Ani no Chuukoku / Brother’s Warning by Asada Nemui

MR-356194-700057-1.jpg

I went down the rabbit hole of the Baka-Updates tags again.

Look, I was hoping to find another good yaoi about sex work, and, instead, stumbled across Ani no Chuukoku / Brother’s Warning, which has to contain some of the WEIRDEST BL shorts I have ever read.

Given some of the stuff I’ve read, I think that’s saying a lot.

But, seriously, there’s a romance in this manga that involves a giant, hairy caterpillar. No, I am NOT kidding.  And… I read them all. None of these stories are even very explicit, so I have no excuse.

SPOILERS

.

.

.

.

The first few chapters are the titular story, “Ani no Chukoku / Brother’s Warning.” (Note, if you read via the link I provided, start with chapter 2. Chapter 0-1.5 all get repeated, but are better scanlated later.) This is one of those incest stories that I never understand. I know that there is a fondness for the ‘childhood friend turns lover’ trope among the Japanese audience, but what is it with brothers? These two are full brothers by blood, even, so I dunno–I mean, I guess it’s the ultimate ‘childhood friend,’ but when they start the hurt-comfort with ‘listen, I’ve changed your diapers’….

giphy.gif

Is this sexy?  I don’t think so.

Let me back up a bit…. right, so, I think the reason Baka-Updates gave me this manga under the tag ‘sex work,’ is because Younger Brother, Tsuzuki, seems to be part of a pimping gang in Tokyo, who do a little hustle on the side.  The girls cry foul and they squeeze a little extra ‘hush’ money out of the johns.  It’s pretty nasty business and one day it catches up to them, sort of.  Tsuzuki notices a car following them after one of these little cons, and confronts the guy…. turns out it’s his long lost older brother, Hajime (whom he’d literally just been dreaming about.)

Big Brother is like, “Whoa, what a coincidence! Let’s hang out, catch up!” and shows Tsuzuki to his upscale apartment.  Tsuzuki’s all, “Dude, you’re loaded” and wants to know why he didn’t share all this good fortune with mom.  Older brother’s like, “Look, I was…uh, ‘overseas,’ and, anyway, I did. Oh, yeah and you should stay with me, here’s a key. Oh, yeah, and the catch? You need to give up your life of crime.”

Younger brother isn’t having it.  They have a fight about it and he storms back to his girlfriends’ place.

Lo and behold, next time Tsuzuki runs his little scam, the local yakuza boss comes down hard on him and his crew.

Two guesses who the local mafia capo is!

Yep. “Aniki,” the mafia version of Big Brother.  But, here’s where things get weird. Hajimi’s henchmen beat up Tsuzuki so hard, he’s actually incapacitated for six months–with broken arms and legs.

Cue: weird hurt/comfort.

Weird is maybe harsh. I mean, I get that there are catheter kinks and kinks involving having to use the bathroom in front of other people… but add the incest, and I read the whole thing with Ichigo’s expression above (but, yeah, okay, I read the whole thing.)

Still. Not for me.

The next chapter is called “The Swerve.” I’m not quite sure how this qualifies as either boys’ love or yaoi, but, okay, so we have Yukichi, a middle-aged, out-of-work salaryman. It’s the recession, so no matter how hard he tries, Yukichi just can’t land a job. He takes himself to a city park for a sulk and runs into another middle-aged unemployed guy named, Inazou.

Inazou  is a little shady-looking, but Yukichi bonds with him over their mutual love of sweet buns (Oi! The kind you eat! No, not like THAT!~the ones made by bakers!!)  Inazou is staring longingly at a bun-selling food truck and mutters to himself about needing a vehicle and tools. Yukichi assumes that Inazou’s plan for recession employment is to get himself a van and start selling sweet buns.

He begs Inazou to cut him in on the plan.

Only, yeah, Inazou was thinking about a heist. There’s a fairly hilarious scene of a botched robbery, where Inazou’s toy gun gets bent in a very suggestive way….

MR-356194-699546-23.jpg

The only thing even remotely reminiscent of a phallic symbol in this entire chapter, and it never even “goes off.”

…and the robbery is a bust. Inazou gets busted and thrown into jail, but Yukichi gets away… because he was too chicken to go in.  A year and a half later, when Inazou has served a year and a half in prison, Yukichi is there waiting for him….

