Don’t Say Any More, Darling by Fumi Yoshinaga: B

I reviewed this collection of short stories, some BL and some not, for the inaugural edition of a new feature at Manga Bookshelf called BL Bookrack. A couple of the stories are really quite weird, but I truly loved the final story, “The Pianist,” about an aging musician who has convinced himself he’s a “debauched fallen genius” rather than someone who simply didn’t have the talent to succeed.

You can find that review here.

Maiden Rose 1 by Fusanosuke Inariya: B

Taki Reizen and Claus von Wolfstadt should be enemies since their countries are at war. But a bond forged at school abroad leads Taki, a nobleman, to make Claus his knight, fighting by his side while Taki takes the role of division commander, marshalling his humble subjects as they seek to defend against the enemy’s advances. Many view Claus with suspicion, despite his apparent devotion to the commander, and are more apt to regard him as a “mad dog” and possible spy than as a trustworthy ally.

The two adjectives that best describe Maiden Rose are “promising” and “confusing.” For a boys’ love manga, this story is extremely complex, and features many character types and conflicts not traditionally seen in this genre. The character designs are also terrifically varied, from beautiful Taki to gruff Claus to the myriad middle-aged men who make up the rest of the division.

Confusing, though, is the exact nature of Taki and Claus’ (sexual) relationship. A flashback to their first encounter makes it clear that Taki wanted this, but now it seems like Taki is simply allowing himself to be violated by Claus after each battle. This makes for some disturbing scenes, but what’s good about Maiden Rose is that it doesn’t shirk from the consequences of Claus’ roughness. Too, Taki has enough depth as a character that one can read his passivity here as a desire to be punished for getting innocent people hurt; he’s commanding them because he must and it’s better than remaining ignorant while they die, but it’s definitely taking a toll on him.

So, yes, a very promising boys’ love manga indeed. It’s perhaps not for the faint of heart, but it’s definitely something different.

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

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.

Itazura Na Kiss 2 by Kaoru Tada: B+

One could easily expend five hundred words or more relaying all the ups and downs contained in this double-sized volume of Itazura Na Kiss, but the most important facts are these: Kotoko and Naoki graduate from high school and move on to attend the same college, where Kotoko’s attempts to fit into Naoki’s world generally meet with embarrassing results. They also share a single, somewhat spiteful, kiss, and various events lead Kotoko to proclaim her intention to give up on Naoki, just in time for a renewal of close proximity that makes this impossible to achieve.

This series is a fine example of a romantic comedy that puts equal emphasis on both factors. Not that Kotoko’s relationship with Naoki is romantic yet—he is still too mean to her for that to be true—but there are quite a few comedic scenes in which the two leads do not appear at all that serve to further flesh out the setting and supporting characters. The least amusing of these tend to feature Kin-san, a persistent classmate who carries a torch for Kotoko, while the best revolve around Naoki’s mother, who is an avid supporter of a relationship developing between Kotoko and her son.

Though it can be a little painful to observe the desperate floundering of people in love, the end result is a story that’s consistently entertaining. Even after consuming 300+ pages in one sitting, I still wanted more.

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.

ZE 4 by Yuki Shimizu: C+

It’s maintenance time for the kami who serve the kotodama users of the Mitou family, which provides an opportunity to introduce some members of the extended family.

Volume three dealt primarily with the couple of Genma and Himi, an arc that carries over into the first few chapters of this volume. Himi, who had once been the kami of Genma’s father, protects his new master from an attack and “dies” as a result of his injuries. Genma is frantic to have him resurrected, but has trouble adjusting to the new Himi, who has the appearance of the original but none of his memories. I’d have more sympathy for Genma if he hadn’t been such a creep to Himi in the previous volume, but at least this is better than what follows.

After Himi’s maintenance is complete we meet a pair of extremely obnoxious twins and the kami they share. This whole episode—intended to be comedy, one assumes—is jarring because it doesn’t mesh at all with what’s just come before.

I seriously think the twins appear only because Shimizu wanted to draw a threesome, which is an example of ZE’s main problem. I’ve lost count of the characters who’ve appeared in this series so far, and it seems like mangaka Yuki Shimizu is focusing on variety rather than fleshing out any of the characters who’ve been present from the start. The guy who goes crazy for ice cream is still just the guy who goes crazy for ice cream, and nobody else seems poised to grow, either.

There were hints in earlier volumes of a larger story, and maybe those threads will be picked up again in the future, but I’m certainly not holding my breath.

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

ZE 3 by Yuki Shimizu: C+

From the back cover:
When a kotodama-sama dies, his or her kami-sama—a healer made of living paper—typically chooses to die as well, returning to a blank state as “hakushi.” But when Himi’s master passes away, a deep sense of obligation forces him to choose another path. Instead, Himi becomes kami-sama for his master’s estranged son, Genma.

