Yaoi Review: Party Favors

So on Saturday, TheYaoiReview (recently moved to San Francisco) took me to a BBQ at Deb Aoki’s house. It was a delightful time with tasty food (chicken and edamame rice!) and fun, geeky conversation that lasted several hours. Gia of AnimeVice was there — as vivacious and trenchant as I remember her being from previous YaoiCon encounters — as was Jason Thompson, author of the must-read Manga: The Complete Guide, who greeted everyone, including yours truly, with an enthusiastic and sincere “Wow! You’re the one responsible for (the Yaoi Review/Yaoi 911/Kasumi/etc.)?!” (Very flattering — must remember to invite Jason to all future BBQs I attend…)

The ride up with TheYaoiReview — quick-witted, insightful and stylish as ever — afforded the opportunity to deepen a friendship with my new neighbor while opening up my mind to stunningly novel uses of cream cheese (and I thought it was just for bagels!). Once arrived, I sat next to the delightful Surt Lim, writer of the Del Rey fantasy-shojo manga Kasumi, and swapped stories about the benefits and pitfalls of being a Western writer working with foreign artists — a rare and validating experience. And I finally got the pleasure of meeting About.com’s Deb Aoki in person and discovered she is a wonderful, generous host with a private manga library whose bookshelves rival those of Kinokuniya Bookstore in San Francisco’s Japantown. So generous a host, in fact, that she wouldn’t let any of us leave without placing some personally-selected manga choices into each of our hands and thus I wound up leaving the party four mangas richer than I came. (Thanks, Deb!) So, I thought I might take a few moments to give some quick reactions to a couple that I’ve read during my Sunday recovering from all the fun and food.

Once Upon A Glashma was the first book I sunk my teeth into — the tagline of “Before wizards or magic, the world was filled with girls. But one day, the girls disappeared and only wizards remained…” was intriguing and the art was just too adorable to resist. Alas, adorable art is all this book has to offer. First of all, despite a cover that screams taciturn seme and cuddly uke and a premise of “a world without girls”, this is not BL. Rather, it is what I what I like to call faux-BL: a completely slashable premise with no sex, no kissing (of other men, that is) and only the vaguest, most easily deniable innuendos that some guy-on-guy loving might be occurring somewhere far, far off-stage.

Second, the story is a confusing mess with cliché relationships. The first chapters throw us in the middle of the action with little explanation — our heroes, magic-investigating government agents, are seen fighting a dragon, wrestling with an exploding man or fighting a trash monster with almost no set-up — and the resolutions that are offered to these crises feel rushed. The artwork, while beautiful, unfortunately makes the action difficult to follow and the characters’ behavior — mostly consisting of hot-tempered “sempai” Gotanda bullying wimpy underling Nippori — is consistently baffling. (Why exactly does Gotanda treat Nippori this way? He’s seems to have done nothing to deserve it. I constantly had to refer to previous, better written works in my head for an account of why these characters would treat each other as they did. [“Oh! I bet here she’s going for an Roy x Ed dynamic but with a bit of Al thrown in…”]

This manga has a ton of great ideas and intriguing characters, but creator Kumiko Suekane just doesn’t take the time to flesh them out. Even the obligatory humor chapter — where a bunch of frat boys try to convert our heroes into beautiful girls complete with maid uniforms — feels perfunctory and rushed. Only in the second half, when we start to learn the reason why all the women have disappeared, does some form of coherent storytelling start to take hold — but even in these final pages, the answers feel hurried, one-dimensional and cliché. I would love to read a well-written fantasy-yaoi with clean-lined characters as cute as the ones depicted in these pages — and perhaps if this had been three volumes instead of one, that could have happened here — but I can only recommend this book to you if don’t have to pay for it and you are desperate for reading material. As one reviewer put it, “read it at Borders.” (For other takes, the author of MAYBE YOU’RE LOOKING FOR ANOTHER BLOG finds the book “craptastic… in every sense of the word.” Otaku News has a bit more patience with it.)

Chocolate Surprise, on the other hand, is very much true BL where the seme is always the dark-haired one and the ukes always, always cry out “No!” during sex (no matter how much they were begging for it in the beginning). A collection of nine short comics, the character art is nowhere near as good as Suekane-sensei’s Once Upon A Glashma — not only is the linework somewhat dull and predictable, the ukes are very, very feminine, often chicks-with-dicks level feminine which kind of makes you wonder why Lily Hoshino bothered telling these as yaoi stories at all. (As one woman at the BBQ put it, “Hoshino-sensei should just throw a skirt on the uke and be done with it!”)

