S 4: Afterglow by Saki Aida and Chiharu Nara: B-

Masaki Shiiba was a detective investigating the manufacture of illegal firearms and Keigo Munechika was his “S,” an informant who played a key role in Shiiba’s information gathering. At some point in the past, the two began a romantic relationship, but a powerful yakuza boss with a grudge against Munechika wants to see him suffer and so hires a hitman who’ll receive one million yen every time he shoots Munechika.

As the fourth volume begins, Munechika lies hospitalized and Shiiba has turned in his resignation and bought an illegal gun with the intention of killing the man responsible—Takanari Godou—who also might’ve had something to do with the death of Shiiba’s sister eight years earlier. Shiiba gets as far as confronting Godou at gunpoint, but the other man manages to exploit his weaknesses in such a way that he agrees to do Godou’s bidding in exchange for the hit against Munechika being called off.

Let me be clear on one thing: I am not comparing S to great works of literature. As far as yaoi novels go, however, it seems to be better than most. True, the writing is facile, with a blatant disregard for the admonition “show, don’t tell,” but at least the story is trying to be about something more than sex. In fact, there’s only one sex scene in the whole book and it’s between two men who genuinely love each other. Despite Godou’s attempts to humiliate Shiiba while the latter is in his clutches, no nonconsensual scenes result. That alone is worthy of praise.

The basic plot is “the good guys versus Godou,” and I had no trouble getting into it, though the finer details never really coalesced for me. Nearly all of the characters are conflicted in some way, especially Shiiba, whose ruminating upon past events fills in the blanks pretty well. Throughout, I could easily visualize the action, so it felt a lot like reading a novelization of a story originally told in manga format.

There are some problems, though. After much is made of Shiiba needing to stay at Godou’s house in order to protect Munechika, there are no consequences when he leaves. When Shiiba is reunited with Munechika, who has some powerful connections himself, Munechika’s people simply say, “Oh yes, we know about the hitman,” and that’s that. It’s all very anticlimactic. Also, two characters, including the main villain, have similar angsty backgrounds that involve a mother’s inappropriate love for either her son or her son’s half-brother and her subsequent early demise. I’m not sure what the author was trying to say there.

DMP’s packaging is a mixed bag. A color illustration is included, which I appreciate—Chiharu Nara’s art is quite nice and depicts both Shiba and Munechika as mature, masculine men—but there are many grammatical errors in the text. Most of these are things that should’ve been easily caught, like “the wings itself aren’t blue,” while others, like “He took the bouquet from the employee’s hands, who looked conflicted,” conjure up amusing mental images of unusually expressive appendages.

If you’re looking for a yaoi novel with an emphasis on plot, then S might suit you to a T.

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

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