….with a bakery van.

Love?

I mean, I kind of liked it as a male friendship story, but….?

The next chapter is “Kemushi / Hairy Caterpillar,” and, in many ways, defies description, but I will try anyway.  Right, so, these two high school guys are in love: Dai and Shou.  They’re so annoyingly lovey-dovey:

MR-356194-699491-5.jpg

That a woman who is being dumped by her boyfriend for being too clingy curses them.  She just happens to be a witch with real supernatural powers, I guess.  She curses Dai to see Shou as a hairy caterpillar.

The thing that’s funny about this–besides the whole hairy caterpillar thing, which is… pretty weird–is that Dai keeps trying to think the right thoughts/do the right things to break the curse.  He thinks: “Oh, maybe, if I love him for more than his looks?” Squeezing his eyes shut, he thinks about other things about Shou he loves….

MR-356194-699491-13.jpg

Eventually, he does figure out how to break the curse… and it’s, honestly, sort of cute. (I’d spoil it, but you might want to read this one for the sheer weirdness of it.)

The witch also comes back and lifts the curse because things actually worked out better for her, thanks to the break-up.  So, everyone’s happy again, yay! The End.

The next chapter is “Life in the Parks,” and is also more about male friendship than anything.  Momoki works at the Social Welfare Department and is given the assignment of asking the local homeless population to move out of “Onigashima Park.”  The translator notes that “Onigashima” is a mystical island of ogres, so when this guy, Kijima, shows up…

MR-356194-699545-6.jpg

I figured he was the local god/oni… only, if that’s the case, nothing supernatural ever happens with him. The two guys get into a dust-up over whether or not it’s cool to kick the homeless out of the park, and they end up working together to solve the problem, with a bonus “tragic” backstory to explain Kijima’s fierce loyalty to the homeless population.

Yay? I mean, I guess it’s nice that it all works out? (No sex and no magic. I dunno, man. Especially since this combo hit my favorite odd couple type, damn it.)

The penultimate chapter is “Nami no Oto ga Kikoeru / The Sound of the Waves” is a story about a horror writer who only write well when he’s angry about a break-up.  Sensei falls for a young waiter named Mitsuru… and the editor spends a lot of time trying to get things to go badly so that sensei will be inspired to write the grotesque revenge torture porn he’s so famous for.

Only, things keep working out.

MR-356194-699522-25.jpg

The true confession of every writer, everywhere….

Until they don’t…

Luckily, editor is there to pick-up sensei yet again…and sensei finally sees that he’s always had a constant companion in editor.  The end.

The final chapter is a return to the first story, “Ani no Kokuhaku / An Elder Brother’s Confession.”

So, yeah, the stories were… unsatisfying? A little weird?

I mean, you know me, gentle reader, I’m kind of in it for the smut, and so this romance stuff is a bit baffling, especially when they are these kinds of shorts that don’t even seem to be all that romantic to me. I mean, a food truck? I guess it’s nice that the salaryman waited for the guy for a year and a half, but, does the robber even know you’re into him? Is he going to really say ‘yes’ to life with you as a BUSINESS partner? I mean, I almost would rather read chapter 2 of that one where they are JUST NOT GETTING ALONG BECAUSE OMG WHO THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO MAKE STICKY BUNS WITH A FAILED MAFIOSO?? And, salaryman is all, “I WAITED FOR YOU; THIS IS ALL FOR YOU, MY LOVE” and mafia dude is all “Okay, but what was your name again?”

I mean, maybe we’re supposed to figure that’s the next scene and that makes the whole thing that much funnier?

I don’t know.

And then there were illusionary caterpillars?

I think maybe the worst part is that the only even vaguely explicit stuff happens between the two brothers and that’s the one thing that just DOES NOT do it for me.  *sigh*

Here’s the other thing. I LOVED the art. I really liked the way everyone was drawn… all of them were very different from one another(–for the most part, the younger brother and the kid with the caterpillar had some similarities in looks).

Plus I probably would have put up with some of the weirdness, if there were more sex…with the park onis and the salarymen. I even love yakuza stories!  Just not with brothers, okay??

This one was frustrating for me, all around.

You  might want to check out the caterpillar story, though.  Is it weird that I kind of wish there’d been sex in that one? Yeah, it’s probably weird. Very weird. But, humor? It could have been funny! Especially since Dai couldn’t tell where Shou’s face was…. (yeah, no, I’m a sick puppy.)

