You & Me, Etc. / Bokura ni Matsuwaru Et Cetera. by Kyuugo

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You & Me, Etc. / Bokura ni Matsuwaru Et Cetera is a collection of one-shots by the same author that brought us Acid Town.  A fact I didn’t actually notice until just now, though I should have had an inkling, given how much PLOT (and how little sex) is in each of these stories.

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The first chapter is “Someday We’ll” / “Itsuka bokura ha” and follows characters we’ll return to in the final, titular chapters “You & Me, Etc.” / “Bokura ni Matsuwara, Etc.”: Iku and Keita.  The two are best friends whose relationship becomes fraught when Keita, a rising baseball star in high school, has his career cut short by a tragic accident… an accident he suffered because he pushed Iku out of harm’s way.  Iku is horrified that he’s the cause of  the end of Keita’s big chance a stardom, but Keita is just happy Iku is alive, because Iku means the world to him.  Like, THE WORLD, but that’d be pretty homo, so, you know, things are just TENSE.

At least until Keita decides to just try going for it.

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A kiss Iku can’t get out of his mind. From there, the story goes where you might hope, with some extra baseball and a near repeat of the traffic accident to help Iku realize that he Loves This Man ™.

“The Sakura Pilgrimage” / “Sakura no Junrei” follows another set of high schoolers, these two basketballers, Sugaya and Fujishiro.  Fujishiro is that enviable guy, the one all the girls giggle after and call ‘prince,’ who is destined for the class presidency, and probably gets straight A’s. Only, turns out, there’s NOTHING straight about Fujishiro.  Sugaya accidentally catches Fujishiro making out with none-other-than a teacher!  Sugaya isn’t the sort to tell, but Fujishiro makes a point of paying him off, anyway.  Things go on like this for a while (a phrase that is actually used a bunch in this chapter,) until someone else spies the lovers and the teacher is fired.  Then, Sugaya listens to Fujishiro’s woes and they share a moment of camaraderie, the end.

Yeah, this one is literally about a guy who is kind of bored with life who makes a gay friend. I mean, I can’t say I’ve seen anything like it before, so I guess there’s that.

“The Beautiful Tomorrow” / “Utsukushii Asu” parts 1 & 2 follow Tatsushi Kuwahara, a famous editor/author, and Akira Shinozaki, the son of a beloved professor of Kuwahara’s, who has come to Tokyo… basically to impose on Kuwahara’s kindness.  Turns out, his father remarried and his step mom is legitimately evil. When dad died, she kicked him out on the streets.  Kuwahara learns all of this, slowly. Not that it matters, he gets used to having the kid around.  Akira is a guitar player who is trying to do the breaking in thing, so sometimes he stays out late or… comes home drunk.

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“Wanna what?  I’m an editor, kid. Use all your words.”

Even though initially, it looked like Kuwahara might be straight (he had a female writer living with him at the beginning), he’s fallen for this kid. Hard, I’d say, since right after this attempted love confession, Akira pukes between Kuwahara’s legs, and he still kisses him, later.

I will say that even though kissing is the most you’ll get (beyond one shadowed het blowjob in “Sakura Pilgrimage,”) I ended up reading all of these.  I guess I like Kyuugou’s writing style, despite the profound lack of nookie.  Milage may vary, however.  So I recommend this one hesitantly.  I do like how these stories tend to have a note or two of humor among all the angst.  Reminds me, as I said of Acid Town, of my own work.  (Though my fan fic is a WHOLE lot sluttier.)

 

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What Did You Eat Yesterday?/ Kinou Nani Tabeta? (Vol. 12) by Fumi Yoshinaga

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I’ve been known complain about how Yosihnaga-sensei makes her gay protagonists (in everything, but in What Did You Eat Yesterday / Kinou Nani Tabeta? especially) seem vaguely unhappy, like they’ve settled for something not quite perfect.  In the past, I’ve felt like, even though she might be going for “realism,” the Unhappy Gay Guy is such a hurtful stereotype that I’m angry that her sense of ‘real’ doesn’t accurately reflect my life.

Until Volume 12.

There’s a chapter in volume 12 (#95) that so perfectly encapsulates my life with my wife that I had to read it to her.

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Before I get into that scarily accurate chapter, I have to take a moment to appreciate this ridiculously awesome cover for volume 12.

Here we have Kenji and Shiro walking seriously out of a lined black background, dressed to the nines, looking like they could be yakuza hit men or something.  All around them are the titles of the recipes found within:  “apple muffins,” “sukiyaki,” “stir-fried chicken and turnips,” and “red squid, natty, and avocado rice bowl.”

I dunno. Something about the juxtaposition of this serious, stylish look and the recipes made me smile.

If you’ve never read What Did You Eat Yesterday / Kinou Nani Tabeta? before, the thing you have to know about this slice-of-life manga is that it’s basically an illustrated cookbook with tiny–and I mean, minuscule–bits of plot threaded through very detailed recipes. I categorize it as yaoi, because the main characters are gay and because Yoshinaga-sensei is known for her yaoi/shounen ai. (It apparently debuted in a seinen magazine aimed at adult men: Weekly Morning. So maybe it should be categorized as seinen?)

Despite the fact that it’s mostly recipes, there are a couple of great character moments in volume 12.  One thing I will forever love Yoshinaga-sensei for is that she very much prefers to write about older men.  The heroes of What Did You Eat Yesterday / Kinou Nani Tabeta? are in their 40s.  They even joke about how this is why their lives just aren’t that dramatic.  At one point, Shiro gets hit on by a friend of theirs.  It’s a really light pass–hand holding and a serious stare–but it’s not nothing.  He gets super flustered (and flattered) by it, but turns it down with a gentle laugh.  Fondly, he thinks, “Ah, if that had happened ten years ago, who knows what might have happened.”

