Black-Winged Love by Tomoko Yamashita: A

blackwingedloveAs in her excellent Dining Bar Akira, Tomoko Yamashita has created in Black-Winged Love a set of boys’ love stories focusing more on a universal aspect of human relationships rather than what goes on between guys in the bedroom. Each story relates in some way to the difficulties of communication, be it the crippling fear that keeps gay men from confessing their orientation or feelings to those they care about or the problem of convincing someone of your sincerity when sexual kinks keep getting in the way. By turns, these seven stories are amusing, disturbing, sexy, and heartbreaking.

My favorite in the amusing category is “It’s My Chocolate,” which is the story of a closeted gay man, Minori, who still lives at home because he feels a responsibility to help look after his many younger siblings. He’s gotten used to self-denial in order to keep the peace at home and feels that coming out to them would be impossible. The dam finally breaks and he blurts out all of his grievances in a heartfelt and thoroughly undignified manner, resulting in a wonderfully low-key response from his mother.

“A Villain’s Teeth” is an extremely interesting story with some disturbing elements, though they thankfully don’t dominate. The tale begins with daughter of a yakuza boss informing his long-time devotee, Yuikawa, that her father is dying of cancer. She’s convinced Yuikawa is in love with her father and encourages him to seize this final opportunity to let him know his feelings. Because of his laid-back demeanor, she can’t quite understand why Yuikawa has chosen the life of a thug, resulting in a marvelous panel in which Yuikawa replies, “Young lady, I am a thug.” His claim is proven a few pages later when he violently deals with an underling who’d thought to involve him in a plot against the ailing boss. It’s rather disconcerting to see graphic violence so casually perpetrated in a BL story, but definitely sets this story apart.

The title story offers the most complicated and fascinating relationship in the volume. “Black-Winged Love” involves a masochist named Futakami who has declared his love to a hot-headed coworker named Nakazu. Knowing Futakami’s special quirk, Nakazu doesn’t take the confession seriously and whenever he gets angry about it, Futakami starts swooning. In another’s hands, this situation might be played for comedy, but Yamashita approaches the problem seriously, getting inside Futakami’s head to show that he genuinely loves Nakazu, but that his fetishes—like a pair of black wings shielding his heart—keep getting in the way. I always love stories in which the obstacle keeping two people apart comes from within, and Futakami’s anguish at his own inability to express what he really feels is positively heartbreaking.

Artistically, Yamashita’s style continues to remind me of est em. Her men all look like men, with no weepy uke types in sight, though a few of them do greatly resemble characters in Dining Bar Akira. Most stories have no sexual content whatsoever, but when such moments do occur, they’re understated and brief. One special feature I really like is the gallery of deleted scenes that appears at the end of the book, including an epilogue of sorts to one of the stories.

The two BL works by Tomoko Yamashita currently available in English are some of the best the genre has to offer. I hope we see more of her other creations—including this josei title—in the near future!

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

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