President Momoi-Kun by Higashi Nishida (Shachou Momoi-kun, serialized in Opera; EDGE Comix edition 2011, Juné edition 2013)
This is an example of a type of BL that is rare in translation: gag manga. There’s plenty of rom-com, sitcom, nuttery and slapstick in translated BL, but the only other title devoted specifically to gag humor that I can think of offhand is All Nippon Air Line (note acronym). Opera has a reputation in the West as a publisher of more sophisticated / alt-indie / literary BL, but they also run stuff like this, which is none of the above.
The titular Momoi-kun, who is a bit of a layabout, has just accepted a figurehead position as president of his father’s company, purely because he wants to find a cute young executive with glasses to be his boyfriend. The secretarial position for his office hasn’t been filled, so he gets shown around and assisted by one of the managers, who happens to be a not-so-cute older guy, but with glasses. This of course eventually leads to romance, but that’s not nearly as important as the fact that it leads to gags.
Gags about glasses. Gags about company politics. Gags about bizarre coworkers. Self-referential gags about being a gag manga. Most of the jokes are out-of-left-field non-sequiturs, and although some of them are quite funny, they don’t add up to anything or forward the (minimal) plot. Around the halfway point, the author remembers that there is supposed to be a romance in here somewhere, and throws in a little stock-scenario emotional bonding and some unlikely elevator sex. And for a dose of emotional whiplash, dropped right into the middle of the volume is an unrelated one-chapter tragic romance (which gets recycled as a gag at the end of the volume).
I’m not sure what the appeal of this title is supposed to be. The romance, such as it is, is not convincing, the story having blown all its goodwill and suspension of disbelief on the gags (and it does not help that the characters’ personalities and motivations change at whim to suit the current setup), and almost all of the gags are generic ones that have nothing to do with the characters or situation, so it’s not satisfying as a BL manga. On the other hand, it’s also not satisfying as a gag manga: the bits of relationship-building interrupt the flow of the humor, especially in the second half of the book, and although the gags are occasionally outstanding, too many are old warhorses and/or uninventive. I suspect that this series was more fun to read in serialization, as a few pages of crazy in-between the actual story-driven stories (most of the chapters are quite short, contributing to the lack of plot momentum). It doesn’t even have visual appeal to fall back on; the cut-out cover is appealing, but the interior art is stylistically generic and not very technically accomplished.
Unless you are a huge fan of this author, or a huge fan of gag manga, or have a compulsive-obsessive need to own ALL THE BL (like me), you can skip this one.
A Liar in Love, by Kiyo Ueda (Usotsuki wa Koi o Suru, originally serialized in HertZ. Taiyo Tosho edition 2010; Juné edition 2011)
I had a long commute to the middle of nowhere, so I finally got around to writing up this book. It’s one of my favorites, probably in the top twenty BL manga I’ve read (which is saying a fair bit, in that I own greater than 90% of all print-format BL ever published in English; I’m planning to get through all the digital stuff just as soon as I win the lottery, because geez, there’s a lot of it…). (And yes, I have more than twenty favorite BL manga. Don’t make me choose….)
BL tends heavily towards stories of first love of some kind, AKA “what is this strange feeling I have never felt before”. This typically involves high-school boys and their first crush, straight guys blindsided by the fact that they’ve fallen in love with a man, or man-izing jerks blindsided by the fact that they’ve fallen in love with anyone. This one, as you might guess from the title, is one of the latter.
The main character, Tatsuki, is a Hot Jerk whose philandering ways have left a trail of disgruntled (male) exes stretching back to the Stone Age. He’s on the permanent outs with his brother, who is understandably frustrated with his jerkishness. The story opens with said brother making the incredibly stupid move of calling up hot jerk to ask him to introduce his coworker Miura to some nice gay guys; coworker has just gone through a bad breakup and brother wants to help him out by setting him up on some dates. Hot jerk, being a total jerk, decides to seduce coworker and then dump him painfully, for the sole and specific purpose of ticking off his brother. So he motors over to the traditional Japanese restaurant where brother works, and gets a load of coworker, who is a Shy Dork. Who blushes. And has hot little glasses.
I approve. I approve immensely. OK, yes, he has terrible taste in sweaters, but you can’t have everything.
