New Story Published!

>> Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My new story, "Second Life," is out in the e-zine "Just a Minor Malfunction" available now for a limited time at $0.99!

My story, "Second Life," is set aboard a space station so I get to use actual rocket science expertise and I allow a little bit of sleuthing for the biologically minded. With people trapped forever in space, finding yourself confronted with what might be an epidemic has got to be terrifying, especially since insanity comes with it. I hope you'll check it out

Chuck Larlham
is in there, too, and a number of other awesome science fiction stories. In fact, it's one of the best collections of hard science fiction I've read in a long long time, so I'm proud to be part of it. Something for everyone, folks!

It's a steal right now. If you like science fiction or just being entertained, well worth your dollar.


So, I sold a short story to a new e-zine of hard science fiction

>> Saturday, April 30, 2016

That's independent to an unusual degree. But, you know, I'm pretty avant garde myself. Looks like I'll be in the first issue of Just A Minor Malfunction along with my good writing buddy, R. C. Larlham. So, fun will be had for everyone.

I'm actually rather excited as it's set in a science fiction setting I'd been planning (and am still planning) to write a novel in, only this is more a prequel. Thing is, I'm so in love with my characters in this new short story, Second Life, I may have to make room for them in the novel.

But then, I do love a challenge. If you're interested in reading my story, Chuck's or any of the other stories gathered, check it out.


New Release: Saving Tessa

>> Saturday, November 22, 2014

I just released my personal favorite of my novels (so far) today. You'll be able to find it at the compelling price of $4.99 at your favorite retailer.

Dylan Chroz, high school senior, had a reputation as the unchallenged king of the technical world, a genius with dozens of patents to his name. He also had a reputation for being as cold and calculating as the supercomputers he could design in his sleep.

So he was unprepared when Maxcomm discovered what really mattered to him: the spunky girl at the center of his existence. Or when they stole her away so they could use her against him.

It was a mistake, of course, to make an enemy of Dylan, even if he was hampered by his fear for Tessa. After all, people who threaten Tessa were definitely not going to come out unscathed.

And Maxcom didn't appreciate what those around Dylan will do to help him save Tessa.

But the real mistake they made was thinking Tessa was going to sit quietly by and get used. As if Tessa would stand for that!

That last mistake was really going to cost them

Contains some language and violence. You can find Saving Tessa on Smashwords

In the iTunes store


Barnes and Noble



Fourth book, third novel coming out September 15

>> Saturday, September 6, 2014

I have another book, Nine Lives, available for preorder that will become available September 15. Right now, you can order it for $2.99 (price will go to $4.99 after it's released). You can preorder it now from Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Apple as well as Smashwords, which has available in all formats including Kindle. (It will be in on sometime on September 15).

That's three books already out, Conjuring Dreams (short stories),  Tarot Queen (adult novel), and  Beast Within (YA novel). 

"Trapped on a planet across the universe from their homeworld, more than a thousand youngsters, teachers and crew must make a new home for themselves in this beautiful and dangerous world. Some, however, are shapechangers, Bete, that many look on as demons, so they have more to fear than their new environment. At the same time, their powers have also saved all the refugees more than once. To protect themselves from the humans that fear or hate them, the Bete have started a separate colony from the rest.

With their little Bete colony going well with his foster brother, the intolerably perfect Xander, in charge, Laren, was feeling a trifle unnecessary, which didn't sit well with his pride. Or his temper. But when his arrogance nearly got himself and his best friend Rem killed, he decided to reign back his anger and deal with things with a little more thought.

He did so just in time because Xander became dangerously ill, hurting his mate, the healer, in his delirium. And, at nearly the same moment, the other colony was overrun with those that feared the Bete as demon-spawn. With an unknown disease in the camp and potential attack from outside, a level head was definitely needed. Who would have guessed that Laren would be the one to provide it?

Who knew this being in charge business was so troublesome?

Sequel to Beast Within. Contains some language and violence."

Unlike Tarot Queen, but like Beast Within, Nine Lives is a SF/Fantasy Adventure YA with an ensemble cast, so it's not as racy, not quite as violent and a bit more teen friendly. But, I do think it's quite interesting for adults as well. I make a point of not dumbing down language but letting context clues expand the vocabulary.

Links for all available books and pre-orderable books wills stay in the right hand column.


Beast Within

So, two books all the way out, Conjuring Dreams and Tarot Queen, and now another book available at bargain prices for preorder: Beast Within

Update: Now it's been released, it's still available at the bargain price of $4.99

"When a ship of youthful refugees maroons on a strange and dangerous new planet, Xander had no choice but to take charge of his shapeshifting clan, the Bete, to protect the strange foreign healer, K'Ti, from humans as well as his own suspicious clan. Among humans, shapeshifting and magic were frequently equated with evil. The lives of the Bete and K'Ti would readily be forfeit if certain fanatical factions discovered their gifts.

After Xander convinced the captain to let them be the first to set up camp outside, the healer's extensive magical skills quickly became key to survival. When K'Ti discovered the Bete's shapeshifting abilities, Xander defied his clan to let her live.

To defend themselves, and the humans, from the vicious predators like the man-sized Klixit, of the new planet, the Bete will need every skill, shred of knowledge and capability they possess. Xander will have to weigh the needs of his clan with his trust of humans, the risk from the dangers all around them, and those that lie within his fellow refugees. "

Unlike Tarot Queen, Beast Within is a SF/Fantasy Adventure YA with an ensemble cast, so it's not as racy, not quite as violent and a bit more teen friendly. But, I do think it's quite interesting for adults as well. I make a point of not dumbing down language but letting context clues expand the vocabulary.

Note also that Beast Within is the first of the Bete series. Nine Lives, the second of the series, will come next.


Another book available for pre-order!

>> Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I know what you're thinking: "I haven't even finished the first one (which was free)." True, but, if you do finish Conjuring Dreams and are jonesing for something else from my talented brain, you're in luck because you can get a deal on the next novel that takes up where the short stories stop.

Update: It's now out and $4.99.

 This one's not free, but you can get a deal on it since you can preorder it for $2.99 - it and will go to $4.99 after it's published on May 15 (which coincidentally is my 25th anniversary as a Rocket Scientist since I started working at Johnson Space Center in May of 1989). This novel is a grown up story, but fun and hopefully thought-provoking.

Announcing Tarot Queen.

After nearly four hundred years as the Tarot Queen, Roxell might still appear young and beautiful on the outside, but inside she was bored and jaded. Reading fortunes and conjuring futures was no substitute for an adventure of her own, a life of her own. Instead, she felt a prisoner, exiled within the confines of her cottage, growing more and more contemptuous of the supplicants who came to ask for her insight. And, for four centuries, not one person had given her heart the slightest romantic flutter . . .
Until Dante stepped in and turned the life she knew upside down. Handsome, intelligent, capable, he was everything she'd ever dreamed up . . . except that a tryst with a succubus had left him a demon and therefore soulless. The cards said he was definitely her destined lover, but Tarot Queens only get one lover and she had no plan to become a demoness.

For love, she abandoned her self-imposed exile and set out with her ardent suitor on a quest to find a solution to their thorny problem. Turns out, Dante's demonic venereal disease was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to their problems and Dante's mysteries. And Roxell was going to have to depend on her wits and her magical talents far more than she'd ever envisioned when they first ventured out.

And she loved (nearly) every minute of it.

Contains some sexual situations (not erotica) and a modicum of violence.

You can preorder at Smashwords and should shortly be able to preorder from a number of distributors.

