by Marta Matsuo
published by Digital Manga; $12.95 US
It’s odd reading a yaoi manga that’s set in the US among, as the book promotion has it, the “high-society set”. Seeing the fantasy interactions in a venue I know something about, though, makes the unrealistic reactions — as the two men kiss and fight and tease in high-drama style — all the more obvious, and thus all the more escapist.
Lies Are a Gentleman’s Manners contains a set of stories about the same characters, revealing more of their motivations and history as we spend more time with them.
Jonathan is a med student caught selling stolen drugs by his professor Paul Thomas Haskins. Instead of turning him in, Paul blackmails Jonathan into sleeping with him, in spite of Paul being married with a daughter.
I really like the way Marta Matsuo draws Jonathan, dark-haired, with glasses, and pouty. His strong chin makes him look European, while Paul is blond, blue-eyed, and refined. We’re told early on that Paul is “from a prestigious New England family that has produced elite members of society for generations”, setting up the appeal of what must seem exotic to the original Japanese readers.
In early chapters, the two take revenge on each other in various ways, but later on, there’s less meanness, more emotion, as the setting moves to Martha’s Vineyard, where Paul has a vacation home. Just to drive home the implications of privilege, two chapters are set at a polo match, during which Paul has a fling with a stableboy before catching up with an old friend. (For being closeted, Paul’s quite voracious in his appetites.) There’s also a section in a gay men’s fancy club/restaurant as well as a final chapter where we (and Jonathan) meet Paul’s family.
There are obvious sex scenes (although no genitalia shown), but the appeal of this work to me was how much the characters were revealed over the course of the book. In the beginning, they both seem disturbing as people — a drug dealer and a blackmailer. But as the reader spends time with them, the whys and hows they became who they are are revealed. Ultimately, they begin to care for each other as we begin to care for them. Even though at the end, they’re still clinging to some of their pretense, there are a number of panels of them together where they’re just adorable.