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?


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