A note about Smashwords - they distribute to most of the major ebook distributors like Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobi, Applestore, etc. But, I don't know when they'll show and there's a lag. You can preorder from Smashwords right now in all of those applicable formats. If you're struggling with how to get the downloaded Smashwords files to work with your application or device, you can get insight into how to do it here.

Naturally, no one is required to read my stuff, but, for those of you who might be interested, I wanted you to know it was out there.


My first BOOK!

>> Saturday, April 12, 2014

At long last with a self-crafted book cover, I have self-published my first e-book: Conjuring Dreams And it's FREE!

"Magic-wielders, shape-shifters, mermaids, empaths and diviners and even teddy bears and computer programmers wander through 26 stories, written into life for situations thought-provoking, compelling or absurd. It's a collection of diverse stories, from the first one written when Stephanie Barr (then Beck) was13-14 years old to the last ones finished last year. The tales show off not only Stephanie's eclectic imagination but the growth of her story telling as she taught herself to write (in the way she wanted to) through writing. So it's all fiction and totally autobiographical at the same time. "

Smashwords: Conjuring Dreams

Hopefully soon it will also be distributed at Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. Will post links when I have them. There are, however, formats available for most if not all readers/computers already available at the Smashwords link. There's also an interview of me.

I've also put it on Amazon but they wouldn't let me do it for free so it's 99 cents: 

Amazon: Conjuring Dreams

My suggestion is to go ahead and download it for free on Smashwords since they have Kindle format there.

More books (namely novels) are coming so "stay tuned".


I love Yoshinaga Fumi.

>> Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I love, just love, Yoshinaga Fumi. She's one of the best story tellers I've ever read and I can't help reading her books over and over, voraciously, even when she has characters do things I despise. They're that good.

Unfortunately, because of the format (manga) many of the readers I know would never even try these which is a great pity because the artwork is a key part of the effectiveness of the story. Even for those people willing to read manga (like my sister, Cheryl Beck Carvajal), I can't recommend the stuff I like best because yaoi (particularly Yoshinaga's yaoi) is not for the faint-hearted. Of the non-yaoi stuff, Garden of Dreams and Antique Bakery are great. Ooku, the Inner Chamber is also fantastic but horrible at the same time, but I can't stop reading it once I pick it up and can't sleep for two days afterwards because I can't stop thinking about it.

Sorry, I'm giddy because I haven't been able to track down the first volume for Gerard and Jacques (definitely yaoi) for ages, couldn't find any copy, even though I had the second one, until just recently and I even got it for less than a fortune. Don't mind me. Though I've written about Yoshinaga Fumi's work before:

I've written about her here  and here on this blog, too.  The more often I read her (and she's among the most rereadable authors I've ever stumbled across), the more I find myself entranced.


I think I might have finally figured it out.

>> Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I liked manga and even yaoi, even before my husband left me, but I've been pretty consumed by it the past two years or so since he's been gone. I'm open-minded and all but even I was a little stumped as to why it (Boy's Love manga) was so fascinating to me, why I've all but ignored my regular novels and the like, why even the shoujo mangas (I'm stilling buying new volumes of to finish the series) were languishing while I read and reread my favorite yaoi.

What is it?

(For those of you who think this is better suited to my Rocket Scientist blog because this is all about me rather than the manga, fear not, I'm cross-posting it).

Today, as I'm wiping away tears reading a manga I've read before (single volume: Dekichatta Danshi by Mikagi Tsubaki), I think I finally figured it out, not just why I'm focused on manga, but focused on yaoi in particular. The tears, by the way, were only slightly because the story was touching (though it was) - mostly I was jealous because the touchy hard-case main character had someone who loved him desperately, unequivocally, with everything he had. I just loved Yu and I'd love to have him for myself.

Not Yu specifically (since he's way too young for me and I'm not doing that again, not to mention he's in love with someone else, oh, and fictional), but someone who loved me, treasured me. I used to believe I'd have someone like that in my life.

Now, of course, not so much; I'm pretty much sure that ain't gonna happen. But, for a long time after Lee left, I was starting to question if it EVER happens, if it's ever real. I mean, I love my children with everything. I cherish and treasure them (yes, not the same, but that notion that someone means more to you than yourself, that is the same) so I know that kind of love exists. And, intellectually, I know couples for whom that kind of thinking is part and parcel of their relationship, even if there are little strifes here and there. That devotion to one another remains at the core of their lives.

But I'd lost my faith in that magic. My faith in people who lay it all on the line (as I once did), who strive and struggle because there is someone in their lives they just can't lose no matter what. My faith in the happy ending.

And that was a serious concern for me. Not so much for how I live my life - I can survive the rest of my years as a bitter cynic, probably still even be a good mother if a little extra sarcastic, which probably won't bother my remaining children (the ones that live at home) until/if they start talking.

But it kept me from writing anything new fiction-wise and that was becoming a serious concern. When I write, I have to feel it or it won't come across genuine, won't come across real. It's not enough to tell myself it's true intellectually - I have to believe it.

Now, of course, I could write novels without any hint of romance, but I don't want to. I've almost always had some sort of romantic mush in my novels because I like it, I like reading it, I want to write it. I want to write novels that still believe in magic and romance and overcoming the nigh impossible. I don't want to be a cynical writer.

(For those of you who think I should publish this on Rockets and Dragons, since that's about my writing, fear not, I'll be cross posting it there).

So, Stephanie (the person) had to recapture her belief in the wonder of romance in a life deprived of same (and an argument could be made it always was) or she could never be Stephanie (the writer) again. Hence, mangas, where words and characters have more power because, hey, pictures. And yaoi because, hey, most are only a volume or two, the diversity in stories and scenarios is staggering, and the romance (in the good ones) is in your face - immediate and urgent because, on the whole, the romantic partners have a great deal more on the line, and stand a greater chance in losing everything just by mentioning their interest.

There are many other things in yaoi that are rather in your face (so be warned), but that's not why I read it (and the really smutty ones that are all sex/violence and nothing else don't interest me at all). I need that romance, I need to believe in it again.

I've read Dekichatta Danshi before and I didn't cry, I didn't feel it the same way. But this time, I did. I think that means I'm getting it back.

Yay, me.

Also, I know which manga I should review next. 


Adult Swim: Why I Dive In

>> Saturday, January 25, 2014

If someone were ever truly curious why in the world someone like me would read yaoi, I would be tempted, nay compelled, to direct them to the work of Junko. I have read everything I can find that she(?) has written and I love them all. I'm not calling her the most compelling or most powerful, most original or cleverest of the yaoi authors - though there are certainly brilliant yaoi mangaka and I've written about several of them - or saying she has the finest artistry, though I find her drawing quite appealing.

But - but - what Junko brings to the party are exactly those elements I find most appealing about yaoi, what I read it for: sweet, decent, misunderstood, imperfect characters struggling to come to terms with themselves, their feelings and their relationships in a world that isn't always understanding. There's a minimum of adventure or crazy setups or action or drama in general. These are quiet and compelling character studies, exactly what I like best. Powerful because it's all about the people. Oh, and like most of my favorite mangaka, she's often hilarious. And she manages to do that with little or no rape which is a rarity in the yaoi world (unfortunately).

There is sex. Sometimes a lot of it. (The stories, however, are all about love, which is my own litmus test to separate the yaoi I like from the yaoi that isn't my bag).

