The Moon and the Sandals Volume 1
This Juné manga seemed a good place to start. I knew from the imprint that this would involve boys’ love stories, but it’s not at all explicit, more schoolboy romance than yaoi. The Moon and the Sandals is a series of six short stories about falling in love, each revolving around a different member of the cast.
The book begins with Kobayashi, who has a crush on his young teacher Ida, only the teacher misinterprets Kobayashi’s stares as glaring. This introductory scene both demonstrates the thin line between affection and annoyance and the kind of silly misunderstandings that will have to be overcome for young love to flourish. When Kobayashi visits Ida’s apartment, he interrupts a disagreement between the teacher and his chef lover, who has been offered a good job opportunity in another city.
A friendship develops outside of class between Ida and his student. The teacher finds encouragement in the younger student’s affection, creating a touching little story about caring for someone who’s already taken. Kobayashi listens to the couple’s struggles in the second story, which is about the difficulty a gay pair finds when looking for an apartment together. I appreciated seeing a story different from the typical “how we fell in love” or even “how I forced my partner to accept being gay”. Interesting relationship stories can take place after a couple is together, too, and this is one of them, dealing with how confusing it can be if both partners aren’t sure they’re in the same relationship place. It’s interspersed with flashbacks to how the two came together several years before.
The next chapter shows Kobayashi with his schoolmates, where a good girl friend introduces him to her brother. Then we see things from the perspective of the brother, who’s also a mountain climber. The rest of the book revolves around those two, Kobayshi and the brother, as viewpoints switch from story to story.
The strength and distinction of Yoshinaga’s art are her faces, and there are plenty of attractive ones on display here. Her beautiful men are thoughtful and passionate, stoic and uncertain. By the end of the book, there are several sequences that depend on nothing but head shots in otherwise blank panels. It can seem an unusual choice for the reader familiar with American-style comics, or even the stories early in this volume, which use a great deal of tone to fill in, but I think it demonstrates growing confidence in her conveyance of emotion.
I also really liked the way that the male characters in these relationships aren’t simply swapped in for girls, or put in the stereotypical seme/uke (superior/receiver) roles. These are boys, falling in love while concerned about what same-sex attraction might mean for them culturally or what their friends might think if they come out. As an infrequent yaoi reader, I could better relate to these stories, and I was more interested in the personalities, since they seemed to be characters instead of genre conventions.
I understand that some readers look for the sex scenes, but I appreciated the focus here instead on romance and forming relationships. There are some kisses and embraces, but only one of the stories focuses on sex, and that one asks the question “how does a young gay man figure out what two men do together?” It’s a clever concept and an unusual one, with this touching statement, after a student has bought an explicit book to learn more about the subject:
I’m in love with the guy. But what happens when we decide to have sex because we love each other, and I’m not able to make the other guy feel good at all? That’s way more embarrassing than having to go buy that book.
Would that more American students were so thoughtful and practical. (By the way, nothing is shown beyond two nude male torsos embracing, although the book is rated Mature, likely due to the subject matter.)
The Moon and the Sandals would be an excellent choice for someone who enjoyed Yoshinaga’s Flower of Life series about school romance and wanted to try branching out into her boys’ love work. There’s a second volume that takes a very different approach to the characters.