That said, the sex is as explicit as I have ever seen in yaoi, in all senses of that word — not only do you get hard-core activities, but what’s happening is always clear and almost nothing is obscured. You get to see it all — including pubic hair, a rarity in my yaoi journeys — while the sex still manages to hold on to the delicacy and sweetness we would expect from a yaoi work (with these tender first encounters, no one would ever mistake this for bara…) I have to admit it — despite the feminine (and often very young) depictions of some of the characters, I did find many of the sex scenes actually hot — and if it’s enough to get my motor running, I would imagine that hard-core yaoi fans will need to keep some extra heart medication on hand, just in case. Finally, the storytelling itself, while not especially memorable (each of these stories are first-time love encounters involving one very interested boy and one not-so-interested-oh-I-guess-I-really-am-interested boy) is solid with often quite satisfying endings (narratively as well as romantically).

I wouldn’t buy this book for a night of great literature, but if you can get past the feminine character art and are looking for a little one-handed meditation, it’s definitely worth your $12.95. Gay boy Alex says “Check it out.” (That said, while it got my boat afloat, Connie C. of Manga Recon was “singularly unimpressed” with the book, finding it “explicit in a way I was not comfortable with”. [Perhaps highlighting a gay boy/fangirl divide?] Read her short take for a different perspective.)

Ultimately, I found myself wanting the best of both books — the lovely artwork and cool ideas behind Kumiko Suekane’s Once Upon A Glashma coupled with the more accomplished restraint and actual guy-on-guy loving found in Lily Hoshino’s Chocolate Surprise. Who knows — perhaps I’ll find what I’m looking for in the other two books Deb lent me: Saemi Yorita’s Brilliant Blue and You Higuri’s Ludwig II. πŸ™‚

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15 comments

  1. Hi Alex;

    Yes, Lily Hoshino is queen of the ridiculously-femme uke. πŸ™‚

    I haven't read Once Upon A Glashma, but of the other three I liked Brillant Blue best; be warned that it's a bit unconventional, not as uncomplicatedly fluffy as your typical BL romance (though still cute and sweet), and very, very slow-moving. The uke is, to be polite about it, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he gets exploited by others because of it (to a frankly disturbing degree – there's actually a bit of a conflict between the soft, gentle storytelling and some of the less-pleasant stuff that happens). It's also not a complete story; it takes the entire book to get to the point where romance becomes a hint of a possibility, there's an unexpected (for BL) reaction which throws up a serious roadblock to the relationship, and then it's the end of volume one. I'm looking forward to volume 2, to see how they pull together the (all-but-guaranteed) happy ending.

  2. @JRBrown

    Hi, JRBrown. πŸ™‚

    Good to know about Brilliant Blue — it's always best to prepare me for unpleasantness — I have low tolerance for sadism in a work — as I also do with incomplete stories. But I will keep an open mind and let you know what I think. (And per Amazon , it looks like Brilliant Blue 2 is coming out in September, so it doesn't seem like we'll have to wait long to find out how it all ends.)

    Thanks for commenting. πŸ™‚

  3. I don't know who this "The Yaoi Review" is but she sounds really awesome. I bet she loves cream cheese a lot, too. BTW, Chocolate Surprise was going to be my next review so way to one up me. πŸ˜€ I'm doing Ruff Love next now so you can check that one out instead. :-*

  4. @The Yaoi Review

    Something tells me that Chocolate Surprise is going to be much more up your alley than Connie C's. You'll have to let us know if you can get over the femmey character designs.

    And I look forward to hearing what you have to say about Ruff Love. IIRC, you rate books in numbers of tubs of cream cheese, right? Hopefully, it's at least a three-tubber… πŸ˜‰

  5. I was wondering if you have read any yaoi by these people. My friend keeps updating me on what she thinks would be a good for some one who doesn't like her ukes really girly but I don't know which ones would be good or not. It's not that I don't mind reading but I kinda don't wanna waste my time on the really bad ones. Machiya Hatoko, Kasuga Naoka, Tetuzoh Okadaya and Takao Hiroi are the authors or artist.

  6. umm…

    i'm new here.

    So i don't really know how this site works.

    actually, i was surfing the net to find download-able yaoi novel..

    well, i'm writing my own yaoi novel rite now.

    Still, i was wondering if any of you know where to download free yaoi novel.

  7. @syila239

    Howdy and thank you for your interest in this site. I'd like to help, but I need just a little more information. When you say you are looking for a downloadable yaoi novel, are you looking for

    a) One of our free comics here at Yaoi 911

    b) Some other free yaoi comics, perhaps by Japanese mangakas

    or

    c) Free yaoi *prose* novels (meaning just words, no illustrations)

    Please let me know and I'll see what I can do.

