Starting With a Kiss volumes 1 & 2 by Youka Nitta

Reviewed by Cait
Published in print by SuBLime


Short Answer: Delicious Mess

From the website: “Tohru, the son of a yakuza boss, is sent into exile on a deserted island for his own protection during a gang feud. Fiery and impetuous, he isn’t thrilled to be sidelined when he’d rather be in the fight, and is even less thrilled that Mutsumi, son of the gang’s second in command, is going with him. The serious, studious Mutsumi is Tohru’s opposite in every way, and it doesn’t take long before the sparks between them begin to fly!

“As Tohru and Mutsumi continue their secret affair, Tohru realizes the more they sleep together the more he gives in to the pleasure. And not wanting his lover to play the field, Mutsumi goes out of his way to keep Tohru satisfied. Unfortunately for these two, the very last person they’d want finding out about their secret relationship does. Enraged that Mutsumi would dare lay a hand on his precious charge, Domoto kidnaps Mutsumi with bloody retribution in mind!”

On its surface, this is a pretty standard Yakuza BL title. The naive uke does a lot of male posturing but is overpowered by the romantic desires of the cunning seme. Forces within the organization over succession conspire to both rip the two men apart and thrust them together. Youka Nitta’s artwork is the same as ever. Her designs are always full of silky-haired, hard-bodied young men, fighting for sexual dominance with each other in a bid to show one another just how equal they should really be. Ultimately, as all her stories show, they will find that equality in shared romantic affection, but for now, they’ve still got too much to prove.

The bigger issue here is in trying to discern what exactly is going on and which characters know what pieces of the puzzle. In that sense, this is far and away one of the most complex Yakuza BL series I have yet read. From a reading of the first two volumes, there are many as yet unanswered questions. Does Asato know that Tohru and Mutsumi are in a sexual relationship? How much of Shinya’s plan is Itsuki really in on? Does Mutsumi know about his father’s tragic past? It is unclear if these questions are cleverly designed plot build-ups or if they will ultimately prove to be loose-ends.

It also isn’t ever made clear whether Tohru and Mutsumi ever met before the beginning of the story. They certainly knew of one another’s existence and for some reason, while both their fathers raised them to be “clean” outside the organization, and they are of about the same age, they never seem to have gone to school together or spent any particular amount of time with one another before being thrust into the conveniently constructed BL premise of “alone on an island” together. This may very well be one of those yet unexplored aspects of Shinya’s ultimate goals for both men, but for now it is a strange and confusing mess of unanswered questions.

The biggest problem with Tohru is that for everyone’s observations about how he is more clever than he seems and smarter than anyone gives him credit for, he’s still completely naive. He’s certainly not stupid, but he is easily fooled by the machinations of his father, manipulated by Mutsumi and misled by Asato. That no one ever bothered to teach Tohru how to fight when he was a child is ridiculous. A child’s relative size would not indicate how large or small they would become as an adult, and if Mutsumi was sent to train in martial arts from childhood it makes no sense that Tohru would not have been as well.

For Tohru, being with Mutsumi means being treated like a woman. He does not see Mutsumi’s attraction to him as equality. He sees himself as an object of sexual desire and a tool of his father’s interest in bringing Mutsumi into the organization, and while he is willing to use his allure to his advantage, it frustrates him completely. What being treated like a woman means to Tohru is the total failure of him as a potential leader and heir to his organization. It is frustrating for the reader as well, to see someone struggle so hard against the author’s insistence that he can never be a strong man.

Mutsumi is a flawed and contradictory character as well. He falls stupidly in love almost overnight with someone who doesn’t seem to give much of a fuck about him at all. The sexual attraction being there early makes far more sense than the idea that Mutsumi falls completely for Tohru over something as dumb as Tohru’s attempt to spare Mutsumi’s feelings by pretending there is danger when he knows very well that there is none. It is clear in that scene that Tohru really just wanted an excuse to get away from Mutsumi, not do him some sort of favor. It is also a bit too convenient for Itsuki to dismiss his son’s complete turnaround in his career goals, after he got a chance to fuck his dad’s boss’ son, as just that his son was looking for an excuse to join the family business. Mutsumi, for all his intelligence, just isn’t that deep.

He acts detached and willing to accept the restrictions of his pursuit of Tohru’s affection, but it’s clearly a poorly concealed act. The moment Asato appears all his composure and cold comments about how he doesn’t care if he has to share Tohru with other men go right out the window. He is the simplest of possessive, persistent semes. He wants Tohru, he wants him all to himself and he wants Tohru to want it as well. Any suggestion by the author that his interests or feelings are any more complex or mature than this are insulting. Again, he’s just not that deep.

All of this is, of course, completely forgiven because Nitta is not shy about drawing sex scenes. These guys jump in the sack almost immediately, and while struggling for dominance in their relationship, they scarcely take their hands off one another whenever they are alone. Neither man seems to have been in a homosexual relationship before this, but they are not reticent about sating their desires in the least. Even Tohru, who feels like he is being treated like a woman by Mutsumi, accepts his physical desires easily and completely. Their love-making spirals into ever more desperate scenes of explicit passion. Readers will not be disappointed. Even I, for all my complaints, can overlook them in the face of the sheer volume of sexual content. Different positions, different states of undress. Even if Tohru is drawn a little more feminine than my tastes, that he can make so many interesting expressions (and sounds) is a welcome distraction from the mess going on around him.

I don’t see too many people objecting to this series. Even the nature of the initial sexual coercion by Mutsumi of Tohru isn’t particularly non-consensual by BL standards. For those looking for the graphic side of BL, this is a safe bet. For those waiting in baited anticipation of the re-release of Embracing Love, this will be a good appetizer. The only problem now is as this is an ongoing series in Japan, it could be another year or more before we see volume 3 in print in English.

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About cmbranford

Twitter: @cmbranford
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