So hot jerk (who works from home and seems to have a lot of spare time) starts hanging around the restaurant radiating niceness and charm at succulent, succulent dork. Brother immediately susses out what hot jerk is up to and tries to warn shy dork off, but shy dork is a sweet innocent with no experience with hot jerks, and he falls for the protagonist like a ton of express-delivery rock. Hot jerk strings him along for a while, gloating over his evil plans, until he eventually realizes that he actually enjoys being shmoopy with shy dork, which totally freaks him out because it conflicts with his self-image as a Hot Jerk. So he is nasty to shy dork and makes him cry, and then he’s all like “ha ha, I showed them“, until of course he realizes that he really liked shy dork and he’s totally fucked this up and now he’s going to be brokenhearted forever and DIE ALONE. So then it’s his turn to get all weepy.
But of course in the end they patch things up and hot jerk reforms and becomes a devoted house-husband, making dinner for his sweetie when he comes home from a long hard day at the restaurant (do Japanese restaurants not let the employees eat the leftovers or something?). And then they live happily ever after in a state of domestic bliss. (If you think this constitutes a spoiler you have not read enough BL. Or romances in general, for that matter.)
This story has a bunch of elements that I like. I always appreciate stories from the seme’s point of view, succulent dork is succulent, and the emotional bits are suitably emotional. It also features two out gay guys, if you care about that sort of thing, and in fact takes a swipe at the “gay for you” trope; brother is very upset about hot jerk’s behavior and wants to save shy dork from his evil clutches, and around the two-thirds point he announces that he’s in love with shy dork and is going to take him away from hot jerk. Shy dork immediately points out to brother (correctly) that his affection is based on friendship rather than romance; he may love shy dork but not in the kind of way that leads to sexytimes. And it’s one of those stories where the philandering jerk realizes that he’s in love because he can’t get it up with anybody else, which is always good for a snicker.
The art is pretty, with lots of attention to Tatsuki’s suave good looks and Miura’s blushing adorableness, and the book has a smooth translation. Unless you just can’t stand romances with “a rake reforms” plots, you should totally read this one.
I became interested in this title when someone working on the English edition posted on Twitter that it was one of the most ridiculous BL manga she’d ever seen. I spotted a copy on sale at Anime Boston, and as a fan of both ridiculousness and BL, I thought I’d check it out. TL;DR version: disappointing.
The Incredible Kintaro, by Naomi Guren ( Masaka no Kintarō, originally serialized in CitaCita; English edition 801 Media, 2014)
Our protagonist, Makoto (who is a cute uke tidbit of the “perky innocent” variety), is the grandson of the president of a prestigious boy’s prep school. The school’s motto is “Heart, Lust, Body”, representing the three things Granddad decrees essential in a man: a noble soul, a strong body, and being good in bed. On Granddad’s deathbed, he announces that the new president of the school will be whichever of the teachers that can ring Makoto’s bells, as it were. Makoto, who is not on board with this plan, recruits the help of his childhood friend, the titular Kintaro, to fend off the lecherous contestants.
In the folkloric legends of Kintarō, Kintarō, in his youth, was a super-strong little boy with a woodcutting axe and one of those bib/apron things that Japanese toddlers wore in Days Of Yore, famous for wrestling monsters and other feats of strength and bravery. Guren’s Kintaro is a buff dude with a magical axe and superior fighting skills (and he briefly wears that bib/apron thing, although on him it’s more of a muscle shirt), but the story has otherwise no connection whatsoever to the folktales, and it’s completely unclear to me why the original Kintarō is being referenced at all.
The Incredible Kintaro is trying to run on two things: rude humor and gratuitous smut. Unfortunately, it does neither well. The plot, such as it is, consists of assorted scenarios in which Makoto is captured and molested by one of the teachers, mostly in completely preposterous ways (robot sex! flower sex!); then, at the last second, Kintaro bursts in and lays the smackdown on the molester with his signature martial arts move, the “Shame Strike”, which involves mashing his naked gahoolies into the perp’s face, leaving them either too disgusted or too aroused to resist. (Both Makoto and Kintaro spend a phenomenal fraction of the book in the altogether, if that’s the sort of thing you go for.) Since it is obvious from the very beginning that Kintaro totally wants to jump Makoto’s bones and Makoto totally wants to jump Kintaro’s bones, you’d think they’d just do the horizontal rhumba and announce that the competition is therefore over, but that would mean the book would end by chapter one. So they don’t actually get it on until the very end, after the situation with the school has been resolved in a way that is actually sensible.
