Manga Friday: Sex Yet Again
Where I live – darkest New Jersey – it’s been cold and snowy and cold (did I mention the cold?) for the past week, causing us all to huddle closer for warmth. Add to that the season of closeness and love towards all…and the minds of some of us turn towards more earthy pursuits, such as those examined in the three books this week.
Object of Desire
By Tomoko Noguchi
Luv Luv/Aurora, December 2008, $10.95
Object of Desire comes from the redikomi side – it’s a collection of manga stories by a woman for an audience of women, and all about young women (they seem to be highschoolers, from internal evidence) in their first, or very early affairs of love and sex. There are six stories here, each somewhere from twenty-four to forty-something pages – so they’re of roughly equal weight, unlike the similar manga collections that have one long story and one or two much shorter ones.
(The publisher’s description obscures this, focusing only on the title story – perhaps the old truism in prose publishing that a novel always outsells a book of short fiction is also true of manga?)
“Object of Desire” is narrated by an attractive young woman – so attractive, in fact, that young men routinely date her once or twice and lie outrageously just to have sex with her. (There’s a pretty casual hook-up culture going on here, obviously.) She doesn’t mind, exactly – sex is nice – but she does wish there was some way to find a “nice guy.” But then a boy with a different, blunter approach comes along, and a relationship – unconventional, perhaps, but certainly longer-lasting blossoms.
“Lovey-Dovey” is notable for a redikomi story by being narrated by a young man: his girlfriend is terribly clingy, sending texts every hour, demanding long replies quickly, and otherwise keeping him on a short leash, in a very, very girly giggly way. (Though we do see from his actions that he should be on a short leash.)
Noguchi’s stories are fairly programmatic, but she tells them in a casual, off hand way that keeps them breezy and fun – the last line of “Lovey-Dovey,” for example, is spoken by a random friend to the hero: “Dude, you text like a pro now.”
The next two stories – “Oil & Water” and “With Lemon” – have the same cast, and center on a young woman called “Stone Cold” because she’s seen as unfeminine and forbidding. It may just be the difference between US and Japanese expectations, but she didn’t seem terribly cold to me – she’s not insanely demonstrative, like so many manga heroines, but she’s nothing I’d call manly. (Who was it that said that when a woman acts like a human being she’s usually accused of trying to be a man? These stories feel a lot like that quote turned into an object lesson.) She eventually works much of the stupidity out of her particular young ma, but it’s not easy.
And then the last two stories have a maid-café waitress with a high-powered boyfriend who takes advantage of her door-mat-ness, and then (for a nice change of pace) a young woman who falls for (and into bed with) the foreign exchange student living with her family, keeps him from straying, and then, finally, realizes that he’s not “the one,” but that he’ll be just fine for as long as he’s around.
Given the True Love Conquers All subtext of many manga for girls, that last story is to be celebrated as a counterweight. And generally Noguchi doesn’t put that much weight onto these relationships – they mostly end up pretty well, but there’s no serious sense that these people will necessarily be together their whole lives. I know romances in the English-speaking world are all about the “Happily Ever After,” but sometimes being happy just for now can be fine – especially if your characters and target audience are still on the low side of twenty.
Noguchi also has a loose, sometimes scratchy line that makes her stories look less worked over than most manga for girls – her stories feel more dashed off, as if they’re effortless or straight out of life. For light sexy entertainments, these are nice stories.
Red Blinds the Foolish
By Est Em
Deux/Aurora, December 2008, $12.95
There’s a quote on the back of this book from someone named Matt Thorn, comparing Est Em to Ursula K. Le Guin, calling her “a gifted storyteller who happens to tell stories about men in love.” Thorn claims a lot for Est Em, but it’s not unjustified – the five stories here (the three-part title story, a short sidebar to that, and three other short yaoi tales) completely avoid the usual yaoi clichés. These are all stories of men in love (or at least lust) with each other, but they’re not the standard pretty boy/bad boy pairing, and they don’t all even manage to fall into bed with each other.
These are subtle stories about men in love with men – the long title story is the most obviously yaoi, but the collection moves farther and farther away from that standard territory as it goes, ending with a story that’s about gay men, but not really a simple love story, and certainly not the stereotypical yaoi tale of seduction through excessive amounts of alcohol.
I have to admit that yaoi is very far down on the list of things I’d typically read, but Est Em has a scratchy, exceptionally expressive line and a feeling for real characters and settings. (The long title story is particularly steeped in the details and romance of the Spanish bullfighting scene, as it tells the story of an arrogant, bed-hopping – what’s the word for “womanizing” if it’s with men? – young matador and the color-blind butcher who effects him much more than he expects.) If she did something other than yaoi, I’d definitely check it out – she’s a real talent.
Sundome, Vol. 4
By Kazuto Okada
Yen Press, January 2009, $12.99
And then there’s Sundome, a mature-readers manga about high-school passions and frustrations. (I’ve reviewed the first three volumes – one, two, three – and ruminated each time on how US norms mean that darkly realistic stories of adolescent sex and longing are supposed to be kept away from actual teenagers, who’d get the most out of them.)
This is still primarily the story of Hideo Aiba, a Japanese freshman utterly in lust (and probably somewhat in love as well) with Kurumi Sahana, a fellow student who said, when they met, that she would never ever sleep with him, and has since tormented him sexually. (Sometimes seemingly to get him to stand up for himself, sometimes perhaps for her own amusement, and sometimes probably for the needs of the plot.) The rest of the members of their highschool’s “Roman Club” – supposedly for vaguely-defined “romantic” pursuits, but actually about investigating various paranormal phenomena – stay as supporting cast, running around the edges of scenes but not doing much else.
There are ten more “collars” – episodes – in this volume, with such fetish items as a yukata (formal kimono) and Kurumi’s just-worn panties popping up to make Hideo’s life difficult and demeaning. Kurumi’s attitude towards Hideo is getting harder and harder to read; she treats him like a puppy much of the time. I may be getting jaded by their relationship; it doesn’t shock me anymore – as the times Kurumi endangered Hideo’s life in the second volume did – and I still don’t see much hope for them as a couple. I do wonder how much longer this can go on; the story, as I see it, has to end with Kurumi making some utterly final break, probably by leaving town, and Hideo, forever.
Until that point, or until whatever happens, I’ll still keep reading Sundome. It’s creepy and disconcerting, but I can remember feeling like Hideo in my own adolescent days, even if the hyper-stylized manga conventions (such as the way Hideo’s face turns into a tear-streaming mask during moment of high emotion, which are nearly half the pages) annoy and jar me.
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 should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.