[Manga] Wolfsmund, volume 1 by Mitsuhisa Kuji

Reviewed by: aoi_aka

Published in print by: Vertical, Inc.

Read it or Pass It: Read it! Please read this. This is seinen and you won’t get angsty teenagers dealing with stuff or magical girls saving the world. Here be adult stuff.

Wolfsmund, volume 1 (c) Vertical, Inc./Enterbrain

Summary for volume 1: In early modern Europe, the cantons that will one day comprise Switzerland are suffering brutal oppression under Habsburg Austria. Once a source of trade wealth for the people of the Alps, Sankt Gotthard Pass now hems them in, straddled by a barrier station overseen by a heartless bailiff and feared as the Wolf’s Maw. Even as a legendary hero takes up the cause of freedom, hope comes too dear. Clenched teeth, meet cruel smile.  — taken from the back of volume 1

Review: Imagine the first page of chapter one-a man only in trousers, hands tied behind his back. He seems to be accused of being a rebel and that immediately makes you think he’s a bad guy. He asks to be beheaded by a sword because he was a soldier who fought for freedom.

You flip the page and the man is forced to kneel in front of a block, the executioner raises a mallet and in the next page, the prisoner loses his head. This man wasn’t the main protagonist. This man was the father of this chapter’s main protagonist, Lady Lieselotte. She’s on the run with Sir Georg and they’re both accused of treason.

Wolfsmund is a historical manga. It’s based on the history of the Old Swiss Confederacy some time during the 14th century. Lieselotte’s and Georg’s goal is to arrive in Milan and formally join the rebellion.

Enter Wolfsmund. It’s a fortress our brave heroes have to cross in order to leave the area and get to safety. The titular character is a garrison fortress which is held by a man named Wolfram and he is a man with great acuity and an unforgiving heart. He has been given orders to stop Lady Lieselotte. And stop her he does, quite brutally.

All of this in the first chapter; the next two chapters deal with more efforts to pass the garrison to the other side.

There isn’t one good guy in this story so far that we can pin our hopes to. In the first volume there’s Lieselotte, Georg, Johanna, Klaus, Wilhelm, and Walter, and they all get defeated in one way or another. By the time you get to the last page, Wolfram has won every single effort to stop the rebellion, at least on the surface.

In the last chapter we encounter Wilhelm and Walter Tell. They have an ingenious plan to get on the other side, but it also fails. At least partially. Wolfram still stretches his powerful and omniscient power and catches them, only to lose them again.

Wolfram’s loyalty is questioned. His silver tongue saves him, but he is warned that any more failures will not be tolerated. Wolfram’s eyes seem to be hiding something. It sparks the hope that he’s with the rebellion, waiting the right time to strike.

The only other constant, aside from the death; torture; Wolfsmund; and Wolfram, is a mysterious woman. She’s the owner of an inn in the outskirts of Wolfsmund. We never learn her name, but she helps all the rebellion’s spies with lodging, food, and advice. Maybe in the next volume we’ll learn who she is and what her final role is.

I think these first three chapters set up Wolfsmund and Wolfram for what’s to come. They have to be defeated at all costs. All we can do is root for the good guys to triumph and turn the tide of history. You could do a Wiki search and get confused by all the detailed history dished out (Maker knows I tried simply because I wanted to find out how “accurate” this manga is). The way Wolfram behaves is curious. He’s not suspected of treason for nothing. There’s gotta be something else behind the scenes that we haven’t been shown yet. Personally I can’t wait for that moment.

Art: This is a medieval story with all the gory details that were alive and present back in the day. Nothing is softened or sugar-coated for the reader. The only thing you’re missing from this experience is the smell and noise of the time.

This manga is by Mitsuhisa Kuji who was an assistant to Kentaro Miura, famous for Berserk, and Kaoru Mori, famous for Emma. Her art reflects both masters. From Miura she takes the sense of overwhelming action and violence. And from Mori she takes the beauty of lines and their simplicity to tell a story. There’s nudity, but it serves a purpose; this is a seinen manga after all. If you wanted panty shots and jiggly boobs, you should read something else.

But this art is not all crotch and boob shots.

The blood flies. It seems to take a life of its own when it sprays out. It’s as if it were controlled by magic, but it’s not. You can feel the characters’ anger in their eyes through the page. Their desperation and willingness to sacrifice themselves for the cause is felt in every line and screentone.