Take for instance Mr. Mini Mart (which was just published in English) also called Konbini-Kun. Here's a teenager (Nakaba) who, in his last year of middle school, had his unspoken crush for a friend outed publically and was so traumatized by the experience that he all but became a shut-in, unable to return to school or hardly talk to anyone. His uncle offers him (now sixteen) a job at a convenience store and Nakaba takes it in an attempt to recover and get past his trauma. At first, he's not sure it will work as he rubs one of his coworkers (a rather delinquent-looking forthright individual) the wrong way but the fellow (Yamai) turns out to be a decent guy and they become friends (over a cat Yamai saves in the rain). Nakaba is starting to find his niche when former classmates come in and start to needle him. Yamai shoos them away and then demands the story. Nakaba tells him, fearfully, but Yamai accepts it all casually and is adamant Nakaba did nothing wrong.

And that's when Nakaba starts to heal. And, not surprisingly, fall for Yamai (who is like the best thing in the world for him). And, when Yamai accepts him, it's all kinds of good.

And, like Konbini-Kun, most of the other stories are about very compelling (often quirky) people (and little else) and often examining one aspect or another of homosexuality in a complicated world.

Abarenbou Kareshi - Three unrelated stories told in one or two chapters a piece. The first, about two friends, where one (a handsome but volatile young man) is rather rabidly homophobic given he's often a target, and his best friend who is in love with him. Not smooth sailing, actually, but a fairly satisfactory ending. Then there is a pair of stepbrothers where one fell in love at first sight but has ruthlessly held himself back and the rather shameless brother who basically tricks him into a sexual relationship (for his own good). The last is a rather charming tale of a normal kid who remembers a crybaby buddy from gradeschool only to meet him again now in highschool as a rough tough delinquent (and enthusiastic uke) that he can't help but fall in love with.

Kasa No Shita, Futari - A story about a graduating high schooler (Mio) who befriends some college students and finds out one (Yugi, one he's attracted to) has a hopeless love on one of the others (who is using Yugi for sex while having a romantic relationship with his long-term girfriend). Mio first tries to use it for his own advantage and is shot down, but then realizes he genuinely cares about Yugi. When Mio finds out Yugi is being abandoned, he is outraged for Yugi (though Yugi always knew it was coming) and comforts him, appreciating as he does so that it's torturous loving someone who will never love you back. Before Yugi disappears (and Mio graduates), Mio tries to encourage Yugi to let his love for the other guy go. They separate and don't see each other for several years which is where it gets interesting - when they stumble into each other again.

Kimi Note - Mostly about a couple of high school students who fall in love over a cologne. It's sweet and charming and somewhat aromatic, but what I really like are the three one shots at the end, two of which are focused on communication and/or second chances and one on a hopeless love that turned out not to be so hopeless after all. I just loved 'em.

Omamorishimasu, Dokomademo - The closest to an "action" yaoi where a country bumpkin (Akiro) comes to Tokyo for a job only to find his new company has gone out of business and he has no job and no place to stay. Fortunately, his pen pal from childhood is a very wealthy person whose all too happy to take him in and ask nothing in return. Fortunately, Akiro is also a natural born fighter, able to step in and save his friend when someone tries to kidnap him (a fairly common occurrence). Akiro gets hired as a bodyguard which makes his friend ecstatic since he's got a huge crush on Akiro. When Akiro finds out about the crush, he's weirded out and leaves, leaving his friend a sitting duck. Fortunately, Akiro (and others) come to his friend's rescue and all ends happily.

Ouji No Kikan - Again three excellent multi-part stories. The first one about someone rediscovering a former idolizer (then fat and ignored, now handsome and successful) who at first laps up the appreciation, then feels insecure, then uses the adoration as an incentive to improve himself. The second story is about a loner and his friend where the friend misconstrues a new friend for his loner and thinks there is a gay relationship when their isn't - made complicated when the friend realizes he's the one that loves him (which is fine because the loner loves him, too). The third story is about three friends. One "falls for" his friend just as his friend finds a girlfriend, but backs off when he realizes his friend really loves the girl - just as the other friend makes a move on him.
Recipe no Oujisama - Poor culinary student comes to live in a weird boarding house and falls in love with an aspiring actor only to discover later that a soup made a decade before set both of them on their current career paths.

Star-Like Words - a happy-go-lucky gay nymphomaniac with a number of sex friends falls head over heels, first with a painting then the antisocial artist that painted it, eventually drawing the artist out of his shell and finding out how much more important love is compared to empty lust. Also, a one-shot about a friends where one faked an common interest because of his crush ends up happy anyway when the other is flattered.

There's the occasional one-shot out there. For the most part, I think they're all worth reading because I find the characters appealing, as is the recurrent notion that you can't judge people with a glance. I like frequent misfit match-ups, too. More than one character comes across as at least borderline autistic which I like seeing given that my son is. 

Over all, I get the warm fuzzies (and maybe a little hot under the collar) every time I read these. What more could I ask for?


Gotta Have 'Em All: Kamisama Kiss

>> Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kamisama Kiss by Suzuki Julietta started out on my list as "Has a Certain Appeal". Then I ignored my list for a long time, meanwhile I found myself captivated by the series so it moves up in rank to "Gotta Have 'Em All." I'll be updating my list shortly.

Like many shoujo, it moves on the slow side, but it had aspects that appealed from the very beginning. I wasn't entranced but I was intrigued enough to keep reading.  Before I knew it, I loved it. It isn't just the charm and appeal of our outwardly cold main protagonist, Tomoe, though who wouldn't love a fox demon that's good-looking and capable? It isn't just the quirky premise or the mystique of an unfamiliar mythology (though I've always loved mythology and Japanese mythology is new to me). What really appeals is the relationship between Tomoe and the main character,  Momozono Nanami, a charming "normal" girl sucked into a surreal world, laden with heavy responsibilities and very very limited power. Her charm is augmented by the fact that she repeatedly fixes her own problems, not just through the intervention of her powerful familiar, not just due to her efforts to grow into her "god" powers, but due to her intelligence and her bright honest personality that snags her followers and allies along the way. 

Stories that empower women without just making them rescue-able eye candy and without trying to turn them into men appeal to me deeply. That she's such a fine person, honest but not without flaws, that her judgement isn't always true, but her heart is, that Tomoe (desperate never to fall for a human girl again) is inescapably drawn to her, all these things I find positively endearing.

Anime? Yes (subtitled) Volumes of manga: 18 (13 Eng) Status: Ongoing (but nearly complete in Japan, I think)

My rating: Gotta have 'em all

Age range: I wouldn't have a problem letting any teenager read this, but we all know I'm progressive.

Taboos and "warnings": Some sexual innuendo, some minor violence. If magic and the occult bother you, you won't like this, but I doubt you'd be frequenting my blog given my own tastes.

Premise: Nanami's no-account father has bolted, leaving her penniless and left with no place to live and unlikely to be able to stay in high school. As she contemplates her bleak future in the park, she rescues a terrified "man" from a stray dog and ends up telling the man her story. He (Mikage) tells her that he has a place nearby that he hasn't been using (had abandoned) and that she was welcome to take it over. Then he kisses her forehead, passing, unbeknownst to Nanami, his tochigami powers (tochigami is a "land-god" responsible for an area of land). Mikage had indeed abandoned his shrine for twenty years, leaving his familiar, a powerful yokai (a type of demon), to fulfill Mikage's duties as well as he could. The yokai, Tomoe, is somewhat irate already that he'd been abandoned so long. Finding a human girl of no particular distinction suddenly in charge adds insult to injury and he takes off to go back to his former wastrel ways, but is tricked and kissed by Nanami (who needs his helps on several different levels), thus become her familiar sort of against his will.

What works: Tomoe's apparent amorality and indifference to Nanami's plight (and to the master who abandoned him), make it pretty easy to accept him being effectively shanghaied in the beginning. By the time we find out he's a tsundere character (much nicer/responsible/caring than he wants anyone to know), it is already apparent that he needs purpose or he'll destroy himself. Her stealing him put the breaks on a self-destructive breakdown. He complains but is actually very responsible and quite protective and, very shortly, it becomes very clear that he genuinely cares about and even respects Nanami.

