by Katsu Aki; adapted by Martha Cornog and Timothy Perper
published by Tokyopop; $19.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Volume three starts in familiar territory. Yura is still waiting for sexual satisfaction and her first orgasm. Makoto is still the fastest gun in the East. Unsurprisingly, Yura has gotten bored with their sex life. This manifests itself in her experiencing dryness during sex. So Makoto needs to bring more variety and romance into the bedroom. To further add to Makoto’s troubles, his co-worker, Sugiyama, has become more aggressive in her pursuit of him and desperately wants to have an affair.
I previously reviewed volumes one and two of this series. I had high hopes for this manga. This is the sex manual that suppose to show us satisfying relations in the boudoir are a result of a satisfying relationship outside the boudoir. That great sex is not just physical pleasure, but also emotionally and psychologically fulfilling, too. Thus, the focus would be on couples in committed relationships. The problem was that Aki chose to focus the majority of his attention on one newlywed couple.
Yura and Makoto are forced to become a generic every couple. In particular, since this really is a series written for men, Makoto has to make ALL the sexual mistakes that men make. There is no progression in either their relationship or their sex life. Even when a problem gets corrected, it doesn’t take them closer to sexual satisfaction, but instead brings them back to the place they were before the problem appeared. This causes Yura to have a very unsatisfying sex life and an equally unsatisfying read for the audience. Aki could have avoided this pitfall if he had chosen to write about three or four couples, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses.
Makoto comes off as a putz in this manga. We are over a thousand pages into the series and Makoto has yet to seriously address his problem of premature ejaculation. His idea of romance and variety is having sex in unusual places like amusement parks. He watches a ton of porn but still only knows three sexual positions. (Which makes me question what kind of boring porn he is watching.) He only engages in foreplay until he’s ready for coitus, without regard to Yura’s wants or pleasure level. He knows that Yura isn’t satisfied sexually and hasn’t had an orgasm yet, but he doesn’t really seem to care. It appears that he thinks of Yura as a sex toy, cook, and maid in that order. He’s not just a lousy lover, but a lousy husband.
It’s not just Makoto, men in general come across as cretins in this volume. Makoto’s older brother Akira visited a brothel some time in the past. (It’s not clear whether this was before or during his marriage.) He keeps a picture of the hooker in his day planner. Yura’s sister Rika’s boyfriend treats her like a sex toy. His idea of a fun time is to force her to have sex in public places. In fact, his actions at times border on date rape. The new neighbors, married for five years, aren’t having sex because the husband has lost all libido. He shows himself to be as sensitive and caring as Makoto. It’s a wonder that most of the women in this series haven’t turned to lesbianism for emotional, psychological, and sexual satisfaction.
[Johanna here. Ed asked me to chime in with my take from the other side. I feel that the women are even more drippy than the men. They’re stereotypically receptive and pliant, even when being pushed into sex regardless of their own wishes. New this volume is a next-door-neighbor and cousin whose characterization is a poor joke. She’s a 30-year-old gynecologist who’s also a virgin. I had a very hard time believing that someone as interested in sex as she is wouldn’t have taken a tumble with someone in all her years. I was also put off by the pushy co-worker of the husband. He winds up in bed with her but no one considers it cheating (or worth mentioning to the wife) just because he was drunk and there was no penetration. And it’s disturbing, as Ed points out, that in all this time no one (wife, husband, or author) seems to find it important to address Yura’s lack of orgasm. Now back to Ed.]
Part of my dissatisfaction with the series may come from reading it in book form. I get the impression that this manga works better in serial form. Manga Sutra appears in Young Animal magazine, published biweekly. This means in Japan the reader is only exposed to sixteen pages (the length of the average chapter) of the series at a time. Not every chapter deals with Yura and Makoto, so there are times when the serial reader doesn’t see the main characters for a month. By digesting the manga in small doses, the reader has time to forget just how selfish a lover Makoto is, or how badly Rika is treated by her boyfriend. It’s only when you’re reading a couple hundred pages at a clip that the flaws pile up quickly and the male characters are revealed to be such nimrods.
My reaction to the artwork is mixed. Aki is still a competent draftsman. On the positive side, he is no longer using the medical insert illustration as a way to get around the Japanese censorship laws. They actually serve their original function of education about how certain positions work or some aspect of anatomy, usually female. On the negative side, Aki is no longer using sound effects, shadows, or conventionally placed body parts to obscure the female genital region. There are several panels that have full frontal female nudity. (Mind you, there are no corresponding panels of male full frontal nudity.) The women are still not anatomically correct from the belly button to the thighs, instead resembling mannequins. I found these panels disconcerting at best. More than once, I turned the page to some full-figure nudity only to find myself saying, “Yuck.” I don’t think that was the response Aki was looking for. I wish he would got back to the art conventions of the first volume.
I do want to take Tokyopop to task for the production of this volume. Volume three does not have the slip case of the previous volumes. There is still a recipe, but it is not in full color and printed on laminated card stock. Now, the recipe is simply a black and white page of the manga. I wouldn’t mind the changes so much if the cover price had dropped to correspond with the decline in production quality. Instead, the cover price stayed the same, so I’m now getting less for my money.
This is my last volume of Manga Sutra. It’s simply too frustrating a read for me to continue on. I can’t watch Yura continue to silently suffer an unfulfilled sex life and never speak up for her own needs. I want to wring Makoto’s neck for his callousness and general stupidity. There’s so much squandered potential with this series it breaks my heart. I give credit to Aki for pioneering this genre of manga. However, pioneers aren’t always masters of the new landscapes they present. Hopefully, someone else will come along and do it right.