Genma is everything Himi’s former kotodama-sama was not—rough, arrogant, brutish—and furthermore, Genma enjoys using Himi for his own selfish pleasure. Is this more torment than Himi can endure? Or will he come to realize that different people show their true feelings in different ways?

Yuki Shimizu delves deeper into the Mitou family in this latest volume of her hit series!

ZE‘s focus on the members of a family full of magic users and their same-sex attendants allows mangaka Yuki Shimizu to change gears and feature other couples as she sees fit. While the opening volumes were more about the residents of a particular house, volume three branches out to the extended family with the tale of Himi, a kami, and Genma, the new master he receives after his old one dies. I can see the appeal of such a setup, as it allows Shimizu to present a variety of relationship types, but must admit that Himi and Genma’s tale does not thrill me.

There are certain moments between them that are quite nice. The revelation that Genma, the son of Himi’s original master, felt a combination of desire for and envy of Himi since his adolescence provides depth for a character who otherwise comes across as sadistic, and the cliffhanger on the final pages is both well paced and very well drawn. The majority of the time, though, their relationship consists of Genma demanding that his every sexual need be met and refusing to heed Himi’s protests. At least one scene could be construed as rape. This isn’t necessarily portrayed as being a romantic thing—Himi’s reactions are sometimes quite awful—but I get the feeling we’re supposed to feel like Genma has redeemed himself by the end, after a coworker vouches for his kindliness and he begins to actually confirm that Himi consents to what’s going on.

It’s really quite disturbing and I feel kind of bad that I’m not giving the volume a lower score as a result, but I continue to enjoy Shimizu’s intriguing world building and her expressive art. Volume four is more of Himi and Genma’s story, and I hope I’ll like it better now that they seem to have established a little more equality in their relationship. We shall see.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Our Kingdom: Arabian Nights by Naduki Koujima: B-

This one-volume spin-off of Our Kingdom stars Raoul, a former supporting character of that series, as he attempts to recover from heartbreak by taking a trip to a swanky Middle Eastern resort. His plans go astray when he is captured by a good-hearted yet foolish prince named Ashif, who plans to use Raoul as a pawn to ensure his sister’s marital happiness.

Raoul is naturally upset at this turn of events and when his temper flares, he takes it out on Ashif in the form of some forcible groping. Unlike some other BL characters who engage in such behavior, however, Raoul wallows in self-loathing because of it. As they spend more time together, Raoul begins to develop feelings for Ashif, who is able to show him good qualities about himself and motivate him to become a better person.

Even without knowledge of Raoul’s time in the main storyline, his desire to move forward from those events is still appealing. So, too, are his uncertainties about Ashif. Being with the prince has helped ease much of Raoul’s bitterness, but their friendship is also a source of anxiety, since Raoul must overcome the compulsion to hang on too tightly to something he fears might slip away.

It’s too bad that the actual plot of the manga cannot support Raoul’s turmoil in any meaningful way, for it is the personification of flimsy and occasionally borders on ridiculous. Secondary characters offer little to the story, and I have absolutely no idea why Raoul’s little sisters are present, unless they are intended to be the comic relief. These flaws ultimately mean that the story isn’t as good as it might have been.

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

Physical Attraction by Tatsumi Kaiya: B

physicalattractionPhysical Attraction is a collection of BL stories about adult men—either college students or professionals—and is bookended by two tales about the same couple. In “Physical Attraction,” Kurata and Narusawa have been having a sexual relationship for some time, but when Kurata belatedly realizes that he loves Narusawa, he wonders whether it’s too late to try to steer things in that direction. It’s actually quite a cute story, and though it wraps up a little too easily, it’s nice to glimpse the guys again in “Loving Attraction” and see how being together in a loving way has positively influenced them.

Other good stories include “Anti-Dramatic,” in which one member of a cohabiting couple feels neglected when his significant other gets a job, and “Let Me Knock on the Same Door,” in which a talented graphic designer rejects a golden opportunity in order to work on a project with the down-on-his-luck game software developer he loves. The latter also ends too quickly and easily, but the premise is intriguing enough that that’s forgivable.

The other two stories, “February Rain” and “Cooled Passion,” are not going to be to everyone’s taste since in both, the point-of-view character abruptly forces himself on his companion. In “Cooled Passion” this is especially unfortunate, as the act is quite malicious and the tale had been so promising up to that point.

In the end, though there are elements in some stories that I’m not keen on, the overall collection is enjoyable and unique enough that I can still recommend it.

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