For reasons known only to my twisted, strange brain, I decided to see what other mafia-themed yaoi I could find. To be fair, I also tried to find yuri with mafia or yakuza themes, but I found zilch. Meanwhile, the yakuza is apparently rife with gay men!
Of the ones I found, my favorite was: Heart Strings.
To be fair, Heart Strings had a pretty low bar to clear.
The other gangster-themed yaoi I read was an incest BDSM called Aka no Ori. I don’t like to kink shame anyone and I’ll even admit that the opening had me going, but this story descended into something I wasn’t very comfortable with pretty quickly. Mostly, I didn’t like the plot, which involved an abusive top/older brother who coerces his younger brother into being an assassin for him. (Of course, that didn’t stop me from reading the whole thing. It was a one-shot, at least.) It could have been sexier, and so I kept waiting for it, but the younger brother was pretty wrecked and very weepy/tragic in a non-sexy [for me, at least] way.
After that, Heart Strings was a breath of fresh air.
In “Heart Throb,” the first chapter of Heart Strings starts with a classic a meet cute where Yuki, our hero, a host from a host club is out on an ‘after’ with a regular and spies a friend of his in trouble. He rushes in and breaks up a brawl between rival host club hosts. The club’s boss (and secret underworld figure), Sakaki, steps in to see what’s going on. Yuki is clever and bold and manages to sweet talk himself out of trouble. Sakaki is, of course, deeply charmed by our hero’s spunk.
Sakaki is so impressed, in fact, that he
stalks goes to Yuki’s workplace and ‘orders’ him.
If you don’t know much about Host Clubs, this is a thing. There is a menu of hosts from which you can order. Once you order one, your chosen handsome young man will keep you company, ply you with drinks, light your cigarettes, and generally be entertaining. It’s sexy and flirtatious without the sex, really. Probably, I don’t need to bother with an extensive explanation. Likely, anyone reading this has at least a passing familiarity with Ouran High School Host Club (which is a manga I have never read, though I’ve watched about three episodes of the anime). But, I will point out that, usually, guys don’t go to Host Clubs. Normally, the clientele is female.
So, it causes quite the stir at the host club when this dangerous gentleman comes strolling in and orders up a dude, all unselfconsciously.
Sakaki, being a typical mafioso, is smooth as sin and says he’s there to apologize for the other night. He then lavishes Yuki with a lot of gifts including a ‘champaign call.’ Yuki is starting to find this guy intriguing, especially after the Host Club boss, Rin, warns him off.
You don’t want to get mixed up with that sort, now do you, Yuki?
OH HELL YEAH HE DOES.
But, like, that’s totally gay, isn’t it? Wait, I’m a hot host that all the girls dig. I can’t be gay for a guy, now can I???
Thankfully, Yuki’s ‘oh crap, I think being in love with a guy MIGHT MAKE ME GAY’ panic is fairly brief. I mean, he occasionally thinks things like, ‘oh, shit, is it it totally girly that I just swooned?’ but I found that actually more charming than not, and, at least, Yuki accepts that he’s smitten pretty quickly.
It takes a little doing to get to the first kiss, however. One night, when Yuki is walking home, alone, he gets jumped by that rival host club gang again. He’s a pretty good fighter, but they get the drop on him and he’s injured enough to pass out. When he wakes up next he finds himself–you guessed it!–at Sakaki’s apartment. He’s in a lot of pain, so their first kiss happens under the influence of some painkillers. Of course, Yuki thinks he’s dreamed it…
Can I confess something at this point?
I really liked the plot of Heart Strings.
Like, I didn’t just skim to the sexy parts. I read all the words in-between, too!
I mean, the sex is sexy enough, I guess, but I ended up really pulled along by the various romantic intrigues of the story–is Sakaki a double-crossing player? (Are they ever re-ally, honey?) Will Yuki accept the bribe money from The Family to break up with Sakaki? How will Sakaki confirm that his ‘yakuza wife’ is a trustworthy man? Will Yuki actually wear a black kimono and accept other mafia toughs call him one-chan (big sister) or is that just too much for a man to take?
I really liked that Yuki wasn’t the typical yaoi hero, or, at least, he’s one of the types I prefer–he’s a bit more self-sufficient, can hold his own in a fight (mostly, but his failures are closer to real-life, rather than just fainting wallflower-ness,) and is generally kind of a man’s man, if you will.
What can I say? I’m totally gay. I like romances between adult men. I like both men to be manly, albeit in this pretty boy, bidanshi style.
So, if this sounds like your sort of thing–go for it. I surprised myself by liking the story as much as I did (I even found the little side-character half-chapter short amusing.) My only caveat is the sex… there just isn’t that much of it. It’s there, but there are whole chapters without it.
Yeah, so, I really DID read it for the plot. So there!
Oh, and another caveat? For some unknown reason this manga is FULL of shoujo flowers. They’re everywhere, and almost as distracting and consent as the boobies of ecchi, but, unlike the boobs, I stopped noticing the flowers after awhile. I did remind me of that scene in Monthly Girl’s Nozaki-kun where we find out that one of the only talents that one of the side characters has is drawing the shoujo roses.
Clearly, Akira Norikazu wanted to showcase this skill set she has.