Over time, Tomoe has multiple opportunities to either escape or trade his inexperienced land-god for someone stronger or more experienced, but he never does and, on more than one occasion, goes out of his way to reinforce their pact. He is quite protective of Nanami and will put himself at risk on her behalf without much hesitation. Fortunately, he's a badass (yes, I like that) and his foxy appearance and cold demeanor add to his charm rather than detract. His overt jealousy as rivals show up (for Nanami's affection as potential rival familiars) comes across as sweet and awkward, especially given that he won't admit to any attachment. In the end, he is absolutely unable to stand in the way of her happiness.

But, more importantly, he is also completely incapable of stopping Nanami when she is set on a path. She is stubborn, intrepid, leaping rapidly where even Yokai would pause and the fact that she often extracts herself through her own efforts both frustrates and impresses him. Impresses me, as well. As much as I love protective men, even more, I love pairing them with capable, creative, self-sufficient women (it's a common theme in my own writing).

Nanami is honorable, empathetic, forthright, determined, smart, and patient. She is as hard on herself as anyone, but her kind and giving nature make her adorable and her tendency of putting herself at risk for the sake of others with no thought whatsoever to her own preservation make her pretty darn appealing as well, even if it scares the dickens out of Tomoe. Her ability to see through the BS makes her friends and allies even from individuals that should have been enemies.

In the end, it's her love (unabashed) for Tomoe that really makes this series sing. Tomoe is a complex character with a checkered and troubled past and Nanami's unraveling of that past is completely compelling, especially given her selflessness in how she does so.

It is amusing, but not laugh out loud funny. More cute and surprise amusing, situations that are charming and humorous.

Favorite character: Tomoe. Normally, this would be a hard call. Nanami is feisty and true, smart and generous and kind. She's a great protagonist. Tomoe is also smart and feisty, complicated and, underneath, giving and devoted. He is complex and his backstory is fascinating and adds considerably to our understanding and sympathy for him. And he is the one that grows the most. So, he likely had an edge on top character, but, at one point, he is changed into a little kid form of himself that is too cute for words (and he refuses to trade masters even though his life is at risk in this smaller form). That clinched it. Mikage, as the guy watching over all this who clearly has a plan in Nanami's and Tomoe's favor is pretty appealing, too.
Quotes (there aren't many because I didn't go through all thirteen volumes I have and because it's really the interaction that's amusing rather than one-liners):
Yokai: A mere human, a shabby girl becoming a tochigami. This shrine has sunk so low.
Tomoe: No, no, Nanami may not look it, but she's strong inside. Someday, she will be able to make the flowers bloom.

Nanami: (mentally) I couldn't help barging in and Tomoe told me not to. I couldn't stop myself when I saw the sword pointed at Tomoe. But, right now, I'm really scared . . . of Tomoe.

Himemiko: We met only once at Tatara Swamp ten years ago. He was an 8-year-old who looked very cute when he was crying.
Nanami: (mentally) Are all yokai sadists?

What I didn't like: Again, not much. The artwork is nice and effective but not outstanding or particularly noteworthy. Better than I could draw, of course.Things move slowly, especially at first, and it's always frustrating to draw out a romance where the characters are clearly attached to each other but still not making tremendous progress. Reading ahead of the published volumes, I can see what looks like a very satisfying end coming up, but there's no getting around that it dragged at times.

The anime: There is also a 13 episode anime available, subtitled rather than dubbed, but well worth the time to read/watch it. The same charm evident in the manga infuses the anime and I think it's quite well done with a tidy ending (which is not always so with animes that finish up before the manga is completed). It moves a little more swiftly than the manga.


Stepping out from the manga for just a sec

>> Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thing is, I don't just write blogs (in fact, one could make an argument I don't even write those given how I've let my blogs go fallow) or fan fiction or reviews of various manga.

I have and have always written fiction and I'm pleased to make note that one of my short stories was recently published in SQ's anthology Star Quake 1, available as both a paperback book and an ebook format. I don't know everywhere it's available, but I know it's available at both Barnes & Noble and at Amazon.

It's not a big thing, as real writing goes, but it's big for me.

More news, I'm gearing up to take my rather large backlog of novels and short stories and self-publish in ebook form (some of many different flavors of electronic book at once). Not because I don't believe in it, but because I do. I don't want to get rich. I want to tell stories.

One way or another, that's just what I'm going to do.

Stay tuned.

(Oh, and I'm still reading manga, one reason I've been so lax with work on the blog). I'll share more of what I've found charming later. No, really!


Adult Swim: Jumping from the Cliffs of Insanity

>> Tuesday, April 16, 2013

One of the things I personally like about manga is that "anything goes." Insane or ridiculous premises are embraced, made the central theme of a manga and everything works as if that's perfectly normal, kind of like they managed to do with Edward Scissorhands.  Many genres of manga have far out premises, so yaoi's not unique in that, but there do seem to be an unusual number of truly I've-never-read-anything-like-it stories.

Standing out, even among that level of insanity are Sex Pistols aka Love Pistols by Kotobuki Tarako. Pick a taboo or issue associated with homosexuality or people in general and you're likely to see it turned on its ear in this manga, everything like guys linking up sexually for breeding purposes, androgyny (the real kind) to extreme reverse mysogyny (aka misandry). Nothing is sacred, and that includes science along with the cultural taboos. Fortunately for people like me, it's also insanely funny. I forgive a great deal for funny.

The premise could not be much more ridiculous. The notion is that, while most people are descended from monkeys, a small segment is descended from other major animal orders described as "snake eyes" (Serpentes), "dragon" (Crocodilia), "Mermaid" (Cetecea), and various carnivora families like "dog god" (Canidae), "Catamount" (Felidae) and "Bruin" (Ursidae). But variations on those, including other mammals like mongoose or bat and even a hawk, also show up. These "zoomans" (as opposed to primate-based humans) not only share some traits with their various animal ancestors but can also recognize each other on sight, which is good because they don't breed as effectively or as true as the monkey folk, which is one reason why there are so many more monkeys. Big powerful predators (heavyweights like grizzlies or pythons or jaguars) have "powers" above and beyond regular zoomen, but find breeding true inversely difficult and often breed with "lightweights" (poodles or kitties or garter snakes) to increase their chances of any offspring and hopes to accidentally breed a heavyweight. Attractiveness tends to go with the heavier weight of the more powerful zoomen, so finding partners isn't difficult.

Perhaps the most humorous part of this silly concept is that all this goes on under the very noses of the monkey majority who, in true monkey fashion, ignore or forget everything that is outside their understanding so they just don't notice it. It's hilarious but sadly feels profound as well.

So, what does this have to do with yaoi (i.e. boy's love)? Well, the zooman population crisis is so profound that a good potential partner can't be discarded just by being the wrong gender so men can either (a) grow a false womb with something unsavory sounding called a womb worm or (b) can undergo a complex medicinal process to grow the organs of a woman (without sacrificing their male bits). There's apparently a mechanism for female couples, too, but no one's mentioned what it is yet. I'm guessing it's less complicated since women are already designed to carry children.

