Yaoi Review: Constellations In My Palm by Chisako Sakuragi & Yukine Honami

Art and Character Design: This is Yukine Honami’s artwork and I’ve always found her sweet, sketchy style appealing. No real surprises here, though, except that her boys look a little older than usual — and by that I mean late as opposed to early teens. Their appearance really doesn’t seem all that different from the characters I’ve seen in her other books — they, in fact, could easily be older versions of those characters, so it doesn’t feel like she’s really stretching herself here. And again, there is little in the way of background or other details, with almost all of the attention being focused on these sweet looking guys.

Characters: The male characters are all three dimensional, each with complicated layers of depth. Our hero is uke-to-be Mizuho, who is a self-pitying, over-reacting, passive blockhead, but other than that he’s a nice guy. His cousin En-Chan, is suitably grumpy for his seme role, but the reasons for his crankiness are ultimately understandable and a vulnerability is shown often enough so that he doesn’t seem one-note. (Quite the opposite, actually — we get a full range of emotions and he seems like a believably conflicted, if taciturn young gay guy.) Best friend Issei is level-headed enough to help these two star-crossed lovers get past their internal drama without seeming like a mere device of the author’s when it’s his time to do so. Full-on adult and openly gay Yoshimi serves as a believable rival — and a subtly creepy one to boot. So subtle was his toying with the innocence of the younger guys around him, that I wondered for a time if the authors actually realized that he was behaving rather badly. But in the end, I felt assured they knew what they were doing. Only the women characters (and there are actually a lot of them for a yaoi book) come off as simple and familiar types — which is a bit of a shame given how present they are .

Plot: Remember how I said our protagonist Mizuho is a passive, self-pitying blockhead? Well, it’s his astounding levels of density that drive much of the conflict, so I spent most of the book waiting for best friend Issei to find out what was going on and deliver the smack-down on his buddy’s head so we could have our happy ending. There were definitely a couple of chapters that tried my patience as I watched Mizuho so clearly miss and misunderstand romantic overtures and feelings that would be painfully obvious to most other human beings over the age of 12. But unlike in other, lesser yaoi books, our authors are quite aware of their protagonist’s shortcomings and, in fact, his developing of a clue and a spine is the real character development of the book. In addition, the manipulative wrenches that rival Yoshimi throws in the works feel believable, motivated and, for me, fresh — if not, as I said before, more than a little creepy as well.

Romance: It doesn’t get too deep — these guys remain stuck in their own internal drama for so much of the book that all we really have time for in the romance department is a mutual admission of love, a quick roll in the hay and a hope for the future. Besides a common love of the starry night and shared childhood memories, we only get glimpses of them really connecting with each other as young adults — and that mostly consists of longing looks, brief exchanges and a first-person narrator reminding us that this relationship is important. But this is a love that first took seed when they were little boys, and here is where Honami-sensei’s sweet art works its special magic. After seeing them in flashback, it’s hard not to want those two adorable kids who loved each other so much as children to find their way back to each other as young adults. The love we do see in the present always seems sweet and kind-hearted — in part because the characters are just drawn that way. And what the book delivers when all is said and done doesn’t feel overpromised.

Sex: There’s only one real sex scene at the very end that’s just suggestive and long enough to earn this book its 18+ rating, but you don’t get to see much, so sex ain’t the reason to buy this book. It is kinda sweet, though, and feels narratively satisfying. There’s also one scene previous that veers dangerously towards gratuitous non-con territory, but thankfully it pulls away at the last second and feels at least somewhat motivated as we learn more about the characters later on.

Overall: It’s an enjoyable if sometimes frustrating read. Writer Chisako Sakuragi is skilled enough to give us believable characters and avoid cliché. Artist Yukine Honami’s art is as sweet as ever. Had the protagonist been less passive and a little smarter, this story of kissing cousins could have been a lot more fun. As it is, it’s a pleasant diversion. A must for Honami-sensei completists; one the rest of us should buy only if you can’t borrow it from a friend.

Rated by the publisher “For Mature Audiences 18+”

Read the full review below the fold:

Plot summary from the publisher’s website:

Enji is moving on to college and it turns out he’ll be living with his cousin Mizuho, who he hasn’t seen in seven years. Enji, once the younger cousin that Mizuho thought of as a cute little brother, is now a tall, handsome man practically oozing with cool. And yet, despite how close they used to be, Enji’s giving him the cold shoulder. Has Enji simply grown out of being Mizuho’s surrogate younger brother, or is he trying to hide his true feelings?

Gosh, after reading that description, what do you think? Could it be possible that the cold, handsome, dark haired boy in a yaoi manga might actually have some feelings of attraction for the emotional, cute and light haired narrator and that that might explain his treating this boy different than everyone else on the planet? Could there be a safer bet?