I noticed a discrepancy and I don’t know if this is due to something the mangaka has planned or an honest mistake. In the first chapter Wolfram’s look is different. His hair is dark. In the next two chapters, his hair is light. The face still has the creepy smile, so it’s hard to tell if the face changes. It would seem as if we have two different Wolfram in the garrison going under the same name. This could be intentional, but this early in the game, it’s hard to tell.

Localization: I don’t know what the Japanese original says, but I hope Kuji didn’t use the usual Japanese honorifics. It’s a pet peeve of mine when authors use that when the setting is not Japanese. I know they’re conforming to the norm in Japan because it’s a product created by a Japanese person for a Japanese audience. I get all that.

Vertical did a great job with the localization. No Japanese honorifics, only your usual ‘sir,’ ‘lady,’ or ‘liege’ which in English make sense to us. Japanese honorifics in a setting like Wolfsmund would be very distracting to the flow of the story.

Conclusion: Read this. I can only say that with certainty that something mind blowing is going to happen down the road. This is only the first volume in a currently running manga. It has a lot of promise. It is a mature title, so it will have nudity, violence, blood, gore, and humans being ugly to other humans.

It may take you more than one read-through to get everything straight. Manga licensed in English that doesn’t have one main human character, out to save the day (or be a total jerk while doing it) are rare. There isn’t one character you root for. You root for the characters who rebel against oppression and die fighting for freedom. It’s their every day struggle that keeps you hooked to Wolfsmund. I hope Kuji doesn’t fail to deliver the promise she’s making with this great beginning.

Disclaimer: I pre-ordered this copy of Wolfsmund, volume 1 after I attended a Vertical panel at ACEN. It now sits quietly on my shelf waiting for volume 2.

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Samejima-kun and Sasahara-kun by Koshino

Reviewed by Cait
Published in print by Juné

Short Answer: Adorably Awkward

From the back cover: “Samejima-kun has just mustered up the courage to tell his co-worker (and classmate) Sasahara-kun that he loves him… but now what? Will the two fumbling friends fall into a frenzy of forbidden ecstasy? Or will they annoy one another to death before their clothes even come off?

“Samejima-kun and Sasahara-kun proves that forsaking friendship for the pleasures of passion isn’t all it’s cracked up to be! Can true love flourish after a sudden storeroom confession? Or will bloody war erupt over a few pieces of stolen chocolate?”

Samejima is a socially awkward introvert with germophobia. Sasahara is selfish and inconsiderate. Their friendship was an odd-couple to be sure, but their romance is on a whole different level. What makes this book entertaining isn’t the BL elements. If anything, the whole “I’m not gay, it’s just you” trope has gotten stale, and those niggling details become a distraction from what is otherwise a very interesting take on this friends-to-lovers tale.

I typically don’t go for embarrassingly awkward stories, but somehow Koshino pulls off awkward without making the characters unwatchable. There are times when Samejima’s reticence to pursue Sasahara outright becomes aggravating, and there are times when Sasahara’s insensitivity to Samejima’s feelings are obnoxious, but they are both very realistic, very likable people. They have good points and they have bad points and most importantly they see and accept those features in one another like true friends. It’s what makes their burgeoning romance believable.

And it’s all so light-hearted even as it is played completely serious. Their emotions and reactions to each other are over-the-top, but to them they are real. This is the best kind of humor for me. Even the sex scenes, in all their awkward glory, are entertaining. This might put some off who are looking for sex to always be hot, but taken as a whole I think presenting it in a traditional BL romance way would have broken the flow of the narrative.

It is also incredibly refreshing that Sasahara, the assumed uke, states his intentions to also top. We just don’t see enough reversible couples in BL, it’s always nice when one turns up (even if it’s never shown in the book). Likewise, it isn’t common to see the supporting cast, in this case Samejima and Sasahara’s friends and co-workers, not be completely oblivious to the main couple’s relationship. Homosexuality being a taboo is typically a driving force behind the titillation of BL plotlines, but there is enough general awkwardness between Samejima and Sasahara that adding the whole world against them for being gay would have been too much. Their friends in particular are pretty quick on the uptake and take the boys’ new relationship in stride.

This is my first Koshino title. Her art is messy and it’s sometimes difficult to discern characters from each other when there is more than the main couple in the panels. Backgrounds are sparse, but the story is about the characters, so only a limited amount of setting is really needed. The art may be a distraction to those accustomed to traditional shojo BL style, but the story isn’t traditional BL shojo romance, either, so it’s easy to look past. Two of her other works are available on eManga through DMG, one of them featuring a character that appears in this book as an extra.

