To Your Eternity by Yoshitoki Ōima, Chapters 1-40 (不滅のあなたへ, Fumetsu no anata e, literally “To you, immortal”; serialized in Weekly Shōnen Magazine; Kodansha edition 2017, Kodansha USA digital editions 2017)
Ever since my Official Job Description came to involve a lot of technical writing (as opposed to merely informally involving a lot of technical writing),
I have been lacking in motivation for any recreational writing, such as this blog. But I want to write about this series, because it hurts and I want other people to share the pain.
I read this as Kindle eBooks in chapter format; a print edition of Volume 1 is scheduled for the end of October. As far as I can tell, the 40 chapters covered here correspond to partway through Volume 5, so the digital edition is far ahead of the print release. Therefore, this will be light on spoilers, except for Chapter 1 and the overall thematic content.
For a sample, you can read most of Chapter 1 free on the publisher’s website here.
(May I take the opportunity to say how much I hate the chapter format for digital manga, especially for Kindle, which doesn’t seem to have any way to collect the individual files under one icon. So now I have 40 individual “covers” cluttering up my book list. Plus, the Kindle “sort by title” does that thing where it counts 1, 10…19, 2, 20..29, 3 – arrgh. Dear publishers: VOLUME FORMAT PLS.)
So. The “cover” for the first Kindle chapter of this series (apparently originally an interior illustration for the print edition) shows a cute boy and a wolf in an Arctic landscape, and the promo text mentions “the tale of an abandoned native boy journeying alone in the frozen north with only a mysterious wolf for a companion”. That sounded great, but it is not, in fact, what the series is about. What this series is about is utter soul-destroying tragedy on continuous repeat.
We start with a mysterious black-robed figure dropping a “sphere” onto the Earth, where it lands in barren snow fields somewhere in the far North. The sphere, initially non-sentient, mimics the most interesting thing in the immediate vicinity; first a rock, then some moss. Eventually a dying wolf collapses nearby, and the sphere mimics the wolf. It turns out that this wolf belongs to aforementioned cute boy, who has been left behind by his tribe to take care of the old people while the rest head off in search of a fabled land of warmth and food to the south. All of the old people have since died, leaving the boy and his wolf alone in the abandoned settlement. (Incidentally, the promo text for the print edition places all this in North America, but the clothes, architecture, ships and domesticated reindeer suggest that the inspiration for his fictional culture is actually more Nordic.)
Cute boy (whose name is never given) is perky and cheerful and has “endlessly enthusiastic shounen protagonist” written all over him; now that he has been reunited with his lupine companion, he determines to leave the settlement and follow the rest of his tribe to the land of fruit trees and sun. And for a little while it looks like this story will indeed be about the adventures of a boy and his wolf as they track the path of the previous group through the snowy wastes. But in fact, this is Not That Story, and it soon becomes clear that the promised land is not obtainable, the rest of the tribe has died along the wayside, and our cute boy is going to be determinedly cheerful and make the best of everything and put on a brave front right up until he dies of hunger, exhaustion, and his infected leg wound. Which he does at the end of chapter 1.
And so the sphere-wolf-thing becomes able to mimic Nordic Boy, and staggers off into the snow.
Repeat, da Capo al Coda, until the reader is a quivering wreck.
The overall structure of the series is episodic, with every narrative arc showing sphere-wolf-boy (eventually dubbed Immo, for “immortal”) encountering some group of people in one or another fantasy culture, getting embroiled in their (usually exciting and action-scene-y) problems, and eventually witnessing the tragic death of one or more of them under the most traumatic conditions possible. Mysterious Black-robed Person’s stated intention for sphere-thing is for it to learn about the world, and, as another character notes later, Immo learns through pain: physical pain, and emotional pain.
As Immo meets more people and goes through more trauma, he progresses from a barely-sentient thing that alternates between a weird semi-verbal boy and a weird semi-verbal wolf, to a developed human personality capable of experiencing friendship and love and grief (especially grief). Immo can mimic the form and abilities of the people and animals he becomes involved with, but only after they die, meaning that he “powers up” as the story goes along by losing the people he cares about, over and over again. He’s also empathic, and feels the physical pain of the people and animals around him, down to crabs being boiled for dinner. And he’s immortal, so whatever horrible injuries he sustains, he will regenerate, to travel ever onward and suffer ever more.
