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Yaoi Review: Empty Heart by Masara Minase

September 10, 2006 | | Comments 1 |

Empty Heart: False Love (Yaoi)

Art and Character Design: The main selling point. The art and anatomy are solid overall, with some truly beautiful close ups on the faces. Nice clean lineart. Character expressions — the “acting” — are clear and engaging. The characters themselves are definitely bishonen, especially the protagonist, but they never just seem like women in male drag. And Minase-sensei takes time out to give her young hero a number of lovely, leisurely framings. If your ideal guy is blonde, thin, young and very, very pretty, you should be in hog heaven.

Characters: Convincing, if not tremendously interesting or innovative. The 17-year-old Takumi is believably seventeen. His motivations — even his bad choices — make sense based on his age, romantic experience and who he is. Even his angst and mental over-dramatizations feel appropriate. His love interest — the art teacher Jun — while not being tremendously fleshed out, is kind-hearted and believable. The other characters, whether acting as catalysts or obstacles, feel consistent and do not annoy.

Plot: There’s only one real conflict in its 177 pages — is the art teacher really in love with the student he’s now sleeping with? — but it’s played out well. Like Challengers, secrets don’t feel like they are kept longer than they would be in real life and there’s not a ton of drama for drama’s sake. If a “Does he really love me for who I am?” plot appeals (with lots of breaks for sex, of course), Empty Heart delivers satisfyingly.

Romance: Pretty, pretty high school senior is paired with a nice pleasant-looking twenty-something guy who also happens to be his art teacher and older brother’s best friend. Both characters are likable, their feelings for each other are believable, and despite heavy angst, both dudes seem to be having a good time. Again, if you like the set-up, satisfying.

Sex: Fairly frequent and, though always obscured (there’s even a glowing cone of light in one panel), fairly explicit. If you like the art and the characters, you won’t be disappointed.

Overall: A fine yaoi romance. While not tremendously innovative in character or plot, its solid story-telling and excellent character art held my interest and it even got me to chuckle a few times. If the set-up and character design are appealing to you, you should buy the book.

Rated by the publisher for ages “18+”

Read the full review below the fold:

Plot summary from the publisher’s website:

High school art teacher Jun Usami has loved his best friend, Ryuuta, since they were high school students. Unbeknownst to Jun, Ryuuta’s younger brother, Takumi Kajiwara, has been in love with Jun since he caught Jun stealing a kiss from his sleeping brother. As fate has it, Takumi has grown into the exact image of Ryuuta. Now that Takumi is a high-schooler and Jun’s student, it’s the perfect chance for Takumi to get close to his ‘Usa-nii’.

The wheels of fate begin to move in Takumi’s favor when Ryuuta announces his engagement to a beautiful coworker. Eager to comfort Jun, Takumi rushes to Jun’s side and offers himself as Ryuuta’s substitute.

As though being in a love triangle is not complicated enough, Jun’s ex-lover enters the scene to steal Takumi away! What will happen when Jun has to face the reality that Takumi is not Ryuuta’s substitute?

Well, another review, another DramaQueen book (and yes, I am working my way through them… ūüėČ ) Yet again, the production values of the book are excellent and this time, I didn’t have any trouble with text disappearing in the “well” between the pages as I did with Challengers.

Empty Heart is a fine book, but as you can probably tell, it didn’t knock my socks off. Some of that has to do with my own particular tastes — I’m not so into super pretty, super thin guys (and I realize I’m probably in the minority on that count) — and some of it has to do with the fact that, while this book delivers what it promises, it doesn’t offer much more than that.

First of all, despite what the plot summary above implies, the “love triangle” is little more than a background issue — Jun and Ryuuta barely interact — and Jun’s ex-lover’s “rivalry” is never any real threat. What we do have is a high school boy who looks a lot like his older brother and who uses that similarity to seduce his older brother’s gay best friend, even convincing the older guy to call out his brother’s name during the deed. Said high-school boy — who really does love the older guy — then realizes he might have painted himself into a corner afterwards, because now he doesn’t know if the guy he’s sleeping with really loves him for himself or is just using him as a stand-in for his straight older brother.