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False Memories volume 1 by Isaku Natsume

Reviewed by Cait
Published in print (also available digitally) by SuBLime

Short Answer: Passable so far, but final impressions will hinge on how the author addresses the apparent misunderstandings going forward.

From the website: “Although they were best friends in high school, Nakano and Tsuda haven’t talked in ten years. Which may have a little something to do with the fact that not only were they more than best friends, but also that Tsuda broke Nakano’s heart, leaving him to pick up the pieces. Now that they’ve been thrown back together thanks to a work project, Nakano is determined to put the past behind him, and both men decide to keep their relationship strictly professional. The question is, can they?”

Tsuda is presented as a lovable goof, who inadvertently hurt Nakano because he was too stupid to understand that finding a girlfriend in order to protect Nakano’s chastity would break his friend’s heart. He was also too stupid to know the reason Nakano cut off contact with him when they went off to different colleges. I find seme characters like this to be among the least appealing types, personally, not because he didn’t know he was hurting Nakano, but because we are supposed to feel sympathetic towards him as a result. In Masara Minase’s Aishuu, Jin and Kaoru’s relationship is much the same, with Kaoru cutting off contact with his high school first love, but we aren’t meant to feel sympathy for Jin. Jin is presented, unlike Tsuda here, as essentially an asshole. Our sympathy is meant for the victim of his former-suitor’s insensitivity. I can’t really get behind the insistence that we like Tsuda and forgive his childhood indiscretions.

My problem might be that Nakano is a seemingly contradictory character and I’m not sure if it’s because he’s been shoe-horned into the role of tsundere, or because the writing is trying to force too many different conflicting emotions into him. On the one hand, he apparently developed serious feelings for Tsuda as a result of their one-time sexual encounter, but because of Tsuda’s apparent rejection (re: girlfriend) has tried for a decade to forget them. While, on the other hand, he seems so scarred by his rejection that he can neither hold onto a heterosexual relationship for any amount of time, nor be comfortable with the attentions he’s apparently received from other men. Ignoring the irritation I continue to feel at the “I’m not really gay, it’s just for him” trope so popular in BL, Nakano is generally a pretty unlikable guy by most standards. His inherent sullen disposition isn’t helping garner any sympathy from anyone around him, despite the fact that Tsuda, who recognizes that nature in him, goes out of his way to try to make Nakano smile (it’s probably Tsuda’s only redeeming quality).

Where the story works for me is in the dramatic tension it builds and then explodes in the scene where Nakano, finally being honest with Tsuda about why he cut off contact all those years ago, despondently reflects that if they’d never slept together, he never would have thought of his friend in that way. Later, after a drunken night out with coworkers, Nakano again blows up, rejecting Tsuda’s offer of a romantic relationship he sees only as pity. It’s implied that this is where we’re supposed to see both men have feelings for each other still, but it is Nakano’s refusal to see Tsuda’s feelings as earnest that is holding them back as a couple. I’d prefer to look at this scene as Tsuda still not understanding where he failed formerly in their relationship and I can only hope that’s the direction the story travels in the next volume. I don’t think I could enjoy this story any further if the plot becomes rutted in the misunderstanding that Nakano just doesn’t recognize Tsuda’s feelings for him are real. For this story to work for me going forward, Tsuda is the one who has to change and Nakano is the one who has to accept that change and not “realize” it as the story seems to imply currently.

This is my first Isaku Natsume title. Her art is clean, while not too stylized to be off-putting, but the backgrounds are particularly sparse. The limited cast doesn’t help with the feeling that the story is a very small, out of place world. The character designs, however, are unique enough that it is easy to differentiate individuals. The book is rated M, but really only for one very brief flashback scene towards the end. Otherwise the “mature” nature of the story is more about the adult working relationships than the sexual explicitness.

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Cherry Blossom Reviewer Blog Posts VII

Kris on What’s that in the ashes?

Once a week any posts created on CBLR Reviewer Blogs will be aggregated here.

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[801 Day] Seven Days by Venio Tachibana and Rihito Takarai

Reviewed by: aoi_aka

Published by: Juné

Read It or Pass It: This two-book series is a must for any fujoshi or anybody who is comfortable with boys kissing or starting to read boys love.

