by Fumi Yoshinaga
published by Digital Manga; $12.95 US
My exploration of Fumi Yoshinaga’s yaoi and shonen-ai manga titles continues with this stand-alone volume.
I didn’t like this one as much as I did The Moon and the Sandals because it’s more traditional in structure and characters — older, established gay man educates a much younger guy in the ways of love and sex — and limited in story scope. It’s the story of a junior high music student who gets involved with his teacher. (“Solfege” means learning to read music and sing specific notes.)
I kept forgetting Tanaka was working to get into high school, actually, because he’s drawn so tall and broad-shouldered. He doesn’t appear to be a child, especially once he and Kugayama move in together. Kugayama knows he’s gay from the start, although since he teaches elementary school music, he’s closeted. He is also conveniently rich, which overcomes other plot obstacles.
I kept getting the feeling that there could have been so much more going on than we got on the page. Tanaka has two half-pages where he acknowledges that he’s not that skilled in music but he’s using it because he has nothing else. This isn’t followed up on, although there’s plenty of potential material there, especially once the stories jump ahead and we see that he’s made music his career and is well-respected in the field. How did he get from here to there? We never know.
Earlier, he has to deal with taking a job at a young age to support a severely ill mother, but none of this is shown. Instead, the only aspect to the story explored in any depth is the relationship between the man and boy. There are a handful of supporting characters; the one we know most about is a fellow music teacher who functions as someone to tell events to and a plot device to move things along.
In the first chapter, the guys become emotionally involved. Second, they move in together, at first platonically, but then comes the sex scene. Next, they’re a couple, which improves both their lives, because happy, romantic, getting-it-regularly gay men are more pleasant to get along with. Actual panel quote: “We’re supposedly living in depraved debauchery and sin … and yet, somehow, life has never been better.”
Fooling around scenes are interspersed with others praising their work and a discussion of the movie Amadeus (my favorite part of the book). This pleasant state of affairs can only be temporary, so there’s an abrupt change of status and a somewhat ridiculous injection of drama with a closing cliffhanger that is then ignored as events jump ten years ahead in the next chapter. I was surprised to see this choice made, as it completely bypasses much of the effect on the reader. Why have something so shocking happen if you’re not going to follow up on it?
I didn’t mind reading this, but I get the impression that what I was hoping for didn’t match up with the author’s intentions. Yoshinaga portrays the longing of the two for each other, before they know each other’s feelings, but that’s the only fully developed emotion in the book. Everything else is shortcutted or hinted at, left for the reader to fill in.