This plot, while intricate, does feel rather, well, high-school. And that is both a strength and a challenge.

On the good side, Takumi is believable as a high-school student. Even when he is pushing Jun away, his “I’m too cool to take our sex seriously” act feels very familiar from that time in my own life, and shows itself immediately to be just that, an act. It’s a high-school boy’s interpretation of being adult and cool — an outward show of breeziness and superficiality — that as we all find out later is much more a sign of insecurity and inexperience than actual maturity. (That Jun falls for it even a little shows us he’s a bit of a blockhead, but he’s a nice blockhead and he’s called on it by another character.)

Even though Takumi is portrayed as impossibly beautiful and desired by all, he doesn’t feel like a two-dimensional Mary Sue character like Yui from Brother did. Instead, he seems like a young, inexperienced guy now experiencing the consequences of living out a high school fantasy — what would it be like if I could manipulate the unattainable guy I love into having sex with me? And on that front, I feel that Minase lets us watch that fantasy play out while still respecting our intelligence.

And yet… and yet… for those of us out of high school, it’s not exactly gripping stuff. Perhaps if the characters were more fleshed out, more quirky, just more interesting, I might have been more engaged, but while they are not stereotypes, they are not super memorable, either. Jun, in particular, never rises much beyond nice guy status. The older brother is little more than an excitable, but caring tool. The ex-lover merely serves as an amoral, but benevolent catalyst for the plot. I feel like I got to know Takumi the best — and the fact that he would engage in this ploy at all says a lot — but I can’t say much more about him except that he loves Jun, he’s no good at art and that he seems to get along fairly well with his friends and brother.

Really, it feels as if the plot and characters themselves are being filtered through the narcissism of adolescence — ultimately, it’s all about how everyone orients themselves around and reacts to Takumi –and I suppose, as he is the protagonist, that’s a small coup. He’s our narrator and I felt like I was definitely seeing things through his teenage eyes. Whether that more simplistic take on things will hold your interest, however, will depend on how much you like the art and how much the set-up spins your dials. I kept turning the pages, but I definitely found myself wishing for a bit more sophistication in terms of plot and especially character.

The translation by J. Wang is fine, but there’s nothing tremendously witty in the dialogue. And one bit of strangeness comes from how Wang treats the ex-lover — he speaks in a “southern dialect”. (With mixed success — as one Amazon.com reviewer points out, what Southerner would exclaim “Are ya daft?”) He is supposed to be from Hiroshima and, as Jen Parker of YaoiSuki pointed out in her review, this seems an odd choice (she suggests a New York accent would be more appropriate). But, according to the Extra Notes in the back of the book, DramaQueen made this choice based on the recommendation of a Japanese language teacher in Hiroshima — so, I suppose, who are we to argue?

The erotic scenes are well done — Jen describes them as “hot” — and apparently can be used to frighten fellow passengers on long flights. So long as you don’t actually need to see the dangly bits, you won’t be disappointed.

The art is the real selling point, though — it’s all well rendered, the character designs are consistent and interesting and some panels are quite beautiful. The framings in the panels are often dramatic and interesting. And the character’s expressions are revealing and fun. I’d get another of Minase-sensei’s books just to see more of her artwork.

The upshot? As I said above, it’s a solid yaoi romance. And because this is DramaQueen, you actually get to try before you buy. So, my ultimate suggestion would be for you to check out the sample pages on their site (UPDATE 9/20/08: which, alas, seem to no longer be there…). If you like what you see — and the story sounds like fun to you — then I can tell you that this book delivers on its promise with confidence and skill — and some really beautiful art.




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About the Author: Filmmaker by day, yaoi creator by night, Alex has dedicated himself to helping cute guys fight evil and find love.

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  1. daniyagami says:

    This is not the best Masara Minase, for sure, there are other works much better than this one like Aishuu, Toiki yori mo yasashii and Tonari ni Iru no ni Tooi. But I love Sensei´s drawings, pretty bishonens, even when the plot is just the regular yaoi-cliché plot like this one.

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