Right now, in my Amazon cart are the next three volumes of Border. I am seriously considering purchasing the official English-langague publication of this, it’s that good.
What do I like about Border so much?
The things that this hits for me, include, but are not limited to:
- Decent to good art.
- A storyline where queerness matters and is not just window-dressing.
- An ensemble cast of characters, which includes hot straight guys and well-characterized women.
- ACTION. Well-drawn action and adventure, for real. Like, holy sh*t, this could be one of my favorite shounen fighting manga except it’s SUPER-QUEER which makes it seventeen thousand times BETTER!!!!
- Good storytelling. Like, I actually enjoyed the adventure part of this action-adventure and would have read it without the promise of hot gay sex, BUT I ACTUALLY GOT TO HAVE EVERYTHING FOR ONCE HOLY CRAP.
The only complaint that a person could have (which I don’t in this case, but I’ll explain later) is that for something marketed as yaoi, there isn’t a huge amount of sexy times. Don’t get me wrong. It’s there. Border starts with a sex scene, but you have to wade through a lot of plot before you get to the next bit of naked.
For me, that lack is made up by the fact 1) the plot is good enough to stand on its own, but also 2) that the main character, Yamato, is man hungry in a way that feels very true to the real gay men I have known in my life. Like, sometimes he’s just like, “I haven’t been laid in a while. See you guys later! I’m going cruising!” Yet, Yamato is deeply admirable. Like, he’s actually a hero I’d want to BE, which is not something I’ve come across all that often in a yaoi. His gayness permeates him–he’s totally the “squad mom” while also being super f*cking bada$$ and very masculine (if pretty).
Yamato is something queer characters hardly ever get to be: out af and legitimate heroes in a story I would read, even if the characters weren’t gay.
So, this is the official set-up:
Yamato runs a detective agency that will use any means to get the job done, no matter how unconventional. His three misfit employees are more than his teammates, they’re his family too.
Wow, that doesn’t sound all that exciting, does it? But, you know, in some ways, yeah, that’s basically it.
It kind of doesn’t surprised me that Kodaka-sensei has written voluminous amounts of doujinshi. Kodaka-sensei’s work reads like someone who is as frustrated as any other manga fan, like myself, who reads a lot of great action adventure stuff and thinks, “THIS WOULD BE SO MUCH BETTER IF EVERYONE WAS GAY! IMMA GO WRITE FAN FIC AND MAKE IT SO.”
Only, Kodaka-sensei lives in Japan, where a person can actually make a living with thoughts like that.
So, here’s our ensemble cast. In the foreground is Yamato Suou. As I mentioned, he’s the team leader. He’s a former U.S. special forces officer turned detective. He mustered out of the army after feeling responsibility for his commanding officer’s death. The dog tags that Yamato wears actually belong to Will, as they became lovers despite the fact that Will was married (separated) and had been telling himself he was a 100% straight. (Turns out, Will was much more bi than he knew!) But, what I LOVED about this tragic backstory is that Yamato was gay from the start. He must have signed up for this unit when he was barely eighteen, but he already knew he was gay, gay, SUPER-gay and no “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was going to change that. His guilt came from thinking that Will still loved his wife and that their relationship constituted cheating (oh, did I mention Yamato was raised Catholic?) and, because, Will ended up saving his life, that maybe Will died doing more for his lover than he would for another teammate.
There’s a moment in the manga where this is all worked out, however. We find out that Will’s wife was already VERY done with Will and that she KNEW the two of them were lovers and thought that was _great_, because, unlike a lot of other women in yaoi, she’s not a horrible person and wanted Will (and Yamato) to be happy.
Did I mention that our squad mom, who is totally the ‘bottom’ in his sexual relationships, and who has a soft spot for smols, is an an INSANELY competent leader and was in the Special Forces??
I am f*cking in love with this man.
The next member of the team also breaks a ton of stereotypes.
Tamaki Shinonome is a pretty hairstylist. Other than his unrequited crush on Yamato, he’s super-duper STRAIGHT.
Tamaki gets the entirety of the second volume to explain this aberration and why Yamato steadfastly refuses to sleep with him. Turns out, in a surprise to no one in the Real World ™, growing up on the streets and being abandoned by your family can leave emotional scars. Tamaki is taken in to the same Catholic orphanage a Yamato, but he’s already seen some sh*t and he can never quite adjust to ‘normal’ life. He’s got a kind of attachment disorder that makes him super needy and to imagine any kind of ‘no’ as a complete rejection.
To be fair, Yamato isn’t in a whole lot of better shape. He joined the Special Forces because, if he died, which he fully expected to, the pay-out to the designated beneficiary–in his case the Catholic orphanage–would be a ton of money.
In Tamaki’s case, this caused him to run away from the orphanage, join a gang, and end up in an even worse situation with a man who abused him horrifically because Tamaki would literally do anything for praise and affection.
We find all this out because the detective agency is hired when Tamaki’s abuser resurfaces, and so the team has to rally together to help Tamaki face his old ghosts and put some of his past behind him. Part of Tamaki’s constant attempts to get Yamato into bed are entirely wrapped up in the fact that Yamato takes his job as squad mom/older orphanage brother seriously and has remained steadfast in his unconditional love for Tamaki. He rescued him the first time, and when Tamaki gets in trouble again, is there for him again.
There’s a scene where Yamato gets fed up with all of Tamaki’s teasing and says, “Really, is it lust? Do you even know what guys do together?” And Tamaki looks genuinely…
Though, this seems to backfire, because then Tamaki is like, “Fine. You won’t let me do you until I’ve done other men. I’m going to go be the gayest guy around!”
We’ll see how that works out if I end up buying the rest of the volumes of this.
Then we have Sougo Kitaouji, another hopelessly straight guy (or…. is he?? Extra chapters/omake suggests more flexibility than Yamato realizes.) He’s the only one of the team, so far as I can tell from where the story stopped being scanlated, who is NOT from the orphanage. Sougo and Yamato seem to have met at a karate dojo–and high school? For sure the one, the other isn’t as clear.
Sougo is, physically, “the tank,” if you know your gamer jargon. He’s also the most level-headed, stoic one of the group.
In the omake where the entire crew decides to follow Yamato to his favorite gay bar, that all the men there dream about:
Also, if Yamato has a crush on any of the guys on his team, it’s Sougo.
He’s kind of my type, so I get it.
But, the scanlation stops on what it obviously his backstory chapter, so he will remain a mystery unless I shell out hard earned cash to find out what happens next.
The final member of the team is Kippei Yaotome. Kippei is the resident “guy in the chair”/computer genius/hacker. His backstory is the subject of the third volume and is the only “mission” that Yamato’s team goes on that even vaguely seems like the sort of thing a private eye/detective would actually be hired to do. Kippei ends up being the ‘lost’ son of a dying millionaire, who never knew his true family because his mom was the millionaire’s secret lover.
Kippei is the team member that most draws out Yamato’s mom side, though he mothers everyone. But, Kippei is young and cute and fairly innocent.
One of the things I like about all the guys in Border is that they are physically affectionate with one-another. Occasionally, everyone all sleeps in the same bed together, platonically, because it’s an orphanage comfort thing. Kodaka-sensei never forgets that these men were all damaged by their past and that they have these rituals that have helped them cope.
There’s also a whole lot of emphasis on a theme that I adore, which is ‘made’ families. I adore storylines that underscore the idea that the blood of the covenant is thicker than than water of the womb, ie, that families are not made in the womb, but by people coming together and MAKING it work, putting _in_ the work to make a family.
I’ve probably talked too much about this one, but I really loved it.
Now I just have to go break open my piggy bank and see how much is in there…