I started volunteering at Quatrefoil Library today. They have a gigantic yaoi collection and I’m going to attempt to read it ALL. (If you’re local, you should really check out the library’s holdings!)
This first run I took out seven manga. I just grabbed random ones that looked like they might be story collections/one-shots.
So, first up… La Vie en Rose.
I think my favorite thing about this manga are the comments it garnered on Mangagogo, which included, “Don’t understand a sh*t lol,” “nice art, but i have no idea what was going on in the stories…,” and “WHAT WAS THAT?”
Yeah, that’s pretty much my take, as well. The back cover copy is a lie. It reads:
La Vie en Rose is a compilation of seven short stories by famed creator Sakurako Yamada. A romance novelist’s newest publication finds his work at the top of the best seller charts. But when asked about his inspiration, he finds it difficult to explain that the story is about his best friend! A high school student finds his two childhood friends drifting away from him. Has the trio simply grown apart? Or have his friends become best friends with added benefits?
I mean, yes, La Vie en Rose is a compilation of shorts by Sakurako Yamada. That part is true.
High school friends…. drifting apart? Sure, I guess that’s what the last bits are about but we don’t find that out that the trio used to be high school besties until the penultimate chapter. More on that in a bit.
However, the novelist in the first story, Fujimori is actually experiencing writers’ block, a kind that is actually very typical of first-time novelists, which is really kind of a performance anxiety. Turns out, his first novel was a success because he based his straight romance on a fantasy, wherein he was his best friend’s girlfriend. I think the thing I liked about that story was that Yoshizumi, the best friend, has a very real-to-life moment after we finally build-up to Fujimori’s awkward, tearful love confession, in which he basically says, “Dude, I knew you were gay since grade school.”
This is me, ever single time I came out. I’d be all shaking and nervous and blurt out something awkward, and everyone would just be like, “Lyda. For god’s sake, tell us something we DON’T know.”
I was a lot like Fujimori all, “HOW CAN YOU HAVE KNOWN WHEN I DIDN’T??!”
So, that part was refreshing and one of the gay-er moments I’ve seen in yaoi.
But, back to the story at hand (as it were.) I think one of the reasons that the Mangagogo commenters are all, “WUT?” is because the story continually hives off to follow side characters. The first side character we see is a random, school-aged fan of Fujimori’s. Apparently one of the ways Fujimori’s BFF might have figured out that that he was gay is the fact that he’s a regular at a gay bar. So, this young fan starts hanging around the self-same bar, hoping to
stalk run-in to his authorial hero.
I’m not sure young fan ever gets a name, but his story involves kind of sort of figuring out the bar is SUPER gay when he’s accosted by skeevy customer who just happens to be skulking around outside looking for cuties to come-on to. Customer has a loose sense of consent so handsome barkeep Shiraishi-san intercedes. Drunk/skeeve is all, “Okay, I’ll let the kid go, but I’m super horny so you have to give me a deep, intimate kiss.”
I’m honestly not sure why Shiraishi doesn’t just take the boy under his wing and walk away, but he goes for the skank kiss. This turns on little fanboy. He really wants to know about this whole lovers thing! But, then everyone is surprised by the sudden, random return of Fujimori. Fanboy runs off in embarrassment and they figure that’s the last they’ll see of him, but he comes back to check into see if he can come back to the bar once he’s old enough.
The answer is kind of cute:
Next chapter, we continue at the bar, but follow a DIFFERENT hot young boy who is pursued by a different skeevy manwhore. (You see the potential for confusion?) This older predator is Shinoda, a bisexual who literally can not keep it in his pants. Like, he’s so hot to trot, he keeps taking hot barstool cutie to the toilet for quickies and his poor buddy handsome barman Shiraishi keeps having to kick them out. Creepy bathroom sex seems to be warming to a potential save from Shiraishi. Like, Shiraishi clearly is fond of barstool cutie, and the reader starts to think, “Huh, maybe, Shiraishi will decide he’s had enough of this exploitative bathroom nookie and he’ll rescue barstool cutie and they’ll fall in love and…”
Except, next time Shiraishi breaks up the nookie, he ends up being taunted into watching. He barely seems interested, gazing on with a deadness in his eyes….
And then he joins in molesting this boy.
Most of the commenters at Mangagogo who liked this manga at all, really, REALLY wanted more of this particular chapter because it is, by far, the dirtiest.
The fourth chapter is the most confusing because it introduces the idea that Shiraishi, Shinoda, and Abe (another bartender we’ve seen in the background) are all childhood friends who have been having various amounts of angst-y lusty feeling towards each other. The fifth chapter, in fact, is a full-on flashback to their high school days and how Shinoda’s bisexuality nearly broke them all up. (Damn bisexuals. Always wrecking Teh Gay. *TEASE*)
The “After”/final chapter awkwardly hooks up Shiraishi and Abe, which we find out in the mangaka’s omake afterward, were fan favorites.
The problem with this manga, for me, is that it COMPLETELY lacks of feels and yet isn’t nearly smutty enough to make the utter lack of any emotional connections worthwhile. I mean, if the mangaka just wanted to showcase a bunch of smutty hook-ups that happen in and around a gay bar, she should have just gone for it, full-on porn. Instead, it was just sort of an emotionless blur of people I never really cared for having a minimum amount of sexy-times.
I noticed on Baka-Updates that one of the tags was “Manly Gay Couple” which, at first, I found kind of baffling as all the men in this are as bishie as the next manga. But, I think that ‘manly’ here is actually code for ‘cold and empty inside.’
I think it’s telling that Yamada-sensei seems to be mostly known for her work as a doujinshi mangaka. Her art is strong, but her characterization… ? She doesn’t seem to have a huge number of original pieces. (Unless I’m misreading, this might be her only one.)
I don’t think this manga quite deserves a complete “WHAT??!!” but it’s no Blood Bank.