Manga Friday: Girls and Boys, Boys and Boys
This week’s "Manga Friday" features titles from two Aurora imprints that are for adults only. I’ll try to keep the review itself safe for somewhat younger readers, but, if you’re twelve or so, picture me shaking my finger sternly at you and saying you should move on to something more age-appropriate.
Next week should see Manga Friday return to a variety mix, so you kids can come back then.
Most of the manga that get translated for the US market are either shonen (boys’ comics, like Naruto and Bleach) or shojo (girls’ comics, like Fruits Basket) – stories for tweens and young teens, mostly. (That’s the biggest audience for manga in Japan, too, so there’s more of those kinds of stories to translate to begin with.)
But there are also seinen (stories for “men” – mostly in their twenties – like Lone Wolf and Cub) and, the smallest subset, josei (stories for adult women). The books this week are all josei, roughly the Japanese comics equivalent of American romance novels.
(My initial plan was to review two redikomi – books about boy-girl romances, with some tasteful sex – and then two yaoi – boy-boy romance stories for a female audience. But I only managed to get through one yaoi book, so there are only three reviews here this week.)
Love for Dessert
By Hana Aoi
Aurora/Luv Luv, May 2008, $10.95
Love for Dessert has six stories, all with a (sometimes very loose) food theme – the title story sets the tone. Koyama is a young woman who’s just gotten a full-time job at a big ad agency, working for a tough young boss, Kuze.
She’s also been befriended by “Morimoto from Sales,” who indulges her sweet tooth, and eventually (once the big rush job, which has been causing agida and getting Koyama behind, even after lots and lots of overtime, is done) gets her drunk and tries to seduce her.
But, once they get to the hotel, she runs back to the office to find Kuze there…and realize she really loves him. (And, since this is a redikomi, they then have sex, which involves some whipped cream as well.) And that’s the happy ending.
The other five stories are similar – sometimes there are the romance-story standard two men (one good, one bad), and sometimes there’s just one man. As I said, the sex is tastefully done – Japan still has strict censorship laws, for one thing – but you can generally tell what’s happening, and so it’s a bit like the comics equivalent of soft-core porn.
The stories are short, and a bit telegraphic – the characters have to talk through their emotions and relationship to get through the whole arc of the story in the thirty-five pages or so, so they talk and think in exposition a whole lot of the time. That also makes the characters, particularly the heroines, seem very young, but I think that’s just an artifact of the style – they’re all clearly adults.
By Mitsuki Oda
Aurora/Luv Luv, April 2008, $10.95
And Real Love is exceptionally similar to Love for Dessert, even though it’s by a different creator. It has the long title story – in three parts, for a total of about a hundred and thirty pages – and two shorter stories. Oda’s art style also looks very much like Aoi’s – a simplified, clean-line version of the standard shojo art, with big eyes but not a lot of frippery.
But “Real Love,” since it does have more space, is a more fully realized story than the pieces in Love for Dessert. Sure, it’s still about the travails of a girl whose twin brother is cock-blocking her from the love of her life because he (the brother) is impotent – and they all still have to talk through all of that – but they don’t just run straight through all of their problems in a marathon conversation. (There’s time to run crying from the room several times, for example.)
I liked but didn’t love Love for Dessert and Real Love – and I definitely felt self-conscious reading them on my NJ Transit train – but they’re light, sexy romance stories, and I bet women (particularly young women) will enjoy them even more than I did.
Kiss All the Boys, Vol. 1
By Shiuko Kano
Aurora/Deux, April 2008, $12.95
And speaking of things that were embarrassing to read on the train…
Kiss All the Boys is a three-volume series; I read the first volume. Again, this is yaoi, so it’s a gay love story written for young Japanese women who probably don’t know any gay men. (And so it bears about the same relationship to actual gay life – in Japan or anywhere else – as all those lipstick lesbian movies I used to notice in Times Square shop windows do to real lesbian life.)
Our hero is Tetsuo, a man in his early thirties who scripts porn comics (straight ones) and who has just had his fifteen-year-old son Haruka dumped on him when Haruka’s mother gets a new job in Tokyo. By the way, Haruka is gay – flamingly gay, which annoys and disconcerts Tetsuo. And Tetsuo has been impotent for some time – those of us who know that we’re reading a yaoi story can guess why, but he’s clueless.
Kiss All the Boys is a comedy, rather than a sensitive coming-out story, so Haruka’s presence doesn’t lead Tetsuo to question his sexuality and, slowly, eventually, come to identify as gay and find happiness.
No, instead, through the usual odd chain of events, Tetsuo manually stimulates an attractive (male, of course) neighbor in a porn theater, and later falls into bed with that same neighbor. And then he, and the rest of the cast, run around madly, denying, explaining, and justifying while slamming doors like a French farce.
It is pretty funny, and Kano draws attractive men – in that “dreamy” Japanese style where their masculinity is mostly a few extra inches of height and a certain angularity of the face. I couldn’t entirely unbend and enjoy it – I was reading it on a train, after all – but people less uptight than me (and here I should say again: mostly women) will find Kiss All the Boys a hoot.
Whew! I think that’s enough explicit sex in my manga for a week or two. Next week, we’ll be back to something more usual. (But, if there are any manga publishers lurking out there, please do contact me – I’m reviewing things from Naruto to yaoi, so I could find a place for your books as well.)
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly 20 years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.