That’s What Did You Eat Yesterday / Kinou Nani Tabeta? in a nutshell, folks.

And, if the next chapter hadn’t been my life, I probably would be complaining right now about how it’s deeply unfair to so broad-strokes categorize older gay people as sexless and done having adventures and extra-(non-)marital affairs.  But, yeah, so comes chapter  #95.

Our couple have time off together for O-Bon. They’ve slept in, Shiro has made breakfast, and Kenji is trying to get Shiro out of the house to enjoy the day.  Shiro jumps up and is like, “Oh! The shops will all be closed. We have to get groceries for the week.”

I swear to god(s), I married this man.  And, just like my wife, when they get home from this huge shopping trip, Shiro is like, “Right! Let’s do some of that cleaning we usually neglect! I’ll clean the vents. You do the curtains!”

Did Yoshinaga-sensei peek in my window and just copy my life???

I’m sure you’re reading this and thinking, “What? This isn’t cute. Why did Lyda marry someone so… anal?”  Trust me that I’m over here smiling a huge smile.  (Case and point? My wife just said, “Okay, here’s your list” talking about the shopping I need to do today, so that we can spend the day baking.  I LIVE IN THIS MANGA.)

Except I’m not a hairstylist.

Or a dude.

Otherwise, this is my life.  The gay agenda: cooking and cleaning and shopping.

I Hear the Sunspot / Hidamari ga Kikoeru by Yuki Fumino

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Once again, I had a boring shift at the library and, thus, I discovered the first volume of  Hidamari ga Kikoeru / I Hear the Sunspots on the ‘new arrivals’ shelf.

Hidamari ga Kikoeru / I Hear the Sunspots the story of a college-age young man, Kohei, who is hearing impaired and the relationship he forms with loud-mouthed, bombastic, red oni, Taichi, who randomly agrees to be his note-taker in class.

I loved this so much I ran off to Baka-Updates to see if this title is being scanlated, (it is!,) and then I read everything available on Mangago in one sitting.

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Characters like Taichi give me hope.

Kohei likes him immediately because he’s so loud, he can be easily understood.  I mean, there’s this stereotype about the Japanese, right? That they’re all quiet and shy and well-behaved, but there’s almost always someone in manga like this–like me–who is clumsy, loud, vaguely-inappropriate, YET SOMEHOW LOVABLE.

A red oni.

So, the meet-cute of Hidamari go Kikoeru / I Hear the Sunspot is that Taichi is broke and bemoaning his outcast stake (and empty stomach) when he leans too hard on a weak chain-link fence and tumbles through the underbrush to land on a low roof.  Who should be sitting there eating his bento, but Kohei.  Taichi begs some lunch off Kohei and they part ways, sort of awkwardly since Kohei doesn’t say much.  Later, Taichi discovers that Kohei is hard of hearing and, in fact, looking for someone to act as a note-taker in class for him.

Taichi is kind of a crappy note-taker, but he’s more than willing to do it for free lunch.  Thus, a friendship is formed.

There’s a lot a love about this manga, but I especially love the insights into deaf/hard of hearing culture.  Kohei has never learned sign language, preferring to read lips.  We find out later that the deaf community snubbed him when he first considering learning sign language, because he’s NOT deaf, only hard of hearing.  This divide is particularly painful, because Kohei feels trapped between two worlds. He can’t hear well enough to fit with the hearing population and he’s not deaf enough for the the deaf community.

Along stumbles Taichi, who gives no f*cks in a very emphatic way.  When he finds out that Kohei probably couldn’t follow half of what he’d said, he smacks him on the head an says, “Just ask me to repeat myself!”  He always notices when Kohei checks out because he can’t hear and automatically explains what he’s missed.  He gets upset when people talk around Kohei, knowing he can’t follow very well.

In short, he’s a decent person.  But, as is pointed out again and again, that’s actually kind of a rare trait.  Taichi very much seems to be able to bridge the gap because he can so easily put himself into other’s shoes.  Kohei starts to feel like he belongs somewhere… with someone.

Because I never learn and so did not do my research about this series before I started it, I had NO IDEA that this was a Boys’ Love story. So, the first time Kohei leans in for the kiss, I think I was as shocked as Taichi!  I was like, “Wait, this is That kind of story?”

Then, I was like, “….”

“Yatta!”

Not unlike our hero, Taichi.  It takes him a predictable amount of soul-searching to come around to the idea that he’s into but, but when they finally have their serious love confession, there’s this charming moment:

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I kind of love that Taichi just embraces it. It’s none of that, “am I That way”?  No, it’s more  “OMG, YOU MADE ME SUPER GAY, YOU BASTARD.”

Which is pretty much how I remember coming out.

So, yeah, I love this one. It’s not at all smutty (just a lot of ‘doki-doki’ kissing), but it has everything I want from a slice-of-life romance. There’s even a female character that seems to be being set-up as a romantic rival to Taichi, since she’s hard of hearing, too. But, she ends up just being friends (to both of them) in a way I found much more Real Life ™ than the usual misogynistic portrayals of women in other yaoi/BL titles.

Double-thumbs up on this sweet romance. 10/10 would again.  In fact, I’ll probably be checking back in with this one for updates and/or bugging my library to keep buying the continuing volumes.

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!

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.

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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.