There’s an antagonist of sorts in the form of the “knockers” (WORST. NAME. EVER.), so-far-poorly-explained beings that occasionally attack Immo for so-far-poorly-explained reasons, but the true terror of their attacks is that they can steal his “forms”, meaning that he loses even his memories of the people that have contributed to him. But the real enemy here is the author, who is out to put Immo (and the reader) through as much trauma as possible.
This is, on the one hand, an excellent series. The art varies in style according to the tone of the current scene, from delicately realistic to rounded and cartoony, but at its best is strikingly polished and detailed, with some gorgeous fantastical imagery. The writing effectively conveys everything from slice-of-life, to action, to blushing romance (not involving Immo), and gets you to care about each new set of characters even after you know very well that this is a losing proposition.
The problem is that it is, unabashedly, a feel-bad book. You read this to be wrung out, stomped flat, and crumbled into hamburger. Negative emotions can be recreational, and the specific recreational experience on offer here is “cry uncontrollably until you make yourself stop reading”. I marathoned all 40 current chapters in an afternoon, and, in retrospect, this was a very bad idea. “Emotionally draining” doesn’t cover it.
So I give this series a qualified recommendation: if you can handle 5+ volumes of constant unending grief and loss, absolutely read this, it is beautiful. If that sounds like it would put you on suicide watch, don’t.
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.
This is part of a series on otokonoko media, works for a male audience that focus on crossdressing boys; you may want to take a look at the intro post.
(This book is not to be confused with Boy Princess, a BL manhwa series by Seyoung Kim that involves crossdressing, Shounen Oujo ~ Mimic Royal Princess, a shoujo manga series by Zenko Musashino and Utako Yukihiro that involves crossdressing, or Josou no Ojisama ~ Drag Prince, a BL anthology series that involves crossdressing.)
The topic of today’s review / commentary / thing is an otokonoko manga featuring a straight romance. Bent totally circular, but straight. As far as I can tell, this manga isn’t published in any language that I can actually read, but I wanted to talk about it anyway because it confuses me, in an interesting way. (My Japanese is minimal, so this summary is based on picture-reading, Google Translate, and sweating through short passages with a radical dictionary, so don’t expect complete comprehension.) I’m going to spoiler a lot of the plot, because it’s not translated and I expect that few people will have the opportunity (or desire) to read it anyway.
Our hero Naotora is a cute Japanese schoolboy who has been shanghaied into becoming the bride of the crown prince of the fictional Southeast Asian country Urunei. (I’ll admit that I’m not sure of the context here; there’s all of three pages to explain the setup before Nao gets handcuffed and shoved onto an international flight.) The role of course involves crossdressing, but also, for some reason, golden tiger ears; the book’s subtitle means “tiger princess Nao” in Indonesian (the last part of Naotora’s name means “tiger”, so there’s a pun involved), and the “tiger princess” seems to be of some kind of special significance in the fictional culture.
Unfortunately Urunei is in the grip of political turmoil, and no sooner has he arrived in the palace than he’s the target of an assassination attempt. But lo! Aforesaid prince (his name is given phonetically as Afumado Bin Shaya Rafuman, god knows what they were aiming for), who is of course handsome and dashing, swoops in to rescue Nao and take him to a local festival where prince-dude can do the seductive “wipe food off the other party’s face and eat it” thing. This leads to an argument which ends with prince-dude sweeping Nao off his feet (literally) and kissing his thighs, which gives Nao an erection, thus outing him as a guy, leading to some “OMG I made out with a guy” angst abruptly terminated by another assassination attempt, requiring prince-dude to buckle some more swash in a suitably dramatic and dashing way. But lo! When they finally get back to the palace, Nao discovers, via a totally gratuitous bathing scene, that prince-dude a) is in fact not a dude, and b) has an amazing ability to pack her impressive frontage into that sleek princely uniform. (This all happens in the first chapter, by the way.) It’s vaguely implied that prince-girl prefers girls and isn’t happy about the dudeparts, but she gets over it, of course. I suppose it helps that Nao is a girlish little cutie and she never sees him in male clothing (and aside from the first three pages and a one-panel flashback, neither do we).