Weirded out yet? But wait, there's more. Enter what is nominally the main character, a slight unassuming character named Nororin who happens to be a very special fellow called a "Missing Link," that's someone who, though with monkey parents manages to be a throwback to some zooman ancestor (in Nororin's case, a housecat). Such a missing link has his own powers, not the least inconvenient are the abilities to see the "true soul " (dominating animal character) of zoomen and humans alike and a souped up pheromone attraction that gets him all but attacked by humans and zoomen alike. Missing links have the remarkably fertile breeding ability of monkeys, but other traits of zoomen. Nororin awakened to his missing link abilities as a high school student and was in serious danger of losing his virtue and mind in general until taken under the wing of a cranky pushy tactless jaguar (Kunimasa) who sees him as a repository for his future children, a notion that Nororin's see-no-evil monkey personality tries not to think about too much.

After that, it gets really weird. It probably wouldn't surprise you to hear that zoomen tend to be pretty nonchalant about sex in general with a rather different moral code than many of us are used to. Take for example this family tree including the jaguar I just mentioned.

Although we start out with Nororin's unusual story and the somewhat challenging relationship he has with his overtly cold lover, Kunimasa (who really loves him, no really), there are many romances tossed in for entertainment, mostly male on male and one more unlikely than the next. We have an extreme man-hater (crocodile) who falls for a (male) Japanese wolf masquerading as a monkey (who also has the patience of Job), a mongoose-viper pairing, a bat with a Middle-Eastern eagle pairing, a Jaguar-Crocodile paring and a relatively unsurprising bear-bear pairing (with stud services bought a paid for). They've started on some sort of romance involving a mermaid (even more rare than a missing link) and a python, but I have no idea how that will turn out. I've been surprised plenty by this already.

The manga is not without flaw. The drawing takes some getting used to with heavyweights portrayed as freakishly oversized and ridiculously broad men with oversized hands. Much of it is very rough-looking with backgrounds generally nonexistent. It's also pretty strange and a lot of very misogynist attitudes throughout the book, usually projected on to uke/breeding half of the male partnerships but women aren't exactly portrayed in an appealing fashion. Easily the least likeable character is a female python (who is mother two Kunimasa and his twin but "father" to two other brothers - see above).

On the other hand, I find the notion, though pretty ridiculous, thought-provoking and original, the characterizations very well done, making a series of severely flawed but somehow appealing characters who interact in ways that, in hindsight, make sense. When there's angst, it's powerful. When there's passion, its pretty compelling. And, when there's love, it comes through loud an clear to the reader, sometimes before the parties in question catch on. And, for all that the outward story is all about making babies (and a few get made during the course so far), love still takes precedence time after time in pairings that mean more than the racial makeup of the partners.

And that's pretty cool.

Kotobuki has some other stories out there that aren't bad, a couple of books of one-shots where there were a couple good stories surrounded by stories that were too twisted/surreal for even me to stomach and a couple of other series where a few stories were tied together. None of them, however, had the charm or humor (originality) of Love Pistols. Several had characters with plenty of flaws but not much charm. Pity.

The good news is, though Love Pistols (English title) is no longer being published by Blu (which went out of business after five or six volumes), Sublime manga has the first six available as an ebook (along with several other nice yaoi titles, so, cool beans (though I'm not sure what to make of their new line of yaoi titles for kids)). I will say that Love Pistols is rated M for Mature and earns that rating, so you were warned. And I do like this series. I own five books in print and all six ebook volumes available.


Adult Swim: Grown Up in More Than One Way (Pt 2)

>> Friday, March 22, 2013

So, last time, I talked about Yoshinaga Fumi's non-yaoi work, some of which is really excellent (like Oooku) if not necessarily enjoyable and some of which is both (like Antique Bakery). I like and reread many of these books, but I don't like any of them as much as I like her yaoi with the possible exception of Antique Bakery, but I can't read Antique Bakery without reading the associated doujinshi which I actually read first. And the doujinshi is hard hard core yaoi. You can read the Antique Bakery manga without the doujinshi and it's well worth it, but, in my opinion, the doujinshi really completes it (at least the thirteen chapters I've seen) with considerably backstory including Ono's immediate reaction when he's rejected so cruelly by Tachibana and the reason he became the gay playboy he did.

 Without the original manga, I still liked the doujinshi, too, but you should be warned. It's emotionally wrenching in some places and could also be a helpful hint how-to on anal sex so it's really not for everyone. Chikage and Tachibana are really expanded here but, of course, Ono (as the one unabashedly gay character) is the center of attention. And he is far from flawless. I'm a monogamous soul, so I'm not condoning all his actions, but I can see where he's coming from and don't dislike him (though I could understand if you did). For me, the doujinshi fills in the blanks (I'm guessing for the mangaka, as well, since she wrote them), but I won't lie, I find her romance and sex scenes very very compelling. And the romances feel real, and more touching because they aren't perfect rather than less. I won't lie, I bought the books based on the dj and never regretted either.

The graphic and no holds barred nature of the yaoi in the Antique Bakery dj is in keeping with the graphic and gory details of the sex in her yaoi in general. So that you know. 

But wait, there's more. The yaoi selections, like the non-yaoi selections, frequently involve dark stuff. Cases in point include some of the stories in Don't Say Any More, Darling, Truly Kindly and Gerard and Jacques, all but the last of which can be readily purchased. In all cases, there are some sweet stories mixed in with bittersweet or even dark stories. Truly Kindly is a mix of dark modern stories with two that manage to have happy endings and a handful of historical stories (some dark, some not) set in ancient Japan and pre-revolutionary France (the latter precursors to Lovers in the Night). The dark aspects of "Chinoiserie", for instance, are completely in keeping with the historical setting and, in my opinion, were more poignant as a result. Don't Say Any More, Darling is another set of one-shot stories (not all are yaoi) that run from sweet (the first one) to downright depressing. Yoshinaga-sensie has a real gift for infusing life into short stories, by the way. Not everyone has it.

Gerard and Jacques, which is about an erotic novelist during revolutionary France who meets the son of an aristocrat in a boy's brothel. The start is about as dark a beginning as you can get for what turns out to be a very satisfying and sweet story. Once again, Yohinaga-sensei weaves such intricate and compelling backstories and paints (realistically) the environment so clearly that what seems like a heinous set of actions turn out to make a lot of sense, even be understandable. I'm frequently amazed how she pulls that off. Of the three darker works, Gerard and Jacques, which is one story set in two volumes, is probably my favorite of these three, and I never would have thought so if I'd read just the first chapter or two. Yoshinaga-sensei is sneaky like that. The only reason I don't own Gerard and Jacques is that I can't find them in English.

Moving from the darkest toward happier shores is Solfege, which has still a sizeable modicum of dark with a music teacher who gets involved with his earnest singing student (at least somewhat selfishly) only to send him away far more selflessly and eventually fall to ruin...only to be searched out again by his now world-acclaimed student.  The happy ending is clear but the extent (did they get back together or not) is left to the reader to decide.

Lovers In the Night takes off after the French shorts at the end of Truly Kindly and is a single story of a spoiled but devoted gay French aristocrat (who becomes an emigre during the French Revolution) and his equally devoted and dominating butler. Normally, I'm not fond of the master-servant stories, but Yoshinaga-sensei does seem to delight in oversetting my personal prejudices with effective story telling. I do love happy endings.

But, I've found happy endings more frequently (and at least as satisfying) in the yaoi than her non-yaoi. I've also found as much if not more humor, which is always a plus for me (and Yoshinaga is really good at the kind of humor that tickles me no end). And the yaoi, which often deal with very realistic concerns of gay partnerships, don't seem to need to delve as frequently into the dark depths as the very real issues are compelling enough for interest. Of this ilk there's Moon and Sandals, a nice story of an adult romance and a student romance, with the crush of the student for the gay teacher nicely handled (as well as the romance the teacher has with a chef) and the subsequent romance the student has with another student. The student, particularly, is charming with his forthright earnestness and determination. The characters, as usual, are the strong element and quite appealing.