Seven Days: Monday-Thursday (c)June Manga/Taiyoh Tosho

Summary for volume 1: It is rumored that Touji Seryou, one of the more popular boys at school, would go out with anyone who asks him out on a Monday morning. But on this particular Monday morning, the first person he meets at the school gate is no other than Yuzuru Shino, Seryou’s sempai at the archery club. On a whim, and well-aware of Seryou’s reputation, Shino asks Seryou to go out with him. Thinking that it will be treated as a joke, they’re both guys after all, imagine Shino’s surprise when Seryou takes him up on the offer! There is a catch, though. While Seryou does go out with the first girl who asks him out on a Monday morning, the other side of the coin is – by the end of the week, he will break up with that person. In essence, Seryou is a lover with a one-week expiration date. But will Shino prove to be the exception to that rule? –taken from June’s website

Review: High school pretty boys Touji Seryou and Yuzuru Shino have more than school in common. Girls flock to them like bees to flowers. Shino’s pretty face belies the fact that the things coming out of his mouth can be hurtful. And Seryou? Well Seryou only dates for a week. Whomever asks him out Monday morning will get a positive reply from Seryou. He’ll go out with her for a week and by the end of that week, he’ll break up with her saying that he didn’t fall in love.

This series is so refreshing. It’s a very light read with no explicit sex scenes. The characters seem shallow with Shino dating girls based on looks and Seiryou dating girls simply because they ask. Despite that, the boys have more going for them as a couple than separate.

This is when things get predictable. Neither boy is gay, but that doesn’t stop Shino from asking Seryou out. He meant it as a joke of sorts, just to see Seryou’s reaction. He in turn took the proposal seriously and it’s not until Tuesday that he realizes that his upperclassman may have been joking.

Except that Shino wasn’t really joking and he’s more than willing to continue dating Seryou for the week, even going so far as to announce it to whomever will listen. Some of these plot points are predictable, yes, but what makes them so new is that both boys don’t doubt for long how they feel for each other. They take a whole week to know each other and fall in love.

This was the type of series that could make your chest constrict with feels. The artwork is consistent throughout the two volumes despite being a story that takes place over a week and was published in the space of three years.

Seven Days: Friday-Sunday (c)June Manga/Taiyoh Tosho

The only point of contention is Seryou’s older brother’s girlfriend Shino. The younger Seryou has feelings for the older girl and she takes advantage of it by flirting with him to get even with his brother. This causes the boy to look for real love in his weekly relationships with these girls. They’re never satisfactory and that’s why he breaks up with them at the end of the week. It all changes when he starts dating Yuzuru Shino whom he prefers to call Yuzuru-san for obvious reasons.

What I thought was the best about this story was its innocence and lack of seme/uke definitions. The story ends on Sunday and by the last page you know that their one week was worth your emotional investment. You’ll root for them and wish they truly got together and didn’t play at being a couple anymore.

Art: As I said before, it’s pretty consistent over a three year period. Usually a mangaka’s art style changes over time and you notice it. I’m not saying that Takarai-sensei’s art stagnated, but it’s nice that there’s consistency specially if it takes so long to publish all of it. Seryou has a mole on his face and I was impressed that sensei didn’t forget to draw it in every panel. The boys are also distinctive from each other in both hair style and color. Their heights are noticeable and even the features that make them “pretty” are different from each other and not cut from the same mold.

Localization: It was consistent in every page. The editor kept the -san in Shino’s first name to keep the respect that an underclassman owes an upperclassman. There were no loan words present in the text like senpai and kohai. SFX in Japanese were left intact, but had their English onomatopoeia translation next to it. Nothing ended up in the gutter which is always very welcome in a June title.

Conclusion: You have to read this. The story may seem predictable at first, but there’s so much more to it. This is one of those series that I always go back when I want something that’s sweet and innocent. I categorize it as boys love because of its light nature and I would go so far as to recommend it to a high school library for their LGBTQ section.

Disclaimer: I bought both volumes of Seven Days for my own library. I was not given free copies by DMI for reviewing.

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801 Day: Shiuko Kano and Other Fun

As a special celebration of August 1st (8/01), we at Cherry Blossom Reviews have put together a series of pieces on Shiuko Kano titles:

aoi reviews Punch Up!

