Deadlock by Aida Saki/Takashina Yuu

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Because you know what you want? You want to read about hot gay guys in prison!

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Deadlock is the story of Yuuto Lenex, a former DEA investigator falsely convicted of killing his partner. He’s been sent off to Schelger Prison, where the FBI has cut him a deal: see if you can infiltrate prison culture and find the notorious ‘Corvus.’ All Youuto knows about ‘Corvus’ is that he’s a white guy and has a burn scar on his back.  Meanwhile, Yuuto finds himself inexplicably drawn to his handsome cellmate, Dick Burnford.

Dick.

Yeah, really.

The best part about Dick is that he’s actually gay.  He comes out as a legit gay guy in one of the later chapters, and Yuuto is like, “Should you really admit that here?? IN PRISON?” Meanwhile, I was thinking: “Shouldn’t you go by Richard? I mean maybe? But really? An out gay guy named Dick???”  But, Dick comes out, because Yuuto is wondering why he is treated so kindly by “the sisterhood,” a gang that seems to be comprised of trans women, who have been forced into the male prison system.

Deadlock has these weird moments of psuedo-realism attempts.  Like, not only are there trans women, but race is a huge factor in prison politics.  Even though he’s lily white, Dick is in the cell block that is usually given to mixed race or other racial groups, like Asians, apparently, who don’t make up a significant number of the prison population.

The love story is a slow burn. It’s pretty clear that Yuuto and Dick are destined for one another. I mean just look at this sexy rescue:

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It seems also just as obvious to me that Dick is being set up as a possible “Corvus.” The fact that he’s in the wrong cellblock, gets much more extended pat downs than anyone else, and absolutely every single gang leader is utterly terrified of him… despite him literally doing nothing obvious to deserve this respect… all seem to point to: Dick has a secret.

Alas, the only thing wrong with this yaoi is that I’ve read everything available so far (seven chapters,) and there has been nothing graphic–not even a kiss–despite off-screen gang rapes and the constant threat of rape, in general.

This is a prison yaoi for crying out loud!  I can’t believe nothing has happened on-screen!

Where is the smut???

I mean, I guess the romance is okay.  I find both Yuuto and Dick passably handsome and the plot is interesting enough (although much more plotty than I normally like in yaoi), but I would like some one to get naked, and soon.  I hate to say it, but half of what I’m hoping for in a prison yaoi is, well, you know… all the non-con rape-y stuff, like in Under Grand Hotel.

Ah, well.  If you want prison plot, this may be for you!

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FAKE (Vol. 1) by Matoh Sanami

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I picked up this volume at a garage sale years ago.  It’s been sitting in my pile of manga forever, which is weird because I rarely buy manga that I haven’t already read. Most of the tankōbon that I own are of series that I loved so much I wanted to collect them (in order to re-read) and to support the mangaka (Bleach, Blue Exorcist, Bakuman, Full Metal Alchemist, Gangsta., Samurai Champloo… and I think a few early Attack on Titan. Mason has also picked up random copies of One Piece, Toriko, and Naruto.)  So, that single volume FAKE sitting there among those was an anomaly.  It finally bugged me so much to see it there that I read it.

Perhaps not the best reason to decide to read something, but there you have it.

SPOILERS

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I can NOT stand the art.  I feel like FAKE has the kind of art that gives yaoi a bad name. The eyes are beyond ‘big’ into disproportioned and a little terrifying, and everything is so… wispy that a strong wind could blow the characters right off the page.  I suspect this is a big reason why I had this manga volume in my possession for so long before I pushed through to read it.

To be fair to Matō-sensei, she was drawing in the mid-1990s into the early 2000s, and I think her style reflects her era.

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So… the story.  Our hero Randy McLean, is a rookie cop in the 27th district, New York City, who gets partnered with the brash homicide detective Dee Laytner. As they solve crime, sparks fly and they fall in love.

Of the two of the characters above, which one would you expect to be INSTANTLY RECOGNIZABLE by everyone he meets as ‘half-Japanese.’ Like, literally, someone will see this person and say, “You’re half-Japanese, aren’t you? What’s your Japanese name?” Yeah, the dark-haired one? No, that’s not him. It’s blond one, Randy (Japanese name: Ryo).

That’s the guy everyone instantly pegs specifically as half-Japanese.

Okay, one, Americans are racists, for sure, but I feel like in New York City saying, “Are you half-Japanese?” is not how this would go down, especially since the clue proffered is “Whoa, your eyes are so dark!”  I think what you’d get from people would be both much worse and far less specific.