Then, there's Ichigenme, the First Class is Civil Law (which I've only found complete in published form, but, good news, it's published and readily available), which follows the charming but unexpected pairing of a serious law student (and eventual law professor) and his laid back and charming gay companion of the computer genius variety. That the computer genius' brother (also a law student) has his own affair with a professor, a story I also found charming. My description does not do the story justice nor touch on the profound but engaging humor spread all through this book nor the masterful characterizations often done with what seems a couple of lines of dialog and a few panels. I love them all but I have a soft spot for the long curly-haired computer freak. (There's a surprise).

All of these books I found interesting, most of them charming (with the occasional story I could have done without). Like most of Yoshinaga-sensei's work, even the most depressing stuff, it's amazingly rereadable, I think because the world is so real. They're great stories and it's almost a pity that those who would be squeamish about the portrayal of sex (gay and/or otherwise) would miss out on these because they are so interesting. If, however, you like effective sex scenes, these also include some of the best. And I think I'm becoming nearly expert on it.   Good books, worth owning (which is good because they are almost all licensed and hard to find otherwise, at least complete) and, yes, I own every thing described here except the Antique Bakery dj and Gerard and Jacques. And I'd own them if they became available.

Update: I just found out there's an anime for Antique Bakery as well, strictly based on the books and not yaoi, but managing, in twelve episodes, the capture the gist of the four books.  Clean enough for a teenage audience (children would not get the many subtleties) and well worth $30. I liked it (noting that Chikage provided the bulk of the humor, bless his simple heart - he's a favorite. How can anyone hate Chikage?) It's subtitled, but worth the trouble, at least to a fan like me. Comes in a nice little case with a booklet of Antique Bakery factoids and stuff.

Update: I got the first volume of Gerard and Jacques! Squee!


Adult Swim: Grown Up in More Than One Way (Pt 1)

>> Friday, January 25, 2013

You may have all noticed that my posts often talk about a particular mangaka's body of work rather than just a single work. This may be more true in yaoi than other fields since yaoi is frequently (though not always) a one or two volume endeavor per story (if not a one-shot). Plus, it's been my experience that, when I stumble across a really good mangaka, it's worth my time to check our her (or his) other work. I frequently find other gems...and not always just in yaoi.

Which is how I stumbled across Yoshinaga Fumi. Actually, I'd read (but didn't consider a keeper at the time) a period yaoi set in Europe called Gerard & Jacques as it started pretty dark and I almost didn't continue. Even so, I was a bit intrigued (I love history) and, when I stumbled across something else later, I started to explore and then became entranced. I've since reread Gerard & Jacques many times and it's now one of my favorites. She still isn't my favorite yaoi author (probably), though she's on my short list of real favorites. She is, however, something really special in more than one way, first and foremost because she's one of the most superlative storytellers I've ever come across in any medium. When I say medium, I mean music, movies, anime, novels, short stories, manga, you name it. I read a single chapter (all that's available) on-line from Garden of Dreams and was struck speechless. It was a masterful example of evocative story telling and character building, as well having all the pathos of the best poetry. It was, in fact, much like a poem in manga form.

Garden of Dreams isn't yaoi. It wasn't explicit or offensive and it wasn't trying to make some societal point (as far as I know). It was set during the Crusades but involved relatively normal people who were incredibly complex, imperfect while being entirely easy to empathize with. They felt incredibly real, and touched me to an unprecedented degree. Based on the one short story, I bought the book (readily available at Amazon). I hadn't read the first thirty pages before I was compelled to buy a second copy and send it to my sister, wiping away my tears.

Although she writes some unabashed yaoi, she has also written many other manga that is not yaoi. All of it is amazingly grown up, even if it isn't R-rated, if you understand the distinction.  Though some of it is that, too. In this part 1, I'm going to mostly talk about her non-yaoi work.

I'm convinced Yoshinaga's work would be suited for nearly any English class as an example of show vs. tell. Using her not inconsiderable artistic talent, she weaves complex plots in environments that seem almost static because the real drama is the exposition and interaction of her characters who are brilliantly revealed in tiny, seemingly unrelated vignettes until, before you know it, she's made a cohesive whole of brilliantly fleshed out characters that are so much more than two dimensional.

Her crafting is such that she frequently creates characters doing all manner of thoughtless, destructive, sometimes horrific things, but, as you learn more about them and where they came from you (or at least I) find myself understanding even when I can't entirely accept what they do. Some of her characters are unshakably noble and admirable. Some are thoughtless and selfish. Most are a combination of all of that, just like the rest of us. And, by showing us these people and actions as seen through the eyes of one party or the next, we have the opportunity to learn and appreciate these people to depths I have rarely seen elsewhere.

I have quite a collection of her works despite another trait I admire but don't necessarily care for myself: she is not afraid to leave the reader unfulfilled. There are, of course, happy endings in her books, but there are as many sad ones, wonderful characters who never find (or keep) their true loves, people who fail, people who can't overcome their own failings. Some of it isn't entertaining. Much of it is dark and sad and fraught with people making mistakes they can never recover from, or receiving scars they can't erase from their own hearts.

And example in point is Oooku, her award-winning manga, in this case, an alternate history story sent early in the Edo era (for those who are Japanese history buffs, well, you don't need me to explain, but its after Tokugawa took over the shogunate and his family kept power until the Emperor took it back the last century or so). Normally I despise alternate histories because they are frequently done by people who don't know jack about history or are done in such a slipshod manner with characters completely out of keeping with people of the day that it sends me up the wall. Not the case here. Yoshinaga spins a what-if tale of a plague that, over several generations, wipes out the majority of men in Japan. Instead of changing historical events as a result, she uses this idea to explain many of Japan's policies during that time including its isolationism and increasing feudalism, forcing people to be tied to the land. Real events are woven through but given impetus by this key change rather than happening despite. It's fascinating. No, really.

Historical Japan is a brutal and unforgiving world and Yoshinaga does not pull punches. In many ways, it's harsh and unfeeling and filled with callous actions, elitism, brutality, and downright unfairness. Truly wonderful and fantastic characters are misused, abused, tormented by fate, left to fend for themselves or live their lives bereft. Other people do cruel and inhumane things (by our standards) from their own torment, mistaken priorities, and, in many cases, necessity. It's brilliant. It's fascinating. It's sometimes depressing as hell.

I own all the Oooku books available in English and I've read it twice and I still don't enjoy reading it. Some time while reading the second volume, I usually ask myself why I haven't stopped reading because obviously I don't like it, but, once I start, I absolutely can't stop. It's compelling. And, even after I've read it, no matter how tired I am, I can't sleep the next night - so much is wandering through my brain.

The artwork is gorgeous and evocative. Actually, I'm impressed by anyone making a tonsured man look attractive.  And, as much as I don't read it for entertainment, I'm glad I have read it and believe it to be genius.

Not everything non-yaoi is dark or lacking in entertainment. If most of her work has some level of pathos, she has a real gift for ribald and subtle humors she sprinkles about most of her work, even the darkest. Flower of Life is a school slice of life with the straight-forward main character, who'd missed a year of school due to leukemia, and quite the eclectic mix of other characters. All My Darling Daughters focuses mainly on female relationships (not homosexual), but familial. Kodomo No Taion is also about family, but from a man's perspective.

