Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Are you BL curious?

I know I said I was burned out on writing reviews, (which is still true) and yet I'm still posting them. I have a giant pile that I need to get through. But thanks to Narutaki's kind words I'll continue with my posts for great beginner BL manga. That was the reason I decided to start Manic About Manga in the first place. I want to be able to impart my knowledge to all that want it. There is a lot of manga out there, but it's not all good manga.

A good way to judge your BL manga is know what to expect from the publisher. If you are interested in super hardcore PWP (Plot? What Plot?) the publishers that most likely fill this category are 801 Media and Kitty Media. Juné has a wide range to choose from. With their M-rated titles there is going to be a bit more action, but chances are its still going to be toned down in comparison with what you'll find in 801 Media (Digital Manga is the parent company of both Juné and 801 Media). Don't be afraid to check out reviews for Juné titles online (you can always check here, I'll help!) BLU is TokyoPop's BL imprint. It is similar to Juné because they have a wide variety of titles to offer. DramaQueen and BeBeautiful have been MIA for quite some time now so who knows what is going on. But with the back catalog of BeBeautiful titles they are much more explicit. DramaQueen has a wider variety, but because they don’t print as much as other publishers the selection is smaller. So far the titles that I've read are pretty sexually explicit. But that's only for the titles that I have.

I'll talk about more BL publishers in the next post, but let's get down to business.

Voice or Noise by Yamimaru Enjin – Shinichiro is having trouble with his dog Flappy. The veterinarian sends him to see a "specialist" by the name of Narusawa. It seems that Narusawa is able to communicate with animals. It turns out that Shinichiro has this gift as well. Shinichiro tries to convince Narusawa to teach him the art of animal conversation. Soon feelings develop between these two. This is a great read for beginning BL readers because you get kissing and hinting at sex, but nothing graphic. It's Doctor Doolittle meets boys love!

Future Lovers by Saika Kunieda – Kento has a dream of marrying a beautiful woman, having a large family, and live in bliss. After his girlfriend rejects his proposal of marriage Kento gets drunk and ends up sleeping with some random guy he met at the bar. But its not too bad seeing how the guy is gorgeous and this mysterious man is really the one who picked him up. It turns out the mystery man is actually the new art teacher at the high school Kento teaches at. This one is a little more graphic, but the sex is tastefully done. My only worry is the one-shot featured at the end of the book. Yet the first story is so wonderful and funny that I, personally, was able to truly enjoy this volume and overlook my hesitations towards the second story.

Sunflower by Hyouta Fujiyama – Ryuhei had a crush on his tutor Aikawa, but those feelings remained unrequited. You see Aikawa is involved with someone else. Ryuhei decides that he's just going to go with the flow and enjoy his high school experience. He attends Kinsei High a school rumored to have a student body that is 90% gay (this is a boys school). In class he meets Kunihisa who transferred into the school and is completely unaware of the rumor. It seems that Kunihisa has piqued Ryuhei's interest. There is passionate kissing, and sex but it is mostly in the side stories. The sex scenes, however, are tastefully drawn with Fujiyama-sama's delicate style.

Gakuen Heaven by You Higuri – Keita Ito has been accepted into Bell Liberty Academy. It is a very prestigious school that only takes the best of the best. Keita sees himself as an average dude. Yet he is supremely lucky. Once he arrives at the school (after a messed up bus accident) he quickly makes friends with many of the students. There is one that seems to catch Keita's eye, Tetsuya Niwa – Student Council President. This one is probably the most visually graphic volumes on this list because you do see an erect member. This happens at the end however. There is also a moment of non-consent that can be a little off putting. But this is a great beginner volume because it introduces you to some of the many yaoi plot points and the more graphic style. Also, it being from the master Higuri-sensei the quality of the art is second to none

Okay! I've provided another short list of excellent beginner BL titles. With Voice or Noise it is a series with currently two volumes (there are three that have been released in Japan) but the series is still ongoing. Future Lovers has a sequel coming out next March. Sunflower also is a two volume series that is well worth your time. Gakuen Heaven has another title that has been licensed by BLU Manga but I have no idea when it will be released, but it follows a totally different story line.

Don't hesitate to leave a comment for me on what you think of these volumes once they've been read. I hope that these postings have been informative for you. When I first started reading yaoi titles I jumped in and found myself a little shocked. I had to go back to some of the more vanilla titles to familiarize myself with the genre. There was no where for me to go to get advice on what would be good for a beginner. Just consider me your water wings for when you venture out into the vast ocean of BL titles!


Marfisa said...

Hyouta Fujiyama also has five or six other manga available from June/DMP. Personally, I preferred her other two-volume Kinsei High series, "Ordinary Crush," to "Sunflower." (Most of her other licensed stuff involves college-age guys or adult salarymen.) Like "Sunflower," "Ordinary Crush" involves a slightly homophobic boy unwittingly enrolling at the 90%-gay-or-bi all-boys' school. When Nanase freaks out over receiving a Valentine's Day-related present from a male admirer, his friend Heiji suggests they help each other fend off unwanted suitors by pretending to be a couple, with comical--and eventually romantic--results.