The story takes a couple of extended trips into fanservice-land (such as buxom handmaidens being punished for misbehavior by being forced to wear vibrators glued to their inner thighs – sure, conservative SE Asian countries totally do that), but mainly there’s Plot: evil scheming rivals, thwarted political coups, lots more assassination attempts, kidnappings, dramatic revelations of parentage, double-crossing subordinates, and the escaping of certain death by the skin of their teeth, during which prince-girl and bride-boy discover (surprise) that they like each other. In fact, there is too much plot for a single volume to comfortably hold, and even without being able to understand all of it I get the feeling that a lot of plot threads get unceremoniously dropped for lack of space.
Nao pretty much gets the role of the plucky girl protagonist who holds off the bad guys by wit, guile and occasional shows of bravery until her prince shows up with the cavalry, only of course genderflipped. At one point Nao, in the course of some sleuthing that goes south, tangles with the hot but evil rival-prince guy and gets out of it by being seductive, leading to a passionate kiss from evil rival guy. At the climax of the story, after a lot more action and prince-girl’s dramatic murder (spoiler: *psych*), evil-dude gets shot and falls off a boat; he drags Nao in with him but in the process gets a view of Nao’s crotch, realizes he kissed a guy, and drowns in a state of gay-panic self-loathing. And so our couple lives happily ever after in genderbent bliss.
(Off topic, but the combination of gratuitous crossdressing, political intrigue, and swashbuckling reminds me a lot of Shounen Oujo ~ Mimic Royal Princess, except that one is shoujo and this one is shounen, so instead of androgynous lolicons, gender politics, and hot heteroflexible pirates, we have fetish underwear, boobies, and close-up shots of erect dog penis. Also, Shounen Oujo is spectacular and really badly needs to be licensed, whereas this one not so much.)
What confuses me deeply about this thing is that I can’t tell what fantasy it’s selling. On the one hand, the story itself is firmly heterosexual; the one case of guy-on-guy making out ends up with said guy getting his just desserts through not only death but the soul-destroying realization that he has inadvertently committed teh ghey. On the other hand, the book is eager to display Nao’s curvy feminine succulence, starting with the cover and interior color page and continuing through pretty much the whole book; he gets almost as many fanservice shots as the various well-endowed secondary female characters. (Prince-girl, oddly enough, gets almost no fanservice other than the one bathing scene which reveals her sex and the portrait on the back cover; instead, she gets to be cool and heroic). I suppose that if you want to fantasize about being a cute crossdresser you might as well fantasize about being a hot sexy cute crossdresser, but the way Nao is handled feels like you are supposed to want to drool on him, not be him. And he spends an awful lot of the story being seductive at, or being seduced by, male or thought-to-be-male characters. But at the same time it doesn’t feel like the “instant bisexual threeway, just add your wang” kind of girl-on-crossdresser story that pairs up two characters that are both fantasy objects, in part because prince-girl is not nearly as sexualized as Nao is.
So I don’t know, maybe they’re just trying to cover all the bases? This is one of the things that interests me about otokonoko media; it’s so catholic about what you the reader might want out of it or who you might want to be or might want to bang. But it’s still unusual to have an individual story that is so ambiguous, especially running in a mainstream shounen magazine.
It’s also unusual for a heterosexual otokonoko romance to only have the crossdresser on the cover, although in this case I guess they couldn’t have put prince-girl on the cover without either making it look like m/m or blowing the big reveal. Incidentally, this is not the first shounen manga from Akita Shoten to prominently feature a crossdressing boy’s naked ass; I believe that honor goes to No Bra volume 4, published ten years ago. Crossdresser ass: it is perennial. (Also, the whole Shounen Champion / Champion Red magazine complex is way into crossdressers.)
If you have an ardent desire to own this book for yourself, I got it off of J-List (potentially NSFW), but it’s available from the usual Japanese-import suspects and of course amazon.co.jp. It’s not a must-have; the art is competent and consistent (and not very moe-fied, for a change) but still fairly basic shounen stuff, and while it is nice to have a story with a significant plot besides the romance, this one has too much plot for its length and doesn’t really get it to gel. If you spot it in your local Kinokuniya it might be worth picking up, but it’s not worth going out of your way for.