Yoshinaga Fumi also seems to have a fascination with food. Two other mangas are unabashedly focused on food: Not Love but Delicious Food Makes Me So Happy (restaurant hopping and life from a woman's perspective) and What Did You Eat Yesterday? which is non-yaoi other than the two main characters are a gay couple with the emphasis on the lawyer who goes shopping daily (with frugality in mind as much as taste) before coming home and whipping up a five course meal of authentic Japanese fair for his companion, who's main job is to exult over the flavor and texture of the meal. The latter is effectively a cooking show in manga form. Since I'm not a gourmand, I didn't really care for either of these manga, but I can see how a food nut could really get excited.

If I admire but don't enjoy all her books, there are some that I definitely admire and enjoy, so, if we're talking about non-yaoi genius, I can't forgo mentioning another award winner, Antique Bakery, which, if described, sounds as dull as dishwater but in reality is anything but. If we are hit over the head with more food (and we are, of the French style pastry variety) and we find a very gay character without being yaoi (which we do), none of that precludes that this as another brilliant piece of work about four very unlikely and complex men (OK, one not so complex man) who happen to run a bakery, the journey that brought them there, the non-romantic bonds that tie them together. I have not found Antique Bakery on line but it can be bought (all four volumes) in licensed book form (and, yes I have them and bought those for my sister as well). Don't let the description fool you, this is frequently hilarious, frequently touching, frequently thought-provoking stuff.

Actually, unlike most mangakas, because so much of her work is licensed, only smatterings of most of her work is available on line. That's the bad news. The good news is you can buy several of her works in book form most readily. In English and everything. Antique Bakery is just one example of that.

Speaking of Antique Bakery you can find on-line, one thing you can find (but not in book form) is the doujinshi (special extra mangas written by fans or authors to pass out at conventions) by the author of Antique Bakery which takes the story forward. But, if Antique Bakery isn't yaoi (and it isn't), the Antique Bakery doujinshi definitely is hardcore yaoi. So I'll save talking about it for part 2.


Adult Swim: As Sweet As It Gets

>> Wednesday, December 5, 2012

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you've probably noticed a trend (that goes beyond manga, I might add, with my library of regular fiction comprising hundreds of books, but dozens of writers) of reading everything by an author/mangaka I like exhaustively. I might only mention the ones I like, but you can bet I read them all if they make the list of worth writing about it.

Many of the mangakas I favor like Naono Bohra and Kano Shiuku (who I haven't written about yet) are very prolific and have oodles and scoodles of titles. Actually, all those of that ilk I can think of are of the particularly raunchy variety - I wonder if there's a connection? Well, I'll worry about that on a different post because this time I want to talk about a mangaka, Nagato Saichi, who has, to the best of my knowledge, just one on-going manga. But it's utterly charming.

Now for those of you who think yaoi=pornography (and, yes, it frequently is), that might sound contradictory, but I could list (and intend to eventually) dozens of sweet stories that happen to include same sex couples who may or may not have overt sex on the page. Kou'un no Rihatsushi by Nagato Saichi is one of them.

The story starts with an overgrown teenager (Tsukasa) known as the "moody pillar" who gets a haircut as a result of rejection from unrequited love. Fortunately, he gets this haircut from a talented and gay barber (Nachi) who also gives him some overdue confidence and support. The haircut and advice transform Tsukasa into a hottie on the outside (mostly by revealing his face), so much so that he ends up a model/actor/all around idol. But this big beautiful guy (drawn marvelously) doesn't change one iota from the sweet shy self-conscious guy he was in the beginning, who manages to overcome his previous crush and tumble selflessly into love with Nachi right off the bat.

This all basically happens in the first five pages. After that, throughout the original one-shot (now first chapter), Tsukasa comes over whenever his schedule permits to "help out" Nachi, bringing snacks, fetching coffee, helping to clean up. And he does this for YEARS as his fame increases: no confessions, no demands, just happy to be around Nachi, who happens to be a huge fan and a genuinely kind (and shy) person himself. So, no, no shotacon. In fact,Tsukasa (younger) is a big burly man, my favorite when we pair different ages.Though they aren't that far apart in age.

Things might never have progressed (given the shy sweetness of our two characters) if one of Nachi's ex-lovers hadn't tried coaxing, then coercing the barber to work for him. Facing losing his crush and then faced with his crush being assaulted, Tsukasa is forced to act and our characters get the happy discovery that they actually have been in love with each other from the very beginning, but too shy/self-effacing to think the other could care about them.   And it is adult.

It's a combination that could readily get sickly-sweet but doesn't somehow. Tsukasa and Nachi both come across as completely genuine, at least to me. Their future trials, in the subsequent chapters, are the product of misunderstandings, the demands of a showbiz career (without the associated ego), and other challenges associated with people who are not accustomed to making demands but need to.
It's funny and sweet without feeling contrived. The characters grow without losing their initial charm or becoming people they aren't. I couldn't help but love them.

And, if you're okay with a modicum of grown up action in the midst of a sweet love story, you might like it, too. It isn't, to the best of my knowledge, published in English. But, if it ever is, I'll be buying.


Adult Swim: The Deep End

>> Sunday, October 14, 2012

Once again, I'm way overdue for a post. Last Adult Swim segment, I noted that there were some "greats" in the yaoi world. I'm not sure how much longer I can go, therefore, without mentioning Kodaka Kazuma, who, in Kizuna, which, fortunately for fans, is now available in English reprinted in double volume format so it's 6 volumes instead of 11 (and all are out). I could write a whole post easily on just Kizuna, but she has several other excellent works as well.

What you should know, though, before jumping in is that much of it is dark. Violent. Rape happens frequently, sometimes even involving protagonists (which is something that generally turns me off at once). People are killed or beaten up and left for dead. Nor is she shy at portraying sex at length and with detail. Also, her drawing style is not, I think for everyone. Fortunately, I came in with Border which is recent and has a bit more polished style, but I was taken aback when I read some of her earlier works including the seminal Kizuna (similarly to my reaction to Naono Bohra).

Even so, and even though there are books so violent/rape filled I won't read them and others I will read are really at the edge of my tolerance level, the ones I love I absolutely adore. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is the real devotion, the real and unequivocal devotion, her main characters frequently have for each other. I am a sucker for romance. The second reason is that she's fond of making truly kick-ass take-charge ukes (a role that, in yaoi, is often populated with tearful, girlish, baby-faced weaklings). Just like I like strong female protagonists, seeing men playing the "female role" who can kick serious butt and don't get pushed around by anyone (including their partners) makes me all warm and fuzzy. Included in our retinue of nobody's pushover ukes are two kendo champions, an assassin, an ex-special forces detective, and, of course, an immortal vampire. Oh, and dark and serious as they are, they're also very very funny.

If some of the characters are annoying as hell, like the bratty and spoiled yakuza heir, Kai (no, really, he's in college though he looks fourteen), his half-brother, Kei, I love without restraint. Almost a pity they're in the same book. If the early drawings are frequently out of proportion with weird things going on with their noses, some of the depicts, particularly of Ranmaru and Masayoshi, are breathtaking. I can give you several reasons why I shouldn't like most if not all of her work, but they're the most read of all my yaoi physical books. And I'll have to restrain myself from rereading the whole damn set again when I'm finished this post even though I just finished Kusatta Kyoushi No Houteishiki (Bad Teacher Equation) last week (last book, also of double volumes, came out).