Cait reviews Tough Love Baby

Kris reviews Priceless Honey

lore reviews Affair

In addition, for this special day, we have a couple more fun items for your reading pleasure:

Cait considers Language and Yaoi

aoi reviews Seven Days by Venio Tachibana and Rihito Takarai

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801 Day: Shiuko Kano’s “Affair”

Here’s my contribution to our tour of Shiuko Kano this fine 801 Day! Sorry I couldn’t end the day on a higher note for you all, but I hope it will make for interesting reading anyway.

love, lore

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[801 Day] Punch Up! by Shiuko Kano

Reviewed by: aoi_aka

Published digitally and in print by: SuBLime Manga

Read It or Pass It: This four-volume series is very pornographic and kinky. If you like porn and are not shy about it, this is for you. I read this a few times before reviewing it.

Punch Up! Volume 1 (c)SuBLime Manga/Libre Shuppan

Summary for volume 1: Architect Motoharu Maki is hanging out at the construction site ogling a particular hunky, well-toned construction worker when he is unexpectedly reunited with his lost cat, Shinobu. The reunion is all thanks to Kouta Ohki, a foul-mouthed young ironworker who found and cared for the lost cat. Unfortunately for Kouta, this act of kindness led to his eviction! When Motoharu agrees to take in young Kouta, will he be able to tame this feisty stray? Includes a bonus Play Boy Blues side story. —taken from SuBLime’s Punch Up! Vol. 1 entry

Review: It doesn’t take long to meet the main couple, Motoharu Maki and Kouta Ohki, genius architect and hard-working construction worker, respectively. And it takes even less to know what type of man Maki prefers. He likes them tall, dark, and handsome. Ohki is none of those; on top of that, Ohki is only 19, as opposed to Maki’s 31.

Maki and Ohki dislike each other and it’s obvious in the first chapter there’s no love lost. Things start to change once they start living together and time goes by. Ohki starts to show his vulnerable side. Maki finds this cute, but at the same time he only has sex in the head. So even though Ohki is not really his type, Maki starts to develop feelings for the younger man.

The person who pushes them together is Ohki’s boyfriend. Ohki is betrayed by the man and he’s at an emotional low. Maki is there to pick up the pieces. They have sex for the first time and now that they’ve crossed this threshold, there’s no going back.

Punch Up! Volume 2 (c)SuBLime Manga/Libre Shuppan

You would think that after they get together, they can ride off into the sunset. It’s not that easy and that’s what makes this series so good.

We have two guys who are two dimensional, but as the reader, we witness their insecurities, failings, kinks, snotty tears, happiness. They grow together and meet all these challenges together.

One of the running themes throughout all four volumes is Ohki’s lack of pubic hair. In Japan this is called “paipan” which is slang for no pubic hair and Maki doesn’t miss a chance to bring that up with either Ohki himself or his co-worker Hisashi. The best thing is that it doesn’t get old. Kano-sensei can not only draw porn, but she can also write good dialogue and comedy. Imagine the following: The first page on this particular chapter has panels with growing vegetables, cactus, and a sleeping kitty. The next page is this dialogue:

Maki: Kouta, you’ve got quite the green thumb. You make all sorts of things grow. All sorts of things. It’s wonderful.

Ohki: Would you shut up already?

Maki: So why can’t you get anything to grow down here?

Ohki: I have!

Maki: Like that little bit counts.

Punch Up! Volume 1, Act 2

That scene was funny because Maki is once again teasing Ohki for being paipan, but he’s comparing his green thumb to his lack of any hair down where it counts. We have a bit of comedy and porn because they’re not really in the kitchen talking about Ohki’s green thumb.

Punch Up! Volume 3 (c)SuBLime Manga/Libre Shuppan

A problem that I found with Maki was his constant flirting. A couple of times he forces himself on somebody other than Ohki. It really doesn’t go very far because in one instance he’s interrupted and in the second, he stops. By this point he has fallen so hard for Ohki that he doesn’t feel right doing something that will make Ohki cry. Despite all this cheating, Ohki forgives him.

Which brings me to the next point that bothers me about this story. Every conflict Maki and Ohki have, they resolve it with crazy sex. And I think it’s a sad thing that it’s Ohki who initiates it most of the time. It reminds me of the desperate partner who thinks that sex will keep their partner around. This is rooted in the abandonment issue Ohki has. He thinks he can’t demand much from his partner or they’ll dump him. He’s grasping at straws so Maki won’t leave him.

Maki is also afraid that Ohki will leave him for somebody else who will satisfy him physically. He’s more than happy to oblige since he’s a pervy old man. The problem with solving conflict with sex is that they don’t get their feelings across. These guys spend all four volumes doing this over and over. All we can do is watch them and hope things turn alright.

