Lovefool 09.19.11 | Big Box o’ Yaoi

After "skimming the dirty parts" a few weeks back, your Lovefool dives into a heaping helping of yaoi titles that concentrate more on relationships and less on the icky stuff.

 

 

I don’t really actively think too much about other people’s relationships. That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally idly muse on them, possibly with friends over alcoholic beverages, but I don’t really wonder about them too much and, as such, I really have no idea how strictly my peeps follow gender roles. My friends are a garden variety of orientations and marital states, but it’s just never occurred to me to wonder which of you guys wears the pants in your relationships. Team Jameson pretty firmly divides the pants-time evenly, but I’ve never really asked my friends about it and I’ve just assumed that it works that way everywhere. Who balances your checkbooks? Is it the person who makes more money? Who decides what you’re having for dinner? Who does the laundry? Is there such a thing as the unilateral decision in modern love? But the Big Box o’ Yaoi has me thinking. You see, in the BBoY, things are remarkably cut and dry, for the most part. One person is in charge and the other one is delighted that they have someone looking out for them and is also varying degrees of a little dippy. It’s not like that in all the books I’ve cracked open this weekend, of course, but it’s a striking feature of them. There’s just not much give and take, it seems, like there is in real life.
 
Of course, manga isn’t real life. In fact, it’s about as far from it as you can get sometimes. And, having reviewed quite a bit of it for PLAYBACK, I’m not about to sit here and pretend that these aren’t problems that I’ve had with other books. For some reason, though, it just seems more pronounced here. Even the limpest of shojo ladies occasionally has some sort of sparky moment. But the ukes—typically the more gentle and stereotypically feminine of a yaoi pair—in what I’ve read this weekend are surprisingly laid-back, no matter what they encounter. Which, to be honest, didn’t really seem out of place, despite what the semes—the more traditionally masculine half of the pair—might have thought about things. Or said. Or did. Yaoi is short for “Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi” or "No climax, no point, no meaning" and that’s kind of how these stories work. They meander around, in large parts, with little conflict beyond the tiny spats that make up our day-to-day lives. Acceptance seems to come easy to these boys and they seem, for the most part, happy.
 
Which is probably why I really enjoyed my reading this weekend. But first, a little back story. Remember, dear nerdlings, a few weeks ago when I read some yaoi and it made me cry? Yoko Tanigaki, our buddy over at Digital Manga Publishing and an official Friend of Lovefool, read my review and, I guess, felt bad for me. So bad that she shot Jason Green, Fearless Editor, an email asking if maybe she could send some other stuff that might not be quite so terrifying and was a little less penis-y. It was kind of funny, really, and I can’t imagine how much JGFE smirked when he got it but I bet he did. [He did, indeed. – JG, FE] She was so sweet about it, though, as were the people on Twitter who came across the column, that I felt like I should give it a shot. Sure, there was some chuckling, but I felt like it was good-natured. Also, to be honest, I’m not about to refuse to read something that someone is taking the trouble to handpick for me. Maybe, I thought, maybe she’s right and I’ve just found the kind of yaoi that I hate on my very first try. So she sent me a box full of stories about guys living their lives. They just happen to be living them with other guys.
 
There’s no way I can talk about everything that was in the box, but I can definitely talk about what I liked and what I didn’t like. And sometimes, the same book had both things I loved and things I hated. Brilliant Blue, a two-volume story by Saemi Yorita, featured a not-too-bright but intensely loveable uke named Nanami and Shouzo, the seme that meets him through work. I liked a lot of things about this book. I loved the fact that it was a workplace romance that reflected some of the issues that dipping in the company ink might bring about. I loved the fact that it took place in a small town and Shouzo’s dilemma about whether to stay or go back to the bright lights of the big city. I hated that Shouzo, after getting Nanami away from a slimy jerk who was taking advantage of the kid, got a little weird before settling into their relationship. To be honest, sometimes the intensity of Nanami’s naïveté made me a little uncomfortable throughout the books, despite the fact that he was a bit of a savant in other areas. And I thought that, really, there might have been a little more about how Shouzo managed to convince Nanami’s brothers that it was okay for him to date another man when they’d fought so hard to keep him out of situations like that.
 
A couple of the books that Yoko sent me were story collections and, as always, they were a mix of the mundane and the sublime. I love story collections in all formats because they’re so perfectly bite-sized. Needless, to say, I was excited when I realized what I had unearthed. I adored Lala Takemiya’s A Place in the Sun but felt that Aki Senoo’s When the Heavens Smile was a little disorienting. Mostly a collection of stories based around a school, it zips from tale to tale. I enjoyed the first one, about a first year following around an older boy to try to get to know him after a chance encounter. But it was A Place in the Sun that made me fall in love with these boys a little, which I suppose is the point. I was completely captivated with the stories, which included the tale of a garbage man getting to know one of the people on his route and pondering the stars, and a story of a boy falling in love with his friend and writing his favorite manga artist about it only to discover that they’re one in the same.
 
My favorite, though, was Toko Kawai’s artsy two-volume In the Walnut, a story about two gentlemen who meet in art school and manage to infuriate each other for years after. Rakish, chain-smoking Tanizaki and affable Nakai have been in a relationship for a long time and it’s easy to see. There’s a certain amount of carelessness that comes from comfort and it’s note-perfect in this book. There’s a backdrop of high art since In the Walnut is the art gallery that Tanizaki inherited from his grandfather. There’s also a smidge of crime—because what would a rakish, chain-smoking hero be without it?—but there are also moments of sweetness, both between our two protagonists and in their outside interactions, that are completely heart melting. And there’s also a few crude throwaway remarks that, instead of creeping me out completely, like they definitely might have in another book, just fit a couple like this and just seemed like the sort of thing that tends to come when maybe the honeymoon’s over and a couple is just together, complete with the nonplussed reaction from the other half of the relationship.
 
I could go on. There was more in the BBoY but I feel like we should hit the high notes for brevity, which I’ve failed at. (Brevity, not hitting the high notes.) I’m not entirely into the idea of the stupid uke, which is apparently a genre staple, but I can deal with it to a certain extent. I certainly wouldn’t let Mr. Jameson speak to me the way some of these boys talk to their partners. But a lot of these stories had a very unique flavor to them that you won’t find in most shojo manga. For the most part, I liked it to some degree. Again, I’ve hit the high notes but none of the books, which also included the art school drama Color and the fantasy Garden Sky, were really loathsome. Apparently, and no one should be surprised by this, I just need a little less penis, a little more conversation. | Erin Jameson
 
Check out these links for previews of some of the titles discussed this week, courtesy of Digital Manga Publishing.
 

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