Manga Friday: The Naughty Bits
It’s another one of those weeks when I have to shoo the kids away; this time, Manga Friday looks at three books about sex. (This is all fairly mainstream stuff, not hentai and without any tentacles to be seen. But there are still naked body parts doing their thing, however tastefully.)
What we have this time is three views of sex – one a general guide (in fictional form) for the young and inexperience, and two romances of different genres.
Futari H: Manga Sutra, Vol. 1: Flirtation
By Katsu Aki
Tokyopop, January 2008, $19.99
I think of this as just Manga Sutra, but the title on the cover is Futari H Manga Sutra – and, on the first page, there’s the completely different title Step Up Love Story (which also seems to be the title of the related anime series). To avoid confusion, I’ll just call it Manga Sutra, since that’s what everyone has been and will call it.
This is the story of two very, very sheltered newlyweds – Makoto and Yura Onoda – who had a semi-arranged marriage somewhere in Japan at the age of twenty-five, and who seem to have not even seriously dated anyone before they met each other. Their families, though, are heavily populated with horndogs, and Makoto and Yura are the objects of much unwanted advice. They’re virgins – in the most extreme, literal sense of the word – when they marry, and it takes them about a week to manage to consummate their marriage. Even then, the sex isn’t all that good – Yuka is embarrassed by everything and Makoto has a major problem with premature ejaculation.
Speaking of those families…Makoto has a married older brother, Akira, who is insufferable. Yura’s younger sister, Rika, isn’t quite as bad, but she still pops up way too often with advice and sex tips. Makoto’s parents even get into the act in the middle of this book, though thankfully we don’t see them having sex. (Though we do see both Akira and Rika going at it – thankfully, not with each other.)
Manga Sutra is terribly earnest; it wants to teach and to bring happiness. But that makes it pretty lousy as fiction; Makoto and Yura are just stereotypical collections of traits designed to showcase the widest possible collection of hang-ups and sexual problems. It really is a sex manual (and a pretty bland one, aimed at really, really inexperienced people), and the translation either adds another layer of distance to the prose or doesn’t manage to smooth out the clumsy language of the original. All in all, Manga Sutra seems to be aimed at an audience that would be far too embarrassed to even pick it up. (Or maybe I’m just old and jaded.) Oh, and the Japanese mania for "levels" of achievement — previously seen in business titles, martial arts belts and video games — shows up here as well, to the extent that I expected to see Makoto either learning new techniques like Naruto or leveling up after sex like PvP.
By Yutta Narukami
Luv Luv/Aurora, July 2008, $10.95
Now, Pretty Poison is a romance, and has one of the oldest tropes of that very old genre: a girl falls in love with a bad boy, and tries to bring him around.
Riyako is young, perky, clingy, and just a bit dim – she’s been dating Nobuki, whose only redeeming quality (that we see, at least) is that he’s attractive and good in bed. Riyako has fallen hard for him, asking for more time together and wanting to move in with him. So Nobuki, in the best passive-aggressive manner, stages his apartment to make it look like he’s sleeping with another woman, and then pays his friend Shogo seduce Riyako on the rebound.
(Nobuki has done this several times in the past, we hear – that’s vaguely plausible, if a bit weird.)
Riyako, who can do nothing in a small way, becomes obsessed with the sullen, introverted, stalkerish, occasionally violent and undemonstrative Shogo. (Imagine every “bad boy” cliché, add in a few you couldn’t have imagined – like the fact that he refuses to leave Riyako’s apartment – and you’ll have an idea of what this tedious waste of flesh is like.)
Riyako hopes to break through his shell and get him to really love her, so they can settle down and have lots of sex and babies. Does she get her wish? Well, this is a single-volume series, and it is a romance story for women. I’ll let you guess…
(There’s also a shorter story, “Yuji Scores,” to fill out the book. In that, a clingy, immature girl learns that he professional soccer player boyfriend does need her, but he also needs her to grow the hell up.)
I liked Narukami’s art, which has enough tone to add interest and depth without sacrificing clarity. Her lines are also very detailed and confident, and she frames her story well, leaving out backgrounds with abandon for tight, emotional close-ups. But I found her people extremely juvenile, and I kept wishing that they would just grow the hell up. However physically old they are, they don’t seem emotionally mature enough to be having sex and relationships.
Yakuza in Love, Vol. 1
By Shiuko Kano
Deux/Aurora, January 2008, $12.95
And this yaoi story was just weird. Aoi is a young up-and-comer in the Hanagumi crime syndicate. (They’re a Yakuza gang, though the translation uses Mafia terms. They also have the usual likable-fictional-crime-family trait of being against the really unpleasant stuff, like human trafficking, which the bad crime folks want to do.)
Aoi has a scar on his cheek – I’d be more specific, but it moves around a bit – which he apparently got in some childhood accident but which his coworkers think is proof of his bad-assitude. He’s actually a wimp, a lightweight when it comes to drinking, a nearly completely useless screwup, and (important for yaoi) very confused about his own sexuality.
He’s assigned to be the bodyguard of Yuji, an underboss who is just getting out of prison. There’s no actual sex between the two of them in this volume, but the tension – despite the fact that neither man seems to actually be gay, or have any reason to be attracted to the other – gets thicker by the page. Aoi also manages to save Yuji’s life a couple of times, but the scenes are staged in such a way that it was difficult for me to tell what actually happened. (A lot of the book was that way, actually – broad comedy and action sequences alike.)
To be honest, a lot of Yakuza in Love just flew past me, in a blur of metrosexual men dressed really flashily posing at each other with their hair in their eyes. It’s undeniably stylish, and could be just the thing for young women who like looking at pretty men. For me, though, it’s the gay equivalent of “lesbian” porn for men – full of people with sex-signifiers aimed at the opposite sex smoldering at people of the same sex. But I do still love the title.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty 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.