And why couldn’t this guy have been a real oni? (I mean, I kind of still think he is? Look at his ears?) So, what the hell, we had witch magic!  And, yet all the social worker and the oni did was work together and talk.

MR-356194-699545-5

Damn it.

Read this one at your own risk.

Advertisements

Otoko Hiromashita / The Man I Picked Up by C. J. Michaelski

I actually read the second half of this volume, a chapter called, “Ano Koro No Mama De Ite” on a different site, but when I went to Baka-Updates to see more about it, I decided to hunt down the titular chapter as well.

I’m kind of glad I did.

3.jpg

The two separate stories in Otoko Hiromashita are held together by a location, a fictitious gay bar called “Boy’s Club,” where “cute younger men keep  other men company.”  From the fact there’s a “menu” of waiters to chose from, it’s basically a gay host club.

SPOILERS

.

.

.

.

The first chapter, “Otoko Hiromashita / The Man I Picked Up,” ended up being my favorite.  In it, we have the owner, Tamaki, who has the most fabulous, casual-wear wardrobe of any gay guy I have ever read in a yaoi…

15.jpg

Yes, seriously, that pattern is… FAB-u-LOUS, honey!

The meet-cute involves our hero, Tamaki, finding his would-be love interest in the alleyway, beaten to a pulp.  Normally, he’d just call an ambulance and that’d be that, but the guy begs him ‘no cops.’  So… there’s a little hurt/comfort on the couch. When the stranger wakes up, he exclaims that he’s seen a vision of loveliness, a prince, and tries to kiss Tamaki.

Who promptly tosses him out the door.

8-1.jpg

It’s love at first sight!  But, Tamaki is unconvinced. NO, PLEASE, says the guy, “I have nowhere to go.” Tamaki stays strong, though.  Thing is, he doesn’t normally go for the rough-and-tumble sort, so… but then he gets hit with something no blue-blooded man can resist: SAD, PUPPY-DOG EYES.

9.jpg

Turns out, Tamaki has always wanted a dog.

I briefly wondered if things were going to get REALLY kinky here, but, as it happens, Tamaki simply adopts this guy, Kouta.

Kouta works really hard to be a good guest, too.  He keeps trying it on with Tamaki, occasionally, but he’s actually a big help around the bar.  He’s big and strong and eager, so he happily does all the jobs no one else wants–cleaning toilets, carrying in the deliveries, looking scary for the problem customers.

Except when the local mob shows up, then he makes himself scarce.  Turns out, he used to run with that gang…and even though there’s not much of a chance with Tamaki, (though when the boss’s old flame shows up Kouta discovers that Tamaki did have at least ONE other fling with a guy with a similar build to his own) he decides to go confront the local yakuza boss and tell him to stay away from “Boy’s Club.”

This results in hospitalization.

…And Tamaki wondering how he ended up attached to this big galoot.

The end.

I loved this. There’s only one sex scene, which is a kind of hurried grope, but the dynamic of this hit my favorite ‘odd couple’ buttons.  I can’t say you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did, but you really should read it just to see all of Tamaki’s outfits.

8.jpg

Tamaki has never met a patterned shirt he didn’t love.

The second chapter “Ano Koro No Mama De Ite / Stay the Way You Were,” is the one I actually read first.  This story follows “Hiraku”–Hosaku is his real name but he thinks it’s old-fashioned and dorky–who works as a host at “Boy’s Club.”

Hosaku has long harbored a crush on an upperclassman from his old high school.  Years have passed, but he still thinks back fondly about all the times he went to the library to borrow books just so he could see Takano-sempai.

1-2.jpg

Who hasn’t done something like this? 

He never thought he’d see the object of his affection again–especially now that he’s working in a “place like this.”

But, who should waltz in?

You guessed it in one.

Takano is now a salaryman and his colleague has dragged him out for a little nomikai. Colleague is already drunk enough that he thinks it’d be ‘funny’ to mix it up and go to a gay bar, for giggles.  Takano is unhappy about this, saying “this is not the kind of club to visit just out of curiosity,” but goes along, because this guy is probably his senior at the company.

Hosaku recognizes Takano right away, but hopes that his club pseudonym and the years are enough of a disguise.  He tries to hook Takano and his office buddy up with another host, but Takano wants him.