Boys in Skirts: You See, Teacher…, Vol. 1 by Ei Tachibana (Sensei Anone., originally serialized in Oto★Nyan. Million Shuppan edition 2012; Project-H edition 2014)
Book page at Project-H: NSFW!!. Available in print or digitally through eManga (including convenient PDF download).
This is the first of a planned series of (intermittent) posts on “otokonoko” (a pun that translates roughly as “male maiden”) AKA “josou shonen” (crossdressing boys): male-oriented media that focuses on MtF crossdressing, with or without (but usually with) romantic / erotic elements in your choice of m/f or m/m flavors. (If you haven’t heard of this stuff before, you might want to check out the intro post for the series.) In You See, Teacher… we have an example of a genre that is still an oddity in English; a male-male romance primarily aimed at straight-identified men (if you have trouble with that idea, see the discussion in the intro post).
The first thing I want to get onto the table is that, sadly, this book is not porn. All three (soon to be four) of the m/m otokonoko manga currently available in English are released through DMP’s Project-H imprint, which is a hentai imprint, meaning that they’re all labelled as porn, but all of them ran in Oto★Nyan; that magazine was fairly raunchy, but it was a respectable non-restricted seinen magazine and never ran porn. I suspect that DMP put these books under the Project-H imprint because they’re smutty stuff for guys, but the degree of fanservice and innuendo in any of these books would not be excessive for a standard M-rated manga. In this case, although the cover incorporates the federally-mandated crotch shot that crops up on the majority of otokonoko-genre covers (since the conceit of the genre is that the cute crossdresser looks exactly like a girl, you have to show bulge to get across that it’s actually a boy in that skimpy miniskirt), it goes no further than a lot of salacious fanservice and some making out. I knew what I was getting, having read it in serialization, but I imagine some people will be disappointed.
Secondly, the cover is adorable. Most ecchi seinen romances only put the girl on the cover; the equivalent, for m/m otokonoko, is to only put the crossdresser on the cover (unless it’s a crossdresser-on-crossdresser title, in which case they’ll both be on the cover and probably all over each other, as in Kuromame’s Club For Crossdressers NSFW!!). Presumably this is so you don’t have to look at some dude (eww) while ogling the hottie. Tachibana gets around this by using a wraparound cover; the flirtatious crossdressing cutie is on the front, but he’s holding hands with the befuddled protagonist on the back (which also features the protag’s little brother; in a dress, of course).
Said protagonist, Kakenishi, is a 23-year-old virgin and ineffectual high-school teacher who gets walked on all over by his students, except model student Nakamura. In the opening pages, Kakenishi discovers that seemingly perfectly-behaved Nakamura is, in fact, making sexy crossdressing webcam shows using the school computers, tastefully illustrated by four full-color pages of a lightly-clad Nakamura in suggestive positions. (In fact, the very first page features an ass’n’crotch shot with panty-clad boybits prominently displayed. Just in case you weren’t clear on the premise.) Kakenishi makes an ineffectual attempt at persuading Nakamura to stop doing this, which succeeds only because Nakamura, who turns out to be quite the manipulative troublemaker when not in stealth mode, decides it will be more fun to seduce his flustered and ineffectually-protesting teacher instead. That sets up the primary plot for the series: Nakamura aggressively vamps Kakenishi in lewd, fanservice-providing ways; Kakenishi blusters and dithers but always gets dragged along. Your usual list of ecchi rom-com hijinks ensue.
As you will immediately gather, this book has a lot of raunch; there is a fair amount of humor involved, but the emphasis is definitely on titillation. Nakamura is totally shameless (early in the story he gives Kakenishi his email address written on the panties he was just wearing), and in addition to flashing everything he’s got at Kakenishi, he’s quite willing to use his sexiness to make friends and influence people make money and wrap people around his little finger, and for some reason both his schoolmates and any random other males around are more than willing to slobber on him even (or especially) when they know he’s a guy. Although there is no sex whatsoever, the series is bountiful in its provision of skimpy cosplay costumes, fetish lingerie, perky nipples, panty shots, wardrobe malfunctions, and, especially, barely-clad boybits (plus a few peekaboo shots of unclad boybits). And there is an extended sequence of suggestive things with mayonnaise bottles, if you happen to be into mayonnaise bottles.
