It probably isn’t fair to EST EM, but I tend to think of her work as “yaoi for people who hate yaoi.” Yaoi just isn’t my thing as a genre, yet there are quite a few creators who have a large catalog of yaoi titles who I enjoy reading. Fumi Yoshinaga and EST EM seem like standouts as they have more of an indie sensibility, with a a focus on characterization and slice of life stories. I’m guessing that Natsume Ono would fit into this category of authors too, but her yaoi work hasn’t been licensed in the United States. I still have my EST EM titles from Deux stockpiled for a rainy day, but in the meantime I’m enjoying her e-book titles. Working Kentauros was gloriously off-the-wall, but Apartments of Calle Feliz provides a quieter, more meditative look at the lives and loves of a group of men who all live in the same apartment building. The core of the story centers around Luca, a writer who has just been kicked out of his apartment by his boyfriend. He finds the apartments of Calle Feliz and talks to the landlord, Javi. Javi says that his last apartment is already rented but says that Luca can be his roommate. Javi’s sudden offer of becoming roommates is mysterious in motivation and he declares “Because I think you’re pretty hot….is unfortunately not actually the reason.” Luca finds the economics of the situation compelling despite Javi’s eccentric behavior and he moves in, discovering that Javi is actually a well-known radio DJ in addition to being an apartment landlord. When Luca’s stuck for writing material, Javi tells him to write the stories of the residents of Calle Feliz.
Luca’s habits of writerly observation allow EST EM to provide quick snapshots of men in different situations. Dino and Salvatore are a committed couple, but their relationship is strained by Salvatore’s quirks – he’s a nudist and an agoraphobe who hasn’t stepped out of his apartment in three years. Noe has a relationship with twins, who want to know who he actually prefers. A puppet maker has a habit of rehabilitating people who’ve lost their voices. Eva lives in a noise-filled apartment and finds a connection with his deaf upstairs neighbor. All of these character vignettes are interspersed with the continuing story of Luca and Javi, as Luca begins to wonder what happened to Javi’s old roommate while they start becoming better companions for each other. EST EM’s art is always a treat, and she has certainly honed her talent for drawing attractive men. Unlike many other manga artists who cycle through a standard set of character designs, only varying hair and outfits, the reader can easily distinguish the differences between the large cast of people in this manga. While Apartments of Calle Feliz didn’t provide the humor and insanity of EST EM’s manga about salarymen centaurs, it offers a variety of enjoyable slice of life stories that should appeal to anyone who also enjoys the work of Fumi Yoshinaga and Natsume Ono.