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.
For Valentine’s Day (sorta) I talked about how much I love ukes. In honor of White Day Weekend (because anything non-work-related that falls on a workday is not happening for me), I’m going to talk about female manga characters that I particularly love.
This won’t take long, because there’s only two of them. Considering how much shoujo is out there, that’s kind of a pain, but you take what you can get.
There’s a ton of shoujo heroines that I like, that I sympathize with, that I want to see succeed and be happy, but there’s very few that I can relate to in terms of who I am, who I would like to be, or even who I’d like to fantasize about being. I’ve immensely enjoyed stories about petite girly girls, lovable idiots, and sweet but clueless girls who try really hard, and I’m sure lots of readers relate to all that, but my self-image always revolved around being tall, smart, self-reliant, not particularly feminine, and tall (I’m 5’10”, which makes me officially half an inch taller than the average American man). Even when there is a series where the female lead is tall, academically successful, and strong-minded, I tend to relate more to the traits ascribed to the male love interest, which is not necessarily the point of view I want to read from.
There are plenty of shoujo stories about tall, cool-looking girls, but the leads tend to be unhappy about their freakish height and lack of femininity, and spend many pages angsting over not being able to be cute and girly and wear frilly dresses. Many of them end up getting makeover plots, where the lead meets some cooler, taller guys (it’s usually guys) who teach her how to be cute and girly and wear frilly dresses. I don’t relate to that at all. I want tall, cool-looking girls who are actually cool, confident in themselves, and know what they want. (And not in a yuri series, thanks.) So far I’ve found two. And neither is a protagonist, dammit.
Hikari from Train★Train (Eiki Eiki, English edition DMP 2005)
The main character of Train★Train is trainee railroad employee Asahi, a cute little tidbit who might as well have “uke” stamped on his forehead. He gets assigned to Minami Kitazawa Station, which turns out to be staffed almost entirely by hot guys, two of whom immediately hit on him. When he accuses them of being gay, they deny it, which turns out to be God’s Own Truth; Hokuto is bi, and Hikari is straight – and a girl.
Although Hikari is just one member of an ensemble-cast sitcom, there’s enough room over Train★Train’s three volumes for her to be awesome; she defends Asahi from a violent customer, rescues a kid who fell onto the tracks, and makes all the fangirls who hang around the station swoon with her suave prettyboy looks. One of the things I really like about Hikari is that she is completely comfortable with herself; she prefers to wear pants, she likes being cool and otokoyaku-butchy, and if everyone mistakes her for a guy, that’s their problem, not hers.
One of the other things I really like about Hikari is that she knows what she wants: Asahi on a plate. She takes every opportunity to glomp and / or snuggle him, and constantly suggests that he become her “wife” (to his annoyance). It’s very refreshing after all the timid-girl-pursued-by-agressive-guy stories you encounter in shoujo.
There’s also a great storyline towards the end of the series in which lays the smackdown on a sexist coworker, and beats him at everything, including being a hot guy. (After getting his ass kicked the dude totally falls in love with her, of course, but she’s not having any.)
Hikari also has a cameo (along with the rest of the cast) in a side-story crossover with Mikiyo Tsuda’s Princess•Princess manga, in which she and Hokuto hit on the pretty femmy stars of same. (Because pretty femmy guys are the shiznit. Mmm.)
I could talk about Hikari all day (~heart~), but I need to finish some experiments and then go home and make dinner, so let’s move on.
Ai from Ai Ore! (Mayu Shinjo, English edition Viz 2011-2013)
Despite her name, Ai is not the star of Ai Ore!, more’s the pity. The leads are Mizuki, a tall, cool girl who looks like a hot guy, and Akira, a petite, big-eyed boy who looks like a cute girl. Unfortunately, it’s by Mayu Shinjo, so all the potential of this premise is completely wasted: Mizuki is an insecure wimp who angsts constantly over whether Akira can really like her when she’s all tall and butch and unfeminine, whereas Akira, despite being an adorable little thing who looks great in a frilly dress, is a typical Mayu Shinjo domineering alpha male. In pretty much every volume of this mess I wished that Ai was actually the heroine, because Ai is great (although I could live without the punk-rock mullet). Alas, Ai is merely one of Mizuki’s friends and bandmates and she has the bittiest of bit parts, mostly limited to snarky comic relief and perving over Akira.
Great moments in Ai-ness:
As with Hikari, I love Ai for being tall and unfeminine and totally owning it, and for being clearheaded and direct about what she wants (Akira naked). She’s pretty much the complete opposite of dithery idiot Mizuki. There’s totally not enough Ai in Ai Ore! (her screentime drops like a rock in the second half), but what there is is great. And she has sexy little glasses. Win.
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.