To a certain extent, The Incredible Kintaro reminds me of Rize Shinba’s Mister Mistress (available digitally through SuBLime), in that the main point of the book is to have the uke molested in ridiculous ways (demoniacally possessed pickled jellyfish strips!). The difference is that Mister Mistress is funny, sexy, and has an engaging central relationship, whereas The Incredible Kintaro is just dumb. All characters are one-note, the relationship between Makoto and Kintaro is bland, the molestation scenarios are not sexy, and even the humor, although certainly over-the-top (and very X-rated), is not energetic or inventive enough to be funny. If the thing you really, really want out of BL is shameless naked-dudeparts-in-the-face jokes, you might enjoy this book. Otherwise, give it a miss.
I was planning to post this for Valentine’s Day, but The Experiment From Hell which we are working on ran overtime and I didn’t have any brain cells left over afterwards. (Our multichannel is broken, so I had to pipette 750 samples individually. My thumb still hurts.) So this is a slightly belated Valentine’s Day tribute to ukes. In the spirit of the holiday I tried to keep it upbeat and non-ranty (I’ll write up the ranty version someday).
I love Boys’ Love for a number of reasons, but one of the major factors is that it is an unquenchable font of ukes: slim pretty androgynous ukes, perky femmy ukes, shy nerdy ukes (shy blushing neeeerds, drool…). Seme types are a dime a dozen (most het shoujo / josei romances have one), but ukes pretty much only show up in BL or BL-teasy stuff. It kind of burns me that there aren’t more stories with heterosexual uke types, but as long as there is BL I can cope.
I really, really appreciate that BL does not assume that men are obligately masculine, or that (for the female reader) being attracted to men obligately means being attracted to masculinity. Shoujo (and to a lesser extent josei) does this too, but not to the same extent: even if the male half of a het romance is an outright crossdresser, there always has to some way in which he is more masculine than the female lead. And that always, always, always, has to include what happens in bed; I guess the idea of a woman topping a man is just too transgressive, even for a category of media that’s heavily invested in genderbending. In BL, because both of them are guys, the uke (and sometimes the seme) is freed up to be fully, unreservedly feminine in a way that apparently can’t happen in a heterosexual romance story, and I love it for that.
Someday I will write up a post about the (shy, nerdy) ukes who I particularly love, but today I will highlight a couple of BL manga in English where both guys are uke types, a pairing style I always enjoy. There’s not that much of this kind of couple out there in the first place, and only a few have made it into English, so they’re worth pointing out.
After I Win, Kaname Itsuki (Hoshigarimasen! Katsumade wa, initially serialized in HanaOto; English version Juné, 2007.) Two shy, awkward boys at a boarding high school become roommates. Hiyori likes Kasumi, Kasumi likes Hiyori, but they are both too shy and awkward to admit it; blushing ensues. In the afterword, the author enthuses over her love for “yuri-ples” (which I’d bet a dollar is an attempt to translate “homoyuri”, which appears to be the preferred Japanese term for this type of pairing).
This book is one of my long-time favorites. Some reviewers have complained that the guys are still shy and awkward after having a sexual encounter, as if having an orgasm in the presence of another person instantly confers suavity and grace. These people are idiots, because the shyness and awkwardness are THE BEST PART. Also, polished art with cute boys with long pretty hair. The side story at the end hints at an older-guy / teen relationship that is kind of creepy, but thankfully it doesn’t go very far.
Café Latte Rhapsody, Toko Kawai (Originally serialized in Magazine Be x Boy; English version Juné, 2010.) Cute perky bookseller Hajime gets crushed on by big scary-looking college student Keito. Keito, despite his intimidating glare, turns out to be a shy mushy cupcake who just wants to hold hands and snuggle. Little guy perks at big guy, big guy bashfuls at little guy, gratuitous cuteness ensues. I love this one; it’s sweet and adorable like a handmade chocolate. If you like blushing cute guys and WAFFY romance, definitely pick this up.
Flutter, Momoko Tenzen (Originally serialized in Craft; English version Juné, 2012.) Asada in sales gets assigned to work with out gay hottie Mizuki in planning, which sends Asada into a tizzy because he’s totally obsessed with Mizuki for reasons he just can’t figure out. Mizuki, as a Cool Beauty type, is an obvious pick for the uke, but Asada is so flustered and blushy around Mizuki that it could have gone either way right up to the moment of consummation. In the afterword, the author explains that she was initially intending to write a seme x seme story, but it turned into uke x uke instead. The art on this one is not so great; Tenzen tries too hard to make the guys cool and mature-looking, with the result that they have tiny heads and eyes too far forward in profile. It does hit all the emotional targets, though, and they make a cute couple.