FROM EROICA WITH LOVE (Eroica Yori Ai o Komete), by Aoike Yasuko. First published in 1976, and first published in North America in 2004.
We start with three cute, pleasant high school students who are not only gifted with ESP, but also super strength and genius-level intellect. They're not important, though. Who is important is the beautiful blond man who wanders into their story at an art museum. This man is Earl Dorian Red Gloria, an admirer of beautiful art and beautiful men. He is a man who gets whatever he wants, and what he can't get through money or cajolery he will get through theft. The only person that can stop him is Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach, a West German NATO officer who is strict, officious, and disdainful of all that Dorian stands for, and circumstance keeps throwing these two together in all sorts of international crises.
It's rare to see a manga shift focus as quickly as From Eroica With Love does. It's rarer still that such a radical shift works to the story's benefit, not against it.
It becomes glaringly obvious that the psychic Scooby gang from the beginning can't begin to hold a candle to Dorian. His stunning, Robert Plant-inspired looks and suave, worldly ways don't just steal the scene, they steal the whole damn storyline! Yasuko seems to have realized this as well, because those kids all but disappear after that first chapter. Frankly I'm Ok with their loss, partially because the psychic and superpower angle was really goofy and underutilized, and partially because they had little to no personality, so nothing of value was lost. Once Dorian takes the metaphorical wheel of the plot, that's when the story finally finds its tone and focus.
From that point on, it's a jet-setting adventure story, where Dorian and Klaus find themselves at varying degrees of opposition over some fabulous piece of art. The story is full of energy and the tone manages to balance the action and the humor expertly. You'd think such a story would get tiresome after a while - Dorian sees shiny thing, Dorian like shiny thing, Dorian steals shiny thing, Dorian and Klaus
The story would work half so well without a worthy adversary, and Klaus is more than worthy. He's not only a strong character in his own right, but he works as both adversary and comic foil to Dorian. The greatest joy in this manga is watching these two interact, seeing someone so straight-laced and uptight have get so flustered and frustrated with someone who is at once both cunning and decadent, but yet so outwardly friendly and flirtatious. Oh, did I mention that this story is purposefully and blatantly slashy? One of the reasons this work (and the mangaka that created it) is so influential is that at the time of its creation, it was revolutionary to have any sort of man-on-man action. Yaoi and shonen-ai were only just coming into being as separate genres, and were ones rarely seen outside of the doujinshi circles, so it was and is remarkable to see so much blatant slashiness in something published in a shoujo magazine. Hell, most modern day yaoi and shonen-ai works could only wish they had half as much plot and adventure as this manga, or had characters that were this engaging.
There's a fair bit of humor to be found outside of our main duo, though. There are quite a few fourth-wall breaking jokes where characters comment on how they must not be in the right manga or on the quality of their own story. There's also Dorian's gang of minions, most of which are named and modeled on the other Led Zepplin members, with the most prominent of them being Dorian's miserly, neurotic, and openly gay accountant James (yes, as in Page.) While the story never becomes an outright farce, it keeps enough humor to keep things very lighthearted, and the heists onto themselves throw in a few unexpected turns to keep everyone (even Klaus and Dorian) on their toes.
I could honestly talk about From Eroica With Love all day because it's just so damn good. It may have a bit of a shaky start, but it turns itself about very quickly and in doing so becomes an incredibly well-polished, confident, and flat-out entertaining story.
Much like my previous review of Swan, Eroica's art is blatantly rooted in 1970s shoujo style. All the men (even Klaus!) have long flowing hair, although none can compare to Dorian's lush mane of waves. The eyes are all narrow, glittering, and dark. The chins are uber-pointy and the bodies are all ridiculously long and skinny. People tend to be terribly pretty, if rather broadly expressive. Yasuko clearly loved drawing all of Dorian's wardrobe, considering all the detail lavished on his many loose, flowy shirts, large draping coats, and impossibly tight pants. She doesn't leave a lot of room for backgrounds in the panels, but those present are simple but nicely drawn. The page composition is fairly standard, breaking out the larger panels for dramatic moments. Overall, the artwork is rather dated, even more so than the story. Still, it's not as visually busy as some of its contemporaries, which makes it easy to follow, and it is attractive in its own right.
The only thing resembling an extra is a plot summary for the next volume.
This series was released by CMX. This series is ongoing in Japan, but only 15 volumes were released and all are out of print.
You can purchase manga like this and much more through RightStuf.com!