In case you don’t care for hot-to-trot crossdressing sexpots, there’s a subplot about Kakenishi’s shy and innocent younger brother Nagare (also a highschooler), who gets tricked into crossdressing as a prank but decides he likes it because it makes him popular. Of course, he’s too sweet and innocent to understand why his new “friends” are so eager to make his acquaintance, or why it’s a bad idea to run around in a miniskirt with no panties. Nagare gets the only really squicktastic scene in the book, near the beginning, in which a group of faceless older men take advantage of his naiveté to basically molest him; going for the “creepy” double-play, Nagare doesn’t understand what’s going on, but he’s happy for the attention. Yes. Right. Fortunately this sort of thing does not reoccur, and near the end of the volume we meet an age-appropriate guy who seems like he’s being set up as Nagare’s love interest.
For a touch of drama, there is a fairly significant subplot about why Nakamura, a stellar student when he’s behaving himself, left one of the top-ranked high schools in the country to come to Kakenishi’s distinctly third-rate institution; neither Kakenishi nor the reader knows what’s going on, and Nakamura is quite definitely not telling. Later in the book, the basketball team from Kakenishi’s school has a match against Nakamura’s old school, and they manage to persuade him to come along as cheerleader. Nakamura, as you may have gathered, wants to always be in control of the situation and hates revealing any weaknesses, but even his consummate acting ability can’t completely hide his anxiety over returning to campus or being recognized by his former classmates, leading up to a cliffhanger at the end of the volume.
Despite this, the series’ primary focus is the rom-com. The US publisher’s page plays up the “forbidden” and “secret” nature of the main’s relationship, by which I’m hoping they’re not referring to the gay; Kakenishi is obviously interested in Nakamura from page one and spends very little time in “but I’m straiiiight” mode. To his credit, he is concerned about the morality of getting involved with a student and a minor, and remains so even as he admits he’s falling for Nakamura. (And from a practical point of view, he’s also afraid he’d be fired if the other teachers discover him in compromising positions with one of his students.) But from the very beginning, his main issue is that he thinks Nakamura is just toying with him; Nakamura does tell him repeatedly that he loves him, but since Nakamura is manipulative to the point of evilness and constantly jerks him around in other ways, it’s reasonable that he would have doubts. The volume ends before we get resolution on this point (or any other point), but I would be very surprised if the author has plans to not have the guys sort everything out and become a couple.
Overall, I quite enjoyed this book. Nakamura’s autocratic self-confidence and relentless aggressiveness is entertaining, and I personally like the gormless “hetare” type; Kakenishi is adorable in his clueless befuddlement. And despite all the comedy shenanigans and Nakamura’s difficult personality (cough), it looks like they will make a good couple once they sort out their various issues. Teacher-student relationships bug me in general, as do age-mismatched relationships, but it helps that Nakamura so obviously has the upper hand, that the book plays everything with a strong comedy touch, and also that the series is such blatant wish-fulfillment: yes, otaku-dudes, it doesn’t matter what a gormless loser you are, someday you too can meet some hot crossdressing jailbait who will pour himself into your lap and demand sexytimes! (Incidentally, Nakamura seems to be about 17, which would make him legal in my area.) In addition, I find the sort of shameless pandering this book indulges in amusing even when it’s too over-the-top to be sexy.
Tachibana’s art is mediocre; faces are expressive but draftsmanship is wobbly and the characters go off model constantly (in particular, Nakamura’s hair-flip is sometimes incompatible with the size and shape of the normal human skull). In the author’s notes the author mentions that it is their first series, and looking at some of their more recent stuff they’ve improved considerably. Project-H’s presentation is nice, with four color pages and a pretty good translation, although there is a completely clueless ad in the back that implies that Club For Crossdressers is part of the My Cute Crossdresser series (it’s not even the same author, guys).
The one thing that makes me anxious about this book is that it’s supposed to be a series, and in fact ends on a cliffhanger, but the magazine in which it ran folded a while ago, and I can’t find any suggestions of a volume 2 in Japanese even though V1 is over two years old. The author did post a tweet about a year ago which, as far as my ability to hack bits of meaning out of Google Translate goes, indicates that they were hoping to release new material soon (if you are interested in checking out the rest of their Twitter stream, be warned that it frequently contains NSFW images). Hopefully this material will in fact eventuate, and will be translated; considering how little of this kind of work there is in English, it would be a pain for it to be unfinished.