But they don’t really turn alright. Ohki gets into an accident at the construction site where he works. This causes him to regress to being a 15 year-old boy and it creates all sorts of new problems for our lovebirds. Despite that, they pull through everything and by the end of the series, they do get to ride off into the sunset, happy and in love with each other. All the insecurities have been resolved. Maki will continue to be a skeevy perv and a flirt, but now they’re both sure in the other’s love.

Punch Up! Volume 4 (c)SuBLime Manga/Libre Shuppan

Art: I’m not going to sugar-coat it. Kano-sensei does delicious sex like no yaoi mangaka out there. Some panels resemble straight hentai. The kind where the bottom is splayed open and you only see the top’s outline . We don’t get cross-section penetration illustrations, but sensei is very good at showing erect penis without the white/black bars or phantom blobs. Her censoring is very clever. She seems to draw outlines, veins and bumps in a way that you can still see them through the tones she uses and the bodily fluids she draws. SuBLime made it very clear on their website that they didn’t censor Punch Up! It is obvious that Kano-sensei draws like that and there’s no need to do the usual censoring Japanese publishers do.

Localization: SuBLime released the first volume July 2012 and they were still working out how the PDF files read. Starting with volume 2, I noticed an improvement in navigating the PDF file. The right and left sides of the page had arrows that you could click to either go to the next page or go back. Without those arrows, it was a bit hard to navigate the file. The software for PDFs needed tweaking every time I opened a PDF, but having those arrows was very convenient. The contents page was also clickable. If you wanted to skip straight to a certain chapter, all you needed was the contents page and clicking on the chapter would take you directly to it. The very last page of the file that contains SuBLime’s social media information is also clickable. Or you can click on the button to take you back to the contents page if you want to peruse a particular chapter. The first volume didn’t have any of these goodies.

Something that I found very distracting was the flipping of the names from the Western convention to the Japanese convention. For example, Ohki’s first lover is formally introduced to Maki by a client. The man’s name is Yuya Fukazu. He gets a profile page in volume 2, page 152. But in this introduction in volume 3, page 22, Fukazu says, “Fukazu Yuya. It’s a pleasure, sir.” Not a big deal in the bigger scheme, but still distracting because Japanese surnames and given names are not as easily identifiable as Western names.

Conclusion: Read this if you haven’t. The only reason you shouldn’t read it is if you dislike explicit stories. Maki forcing himself on two characters shouldn’t set off any triggers since he doesn’t go through with the action. If that still bothers you, stay away. As I said before, the sex is delicious, the art great, and the story one of the best. I keep going back to this series as much as I can.

Disclaimer: I was not provided with free copies of all four volumes of Punch Up! I paid for the copies I read and keep them on my iPad for reading at any time.

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801 Day: Tough Love Baby by Shiuko Kano

Reviewed by Cait
Published in print by Deux Press (now-defunct)

Short Answer: If you can get past the title, not bad, but you might completely forget you read it five years from now.

From the Back Cover: “This tale of tough love revolves around the bittersweet romances between four tough guys: Yoshino, Sachi, Tamotsu and Sora. Three years ago, after realizing he had feelings for, not his lover Keiko, but her little brother Sachi, Yoshino escaped the city without ever revealing his attraction. When he once again returns, will his love for Sachi remain unrequited or will he finally gather the courage to confess his long concealed desires? As Yoshino and Sachi struggle with their feelings for each other, Tamotsu, Sachi’s childhood friend, continues to struggle with his own unrequited love. However, with the appearance of a younger classmate, Sora, he may finally be able to experience the happiness of mutual love.”

The most notable thing about this title was how forgettable it apparently was to me when I read it five years ago. In fact, when I went to choose the Kano title I would review for 801 Day, I only realized I even owned this book because it was on the Deux part of my bookcase next to Yakuza in Love. I didn’t remember buying it or reading it at all. It made this reviewing experience wholly unique for me.

One of the most interesting things about Shiuko Kano’s early artwork is how similar it was in style to her ultimately less-accomplished sister, Kazuna Uchida. Uchida’s most notable title, I Shall Never Return, also published by Deux, had an anime OVA made for it, and while a more successful title than anything Kano did at the time, Kano’s artwork was already definitely more polished then. BL in the mid-1990s, as evidenced in Uchida and even in earlier volumes of Maki Murakami’s Gravitation, suffered a lot of off-model messiness that Tough Love Baby, published around the same time, lacks. It adds an element of professionalism to Kano’s early work that even nearly 20 years ago she was drawing with such skill so consistently even if her style has evolved over time.