The answers to those questions are obviously a very strong “yes” and “no” respectively and that’s just one problem with the set-up of a book that keeps an otherwise lofty execution very much earthbound. The vast majority of Constellations In My Palm is devoted to our clueless hero trying to solve this “mystery” and we, as the readers, have had it all figured out before we even open the covers. As such, it’s hard not to find yourself silently egging on the creators to just get on with it, and as misunderstandings continue to drag out the inevitable, a definite impatience begins to set in.

It would be one thing if our hero Mizuho were trying his best to get to the bottom of it all, but he so readily assumes the worst, is so quick to concede the game, that it is ultimately difficult to root for him. He doesn’t feel unrealistic — we’ve all had our moments of emotional lassitude and certainly we know of those who seem to make a life of that as well — it’s just that such a protagonist rarely makes for compelling drama. He clearly is awash in feeling, so we can’t say he’s apathetic, but his main response to these feelings is to lie around in bed and on the floor of his family’s home consumed with rumination. It is left to others — his mother, his girl schoolchums, his best friend, the rival — to push him into action and, until the very end, he does the bare minimum with the momentum those other characters give him. When the main thing a reader is left rooting for is that the protagonist get a clue and grab the low-hanging fruit right in front of his nose, the conflict needs work.

What saves this piece is solid character portrayals and, of course, Honami-sensei’s appealing art. Through flashback and those ruminations, we get a fairly thorough and believable picture as to why our protagonist is the way he is. In particular, the reason our leads’ friendship ended as kids has the ring of truth to it and says volumes about the kind of young man Mizuho will become. Sakuragi-sensei also makes the most of the creepy older rival’s limited screentime — this is no mustache twirling villain, in fact he’s rather charming, but a villain he is. Taking advantage of the inability of young people to set good limits (or even know what those limits should be), he tries to “jokingly” tease a humiliated En-Chan out of his clothes in front of an obviously embarrassed Mizuho. Why? Because this twenty-something doctor wants to assert his ownership of this much younger boy in front of his far-more age appropriate competition, because he wants to humiliate that much weaker rival and make him concede the day, because he wants to start something sexual with this high schooler who so far has not returned his feelings, because he’s got both these boys alone in his apartment so maybe he can manipulate *both* of them into sex, because it’s a laugh, but mostly, because he’s sexually frustrated and because he can. I’m sorry to say I’ve seen it before and it feels real here.

It is the machinations of this rival that keep the inevitable delays of our heroes’ consummation from falling into banality. That he is behind much of the misunderstanding keeps at least some of that delay from feeling like the authors are merely vamping for time — and again adds some credibility for why it takes these boys as long as it does to finally wake up and smell the pheromones. In addition, the best friend character is likable and clear-headed enough as he wades through his pal’s cluelessness that it gives the reader someone to identify with and thankfully we see him fairly often.

In terms of the gay stuff, we have the openly-gay rival who, while the villain of this piece, still feels credible. And that best friend is fairly clearly portrayed as bisexual, thus adding a note of tolerance in with his voice of reason. It is the sex scene at the end — inevitably and predictably one-sided anal intercourse — that hits the one completely trite note in what otherwise feels like a fairly nuanced dynamic between the leads. As such, it wasn’t super believable or hot for me — which is a shame, considering that all that great characterization leads up to it. But, bearing in mind the shallowness of the romance, it did feel like an appropriate climax of that arc.

In the author’s note at the end, writer Chisako Sakuragi states “Because I wrote this story wholly according to my own tastes, I am sure it must have been very trying at times for Honami-san and editor Mitsuhiro-san…” As those tastes seem to comprise passive boys consumed with self-doubt, it’s a bit trying for the reader as well. And yet, the creators behind this work are skilled enough to make this a pleasant way to spend a rainy couple of hours and the skilled characterization makes it feel at least somewhat worthwhile.

You probably won’t remember much about this book a week after reading it, but you won’t mind having read it either.

(Ginger Mayerson of Lincoln Heights has a very similar reaction to this book, although she seems particularly taken with Honami-sensei’s cats, which I failed to discuss here. ComicMuse over at Boys on Boys on Film finds more variation in Honami-sensei’s art than I did, but likewise felt frustration with the density of our protagonist. And a more charmed reaction is offered by Holly Ellingwood over at activeAnime.)

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12 comments

  1. I think that you have described my life plot thus far: beginning with ‘astounding levels of density,’ and then getting a ‘clue and a spine’ as my character developed.

    And now you make me chuckle! πŸ™‚

    The title is pretty, eh? It reminds me of that poem by William Blake where he writes of ‘holding infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.’ Any revelance to the story?

    Blake's Auguries of Innocence? Other than the fact that these kids are, in fact, pretty "innocent" in the ways of romance, not much. πŸ˜‰ No real justice rewarded or injustice punished — our creepy villain lives on to toy with boys another day with no repercussions (and perhaps even winds up with a fresh new target in his sights, but I won't spoil that…)

    But yes, I liked the title — it was one of the reasons I picked up the book.