So if you like cute crossdressing boys in fanservicey situations, or if you just want to see what it looks like when male-oriented fanservice tropes get applied to a male body, and you don’t absolutely require porn, this isn’t a bad place to start. It may not be the most polished example of the genre, but it will definitely fulfill your minimum daily requirement of scantily-clad boybits.
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.
Tsuritama (12 episodes, 2012, Studio: A-1 Pictures, Director: Kenji Nakamura, aired on noitamina).
Tsuritama (which as far as I can tell translates roughly as “fishing ball”) is a goofy sci-fi fishing comedy from a couple of years back, which I have wanted to watch for a while but just now managed to finish (I’m not much of a video person, although that seems to be changing now that I have an iPad…). It’s available streaming on Crunchyroll (free with ads, or ad-less by subscription), and has a physical release from Sentai complete with dub (although I can’t imagine that it sold well enough to justify a dub – which is an indictment of the US anime market, not of the series).
Red-headed high school boy Yuki has had to transfer schools often due to his grandmother’s career (which is never specified but appears to involve gardening). This has left him with severe social anxiety, which he experiences as drowning in a spontaneously-generated pool of water but which everyone else sees as him making scary faces.
As the story opens, Yuki and Grandma are in the process of moving to the small island of Enoshima. (Which is a real place; most of the landmarks featured in the series actually exist.) Also just-arrived (via train – or maybe not) is a super-genki blond cutie with a mind-control squirt gun and a talking goldfish that calls him Nii-san.* (Apparently, Haru speaks weird Japanese, but the Crunchyroll subtitles do not attempt to replicate this, which is probably for the best).
Cutie spots Yuki’s car passing by and is instantly mesmerized; he tracks down the house they’ve moved into (by telepathy or something, since they’ve been there all of 30 minutes), adds his name to the nameplate with a magic marker, and chirpily announces that his name is Haru, he’s an alien, and he’s going to live there. (Grandma is, amazingly enough, totally cool with this.)
Immediately afterwards, Haru shows up at Yuki’s high school with a fishing pole, insists that Yuki has to go fishing with him in order to save the world, and mind-control-squirts a grumpy classmate, Natsuki, into teaching them to fish. And there’s a turbaned guy with a pet duck and a personal SWAT team watching mysteriously from afar.
That’s just episode 1. It gets weirder.
It’s immediately clear that one of the main plot threads of Tsuritama is going to be Yuki and Natsuki learning to unbend and make friends with the aid of their own personal magical pixie dream boy.** It is also very quickly apparent that there is going to be A LOT of detailed information about fishing, from how to tie on a lure to what to do when you’ve hooked a tuna that’s stronger than you are. And for a while, Tsuritama is indeed all about fishing and friend-making and Haru’s indomitable genki-ness, with the weird burbling along happily in the background. Around the halfway point, though, the weird takes over: mass-hysteria goofy dances, Bermuda Triangle phenomena, a shady paramilitary organization in yellow rubber bunny suits, sightseeing aliens, and, yes, saving the world (or at least Enoshima) by going fishing.
If you prefer fiction where everything wraps up neatly and all is explained, Tsuritama is not for you. If, on the other hand, you are comfortable with a certain amount of nuttery and dream logic, it’s a fun little series. The gently absurdist humor comes with a side of adolescent male bonding, family problems, lots of fishing, and in the late episodes some fairly heavy drama, although it’s not likely that a series starring a glomp-happy fish boy is going to end in tragedy. It’s got cute boys, an ED that looks made from a calico quilt, and a well-endowed secondary character in a bikini top (in case you can’t watch an anime without boobies). The story moves along nicely in both the slice-of-life and the sci-fi drama segments, although, even allowing for the sci-fi comedy aspect, there are some obvious plot holes (the biggest of which is what is Grandma doing that lets them afford a house that nice? I want that house.).
Visually, Tsuritama looks great, with clean lines, swirling schools of fish, and candy-colored backgrounds heavily indebted to the Photoshop posterize filter (although this style is notably more successful on cityscapes and flower gardens than on low-contrast domestic interiors). The animation is mostly smooth, although towards the middle the budget starts to run low and there’s some reused sequences and off-model moments. And the shy alien boy that shows up at the very end is super-cute.
