Yokan 1: Premonition by Makoto Tateno: B-

Akira is the lead singer of a visual kei band and has somewhat of an attitude. He doesn’t care about the fans’ enjoyment, only his own, and refuses to sing anything he didn’t write himself. That is, until he overhears mainstream entertainer Hiroya Sunaga singing one of his own compositions. For the first time, Akira’s obsessed by someone else’s music and makes it his mission to get Hiroya to abandon his “adequate” career and really sing seriously.

Once again, Makoto Tateno has crafted a BL story with a fair amount of plot and a minimum of romance. Yes, Akira and Hiroya eventually become lovers, but there’s always an atmosphere of challenge to their encounters. In dragging Hiroya back into a world he left behind, Akira is creating a rival for himself, setting up a standard to be surpassed.

While this concept is promising, Yokan is far from perfect. When Akira first expresses interest in singing his song, Hiroya demands payment. Readers expect this to be sex, but in fact, he only claims a kiss. This led me to hope the story would be free from a nonconsensual scene, but this is unfortunately not the case. The bonus story, “Sinsemilla,” is also pretty horrible, featuring one character dosing another with an aphrodisiac and said victim later suggesting that the drug made him gay. “I was completely hetero before!”

I liked Yokan well enough to continue to the second volume, but it probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

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

How to Control a Sidecar by Makoto Tateno: B-

In this spin-off of How to Capture a Martini, stoic bartender Kiyohito Kousaka is pursued by a pair of guys looking to recruit him for a three-way relationship. He initially wants nothing to do with them, but when one of them goes missing, he cares enough to want to get to the bottom of the mystery.

There are definitely some good things about How to Control a Sidecar. The relationship between the two men—Fumi and Kanashiro—is not exactly what it seems, and I like that the title story ends differently than I’d been expecting. Even the regrettable inclusion of a nonconsensual scene is tempered somewhat by the fact that the victim collects evidence and sees a doctor, though stops short of filing a police report, and that all parties involved acknowledge the act for what it was.

It’s the second story, “How to Subdue a Stinger,” that I found most disappointing, since it completely negates the unconventional ending of the title story and endows Kousaka with a near-total personality transplant. The impression I get from it is that Tateno’s readers were dissatisfied with the original ending and that she wrote this to appease them. That’s really too bad, because it was much better the first way.

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

How to Capture a Martini by Makoto Tateno: B+

As a first year in high school, Naoyuki Hibino experienced his first love, first kiss, and first sexual experience with an upperclassman named Shinobu Okada. When Shinobu abruptly disappeared after his graduation, Naoyuki was crushed but did his best to forget him. Four years have passed since that time, but when Naoyuki happens to run into Okada, who’s working as a bartender, all of his old feelings return with a vengeance.

Shinobu doesn’t seem to care about anything anymore, whether it’s his body—he’s willing to “do” just about anyone—or his career, even though his boss and more experienced coworker encourage him frequently to expand his cocktail-making horizons. Earnest Naoyuki can’t accept this attitude, and keeps pouring his concern and love onto Shinobu until the latter finally admits his reasons for keeping his distance.

While this kind of story and couple isn’t exactly groundbreaking—there are shades of Future Lovers in the humor and characterization—it makes for an engaging romance nonetheless. Naoyuki and Shinobu are both likably flawed, and the cast of supporting characters helps move the story along, though I could’ve done without Shinobu’s boss and his incestuous relationship with his teenage brother.

In the end, How to Capture a Martini is a lot of fun and pretty darn adorable. I’m looking forward to the sequel, How to Control a Sidecar, which is due later this spring.

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

Steal Moon 1-2 by Makoto Tateno: C

stealmoon2As in the related series Blue Sheep Reverie, Makoto Tateno has gone beyond the call of BL duty to craft a science fiction plot of some complexity. One hundred years in the past, a computer on the moon called “Isis” was created to protect the president then in office. Now it’s rumored to be spying on the populace and seasoned street fighter Nozomi is recruited to help put it out of commission.

This all sounds fairly tame, but the way in which Nozomi gets involved is pretty bizarre. Boasting about his fighting skills after his latest victory, he declares that if anyone could beat him, he’d “willingly become his servant.” This is the cue for a mysterious guy called Coyote to show up, beat Nozomi, and promptly sell him to an internet peep room site. Because this is BL, Nozomi falls in love with Coyote, even though the latter says things like, “I wish I could’ve kept you imprisoned forever.” How romantic.

The peep show gig doesn’t last long, and Nozomi is eventually drafted into helping take down “Isis.” By the end of the second volume, he has learned more about Coyote so their relationship makes a bit more sense, at least, and some of the power dynamic issues are rectified. Nothing in the world can excuse the creepiness of the two twelve-year-olds in the peep show place with Nozomi, though. They’re fond of crawling all over him and striking sexy poses to drive up their hit counts, but the apex of ick occurs when one kid declares, “I’m gonna grow up real fast so I can service you!”

Um, ew?

Plotwise, Steal Moon is ambitious and occasionally even intriguing, but other elements of the story might incite a strong desire for brain bleach.

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

Blue Sheep Reverie 1-2 by Makoto Tateno: B-

bluesheep2When Kai’s lover, Maria, is murdered, he sets out to find her killer. His one clue is that the ring Maria always wore—a man-made blue jewel resembling the eye of a sheep—is missing, and he thinks he’s found it on the hand of Lahti Bara, a bigwig in Sarte, one of the gangs ruling the gritty city of Akatsuki. To get close to Lahti and check out his ring, Kai makes a bid to be his bodyguard and later consents to be his lover. It turns out that Lahti isn’t Maria’s murderer, but Kai has already grown fascinated by the powerful and enigmatic leader and gets embroiled in a bunch of gang politics involving a rival gang, an elite group within Sarte called the Four Kings, a renegade Sarte member attempting to bring them down, and a power struggle over gang leadership.

While I very heartily applaud any BL series for having as much plot as this one does, I must regretfully admit that I found most of the gang-related action dull and repetitive. Nearly every time something bad happens, the aforementioned renegade is the culprit but never seems to get caught. Kai isn’t a very strong character, either, but I do think his relationship with Lahti is an interesting one. It definitely isn’t love, as Lahti occasionally keeps Kai on door guard duty while he’s bedding other men, but Kai realizes that it’s not love and kindness he craves, but rather the strength to be worthy to stand at Lahti’s side, to be necessary to him.

So, is this good? Well, almost. It’s one of those cases where I like it despite its faults. I actually struggled a lot with whether to give it a B, since Tateno-sensei bothered to create such an intricate plot, but I just couldn’t do it.

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