In fact, once they’re seated and have a few drinks, Takano cuts right to the chase:

1-3.jpg

Not exactly, “What is a cute guy like you doing in a dive like this,” but….

To Hosaku’s credit, he’s like, “D’uh, because I’m super gay and this is the best way to meet hot guys and hook up with them!”  Office buddy is like, “Ooh, so, like, I could hire you for SEX???” and before Hosaku can even say anything Takano is like, “NOPE. I’m buying him.”

Upstairs, it seems that maybe Takano is pretty experienced in all this, even if things are a bit rough…

Afterwards, he’s like, “Oh, yeah, and from now on I’m you’re ONLY client.”

Hosaku is all, “hahaha, sure,” but you know this wouldn’t be a yaoi if that was the end of things.

Sure enough, by the final panel, we get a love confession. Turns out, Takano always admired Hosaku back and now that they’ve discovered they’re “the same way,” the long honeymoon can begin.

1-4.jpg

Bonus cameo by one of Tamaki’s amazingly patterned shirts…

This chapter had a much longer, more explicit sex scene, so it’s probably best that these stories are read together for maximum… er, enjoyment.

I’m beginning to wonder if 2018 is going to be the year of “eh, I enjoyed it; ah, what the hell.”  Last year, I was all about the the slice-of-life happy stories about nothing, so maybe this will be year that I love all the randomly slutty yaoi.

Acid Town by Kyuugo

59e4e064ec593.jpg

If you like your yaoi full of yakuza and a heavy dose of angst, Acid Town might be for you.

SPOILERS

.

.

.

.

Acid Town is the kind of manga I’d write, if I were a mangaka.

It’s both weirdly dark and full of implied non-consensual situations/sex, but also all about honor and angst and young men making stupid choices in the name of love and devotion.

MR-351506-615522-15.jpg

So. Much. Angst.

The world that our hero, Yukio and his best friend, Tetsu, live is extraordinarily dark.  Somehow the world has fallen into lawlessness and the yakuza reign supreme (and everyone is interconnected by fate and misfortune).

I do a very light amount of research for any title I review here, and I’m always a little surprised (and nervous) when I discover a TV Tropes page devoted to a manga that never got an official English-language release. There is also, should you desire “moar,” as the kids say, a singular piece of fan fic on Ao3.

I understand why someone felt compelled to write in this universe.

There are parts of this story that I really loved–specifically the relationship between Yukio and Tetsu–and a whole lot of stuff I didn’t entirely feel was necessary.  Just as Yukio and Tetsu are being torn apart by cruel fate and misfortune, the mangaka decides to wander into the convoluted backstory of several of the yakuza players for CHAPTERS.  I have to admit to skimming quickly through these so that I could get back to the main story….which only gets a couple of chapters before what is available scanned dried up.

Grrrr.

But if you like your porn plotty and light on the sexy-times, you might really enjoy Acid Town.  For myself, I could have used a little more sex.  Or focus. If the mangaka could have stayed with Yukio and Tetsu more, I might have been more into it, despite the sweeter tone.

Their characters are great. For instance Tetsu makes a really awkward love confession, and has this wonderful conversation with the fabulous guy who owns the restaurant under their apartment:

MR-351506-615523-26.jpg

“Ha-ha, maybe you pushed him down and kissed him, eh?” jokingly asks the restaurant guy.  Tetsu, says miserably, ” Yeah, I did.”

Good times.

More of this, please.

But, that being said, the writing is good. I read a lot of the yakuza turf battle plot without batting an eye. So would I recommend it? Yes, but with the caveat: BEWARE: PLOT-HEAVY.

Twittering Birds Never Fly / Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai by Yoneda You

Following long-time reader and commenter AuntyA’s advice, I read the rest of Twittering Birds Never Fly / Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai of which there are 26 chapters available on Mangakalot.com, (linked.)

Wow.

This is a good one.  If you’re the sort who likes a decent plot to go with your hot, hot sadomasochism of dubious consent, this is definitely for you.

Following the events of the first chapter (which I reviewed separately), Yoshiro and his straight-laced doctor friend, Kageyama, are all grown up.  Yoshiro has fallen in with the mafia and has taken to bringing his underlings in need of an off-the-books hospital visit to Kageyama’s clinic.