    I liked your villian in “A Shot in the Dark” and he leaned heavily toward a I-can’t-go-by-any-reflective-surfaces-without-admiration villian.

    Yes! That's a great description of the Demon! Thank you — I'll have to remember that one! πŸ˜€

    Here's to hoping your work day continues to improve!

    Alex

  2. Once again, you have made me chuckle in an otherwise distressing work day. Thanks for that.

    I think that you have described my life plot thus far: beginning with ‘astounding levels of density,’ and then getting a ‘clue and a spine’ as my character developed.

    The title is pretty, eh? It reminds me of that poem by William Blake where he writes of ‘holding infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.’ Any revelance to the story?

    Creepy machinations of the villian? I like creepy villians. Wait. Who am I kidding? I just like villians. Funny villians. Misunderstood villians. Sad and traumatized frankenstien-ed villians. Horribly skewed villians. I liked your villian in “A Shot in the Dark” and he leaned heavily toward a I-can’t-go-by-any-reflective-surfaces-without-admiration villian.

  3. Wow, that is one great review! I thought about getting this book but decided to re-read "Desire" instead. Honami works with many different authors, so there's always a chance one of her books will be a dud (like 'Sweet Revolution'). The appeal of this book is the thickness and cover, but that's how 'Sweet Revolution' swayed me. I'd rather check out "Rin!" since it's by the author of OTRFK. On a side note, there's something about the June line that keeps me buying their books on occasion. They are not very explicit (blanket statement, but mostly true), but I always find myself getting a June book because of its large size and focus on romance-over-smut. Plus, I think they have been the most consistent Yaoi publisher in this recent boom.

  4. Originally Posted By artdjmasterWow, that is one great review!

    Well, thanks, Oliver — I try to put some real thought into my reviews and it's always nice to hear that they are appreciated. (Although, knowing that you also left me a comment over at my Sweet Revolution review — which clearly impressed you less than it did me — I wonder if I might have lost those points by now… πŸ˜‰ )

    On a side note, there's something about the June line that keeps me buying their books on occasion. They are not very explicit (blanket statement, but mostly true), but I always find myself getting a June book because of its large size and focus on romance-over-smut.

    Yeah, actually, I'm a fan of the June titles myself. I know DMP likes to save the real smut for their 801 label, but I also like the form factor of the June books and, frankly, sweet romance is one of the big reasons I'm a fan of yaoi period. The truth is, it's a rare yaoi book that I actually find "hot" — just check out my reviews to confirm that — but there are some that sweep me up in the feeling of love like few other books can. It's what keeps me coming back for more. And June tends to specialize in those sorts of stories.

    And anyway, it's hard not to have your heart softened when Yukine Honami is drawing, y'know? And June seems to have most of her translated titles right now, so that'll keep me coming back for more… πŸ˜‰

    1. @Khalin

      Hey Khalin :-),

      And in the case of Honami-sensei’s artwork, you should definitely let that cover guide you — “touching and sweet” is her specialty. If you find that look appealing — which I do as well — I’d definitely recommend you check out some of her other work, particularly Rin. I also enjoyed Sweet Revolution even though it’s a bit more all over the place.

      I’m all about the sweet boys, so she’s one of the few creators who will get me to buy a book just based on her art alone…

  5. Not shallow my friend — us boys are just fairly visual when it comes to romance, that’s all. There have been studies showing that and everything… πŸ˜‰

    I hope you enjoy the books — please come back here and let us know what you thought!

  6. I finally got the chance to check this out, and I love it very much. It’s definitely very cute and sweet. The guys aren’t overly masculine, nor are they too feminine, which is what I like. It seems rare to find something that’s closer to a more balanced character~relationship chemistry.

  7. @Khalin

    Well, I'm delighted to hear that you liked it. πŸ™‚ As I've said elsewhere, strong characterization and taking real time to actually develop the romantic relationship can make or break a book for me.

    I'd be curious to hear what you might think about Rin. I thought the writing was a bit more compelling in that one and Honami-sensei is right there to deliver that sweet boy art.

    If you get a change to read it, come back and let me know what you thought. πŸ™‚

  8. I can't really downlowd it, and I don't know why..I have registered and evrything, but it says "A message will be delivered to [EMAIL REMOVED BY ALEX TO PROTECT PRIVACY] if the publisher has produced new content on that day. No new content, no email for you."

    What does it mean?What do i have to do?

    Thanks a lot..

  9. Hi Nayumkito,

    You would get this message if you subscribed to receive our blog posts by email on our Subscribe page. It's telling you that you will only get an email — with the content of one of our blog posts — when a new blog post has been written. Basically, you only will get an email when there's a new blog post.

    But if you are looking to download something, I'm going to assume that you are wanting to download our free comic (and get links to new free comics downloads.) To do that, you need to sign up on our Free Comics page. Just click on the words Free Comics on the top of this page and then fill in your name and email address on the Free Comics page to get the download link.

    I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any more questions or problems. πŸ™‚

    Alex

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