GRAVITATION (Gurabiteshon), by Maki Murakami. First published in 1996, and first published in North America in 2003.
Shuichi Shindou is a hyperactive high school student who has formed the band Bad Luck along with his much more mellow friend Hiro. It's a rather apt name, as when the story starts Shuichi's computer crashes and he's forced to come up with new lyrics in a hurry. As he finishes up his latest song late one night in the park, the lyrics fly out of Shuichi's hands and towards a severely rude blond man by the name of Eiri Yuki. He harshly criticizes Shuichi's lyrics, then leaves. So naturally Shuichi becomes obsessed with finding this man to prove what a good musician he is. Thanks to his sister's reading habits, Shuichi learns that Eiri is in fact a popular romance novelist and finally tracks him down. Eiri continues to be rude, insulting Shuichi left and right. Things come to a head and Shuichi all but dares Eiri to come to their debut concert. Bad Luck manage to score a record deal, and Shuichi returns to Eiri to boast. Instead, they end up making out. Now the poor kid is in love with Eiri, and the wackiness has only begun.
So this is one of the great classics of shonen-ai, one of the first of the genre to be published here and one of the pioneers of the yaoi genre in the US. I have to say that at best, I'm mildly amused by Gravitation.
I don't mind the mostly comedic take on the plot, with the heavy emphasis on Shuichi's homelife and work on his band. Sure, Shuichi is hyper to the point of annoying but he's so earnest and emotionally open, and he wants to succeed so badly that you can't help but feel for the kid a little. It's when things take a turn for the romantic that the story stumbles. While there is plenty of tension in this part, none of it is the sexual variety. There is utterly no chemistry between Shuichi and Eiri, mostly because of the fact that Eiri is one of the biggest douchebags to ever grace the pages of manga. He barely has a kind word for anyone, be it Shuichi, his editor, even his own sister. He even uses said sister to manipulate Shuichi into coming back to him. I cannot figure out why on earth I should be rooting for these two to get together. It's doubly baffling when you consider that could have made the love interest Hiro, who is already present, not a psycho, and has already confessed to being gay. Ok, so history has shown us time and again that it's a bad idea for bandmates to sleep together, but for Shuichi it would honestly be the better alternative.
I do have to briefly note the translation here. Tokyopop tended to favor translations that were more casual and colloquial, ones that sacrified accuracy for readability. While Gravitation's translation is no exception to this, there are a lot of pop culture references (mostly musical) that are thrown in too. I have my doubts as to whether they were present in the original, but for once I don't mind because they are additions that are relevant. I dare say that they're kind of a nice touch.
Gravitation's story falls short because it asks the reader to invest itself in what is already an unbalanced and even somewhat abusive relationship. While it gives us a good grasp on who Shuichi is, it fails to give us any sort of understanding as to why he would fall for Eiri other than 'the plot demands it.'
The artwork is very typical for its time and genre, with everyone being long, lanky, and pointy. I was a little amused by the heavily dated fashions and hairstyles. I swear every guy's hair was overly long, tousled, and moussed, as if every man has an endless supply of hair product but not a single brush can be found. When it is not dated and point, the art tends to be flat and superdeformed. Backgrounds are minimal, tending towards screetones and effects (in particular, a weird flowery one that looks like a lace doily halo behind the character). Page composition is pretty free and easy, and the characters are often bursting from the confines of their panels.
The only extra is a brief profile of Shuichi.
Were this 2003, I might have let this slide into the yellow light range, when yaoi was novel and where it might have provided the fix for those craving a bit of yaoi that was a little silly or with a lot of belligerent sexual tension. Time has not been kind to Gravitation, though, and now you can get that same sort of fix from actual yaoi stories without the dated look, better characters, and more balanced relationships.
This series was published by Tokyopop. All 12 volumes were released, along with two tie-in novels. It is currently out of print.
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