Ten Count, Vols. 1 and 2

Ten Count Volumes 1 and 2 by Rihito Takarai

Ten Count is a yaoi series that caused me to wonder greatly about psychiatric ethics. Shirotani is an executive assistant who functions well in his job despite having an almost debilitating case of obsessive compulsive disorder. He has to wear gloves to hide his injuries from frequent hand washing and he has elaborate systems and rituals in place in order to make him feel safe. His condition also affects his relationships with other people, as he has an aversion to being touched.

One day Shirotani’s boss gets saved from an accident by a random bystander, who turns out to be Kurose, a therapist. Kurose recognizes Shirotani’s symptoms and goes out of his way to cultivate his acquaintance. Kurose’s mannerisms are brusque and not very emotional, but Shirotani seems to be drawn to him anyway. Kurose proposes that Shirotani gradually build up a tolerance to the situations that trigger his OCD by making a list of ten things he finds difficult or impossible to do, ranging from things like touching a door handle bare handed to eating with another person. Kurose says that this isn’t therapy, just two friends trading tips.

The relationship begins to grow, and Shirotani becomes increasingly dependant on Kurose, but Kurose abruptly cuts things off, only to leave Shirotani confused and upset. For someone who is supposed to be an expert in human behavior, Kurose seems a bit odd himself in how he conducts himself with this new friendship.

The first volume doesn’t need the explicit content warning on the front, but the second definitely does! I’m not terribly fond of relationships in yaoi manga where one person is entirely dominant and the other is set up in a more submissive role. In this case Kurose seemed to keep pushing Shirotani out of his comfort zone, and while it might end up that Shirotani becomes a more functional human being as a result of this, there were some dynamics to the relationship that I didn’t really enjoy reading. I think though that this is likely to be an enjoyable manga for most yaoi fans.

Red Blinds the Foolish by est em

I wasn’t sure at first what I was going to write about for the 801 Manga Moveable Feast, and then I remembered that I bought a few volumes of manga when Deux was going out of business and hadn’t gotten around to reading them. In particular I’ve been hoarding a couple Est Em books that I haven’t read yet, I think just because I just liked knowing that there was some English language Est Em manga that I could look forward to.

As I picked up this volume, one thing that caught my attention was a quote on the back by translator Matt Thorn comparing est em to Ursula LeGuin. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of that comparison, but as I thought about it more it seemed to make sense, as both authors explore concepts, ideas, and place in their work in an extremely thoughtful way. I tend to think of est em as a literary titan among yaoi authors. Red Blinds the Foolish doesn’t disappoint the reader looking for more thoughtful yaoi.

The main story in this volume focuses on Ratifa, a young successful matador, and Mauro who ends up butchering the bulls that are killed in the ring. Maruo is bull-like in some of his characteristics, as he is color blind just like a bull. This type of set-up might seem like a bit like metaphoric overload from a lessor creator, but est em’s slice of life approach documents the growing relationship between the couple in such a natural way that the reader ends up absorbing a lot of philosophy and bullfighting information without being hit over the head with a hammer of symbolism. There are fairly explicit sex scenes in this book, but I didn’t find them to be particularly lascivious because they take place in the context of a conversation between the characters. They could just be going out for coffee or eating tapas and and talking but since this is a yaoi manga they’re having sex.

The last third of the manga is a few short stories focusing on relationships in various stages – established, just beginning, and nostalgic. What makes est em’s work so interesting isn’t so much the specific details of the plots of her stories, but the general sense of wistfulness or longing she evokes by the time the reader reaches the conclusion. Seeing est em illustrations and then going back to more commercial manga always gives me a bit of mental whiplash, as her style with delicate, not overly polished lines and a very judicious use of screen tone always evokes a sense of clarity. I enjoyed reading Red Blinds the Foolish very much. It shows how versatile est em can be, that she can produce a work that explores relationships like Red Blinds the Foolish and then is also able to make an abrupt turn into the wacky but still poignant with a manga like Working Kentauros.

Apartments of Calle Feliz by EST EM on Jmanga.com

Apartments of Calle Feliz Vol. 1 by EST EM

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.

Ichigenme: The First Class is Civil Law

Ichigenme: The First Class is Civil Law Volumes 1 and 2 by Fumi Yoshinaga

For the Manga Moveable Feast I wanted to read something I hadn’t read before by Yoshinaga, and since I’ve read most of her other series already, the only thing left was some of her yaoi titles. I decided to go with Ichigenme: The First Class is Civil Law.

