This is the first in what will be a review series of older print BL titles, not easily found for purchase.
Short Answer: Passable
From the website: “Sweet, serious Yoshiyuki is a middle-school art teacher who tends to keep to himself. In fact, it’s almost like he’s scared to connect with anyone around him…including his adoring students. But when Yoshiyuki catches the eye of a saavy furniture designer named Kaoru, he quickly undergoes a transformation of both his mixed-up mind and his young body. Will Yoshiyuki finally lift his downcast eyes and see that the world is filled with incredible beauty, or will he retreat into the safety of his old, familiar ways?”
For those who have been reading BL published in English since the mid-2000s, Syouko Takaku will be familiar as the artist who illustrated Shinobu Gotoh’s Passion novel and its four volume manga series (though her name was for some reason romanized differently for this release). This title, too, was published later in that era, probably in an attempt to capitalize on the success of that earlier work. Released just before DMI cut back on production costs by losing dust jackets and moving printing to Canada, it has a classic BL manga feel. Being able to remove the dust jacket and see different artwork on the book itself is a lost pleasure in the consumption of titles in the genre, especially now that even the volumes have shrunk down to traditional tankoban size (or in the saddest turn, gone completely digital). Holding the book in my hands was a wholly nostalgic feeling and probably the most pleasant part of my reading experience, not that I thought the story was terrible.
My issues with this title are two-fold: its main characters. Kaoru is presented as a perfect person, who although having past regrets immediately learned from them and is now a better man for them. His faults are only explored in a brief flashback of him missing his sister’s death because of his attention to his studies. Nothing about him in the present day suggest he is anything other than a perfectly well-rounded individual whose purpose in the story is to “fix” Yoshiyuki. Yoshiyuki, on the other hand, seems to suffer a sentimental dysfunction, whereby he cannot properly comprehend aesthetic beauty, even though, ironically, he is an art teacher. This leads him to behave oddly disaffected and cold to everyone, even his family.
There is no real explanation for why he is this way. His family is not abusive. Even though his father died twenty years earlier, his sisters and mother never treated him poorly, and he never seemed to have wanted for anything. He’s just… off. In other stories, a character like this would have some dark, traumatic past or experience that caused him to become this way. Even the most trivial-seeming incident could be suggested as the culprit, but here, there is nothing. I’m not saying someone needs a “reason” to be like this, but to me simply being “different” is not a “dysfunction” in itself. Yoshiyuki is a grown man with a job and a family that cares for him, but he doesn’t grasp basic human interaction well and needs someone like Kaoru to “fix” him. I object to both the notion that Kaoru is boringly perfect and that Yoshiyuki’s inability to perceive beauty in the world can only be rectified in their relationship. I suppose expecting such a personal revelation to come naturally as a product of human experience is a tall order for something that is “just BL,” but sometimes the romantic glossing-over of meaningful character development gets tiring.
In a scene early in the book, Kaoru quickly lets go of Yoshiyuki’s hand, claiming that it was for Yoshiyuki’s benefit not to be seen holding hands with a man. In probably my favorite moment in the story, Yoshiyuki challenges the assumption that he wouldn’t handle negative attention well: everything about his character even up to this early point suggests otherwise. However, the book immediately disappoints me again when Yoshiyuki begins to explain that he believed Kaoru would be the one with the problem with such attention, but instead of exploring this aspect of Kaoru’s character, it is dropped in favor of an awkward exchange about the beauty of a small rock. It then proceeds with a scene depicting Yoshiyuki’s newfound subconscious understanding of that beauty when he compliments the work of one of his students. He simply immediately, after having known Kaoru for only a short time and confessing never well-established homosexual feelings, comes to a sudden realization about the meaning of beauty. Whether we are supposed to believe this is due to a romantic notion such as “love” is left unresolved, but maybe it’s my cynical side hashing out that complaint.
The love scenes, particularly the first one, are frankly a distraction. As romantic or desperate as their first time is, the dark specter of family tragedy hanging over the scene prevents it from being particularly interesting. I found myself skimming over it to get to the afterwards, which was far more emotionally effective. Later scenes are cute, and occasionally comical, but as a whole, they don’t hold the impact that I look for, particularly with how chaste they really are.
The love story between these men is quaint if nothing else. It’s a nice rainy-day read, but completely forgettable. I did like that the majority of the story is actually a flashback told by Yoshiyuki several years later. Meeting the “current” Yoshiyuki bookends the story of the “old” Yoshiyuki and helps contrast his change in character. The art is clean and simple, not oversaturated with tone or backgrounds. If you liked Takaku’s art in Passion, it looks even better here. The book features a cameo by Hasumi and Ryuichi, characters from an earlier work of Takaku’s, From Yesterday. If you aren’t familiar with it, don’t worry, you aren’t missing anything. While this title is out of print, it is still available new from several retail outlets, as I purchased it just this month myself.