It’s here that Yoshiro brings “Mad Dog.”  Kageyama who has previously been mostly straight, falls instantly in love. The first few scenes involve their getting together. Meanwhile, disappointed that he doesn’t get to keep “Mad Dog” (or, probably more accurately, that he can’t get Kageyama to fall in love with him,) Yoshiro goes about his very slutty business.

MR-8440-662486-6.jpg

So. MANY.

Until he meets Doumeki, a former cop, who was imprisoned for nearly killing his own father.

Doumeki is also impotent.

Yoshiro seems to take the latter as a kind of a challenge and he hires Doumeki to be his bodyguard.  Their relationship is the core of the rest of the story.  And, ah, what a story! There is intrigue! Angst! Tragic backstories! Smutty sex! Sexual tension!  ROMANCE! And really broken people being stupid to each other in a way that I really, really enjoy reading, particularly in my m/m slash and yaoi.

I actually like this one enough that I don’t want to spoil any of it for you.  I highly recommend you read the rest and/or support the official publisher.

1.jpg

1-en no Otoko / One Yen Man by Monden Akiko

1-en-no-otoko-12319.jpg

One Yen Man  (not to be confused with One Punch Man) is a collection of yaoi one-shots by  Monden Akiko. So many of my guilty-pleasure buttons got hit with this one, it isn’t even funny.

SPOILERS

.

.

.

Guilty pleasure #1: Sex workers.

I will pretty much read any story featuring sex-for-hire.  Give me a sympathetic gigolo and I’m golden.

The first story doesn’t exactly center around a gigolo, per se, but ‘getting paid for it’ is part of the whole meet-cute, if you will.  So, what happens is that we have a detective, Sanjou Keisuke.  He’s a classic tough guy sort, who will do any job for any one. In fact, when we first meet him, he’s dog sitting for a client.  But, he returns to his office one day to find a brusque, icy investment banker waiting for him. They exchange the usual insults: “What kind of detective leaves his door wide open? Though clearly there’s nothing worth stealing here!” / “If you don’t like me, try another detective agency.”

Classic.

Destined for sex, wouldn’t you say?

Well, except, of course, our hero is presented as fairly straight.  I say ‘fairly’ because the client he’s walking that dog for is a super-queer–queeny, even, guy–he gets called ‘mama-san’ and I don’t think he’s also a pimp, (though….more on that in a bit).  Anyway, Detective and super-queen are clearly friends, so, like a lot of straight guys in these yaoi, it’s not like it’s completely foreign to him.

Anyway, Banker wants to hire Sanjou to find his sex friend, a rent boy who has ran off with a briefcase full of several million yen.

At this point, I kind of thought the story might get plot-heavy and we’d spend some time chasing after rent boy.  But, no, Sanjou is a good detective, and finds him right away.  He let’s the banker know where the rent boy has holed up and is about to take his leave when banker is, all, ‘I’m worried I can’t confront him. Will you help? I can pay.’  Our hero, being a gentleman is very, “No worries. I’ll do this gratis.” Banker is very insistent. We start to get the sense that paying for things is a THING for him.

Maybe you can see where this is going?

Well, it takes awhile to get there, because, of course, Sanjou needs to figure out he’s bi, first.  Luckily, an opportunity presents itself fairly immediately.  When banker and Sanjou go to confront Rent Boy, Rent Boy is out. Banker convinces Sanjou to break in to the apartment because he really just wants that briefcase back, even if the money is gone.  As they’re looking for the briefcase, Rent Boy returns. They hide in a closet.  Rent Boy comes back with company.  Sanjou tells banker he shouldn’t watch this, so he covers banker’s eyes, watches the whole thing, gets super turned on to the point where, banker very prissily says ‘this is ridiculous’ and starts giving Sanjou a blowjob on the spot.

This is all very awkward, but they manage not to be discovered. The banker is suddenly, ‘it’s fine, I don’t care any more’ and Sanjou figures, well, that was weird, but whatever the client wants, *shrug*… until he runs into Rent Boy.  Then, things get interesting. Turns out, Rent Boy stole the money in an attempt to get the banker to chase him.  Rent boy was kind of falling for banker, but banker was very insistent that theirs was a PAID relationship.