Tamiya joins a new zemi (seminar group) for law school. Although he’s a hard-working student, he’s ended up in a peer group full of rich kids who devote their time to goofing off. As part of a hazing ritual for third year students Toudou, a long-haired spoiled son of a politician performs an elaborate striptease for his fellow classmates. He winds up by giving Tamiya a kiss in order to distract everyone from making Tamiya strip too. Tamiya’s classmates make casual plans to go to Hokkaido to ski for the weekend. When they invite him along and offer to pay for him, he says that he’ll go along with them if it is something he can pay for but “I don’t want anyone paying for something I can’t pay them back for.” Tamiya’s seriousness and integrity provide a stark contrast to the attitudes of his classmates, and Toudou decides that Tamiya is “pretty cool.”

The first volume centers on the growing friendship between Tamiya and Toudou. When his father is caught up in a political scandal, Toudou is ostracized by all of his classmates except Tamiya. While Toudou is comfortable with his sexuality, Tamiya isn’t quite willing to admit that he’s gay even though he’s never been attracted to women. This manga is one of Yoshinaga’s earlier works, but her facility for creating compelling slice of life stories is in full effect. The students get drunk, avoid studying, have unfortunate run-ins with faculty, and in some cases slowly grow up. Toudou and Tamiya’s relationship progresses slowly, and while they do get physical Toudou is left wondering if Tamiya only wants him to stay over due to the elaborate breakfasts he prepares the next morning. When Tamiya turns down a classmate’s advances saying that he doesn’t think he could ever be with a woman. She says “I’ll…have to tell people, okay?” Tamiya replies that he doesn’t care, and his expression switches from blank to peaceful. He says to himself “Somehow…I feel much better.”

The second volume shows Tamiya and Toudou in a more established relationship. Toudou is breaking away from his family’s expectations and working at a games development company and Tamiya has become a teacher. They struggle with having enough time to spend with each other. Toudou’s younger brother is also the focus of some of the stories in this volume, as he takes up with a professor. The first volume of Ichigenme had a few sex scenes, but was more focused on character interaction. The second volume flips the formula, with sex scenes punctuated by occasional glimpses of the characters going out to dinner, struggling with pressure from work, or dealing with the aftermath of a new haircut.

As a whole, I liked Ichigenme more than most of the yaoi I’ve tried. It doesn’t have some of the problematic genre elements that tend to annoy me in many yaoi titles, like a reliance on rape scenarios or the insistence that the men in the story aren’t really gay, they’re just “truly in love.” Instead Yoshinaga creates stories about believable people who fall in love with each other.

Yaoi Quick Takes from Blumanga – Cute Devil and Blood Honey

Cute Devil by Hiro Madarame

Tohru is the strong silent type. He wears glasses and serves in the student council. One day a boy with an angelic face named Fuuta asks if he’ll be his friend. Due to Fuuta’s striking looks, he’s treated like a princess by everyone at school. Fuuta pleads with Tohru with limpid watery eyes, and the two start hanging out together. While Fuuta might look like an angel, he’s actually a sexually rapacious demon and he’s picked Tohru to be his lover. I didn’t care for the story very much, because there wasn’t very time spent on character development. Also, I don’t find the fairly typical in yaoi dynamic of one character forcing himself on the other very entertaining. The chapters in the manga are all fairly similar, as Fuuta and Tohru play out the same dynamic in their relationship over and over again. That being said, Fuuta’s rapid personality shifts were funny and Madarame has some very attractive character designs.

Blood Honey by Sakyou Yozakura

Yuki is a vampire with a very sensible job of working at a blood bank. His favorite blood donor is Mayuzumi, a teacher who seems to enjoy donating blood more frequently than the average person. It turns out Mayuzumi is so hot blooded, he needs to get rid of excess blood so he doesn’t lose his temper. When Yuki is propositioned by his boss, Mayuzumi comes to his rescue and offers to give blood to Yuki for the rest of his life. Blood Honey switches the point of view for various chapters. Yuki’s featured at the start of the volume, Mayuzumi deals with temptation and his feelings for Yuki in the next, and the third story focuses on Yuki’s vampire nephew Kiri. Kiri’s a notorious playboy who keeps trying to insert himself into Mayuzumi and Yuki’s life, so they send him off to live in a temple along with a slightly corrupt priest. Yozakura’s art is simple and a bit on the cartoony side, as Mayuzumi’s temper seems to always show him overreacting to everything. I liked the linked short story format of this volume.
Review copies provided by the publisher