    Cheers,

    Alex

  8. I have a question about your last post. I am also new to this site and I am also looking for yaoi novels that I can download for free online. I am looking for *prose* novels. Any site or book suggestions? I would really appreciate it since I am starting to write yaoi novels for fun, but I want them to be good for my friend so I am doing some research on different styles. Please help me!

  9. @bookwormabc

    Good for you for writing yaoi novels for fun! We need more good yaoi writing. I'm sure your friend is in for a treat. πŸ™‚

    I, myself, am not very familiar with yaoi prose novels (having read more traditional gay prose novels), so I reached out to some friends on Twitter. If you're looking for free stuff, the first place they suggested was fanfiction sites — the quality of some of those stories can actually be quite high and those sites also have the benefit of having supportive critique from other writers. (Something that's essential while learning your craft — and which you, yourself, could take advantage of if you have a fandom you like.)

    fanfiction.net and adultfanfiction.net (if you're over 18) were both recommended highly. Also, I was told that there are a number of excellent Livejournal communities that cater to fanfiction for certain fandoms.

    Another option for you to consider is emanga.com . Emanga is not 100% free but they do offer free samples and allow you to rent their yaoi novels (and comics) for not much money (like $2).

    Also, if you're looking for free, please don't forget your local library! They, of course, have tons of free books that they'll let you take home and study for weeks — and librarians, in my experience, tend to be very strong advocates of free speech. They are among the most open-minded bunch of people you're likely to find. While they probably won't have many Japanese yaoi novels in stock, they should have a number of "gay" novels (which will have been written by both women and men, regardless of whether the author's name sounds "male"). If you are looking to improve your writing, reading published physical books will help you because they will already have been vetted by agents and editors which gives a pretty high filter for quality. And you will definitely find a variety of styles there. If you specifically want to read yaoi novels that have been translated into English from Japanese (and that you know are available, say from a publisher like DMP), you can ask the librarian to get it for you and often they will be happy to do just that. (And one final nice thing about libraries is that because the libraries buy books that are popular with their members, when you take out a book, even though you aren't paying any money, you are actually supporting that creator's work — and that's an awesome thing to do for an author in a niche market like yaoi who is making very little money themselves. Trust me, every little bit helps.)

    Anyway, hope that helps you. Please let me know if you have any other questions. And, good luck! πŸ˜€

    Alex

  10. Thank you so much! This is going to be a big help. My friend is a big yaoi fan and so I wanted to do something special for their birthday. I'm still trying to find a subject that I enjoy to write about so this will help to broaden my horizon. Thank's agian for the info!:)

  11. Ahhh… Hoshino Lily. Her BL stuff tends to be somewhat erotic and steamy. Despite all those supposed "saccharine-loaded" elements in her work, there's just something that keeps me drawing to her work. And there's just something beautiful in her work that sometimes, comes across as "storybook-like" or even "fairy tale-like", even if there isn't much "plot" in a number of her titles.

    That said, she does seinen and yuri too, I think… and oh, her artwork also tends to have a somewhat erotic feel even in such works, too.

  12. As for Takao Hiroi(who was mentioned in an earlier post), I think whoever this is… was really errr… good at conveying the "sexual desires" of men, in a very "masculine" nature. And as well as… interjecting a highly erotic feel into the works. Seriously, I'm wondering if this said author is a man or a woman who's very good at reading humans 'cos the male characters feel very uhmm… "masculine" and like "real men".

    How do I put this? When reading some of this person's works, I feel like… I'm reading some very hardcore hentai but in place of females, there're only men. And sorry for my poor grammar, my brains just aren't working. =P As they say, as you get older, your brains start to turn into primordial ooze! (I'm just kidding, no insult meant…)

  13. @nicko_cubed02

    Hey Nicko,

    Sorry for the slow reply. I've been trying to do some research on Age 13+ yaoi comics available online – thinking that you might find that useful. There is, of course, Pride High by fellow Bay Area creator Tommy Roddy which has Previews, but that's not yaoi per se and only has a few pages posted online.

    So, I reached out on Twitter and got a couple recommendations. One is for Boy Meets Boy, an online webcomic that has finished but was quite popular. (I've only read through the first several pages, but it seems funny and cute.)

    Netcomics also offers a 13+ comic, Boy Princess. Unlike the webcomic, you have to pay to read the whole thing, but the first chapter is free. The art looks a little wacky to me — with huge torsos and tiny necks — but it seems well-reviewed.

    Anyway, that's what I've been able to find. I hope you find that helpful. If anyone knows of any other suggestions of 13+ yaoi available online, please feel free to chime in! πŸ™‚

    Alex

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