That being said, the least fortunate part of the book is probably its title. In addition to it being awkward and more than a little silly, it’s never well argued within the content of the book why the name was chosen. The mid-90s blasé attitude towards teen smoking is also rather unfortunate. Attitudes about cigarettes, even in Japan, have changed enough since then to make the repeated images just seem out of place and out of time.

As well, Yoshino and Sachi as a couple are sort of bland and indicative of the type of character designs popular then. Yoshino’s hair is particularly distracting, as is the somewhat discomforting fact that his feelings for Sachi began when Sachi was still in middle school. Thankfully he had the wherewithal to leave town when he realized he had feelings for a child. There are still things that just don’t mesh about their strange relationship, though. It’s a little unbelievable that Yoshino would just happen to move in next door to his now-married old girlfriend (husband suspiciously never around) and her live-in younger brother. It’s also a little too convenient that Keiko seems totally okay with what happened between them and even not disturbed at all that her ex might pursue her little brother in earnest now. Yoshino and Sachi’s relationship takes a very standard BL arc from reacquainting themselves to each other after several years apart, to tip-toeing around their romantic feelings for each other, to the silly misunderstandings surrounding their sexual desires for one another.

Through all of this I found that the much more interesting character in the book, and the one detailed much better than the initial pair, is Tamotsu. In fact, the only reason the book even gets an M rating is Tamotsu, which at first is kind of irritating. The early focus of the story is on Yoshino and Sachi’s relationship, so having the only truly gay character, a side character and rival at that, be the only one having a physical relationship with anyone is frustrating. Particularly when those physical relationships, not until the very end of the book, contain no real romantic feelings. It’s really a masterfully played psyche out on Kano’s part to dangle romantic love between Yoshino and Sachi in our faces, then give us sex scenes with Tamotsu and a random stranger, then focus the core of the rest of the story on helping Tamotsu find love (and, more importantly, sex with love).

It’s not to say a (somewhat) realistic portrayal of sexuality is a bad thing, but if Tamotsu were a more shallow character, those sex scenes would have been all the more frustrating and uninteresting. If I wanted to watch men who feel no real emotion for each other have sex, I would rent gay porn. It’s that Tamotsu is searching for love, and being rejected from it as he was, that he turns to desperate lonely meaningless partners to find comfort. It’s the desire to see him find happiness that drives that last third of the book. While the “jilted rival finds his own love” is a well-worn trope in BL today, it is actually kind of refreshing to see such an earnest portrayal of it in an early example from the genre. Sora, while clearly being created for the sole purpose of providing that potential, is perfectly welcome. Also welcome is the fact that even when Sora grows taller than Tamotsu as they age, he still remains, for the most part, the uke. It is a subtle challenge to the traditional seme/uke dynamic, and I appreciate its existence.

I still can’t quite say why this title went completely missing in my internal archives of BL manga. I typically, even if something was boring, tend to at the very least remember the general premise and characters of a book I actually bought, but this one was completely gone. Rereading it was like reading a whole new book. Granted, it doesn’t hold a candle to the other titles from Kano that I’ve read since then, but it isn’t a terrible read and it certainly isn’t any more forgettable than the myriad of other one-shot titles I have consumed in the past decade.

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[Anime] Free!, Episode 1

Reviewed by: aoi_aka
Currently streaming at: Crunchyroll

Watch It or Pass It: This is the first offering this summer season that gives us wet pretty boys. The answer is obvious.

Free! (c) Iwatobi High School Swimming Club


Summary: Nanase Haruka loved to be in the water – loved swimming. In elementary school, Nanase Haruka, Tachibana Makoto, Matsuoka Rin, and Hazuki Nagisa attended the same swimming class together. Time passed, and as Haruka was living an uneventful high school life, he suddenly encountered Rin again. Rin challenged Haruka to a race and showed him how much stronger he had become. Soon enough, Makoto and Nagisa also rejoined the group, and along with a new classmate, Ryugazaki Rei, they established the Iwatobi High School Swimming Club. -taken from Crunchyroll

If you happen to have blood in your veins and are not a fungus or lichen, you must have heard of the furor that a half-minute video wrought on the internet amongst the female anime fanbase, including the fujoshi masses. Kyoto Animation released a short video of four boys removing their clothes to reveal skin-tight swimming trunks, the kind that professional swimmers wear in competitions, think Olympics. This short video only served to whet our appetite because we wanted more of those four boys. Fanarts, fanfiction, AMV, MAD, meme, and just about every form of self-expression brought those four boys to life, because we all wanted more than just 30 seconds of animation. Crunchyroll even opened a petition (which I signed) to submit to Kyoto Animation begging them to make the anime happen.