So if you enjoy brightly colored eccentricity and/or detailed descriptions of fishing, check out the first episode and see if its brand of genki fishy nuttery appeals to you. (And if you do watch the whole thing, make sure to watch the bit after the credits in the last episode.)
**Despite the fact that Haru is totally uke, there is no BL in this series. Although he does hang off of Yuki enough that there is room for rotten interpretations. (I would offer to bet my lunch money that there are doujinshi out there, but that’s a safe bet for nearly anything with more than one guy in it, so I won’t bother.) Back
I’m pleased that initiatives like DMP’s Digital Manga Guild exist to help bring over some less-commercial manga. Unfortunately, Japan isn’t completely up on the concept of digital, and so digital manga is subject to some weird restrictions that don’t make any sense, like going out of “print”. Today I’ll look at some digital-only releases which aren’t being released anymore (TL;DR: you didn’t miss much), but are mildly interesting for other reasons.
All of these titles were serialized on the web in Japan, rather than in a traditional magazine (so they’re digital x2). This is still quite unusual in Japanese publishing (cellphone manga is fairly successful financially but it leans heavily towards porn and webcomic-ish stuff), and it’s kind of interesting to see what kind of material publishers think will work in this model. The web-magazine in question, COMIC CYUTT, is described as targeting “females in their teens to twenties”, so they might be considered josei, but DMG has them as shoujo so I’ll stick with that. There once were six manga from this imprint on eManga, but apparently PAPYLESS and/or Media Factory (who jointly run COMIC CYUTT) decided to pull their titles after about a year (not making enough money? change in direction? disagreements with DMP?). (Incidentally, PAPYLESS also runs Renta!, which has all kinds of hilariously trashy cell-phone and digital-first manga in English, including lots of “Teens’ Love”, AKA het josei smut.)
I bought all six before they went offline, so as a peek into Japan’s digital publishing efforts and a memorialization of the fallen, here’s the first three I looked at:
Seiwa High School Bento Club!, art by Umitamako, Script Advisement by Yuhmi Yamada (Seiwa Gakuen Bentou Bu!, originally serialized in Comic Cyutt. Comic Cyutt edition 2011; Digital Manga Guild edition, 2013)
As a child, our heroine Sayoko was adopted into a large but poor family that never has enough to eat. In order to leave food for her siblings, she eats only the minimum at home, which is a problem for her because she has a ravenous appetite. Furthermore, her high school has a culinary-school track that she was unable to get into, so she’s tortured by the delicious smells coming from the cooking classes. But fortunately she soon has a run-in with the school’s Bento (lunchbox) Club, composed of four of the school’s best cooks, who, in an amazing and totally unexpected plot twist, are all hot guys (one of whom occasionally crossdresses, because shoujo). Impressed by her ability to detect subtle flavors and appreciate the fine nuances of their cuisine even while plowing through immense quantities of food at lightning speed, she becomes sort of an honorary member (even though she can’t cook at all), in charge of taste-testing, critique, and making sure there are no leftovers.
The manga does not have nearly as much food-porn as it initially appears that it will; most of it is split between exploration of the various guys’ family problems, and their rivalry with the equally hot and talented but much jerk-ier men of Ike Culinary School’s Epicurean Club, which is the top pick for the annual national Box Lunch competition that the Bento Club is also competing in. (In the manga’s one best joke, the Ike group dubs their bento “Ike-Ben”, which is a pun on ikemen, “hot guy”.) Of course, although the Epicurean Club’s haute-Japanese cuisine is amazing, our protagonists come to realize that traditional home cooking is the best.
The manga ends very abruptly, just as the bento competition reaches its final round. Either the mangaka was unable to get the story to fit into the space allotted, even with the help of a “script advisor”, or the series was cancelled without the usual grace of a chapter or two to wrap it up. It’s somewhat unsatisfying not to find out whether the Seiwa gang won, although Sayoko does manage to get off the obligatory “making food that ordinary people can appreciate is the most important thing!” speech in the final pages.
