, “Crimson Snow” is actually a quiet kind of story, largely because Kazuma, for the first time in his life, has the opportunity to simply be still and spend time reflecting on his life. He loved his former boss, and loved being by his side, but it did lead him into a life of violence. Life by Yukihiro’s side is different, peaceful, and in time, Kazuma realizes that he must leave in order to avoid bringing ruin upon his friend. (“I don’t know how to protect things I care about. My hands only ever break things and take things away.”)
Awesomely, however, Kazuma makes his decision with a minimum of angst, and with the clear-eyed intent of paying for his crimes. I would have been perfectly happy if the tale had ended here, but the brief and satisfying “Galance” provides some closure to Kazuma and Yukihiro’s story. There are two other stories in the collection, as well. “At First Sight” is a simple and happy love story between two students who follow up on mutual staring with some highly consensual intimacy. “Cry for the Sun” is a little odd—being the story of a young man who falls in love with his father’s former lover—but the premise is interesting.
On the whole, I enjoyed Crimson Snow quite a lot. Hori writes that this was her first foray into BL, and she shows great promise both in storytelling and in art. (Kazuma, in particular, often looks disconcertingly realistic.) I’d love to read more by her someday.
-Review by Michelle Smith
Love Syndrome | By Yura Miyazawa | Published by Juné | Rated Mature (18+) | Buy at Akadot – As a regular reader of boys’ love manga, I’ve developed my share of pet peeves. Romanticization of rape, the excessively tortured uke, demonization of female characters–all are common elements of the genre that invariably make me cringe. The greatest sin of all, however–the one most hurtful and difficult to forgive–is that of the advertised single-volume story that turns out to be an anthology. This is the sin of the publisher, not the title, of course. Yet when reading for review, it’s the poor manga at which I’ll usually direct my wrath. Fortunately, in this case, that wrath is a bit subdued.
Most BL anthologies share a few tragic failings, and Love Syndrome is no exception. Though typically revolving around a common theme (in this case, friends-turned-lovers), the stories are rushed and underdeveloped, forced to a romantic climax (pun intended) by whatever means necessary, with little attention given to minor issues like characterization and basic believability.
Take a look at this volume’s first story, for instance. An unexpected water leak in his apartment building compels college student Serizawa to seek shelter with his old friend, Shinoda. Shinoda agrees, but inexplicably dictates that his guest agree to kiss him every morning. As Serizawa quickly discovers that he enjoys Shinoda’s kisses, he also finds out that Shinoda has been in love with him for years! Now Serizawa’s in love too! Hurray! The end. While the specific circumstances of the volume’s subsequent pairings differ slightly, the general trajectory remains the same throughout. Yura Miyazawa’s characters fall fast, overcome obstacles immediately, and declare their love (with a few panels left over for the suggestion of sex), all in the span of about 30 pages.
With all that in mind, though it would be an overstatement to suggest that Love Syndrome really *succeeds* at anything, it doesn’t completely fail either, thanks in great part to its author’s relentless good cheer. If these stories are obviously spun from the thinnest wish-fulfillment fantasies, they’re also crafted with a genuine delight for those fantasies. Miyazawa’s characters beam with love, creating a sense of real warmth within their hopelessly clichéd world. And in the cold, murky depths of the BL anthology market, a little warmth goes a long way.
-Review by MJ
Right Here, Right Now!, Vols. 1-2 | By Souya Himawari | Published by Juné | Rated Mature (18+) | Buy at Akadot – If I were to describe this two-volume series as a time travel historical romance, probably you’d imagine something a lot more fluffy than what Right Here, Right Now! actually has to offer. Oh, sure, it’s not particularly deep or dramatic, but it also doesn’t gloss over some of the problems with falling in love with a guy who lived over 500 years ago.
On his way home from school one day, Mizuo Yanase decides to shirk his tea ceremony lesson and loiter at the run-down local temple instead. While sitting in the spot where the Buddha altar should be, he is suddenly tranported back in time to the Warring States period, where he is hailed as the living incarnation of Buddha. He is promptly introduced to Takakage, a boy about his age, who wastes no time glomping Mizuo and requesting that he become his “page,” which seems to be a euphemism for “bedmate.”
Mizuo demurs, and spends most of the first volume learning about Yamako, the land in which he finds himself, and taking combat lessons as a way to fend off his own feelings of insecurity because Takakage is so much more manly and mature than he is. After a brief visit home, he turns to find that Takakage has aged six years and become a hardened military general. Too, Takakage’s mother is pressuring him to produce an heir, and when a proposed marriage to an enemy princess seems like the path to peace for the people of Yamako, Mizuo thinks it best to remove himself from the picture, lest he be the cause of Takakage’s refusal and, therefore, the citizens’ suffering.
Mizuo is a bit of a milquetoast protagonist, but I still enjoyed his growth as he becomes more interested in trying his best, thinks of others before himself in a way that isn’t actually annoying, and ultimately resolves that he needs to find a way to contribute if he’s ever going to feel truly at home in the past. His dilemma over whether to stay with Takakage or return to his family is also a nice touch—many such stories give the characters an easy out in this regard, but not this one. The situation with the proposed marriage is also resolved more rationally than I expected, and with a minimum of melodrama.
As a time travel fantasy, therefore, Right Here, Right Now! is pretty decent. It’s in the romance department that things didn’t work for me. Right off the bat, Takakage is eager to get physical with Mizuo, which makes him look more like a horndog than someone actually in love. Mizuo protests for a while, then eventually submits without much enthusiasm. I can totally buy that Mizuo admires Takakage and wants to be by his side, but have a hard time seeing them as a couple.
In the end, Right Here, Right Now! isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly better than expected.
-Review by Michelle Smith
Review copies provided by the publisher.