Another good starter BL manga is Fumi Yoshinaga's "Antique Bakery." This four-volume series technically isn't BL, but one of the four main characters, the pastry chef Ono, is a so-called "gay of demonic charm" who keeps getting fired because his ability to make previously straight guys fall for him without even meaning to tends to wreak havoc in the workplace. As a result of a long string of such restaurant-disrupting mishaps, Ono coincidentally winds up being hired by Tachibana--the guy whom he had a crush on in high school, who brutally rejected Ono when he finally confessed his feelings on graduation day. Ironically, Ono has gone on to become such a dude magnet in Tokyo's gay subculture that he's pretty much forgotten all about Tachibana and isn't bothered at all when the now more mature ex-object of his affections mortifiedly recognizes him and brings up their previous acquaintance. The story doesn't go where a typical BL series starting from this premise would, but its cheerfully slice-of-lifeish nonconformity to the standard BL tropes is part of its charm.

Kris said...

Thank you for your suggestions. I plan on continuing my beginner BL readers section, I'm just buried in piles of manga that I need to re-read to aid in review posting.

Hyouta Fujiyama-sama can do no wrong in my eyes and Ordinary Crush was the first Hyouta Fujiyama-sama series that I checked out. I was also just wading into the waters of BL when I picked it up.

Antique Bakery was the second BL style series that I picked up after Gravitation. I'm having a hard time pinning it to a genre. It's not really BL, and not really shojo, it's really ambiguous. But yes, it is a great series to start off with.

Thanks again for the suggestions. Don't hesitate to give me more titles to check out, I really appreciate it!

Marfisa said...

I think "Antique Bakery" is officially classified as josei (adult women's) manga, since that's the market the magazine it was originally published in was aimed at. This is also true of several other titles such as "NANA" and "Nodame Cantabile," which tend to be perceived here as older-skewing shoujo.

Classifying "Antique" as josei rather than BL makes a certain amount of sense if you define BL as being focussed primarily on male/male romance--which "Antique" isn't, although there are a couple of intermittent subplots involving Ono's lovelife. But at least josei manga are targeted at female readers, who are the main demographic that buys BL and BL-related stuff, at least in Japan.

What's harder to explain, at least to Western readers, is Fumi Yoshinaga's new series, whose title translates as something like "What Did You Eat for Dinner Last Night?" Only five or six chapters of it have been scanlated so far, and as far as I know it hasn't even been collected into tankoubon form in Japan yet.

According to the scanlators, this series is classified as seinen (young adult men's manga), even though the main characters are a gay couple. This series is even more matter of factly slice of life-ish--even sitcom-ish--than "Antique Bakery," since the gay couple in question have been together for years and act pretty much like any other long-established two-career married couple. As the title suggests, there are at least as many scenes involving cooking (the more glamorous-looking of the two is a rather stingy lawyer who's an avid amateur chef) as there are featuring any kind of specifically gay content. When there is gay content, it usually involves stuff like the lawyer suffering through phone calls from his cluelessly hyper-supportive wannabe-PFLAG-member mom, or arguing with his plainer but more outgoing hairdresser boyfriend about how out they should be at work and in public. The most risque thing that's happened so far was a hilarious incident in which the hairdresser cheerfully bragged to an excessively chatty customer that his boyfriend was a real catch who let the hairdresser top in bed. Naturally the lawyer was mortified when the two of them ran into the woman at the supermarket a day or two later and she pretty much blurted out all this TMI in the course of trying to find out if the guy shopping with her hairdresser was the gorgeous lawyer boyfriend in question.

So, based on what I've seen of it so far, this series is, if anything, less likely than something like "Will and Grace" to freak out even American men, who probably tend to be more self-consciously homoerotica-phobic than anyone in Japan, where even non-yaoi fans seem to have a "don't ask, don't tell, don't make a fuss" attitude toward gayness. But even if the two main characters never get around to so much as kissing on panel--they haven't so far, as I recall--it's still not exactly the type of subject matter you'd expect the average editor of a seinen magazine to think would appeal to his mostly heterosexual male readers. Of course, neither is the vaguely "Upstairs/Downstairs"-like Victorian romance "Emma," which also originally appeared in a seinen magazine (although that may be partially explicable by the fact that a significant number of Japanese anime and manga fans seem to have something of a maid fetish).

Anyway, if you prefer to classify manga by theme and artistic genre, rather than by what market segment the original magazine it appeared in is targeted towards, as the Japanese do, Yoshinaga's "What Did You Have for Dinner Last Night?" has more in common with a comparatively PG-rated American gay comics series like Tim Barela's "Leonard and Larry" than it does with most of what's officially labeled BL in Japan. "What Did You Have for Dinner?", like "Antique Bakery" and "Adult's Problems," another, non-Yoshinaga series I've read a few chapters of in scanlation (it's about a straight male college student's often exasperating relationship with his long-divorced gay dad and the dad's twenty-six-year-old lover), could most accurately be classified as something like "slice of life with gay/BL elements."