The art is decent, but with some issues about faces, especially eyes, and the translation is slightly awkward in spots. There’s not enough focus on the food to make this a satisfying foodie manga, and the other plot elements are a little too generic. Add in the abrupt ending, and I couldn’t recommend it even if you could still get it.
Pandra Restaurant!, by Riri Sagara (Pandra Restaurant!, originally serialized in Comic Cyutt. Comic Cyutt edition 2010; Digital Manga Guild edition, 2014)
The title is weird: “Pandra” is quite obviously supposed to be “Pandora”. Whoever on the Japanese end romanized it needs a good talking-to and maybe an unabridged English dictionary.
This is an example of one of the stranger fads in Japanese pop culture over the last few years: stories about anthropomorphized random stuff. In this case, kitchen implements. That look like cute guys.
The main character is Manaita (“cutting board”), a plastic cutting board who has been hired at a small restaurant; it’s his first job, so he’s nervous, especially about how he’s going to get along with the knife. Unfortunately for him, knife-guy is bad-tempered, sadistic, and looks down on plastic cutting boards (who he regards as much inferior to wooden cutting boards). The rest of the cast doesn’t get along very well either; frying-pan is constantly bickering with spatula, everyone picks on saucepan because he’s a simple traditional style, and only sponge is capable of keeping the others in line (by threatening not to clean them).
The chapters are divided into episodes so short that it feels like a 4-koma manga even though it’s not. Most of the stories revolve around sitcom personality differences and arguments, and the utensils’ resentment of the stylish bishounen tableware (who need to look good because they interact with the customers), but some do trade on the kitchen-utensil premise, with predictably odd results. There’s almost no BL elements, even though the utensil-pairing setup would seem to be ideal for it, but there is a random episode of crossdressing, because shoujo.
The translation is pretty clunky, to the point where it’s sometimes not clear what’s going on (frying pan is steel and consequently needs to “collect oil” before cooking… is that a reference to frying in more oil because he’s not nonstick? or needing to be seasoned???). The art is decent and the guys are reasonably good-looking if you can get past the hair-wings on a couple of them, but the stories are mostly lightweight, kind of silly, and/or strange. I suspect it worked better in small doses mixed with other things, as it probably was when serialized, rather than all in a lump as it is here. Also, the English logo does not preserve the adorable crossed-fork-and-exclamation-point of the Japanese logo.
Welcome to Nyan Cafe!, by Kira Nakamura (Nyan Cafe e Youkoso!, originally serialized in Comic Cyutt. Comic Cyutt edition 2010; Digital Manga Guild edition, 2014)
Welcome to Nyan Cafe! is a 4-koma about four anthropomorphic cats that work in a cat café, although as one of the characters notes it’s really more like a host club, since the female clients see the cats as cute catboys just like the reader does. The protagonist is a young abandoned cat that has been adopted by the café; initially nameless, he’s dubbed Shiro (“white”) by his co-workers (each of which represents a different cat breed).
As a 4-koma, it’s made up of many short stories, most only a few pages long. Some of the stories make use of the anthropomorphic-cat premise (paper bags are the best thing ever!), and many revolve around Shiro’s childish innocence and lack of experience with the world, but most of it is pretty much the same very mild character-interaction sitcom as any moe 4-koma, except instead of “cute girls eating pudding” it’s “cute catboys eating pudding” (or accidentally getting drunk on catnip, as the case may be). There’s some BL tease (mostly in the form of the older cats sexually harassing each other) and some mild fanservice; be warned that the protagonist is even more shotabait than he looks on the cover, so if you don’t want to see the occasional nekkid underage catboy butt you might want to give this one a miss. There’s also a couple of doses of crossdressing, because shoujo.
The art is polished if fairly generic, the catboys are cute, and the translation is decent, but unless you’re really into catboys, 4-koma, or the low-key nothing-happening-ness of this kind of story, you don’t need to stay up at night fretting over missing it. And I never did figure out whether the café’s human owner is supposed to be male or female.
So what can we conclude from this about Japanese web-first manga (or at least Comic Cyutt web-first manga)? These three works seem to favor episodic stories with lots of cute boys and a touch of crossdressing (Comic Cyutt knows its audience), but not all that much substance. I’ve still got the other three eManga releases to work through, and Renta! has a couple more Comic Cyutt titles available on their site, so we’ll see if these generalizations hold up.