Let’s just say that “What’s your Japanese name?” is not likely the very next thing out of people’s mouths. (And, seriously, EVERYONE does this to Randy.) So, I found this particularly… well, I’d say ‘jarring’ but I’ve seen this sort of odd take on American racism before in manga (see: Under Grand Hotel) and so, while it was noticeable and a little odd, I mostly rolled with it (because, let’s be honest, it’s far more culturally sensitive than what would probably really happen in America.)

Speaking of jarring, though, I don’t think that Dee waits more than five pages before coming on to Ryo.  I have to admit that with the back cover copy–“Meet Ryo and Dee, two New York City cops with an attraction for action, and for each other! When Ryo, a soft spoken officer, joins the NYPD’s 27th precinct, he’s soon partnered up with Dee’s a cocky, confident cop with attitude to spare.”–I was expecting SLIGHTLY more of a slow burn: more action and then attraction.  I totally expected that the title would be part of story, too.  Like, that they’d have to fake being a gay couple to solve a crime and then fall madly in love for real.

That kind of happens in one scene, but it’s more like that Captain America/Black Widow moment from Captain America: Winter Soldier, where  in order to evade capture by the bad guys they kiss, you know, because people only see ‘kissing’ and not the droids they’re looking for.

And, in this case, double-plus “eewww-DON’T LOOK” because: gay!

I will say for a manga written in the late 1990s, Dee’s casual acceptance of his own bisexuality is sort of refreshing.  At least here, unlike, say, in 10 Dance, the bisexuality isn’t used as a weird sort of ‘no homo.’ In fact, at one point, one of Dee’s ex-paramours JJ shows up and causes some friction because, despite all the kissy-kissy and the sort of mostly living together, Ryo has not accepted his feels for Dee.

That’s not to say that bisexuality perfectly handled here, however. There’s a very creepy  ‘I’d totally hit that in ten years’ line from Dee, when talking about Carol, a prepubescent/teenage street girl that Ryo has semi-adopted.

And that’s the other thing. If all you have ever wanted from life is a gay/bi cop rom-com kid fic, Fake is ready-made for you.  Ryo manages to collect a little family around him, a troubled orphan named Bikky and Carol, the pickpocket.  Not being a huge fan of kid fic, I can’t say this aspect entirely works for me, but I can kind of see how this has been very popular/enduring in BL circles. (And FAKE is not explicit, at least not in the first volume.)

If you’re curious and want to read it, MangaHere has it: http://www.mangahere.co/manga/fake/ .  If you’d rather try to consume this in another way, there was a one-hour OVA produced that’s on KissAnime: http://kissanime.ru/Anime/Fake-Sub/OVA?id=68734, which I watched several minutes of as well, and is based on the second volume.

Kinou Nani Tabeta/What Did You Eat Yesterday?

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Kinou Nani Tabeta/What Did You Eat Yesterday? , a weekly by the mangaka that brought us Ōoku: Inner Chambers, is a curious read.

It’s two parts a cooking how-to and one (very tiny part) slice-of-life that follows a vaguely dysfunctional gay couple.  I happen to be very fascinated by Japanese cooking, but even I skimmed some of the more lengthy sections of food preparation.  There’s currently only two volumes (thirteen chapters) available in English, so the risk of trying this out is minimal.

I ended up reading the whole thing.

I’m not sure why.  The main character, Shiro, is a closeted lawyer and emotionally very distant from his lover, Kenji, a perky hairdresser. We get almost nothing about their relationship–we know who ‘tops’ (though we never see it) and we get a very, rather mundane story of their first meeting, and an almost sad way in which they end up living together (Kinji’s apartment is flooded after a storm; Shiro blurts out that he could stay at his place.)

There was, in fact, far more sizzling romance in no.6 (given there was an on-stage kiss between those boys) than there is in this manga.  Shiro’s meeting of his straight girlfriend cooking/shopping partner was far more emotionally charged and interesting that anything the supposed-couple do.

Yet… I read the whole thing.

It’s weirdly compelling.  It shouldn’t be.  But, I think there’s just enough of Japanese life to keep me turning the pages.  Plus, the food looks amazing.  I’ll probably keep reading this despite myself.

The title feels like a big tease to yaoi fans, because what did you eat…?  I mean, you could take that the wrong way.

But if you did, Shiro would be scandalized.  Because it’s so not about any of that.