Sanjou makes it his mission to uncover why banker is so cold and focused on the paycheck.  Meanwhile, of course, he starts to fall in love with him. When Rent Boy returns the money and briefcase to Sanjou, Sanjou discovers a picture of banker as a young boy looking adorable. Later, Sanjou finds out there’s a tragic backstory with the picture–banker’s mom was a single mom, cold and calculating, the kind who gave receipts after paying allowance, etc., and banker had the picture taken in the hopes of trying to win her over with sheer cuteness. It doesn’t work, so this is part of banker’s brokenness, apparently.

Now Sanjou wants to fix this, and in the way of rough-and-tumble meets Ice Queen, basically Sanjou bullies the banker into falling for him.

1-en-no-otoko-12306.jpg

Also a trope I like. (Guilty pleasure #2? Probably.)

Then we switch gears and we have the story of two childhood buddies.  One of them is a stereotypical easy-going, charismatic lady’s man who is the rising star of his company, and the other is a nebbish food critic, who specializes in alcohol.  They meet-up regularly for drinking dates, because Food Critic doesn’t want to drink alone.

Cue: drunken sex.

At the love hotel, Food critic drunkly tells Lady’s Man that the reason he can’t settle down and find a wife is because he’s barking up the wrong tree. Food critic decides that a bit of seduction is the ticket to get salaryman to wake up and smell Teh Gay, as it were.

It works.

1-en-no-otoko-12339.jpg

And literally the rest of the two chapter story is salaryman trying to figure out how to be better at the gay sex thing, because he REALLY LIKES the gay sex thing.

I found this story adorable.

I also really loved that the first thing salaryman does is rent all the gay porn and tries to study up. He also starts asking his ex-girlfriends for blowjob tips (ha!) and even tries out a little bondage because he gets obsessed with making sure his partner is as aroused as he is.

Then we return to Rent Boy, who, it turns out is actually secretly the son of a yakuza boss and the gang needs him back.  Rent boy doesn’t want to, so he tells his lieutenant, I’ll come back if you can seduce me so hard I cum.

Cue: random hot tattoo sex.

1-en-no-otoko-12417.jpg

Works for me! (Bonus Guilty Pleasure #3 AND #4 — Yakuza and Tattoos!)

I honestly enjoyed this one pretty well, but, I’m not sure how you will feel about it, unless some of your guilty pleasures align with mine. The art, as you can see, is hit and miss. I felt like the writing was pretty good in that all the straight-turned-gay guys did, at least, attempt to do some research, so that makes me happy.

NightS by Kou Yoneda

The last of the yaoi volumes that I picked up at Barnes & Noble is this one: NightS by Kou Yoneda….

222cf4decdc5259d00f779f3fdc6ddab.jpg

Despite its cover, this is actually a collection of shorts, the largest of which has nothing to do with these guys or anything resembling ‘street toughs.’  Ah well.  More on that in a bit.

My plan for the physical volumes now that I’ve read them is to bring them along to Gaylaxicon this weekend and give them away at my yaoi/yuri panel.  If anyone reading this is local to the Twin Cities area and wants to see me apparently hold forth on this subject all on my lonesome (and pick up a free yaoi volume!) it will be TONIGHT: Saturday, October 8th,  at 10:30 pm, in the “Terrace” room at the DoubleTree Hotel Minneapolis-Park Place.

SPOILERS

.

.

.

I’m really disappointed this volume was not about the guys on the cover.  The first few pages were a color spread and just look at this guy:

8daccb40b03b6ece6a2d8aaafc2196fe.jpeg

I am the most bad-ass gay guy you will ever meet. Look at my sporty eyebrow scar!

This is ‘Masato Karashima’ a.k.a. ‘Mr. Transport’ who can get your illegals across any border, no problem, man.

His services are being procured by ‘Hozumi’ who is acting as an intermediate for the yakuza.  Maybe. Or maybe… not.  Because nobody is giving their real names and Mr. Transport is fairly certain Hozumi is way too good-looking to be a mafioso.  In fact, he grabs Hozumi by the collar and they have this little flirtatious exchange in front of Tsuchiya, the hired tough.

915a3ab53cdee448abc26989a2343c1e

Anyway, some drug moving-related plot happens, various contrivances get them to hang-out together and flirt more in their tough-guy way, which is surprisingly charming and full of chemistry, and then, finally, one night they go for it.