 Now, in my own personal order:

Kizuna: Bonds of Love - which for all its challenges I've reread more than any other yaoi story. Six volumes are all out, that's the whole set, with the first five double length (Yes, I have them). The focus of the undoubtedly love story is Enjouji Kei, illegitimate son of a yakuza boss, and Samejima Ranmaru, the badass beautiful former National Kendo champion (high school level). It isn't about how boy meets boy and falls in love, though we see that in flashbacks, but really about how two young men who fell in love in high school build a life together despite a number of challenges that face them. To a lesser extent, there's the romance between Kei's half brother, Kai (heir to the yakuza boss) and Kai's father's right hand man, which is a David/Goliath pairing despite Kai being another Kendo champion. To an even lesser extent there are forays into another pairing of two assassins, an old fart and the young man who insisted on being corrupted. Spin off of characters from a shonen ai work, called Sessa Tekuma! (Ranmaru's reaction to the protagonist from Sessa Tekuma! is hilarious). I own all these.

Border - First book I read by this mangaka and still a favorite, though one could readily be off-put by our main protagonist getting banged on the first few pages. In color. Ex-special forces/orphan works will fellow former orphans in an A-team sort of way, often just a few steps ahead of the cops. Not a love story, not really, though there are tendrils of romance here and there. Mostly it's a kickass fighting/thinking manga where the main character happens to be gay (uke), but with real devotion among the team's members and some hints that romance is not entirely implausible at some time. Also, very funny. Three volumes are out on this and this work is on-going. I own the first three and will buy the rest when they become available.

Kusatta Kyoushi No Houteishiki (Bad Teacher Equation) - all five double volumes of this is out. Far less sex than either of the other two series mentioned so far, it involves a young high schooler and his crush for one of a pair of brothers that, through a mix-up becomes a lifelong love for the other (who happens to be a school nurse and run a transvestite bar without necessarily being gay). I'm not a big advocate for the student teacher pairings (that are prevalent in yaoi, I'm afraid), but those that pull it off get fairly high marks. In this case, the pursuing is 100% done by the student who doesn't get "satisfaction" as it were until he is graduated and a teacher himself. Throw in a slow-moving romance involving the other brother, a best friend who would prefer to be our protagonists romantic partner, and the whole things is quite convoluted, very funny and a sweet. Still, a lot of book if you're just looking for sex (though Masayoshi is VERY hot when he finally succumbs, just saying). I own all of these, too.
Ren ai Hōteishiki's a follow-on to this book, with protagonists in the "too young" category, but they don't actually have sex (though one does spy on our Kusatta protagonists en flagrante, so a bonus there). All the potential partners, however, are in the same age group.

Sex Therapist - Okay not exactly romantic and mostly (in my opinion) an excuse to come of up with unusual (and impractical) pairings and show a LOT of sex, but it is not without appeal. The premise is that lovelorn homosexuals (who may or may not know they're homosexual) get directed to this underground sex therapist who, through methods unknown, become's the doppelganger of their heart's desire. After breaking the ice this way, our freshly sated "patients" go out and pair up with the real partner. Weird I know, and I'm not telling you all of it.

Ihoujin Etrange - about vampires who suck the souls out of lovers via sex. One is reluctant to do so (too easily falls in love) and the other who is a horndog with humans but totally devoted to the first vampire, eventually sharing his bounty of spirit or whatever. Eventually, some of his bevy of half-vampire offspring also join the story.

Sessa Tekuma!  - precursor to Kizuna and everything else, it involves the romance between an insanely strong hick from Hokkaido and Ranmaru's sister Yuki. Not the best story or artwork, but the extra at the end where Ranmaru and Kei retrieve Ranmaru's nephew from their hanging laundry is nearly worth the rest of the read.

There are others, too, like Hana to Ryuu which is loosely tied to Kizuna but stretches my personal tolerance perhaps past the limit given the plethora of rape (in and out of prison), violence and incest. Midare Somenishi takes these tendencies even farther beyond what I can possibly stand. Not for me. There's another story involving a mangaka who wants to draw shonen ai, but gets sucked into yaoi (and a relationship with another male mangaka) called, Not Ready!? Sensei!. There's a handful of other items, but for many of them only bits and pieces are readily available. 


Holy Heckfire, where have I been?

>> Thursday, July 19, 2012

Okay, I've still been trolling around the adult swim world of yaoi (up to the h's going alphabetically at Mangafox), but that's really not what's kept me from doing anything else on my blogs.

What's completely captured my interest and sucked me in is an anime of a genre I have never found interesting in the past: shonen. Most of the shonen I've seen to date has been full of gratuitous violence and overly muscled men or bratty children both acting incredibly stupid.  Lots of shouting. Since I'm a character girl, I've been left, well, underwhelmed.

Admittedly, I hadn't seen much from this genre, though. Dragonball Z, some science fiction/roboty ones my ex liked, a few more. I occasionally liked one (Vandread, Sorcerer Hunters, another one I can't remember the name of), though I never really read the manga so much as watched the animes.

My daughter, for reasons unknown, decided she wanted to get me hooked on some more. She tried Naruto. I found the English-voiced stuff unbelievably obnoxious, particularly the title character. The Japanese stuff was marginally less irksome. Even if I felt sorry for him (and I didn't, particularly), he was so insufferably stupid and/or arrogant, I hated to spend time with him. I have an eight year old; spending untold episodes and volumes with a bratty kid who can talk (but probably shouldn't) didn't appeal in the slightest. None of the characters compelled me. The fights seemed to go on forever and there was this annoying habit of telling us what they were going to do, doing it, and then explaining what happened again in case you missed it. Too irksome for me.

Now, you might be a Naruto fan and that's fine. As successful as it obviously is, there are clearly many many fans out there. My absence is unlikely to be a big deal; I shan't be missed. I'm not saying it's horrible. I'm saying it's not for me.

My daughter tried me on Inuyasha. Interesting and imaginative story and not a bad show. I don't mind spending a few hours watching it. But, again, I'm not compelled. It's about on the same level as the ones I liked before. Cute, with a certain appeal, but I don't have to see every episode. Or even another episode.

And then she showed me Bleach (by Kubo).

If you're wondering what in heckfire I've been doing since like April, I've been completely seduced by the illogical but charming universe of the Bleach shinigami (and Bounts and Visors and Arrancars, and Fullbrings and whatever else you want to throw out there), mostly just the anime, though I've started in on the manga.

I LOVE it. Is it full to brim with overly muscled men and youths shouting and acting stupid and fighting with little or no cause? Yes. And I love it. Somehow, usually within the course of a single episode, character after character gets introduced, different fleshed out characters with depth and quirks and strengths and weakness, and I fall in love with them. Meet and fall in love, one fell swoop. And the main character, Ichigo Kurosaki is no exception. He has more incarnations, has stumbled back from the edge of death (and even the depths of hell) more times than any character I've ever known ever and I just love him to pieces. But I also love Sado and Uryu and Inoe and Renji and Kiske and Ururu and, well maybe not Jinta. I like Rukia (though I wish she was a little bit more of a badass) and like Ishigo's sisters and Ishigo's friends. I like the Soul Reapers that started out enemies and later became protagonists, almost all of them (except that painted sadist), and yes, I loved them when they were bad guys (Kuchiki Byakuya, for instance, and Kempachi Zuraki) . I loved many of the bad guys that "stayed" bad guys (depending on your point of view) like Grimmjow and Ulquierra.

I've seen all but the Zampakuto rebellion season in Japanese on Hulu. I've bought every episode I've been able to find in English (through 229) on Amazon insta-play. And I've seen them all. More than once. I have the first four seasons on DVD so I can loan them to friends. I have the first three movies in English and the fourth in Japanese (yikes, they keep getting better and better, too!).

Well, I'm not really ready to write a review. I should read more. And, though I've seen all but one season in Japanese, I want to see them again, first. I need to better understand why I like it so I can pass it along, make the review mean something more than: what fun!

So, folks, that's where I've been. And likely where I'll be a bit longer.

At least I'm having a good summer.

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