by Saika Kunieda
published by Aurora Publishing; $12.95 US
I’ve found the best yaoi series. It’s so good that I can recommend it without reservation to manga readers (except those put off by the concept of a male/male love story, because that romance does include a physical component). It’s a shame that Aurora’s Deux imprint is now defunct, although these books are still easily available.
Kento has just been dumped by Yukie. He proposed to her, but his approach was practical, not romantic, and she realizes he doesn’t want her, just what she represents. Akira sees it all. He consoles Kento, and the two get drunk and sleep together. Thus begins an inspirational romance. Kento has always wanted a stable life, with a wife and kids as part of the perfect picture he dreams of. His true love, though, is Akira, a flighty, passionate, devil-may-care, out gay man. Kento has to accept his feelings and come to terms with being a happy individual instead of a miserable stereotype who fits into what society expects.
Kento lives with his grandparents after being orphaned as a child, and their hopes to see great-grandchildren before they pass innocently pressures him to make them happy, because they’ve done so much to help him. He’s a schoolteacher, and Yukie the school nurse. Things become complicated when Akira begins working at the same school as a substitute art instructor.
Saika Kunieda’s art is quite attractive, and I appreciated the way Kento and Akira were drawn as characters, not yaoi types. Kento is cute as the well-meaning (but somewhat naive) salaryman who dreams of being normal. He can’t stop thinking of Akira, though, and although Akira wants to leave Kento to his bourgeois aspirations, claiming he’s happy with casual sex, he’s also lying to himself.
It’s a charming love story, watching the two struggle to accept each other. Kento has to be willing to buck society, while Akira needs to put his past behind him and commit to one man. Plus, Akira needs to accept Kento’s slow speed in coming out, moving at a pace that’s comfortable for him.
This short series is different from most yaoi in acknowledging cultural expectations and taking a stab at showing how gay life might be difficult in Japan. The two men are men, not female substitutes in cliched genre roles. There’s a lot deeper characterization and realistic treatment of the cast that I appreciated; they seemed to be people, not sex puppets. I also liked how Kento’s family is an important part of his life, providing both comedy and sentiment.
Book 1 is filled out with another short story by the author, “White Rabbit”. It’s a somewhat creepy tale about a college student returning home and rediscovering his love for his cousin, who was raised as his younger brother. It doesn’t have nearly the depth or skilled touches of the main story. I did love the author’s notes, though, about how to decide what underwear to give her characters and what to do about body hair.
Book two continues building the relationship between the two men, as Akira’s mother comes to visit and Kento learns of his dysfunctional family. The two also struggle with how open to be about their relationship at the neighborhood summer festival; celebrate New Year’s; and take a trip together. Finally, they question how serious and permanent their relationship should be as they contemplate marriage. It’s a wonderful portrait of how a couple develops, moving from sex to love to building a life together.