Mostly it’s Mr. Transport who pursues.  He’s really hot to know what’s up with Hozumi, because he really does not trust this guy’s backstory.

Ironically, it’s Mr. Transport that ends up confessing his life story after sex. Turns out Mr. Transport’s real name is Tian Yi Lou and he’s only half-Japanese.  His dad is the big boss of the Tian Lian group, one of the Chinese triad, but he’s on the outs because he’s not pure blood.  Hozumi thinks it’s pretty impressive that Yi Lou’s been able to stand on his own, but betrays him anyway.

Yeah, turns out Hozumi is actually Ryo Masaki, a Narcotic’s officer, and he brings the bust down on Tian Yi Lou…. only, oops, he lets him slip away, last minute. So maybe that little fling meant a little something to him, after all, eh?

Did I mention? These two had a ton of chemistry. I really loved their interactions and put up with various plot mechanizations so I could get to the next part where they talked.  Yeah, the sex was pretty good (first time I’ve seen cowboy style,) but I actually REALLY liked their flirting most of all.

The follow-up chapter at the end of the volume that returns to these two, “A Night One Month Later,” is a lovely, flirty end for their story.

The other two stories, as I said, are COMPLETELY different.  “Emotion Spectrum” follows Kugo, a high school delinquent type whose best friend is an attraction magnet.  Everybody falls for Nakaya–boys, girls, everybody.  Kugo is pretty sure, in fact, that cute “slightly emo” Usui is totally after Nakaya , and works overtime to help connect Usui and charismatic friend.

Only, yeah, you guessed it.  Usui is actually hot for Kugo.

This story is very sweet and ends with a kiss and nothing more.  No cowboy style here.

The last and longest story by far is “Reply,” which is about a car salesman and a repair guy who work at the same dealership. I can not actually think of a profession I could care less about and there are seriously long parts of this story that actually revolve around talking about how car sales work and these guys are both straight and hardly even know how to get together and it TAKES THEM FOREVER OMG.

This is one of those stories that makes me wonder who is reading these stories and why.

I mean, the interactions between polished salesman, Takami, and mechanic, Seki, are sort of cute in an angsty sort of way.  There’s some kind of class divide between them, though not very much is made of that, and so it’s really just about two dudes who like each other’s company in an awkward sort of way and spend a lot of time agonizing about it all.

I kind of get it.  I mean, I remember falling for my first girlfriend and how confusing that was, at first.  But, you know what I would kill for?  For one of these straight-turned-suddenly-gay yaoi heroes to have that moment where they’re all, “Wow, that guy is cute.  Whoa, maybe I’m gay” and then GO TO THE INTERNET AND READ ABOUT BEING GAY.  Or, maybe they could go to a gay bookstore and pick up The Joy of Gay Sex and spend some time talking to the clerk behind the counter about what it’s like to be gay.  That’s what I did, only wherever I have written ‘gay’ substitute ‘lesbian’ (and of course the internet didn’t exist until I was already out.)

Also, I’d love a whole ‘I should maybe connect the dots of my life up until this point’ moment for one of these straight-suddenly-gay guys.  That was the other thing about my life. I could look back through all of my diaries and see where I’d been really pretty focused on my girl friends, even while I was dating boys.

But, again, I’m not sure these stories are written for me.  I can appreciate them as a queer fan, but they’re not trying to say anything about what it’s like actually being Japanese and queer (or a queer mafioso, WHICH I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO KNOW A LOT MORE ABOUT FOR THE RECORD, THANK YOU).

And, just in case anyone isn’t clear, I knew that going in.  I know these stories are mostly written by straight women for straight women.  I mean, I, myself, am a lesbian fan writer who writes a ton of m/m slash. Slash has always been like this, too–where gay men aren’t really the audience for all the gay male sex: lesbians are.

Go figure that one.

So, yeah, I enjoyed this collection, though I really wished there had been a lot more hot yakuza/triad chemistry.

A. Lot. More.

Also, if you want to check this one out for yourself, I was able to find it on Mangagogo: http://www.mangago.me/read-manga/nights/nme/en-manga/nights/1/1/2/

Heartstrings by Akira Norikazu

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.

oheart_strings_v01_c01_002_003.jpg

SPOILERS

.

.

.

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?

theart_strings_v01_c02_039.jpg

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.