And then the news that Kyoto Animation did mean to make this into an anime after all and its name would be known as Free! Why that name? I’ll explain a little later.

The anticipation had been building up since March and now it’s the beginning of July. The first episode aired today (July 3rd) for premium users on Crunchyroll. It’ll be free (oh yes, the puns!) for non-premium users a week from today.

Episode Plot (mild spoilers): The episode starts off with all four protagonists in their younger years, gathered at their local swimming pool. Haruka is only interested in being connected to the water. He only swims freestyle, hence the name of the anime. While he’s swimming, another boy joins him in the water, Matsuoka Rin, and asks him to join him for the next swimming tourney. Haruka turns him down and starts swimming again. Fast-forward to the present and Haruka is in his very small bathtub, simply submerged in water. Now that the boys are in high school, they meet up again. Rin had moved to Australia to attend a swimming school because of his goal, but now that he was back in Japan, he was attending a school that specialized in producing powerful swimmers. When they were little, Rin promised Haruka he’d show him something very special. And Haruka wants to swim no matter what. He dares Rin into showing him that very special something again. Rin gladly takes up the challenge.

Animation: We’re dealing with boys and water. It is a given that 3D animation works much better to depict water. And in this case both the 3D and 2D blend seamlessly and without hiccups. As is the norm in televised anime, the foreground in all the scenes is beautiful and detailed; eyes shine and tremble, cheeks blush, water drips. In turn the backgrounds suffer. There’s less definition in faces and at one point you can’t tell who’s getting on a platform, ready to jump, until a character in the foreground mentions the new character’s name. This should not deter you from enjoying wet boys in swimming trunks.

Character Design: All four boys, so far as this first episode is concerned, are very distinct. Their hair and eye colors are different. Even their personalities are different. There’s the main character, Nanase Haruka, who flips his hair whether it’s wet or dry. Tachibana Makoto seems to be very attached to Haruka to the point that he’ll walk into his home to pick him up for school, and not bat an eye while doing so. The third boy is Hazuki Nagisa and he seems to be the life of the party, pulling the other two to go along with his plans. The fourth boy, and the one who has been living in Australia, is Matsuoka Rin. He now has serrated shark teeth and swims like nobody’s business. The one thing that I noticed right away was their shoulders. Swimmers have square shoulders from constantly exercising those muscles. Even dressed, you can tell their shoulders are the shoulders of swimmers. I like that detail. KyoAni and Animation Do did their research.

Seiyuu: The first one to speak is Haruka. They’re all in grade school and they’re supposed to sound like boys. I couldn’t tell you who the seiyuu are for their younger selves, but I can say with certainty that the seiyuu for Makoto and Nagisa sound too girly. Their voices jarred me and were distracting. Even after watching it more than once, I still find their voices wrong for the young boys. When they’re in high school, they get male seiyuu. I think the actors did a great job.

Localizing: Honorifics were kept. I think it’s because Haruka is sometimes called Haru-chan and he hates that. It makes sense to keep the honorifics in if this will be a running gag throughout the season.

Opening and Closing Credits: The opening has lots of bubbles, 3D animation, naked male torsos and a very catchy song by OLDCODEX, whose frontman is the seiyuu for Makoto. The closing credits don’t disappoint. If the opening was naked, wet fun, the ending was cosplaying fun in the desert where Haruka searches for water and sometimes they’re in a club dancing which looks like tons of fun. You still get to see naked navels, though. The song is performed by all five seiyuu.

Conclusion: You have to watch this, specially if you’re female and like boys swimming in next to nothing next to other boys swimming in next to nothing, and some cases nothing at all. This is only the first episode, but already the internet has exploded as a result of this anime. I’m pleasantly surprised that Crunchyroll’s servers didn’t crash from the overload. There is a fifth boy who will appear in later episodes. He’s not part of the original four boys, but he seems to eventually bond with the other four over water. Or maybe it’s the love of sports. All that matters is that we’ll have more eye candy.

You thought your body was ready for the first episode? You will not regret watching this. It’s a must-see! You will never see swimming the same way again.

Disclaimer: I was not provided with a free copy of this episode. I do have a paid premium account on Crunchyroll.

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