Red Blinds the Foolish by est em: A-

From the back cover:
Rafita is the young, rising star of the bullfighting world known as “The Red Matador.” He has never feared facing a bull since his first kill at the age of twelve. But when he falls in love with Mauro, a butcher who rends the bulls that Rafita kills, his confidence begins to waver. In the matador’s dreams, Mauro (who, like a bull, is colorblind) is, alternately, the bull he faces in the ring and the butcher who carves up his own skewered corpse. Beautifully observed and drawn by est em, the author of Seduce Me After the Show, with a depth of style and passion, Red Blinds the Foolish depicts a complex relationship, and a cultural form, in a place where the sublime and the savage meet.

Red Blinds the Foolish includes the title story, told in three chapters, and four additional stories, one of which deals with one of the characters from “Red Blinds the Foolish” as a younger man.

The title story is definitely my favorite of the volume. I like the languid mood, the unique setting of Madrid, and the incorporation of some Spanish bullfighting terms. There are some things that transpire between them that I don’t really get, like some things Mauro says to Rafita that apparently drive away his bad dreams and enable him to be a success in the ring again, but on the whole I really like this story. One of the things est em does best is show the guys having intelligent conversations that don’t in any way revolve around romance or their relationship. Like with Seduce Me After the Show, these are grown, professional men with ambitions and skills, and I enjoy when they talk about such things with their lovers.

Three of the remaining short stories are good, but not great. “Corpse of the Round Table” explains the origin of a scar Mauro has as well as how he ended up a butcher. “Baby, Stamp Your Foot” is about a shoemaker who gets aroused when his lovers wear shoes he has made for them. “Tiempos Extra” is about a rabid soccer fan and the stadium security guard who fancies him.

The last story, “Lumiere,” is another that I liked a lot. An old, bedridden man is dictating a story to a younger man. The story is about a choreographer who encounters a phenomenal male dancer, which resonates with the younger man because he, too, is in love with a dancer. Not a lot happens in this story, but it, too, has the languid mood that seems to be what all my favorite est em stories have in common.

Ultimately, I liked Seduce Me After the Show a little more, but this is a very close second.

Seduce Me After the Show by est em: A

From the back cover:
A stylish, tempestuous dance of anguish and passion. Seduce Me After the Show contains seven short stories which take place within the artistic worlds of dance, painting, and music. Overall themes focus on the dichotomy of hope and despair as well as the relationship between pleasure and longing. In the title story, devastated by the death of his world famous dancer mother, Theo Gallardo abandons his own dancing career to become an actor and co-stars in a film with popular Hollywood idol Darren Fergus. What should have been a joking kiss shared between them takes a sudden turn when Darren asks, “So what now?” Theo answers, “That depends on the script.” As lustful passions boil over, will Theo be able to regain the fire that he once possessed and return to the dancing world?

The back of this book is doing a lot of my (self-appointed) job for me! Though, to be honest, I probably never would’ve written about the “dichotomy of hope and despair” anyway.

Right up until I read the last story, I thought my favorite tale would end up being the two-parter starring Theo and Darren (details above). It’s wonderfully told, with an ending I adore even as I wish there were more to read about these two. The final story has a similar feel and tells the story of a man returning to Kyoto after a long absence. He’s come back to attend a festival and, while there, asks about an old friend of his. Gradually, the details of their parting are revealed and, I swear, the final page makes me sniffly.

I really like the art—the use of screentone and backgrounds is minimal, resulting in a largely black and white style. Some of the character designs are quite original, too. Theo looks more like Severus Snape than he does a typical manga character. One of the couples includes a guy in his fifties, and when’s the last time you saw that happen in this genre? Lastly, I appreciate that est em takes the “artistically suggestive” route with the pair of love scenes; depicting things in exacting detail would detract from the emotional element.

Usually, I don’t notice things like paper or print quality, but the production values from Deux (the yaoi imprint of Aurora Publishing, a fairly new player on the American manga scene) are good enough to attract my notice. The translated dialogue seems natural and though I had trouble a couple of times working out exactly what Theo meant, I think that’s just a facet of his character. There was one fairly glaring grammatical error, though. “You’re work has really matured.” Nails on a chalkboard, that one.

My only real complaint is the surfeit of ambiguity. There are times when it isn’t easy to determine which character spoke a line, whether two characters actually slept together, or how one really feels about the other. I’m sure all of this is intentional, but to quote Davy Keith from Anne of Green Gables (‘cos where better to do that than in a yaoi review?), “I want to know!”

Seduce Me After the Show is a character-driven collection featuring grown-up men dealing with their feelings for each other. There’s no blushing or glomping here, and though the stories may be short, they’re also original, thoughtful, and memorable. If you buy one yaoi title this year, buy this one. There’s another book by est em due in December, though, so maybe make it two.

A slightly different version of this review was also published at Manga Recon.