>> 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.
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.