>> Saturday, April 28, 2012
There are, apparently, some real "greats" in the world of yaoi, mangakas who have dedicated followings for the very good reason that they have exceptional stories, characters, humor, or, yes, hotness. One of them is Naono Bohra who ups the bar on creativity and making sympathetic characters to a level I've never seen in any other mangaka's work, nor prose and poetry either.
I read a great deal, not just yaoi, not just manga, but fiction of all shapes and sizes including fantasy and science fiction. Hands down, Naono Bohra is the most original thinker, the one with the stories I've never seen before, concepts I never contemplated, twists I never expected. Even her stories that don't deal with the "fantastic" like demons and werewolves and dragons and vampires seem to add original twists and turns or depths that bring them out of the common way whether we're dealing with salarymen or high school students.
There are aspects that make them not for everyone, probably including some of the aspects I personally find appealing. In fact, when I first started reading her work, I was put off by the artistic style which I would liken to the body styles and general artistic school of Michaelangelo with the rounded body parts and the realistic bulges and shadows. In other words, not necessarily flattering. It's dirtier, to me, and everyone looks bruised. Additionally, and this is particularly important if you're already squeamish about overt gay sex, she draws graphic sex scenes that go on for pages and it's sloppy and gooey (I'm pretty certain the human body doesn't ooze that much, uh, stuff from everywhere). I'm pretty hardened to graphic sex scenes and they're hard even for me to take.
But even the most squeamish might want to consider flipping past those pages and reading the stories anyway because they're that damn good. She favors "one shots" (and many of her books are collections of unrelated or loosely connected one shots) but she can cram more originality, story and humanity into 30 pages than anyone I know. I've read many a five volume (or more) series that didn't have as much story as one of her one-shots. It's not just the originality of having capable demon-like humanoids demagicked and traded around like slaves or a blind monk finding and freeing a dragon trapped for eternity by an angry god or a trash-eating pond-god who saves the life of a half-killed human tossed into his depths by letting himself be the main course, though that's pretty wicked. It's the humanity she imbues into all of these half-human and human characters alike, with failings and foibles and misunderstandings and complexities that make them amazingly compelling often in just a few frames. Even people who do things that cross my "never cross" boundaries, doing things I absolutely would never condone are so sympathetic and believable that I find myself understanding, even sometimes sympathizing and forgiving (or at least understanding why the other characters forgive them). Since there are some actions I'm amazingly hard-nosed and unforgiving on, that's quite an accomplishment.
For the most part, however, her characters are so readily sympathetic and charming, stoic and caring, patient or giving, that I adore them. And, if I'm not an advocate for the say-it-with-your-body mindset, there are times I'm swept up right with it. Like the poor teenager from "In the Sun" who has never know any warmth or caring, felt the solace of human touch or considered himself worthy of comfort.
I also have to give her kudos to the fact she's not caught up in the pretty-young-boy only thing quite prevalent in yaoi and, in fact, a great deal of manga. She has a number of romantic leads in their forties and fifties even (so many, it's often a complaint) some with pot bellies and bulges, glasses, gray hair and squints, not to mention still wearing socks no matter what gooey antics they might be up to. She also doesn't shy away from disabilities, including at least one deaf character, one blind character, more than one character missing limb(s). They can be battered or scarred or or pudgy or short (and not in necessarily in that pseudo-shotacon way) or pierced or tattooed or awkward, etc. Not to mention, as I've already mentioned, not quite human or (in at least one case) alive. And she's not afraid to pair ugly with pretty, young with old, grumpy with charming, etc. just like what you can find in real life.
I complained earlier about the artwork as ugly to me. I still maintain that it isn't my favorite, but I have to admit it's frequently evocative and powerful, with expressions that require no dialog and powerful passages. Action is effective, often requiring only a frame or two to effective portray an entire fight. Urgency and caring are equally well portrayed.
And humor. Here are these powerful, clever and creative stories that address our inner selves in all our ugliness and glory, while still generally letting the reader feel good about it - and she still manages to be funny, even roll on the floor hilarious. Unfortunately, it's not always effective out of context.
I'm including a list of her works, but it's confusing since many stories have been packaged as part of a tankoban and matching stories might be in different books.
- Alluring Sentiment - Contemporary oneshots involving students, models. Several May-December matchups with the youthful half usually taking the lead.
- Arrested Man - Sexual terrorism, horror themes, other darker themes - not for the faint hearted.
- A Bird in a Dream - Collection of creative and supernatural oneshots (first two) including the one about the pond-god and the second half to In the Sun ("Midnight Sun")
- The Circle - A couple of school-age angst stories (connected) and then four unlikely charming chapters of a story with a demon wish grantor and the man with no wishes.
- Covetous You and Insensible Me - mostly contemporary, with a bonus of a couple of historical stories set in samurai days.
- Dakishimetakunai - mostly contemporary, with a bonus of a couple of oneshots involving a shingami (god of death) and an assassin
- Hada no Ue no Renai Jijou - series of contemporary oneshots involving salary men and their unlikely lovers.
- Hajishirazu na Yoru - Contemporary oneshots with many unusual fetishes and pairings.
- Harem Days - Series about an unlikely man drafted into the secretarial harem and focus of a powerful manager. Plus some good oneshots.
- Hohoemi no Nichijou - Mostly contemporary stories (including "In the Sun")
- Ikujinashi no Shiawase - loosely connected story involving two unlikely couples (contemporary) plus oneshots.
- Kimi ni Sasayaku Mirai - mostly connected stories involving somehow, a dead character, and a portal to hell. Also, an unconnected oneshot.
- Mori no Koe - Love this series of doujinshi involving demons treated as slaves and the humans who don't do so.
- Ren'ai Nenrei - Mostly contemporary with most stories about an irascible middle-aged uke. And some fantastical stories about demons and curses set in the kimono era. Great stuff.
- Tamago no Hi - Work in progress with a minimum, so far, of yaoi-ness and based on people with special powers who protect against trans-dimensional agressors.
- Three Wolves Mountain - Werewolves and the cemetery caretaker. Sweet.
- Yami ni Tooboe, Mune ni Toge - Clever series playing off Japanese mythology with demons pursued by the victorious gods and their interaction with one young man. Actually available as a book in English.
- Yokubou Shounen - One fantasy story in the midst of more original contemporary stories that never come off as run of the mill.
- Yubisaki no Koi - An actual series, this time with a shy touch-phobic detective whose ability to read minds with a touch is the basis for his occupation and his phobia.