Thursday, May 15, 2014

One Volume Wonder: SELFISH MR. MERMAID

Today's series is just one of the many piles of one-volume yaoi manga brought to us by DMP, but it has to be easily one of the strangest I've seen.  It was so strange that I had to read and review it just to show it to others.  The very title begs the question: how do you have gay sex with a merman?

SELFISH MR. MERMAID (Wagamama na Ningyo-sama), by Nabako Kamo.  First published in 2006, and first published in North America in 2008.

Kanan is a weepy and deeply insecure young man.  He comes home one day to discover that the apartment above his isn't so much leaking water as it pouring forth a waterfall past and onto his own.  Kanan goes to confront his neighbor only to find a half-naked man unconscious in the bath.  The man, Kaioh, was merely napping - he apparently is a mermaid prince, and soon enough he moves himself into Kanan's place so he can take advantage of a bigger bathtub and a loser to serve him as a companion and servant.

Kaioh is rude and domineering, but he soon grows fond of Kanan and his sensitivity.  Things become complicated when Kaioh is beckoned home by his family for a royal event, and those who oppose them decide that the best way to lash out at Kaioh is through Kanan.

So, it turns out that the answer to "How do you have gay sex with a merman?" is "Like everyone else, because mermen are no different than any other human."

I had issues with this from the moment I read the title.  This may be purely pedantic, but shouldn't this be called Selfish Mr. MerMAN?  I know that it's a fairly literal translation of the original title, but the "maid" in "mermaid" is supposed to be referring to "maiden" - that is, a lady.  It makes no sense when the character in question is a dude.  On the other hand, he barely qualifies as a merperson in general.  He doesn't have a tail at any point, seems perfectly comfortable in the human world, and doesn't even so much as change his clothes when he returns to his underwater homeland.  Aside from the fact that he can breathe underwater and cry tears of pearl, he is the very model of your average normal seme.  In a way, I feel almost cheated by this.  I'm always game for anyone who dares to shake up the yaoi plot and character formulas, so I was kind of eager to see how the creator would work around sex when one partner is half-fish, or how living in two different ecosystems would affect a relationship.  Instead Kamo got completely lazy, drew a bunch of normal people underwater, and called it a day.  If you're going to come up with something like gay mermaid sex, either commit to the concept completely or give up!

Mind you, Kamo was lazy with far more than just the mythology.  Kaioh and Kanan might as well be portrayed by wooden planks labeled "UKE" and "SEME," for all the depth they display.  Kanan is a bore who distinguishes himself solely through his ability to cry at the slightest bit of kindness or offense.  That's still more emotional range that Kaioh displays, because his default mode is Vaguely Pissy, even during his supposed moments of tenderness.  Too bad that his idea of 'tenderness' is SURPRISE! BUTTSEX!  Too bad then that Kanan is so weak-willed that he immediately surrenders to the Stockholm Syndrome and believes this to be love. 

There's not even any sort of pay-off for these two after they get together.  You'd think that the story would be about Kanan becoming less of a cry-baby, but that doesn't happen.  You'd hope that it was about Kaioh learning to treat others better or get in touch with his own inner sensitivity, but that doesn't happen either.  It's genuinely sad that I was more invested in the ending side story about a giant clam professing his love for the story's villain like some sort of lovesick puppydog.  This story truly can be called a shipwreck if a bivalve shows more depth and interest than the freaking lead couple.

I didn't have many kind words for the story, but I have fewer still for the art.  Even by the low, shoujo-addled standards of yaoi artwork, this ranks amongst the worst.  Everyone here is both weirdly bobbleheaded with popcorn kernel shaped heads.  The faces can't fit properly on such misshapen heads, so everyone's eyes look too wide-set while the rest of their faces are weirdly small and pinched.  These bizarre heads sit upon giraffe necks, which in turn rest on overly gangly and often off-kilter bodies.  Worse still is that too many of the characters look just like Kaioh, to the point where I didn't recognize that a side character was meant to be Kaioh's sister.  As far as I could tell, she was just another weird, pointy-chinned, pissy-looking, flat-chested dude.  With bodies so strange, it should come as no surprise that the sex is just as awkwardly drawn as anything else and contains all the raw sensuality of a tuna fish sandwich.  I can't believe something so amateurishly drawn would get published, much less licensed overseas.

This manga fails to deliver on its unusual premise, instead delivering both story and art that are beyond amateurish.  I wanted something weird and wacky, but instead got nothing but a cookie cutter story with art that would be laughed off of DeviantArt.  I can see why this only lasted for two volumes in Japan, and frankly not even this one should have been brought over.

This volume was published by Digital Manga Publishing.  This series is complete in Japan, with 2 volumes available.  This volume is currently out of print.

You can purchase manga like this and much more through!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: BORDER

So yeah...I promised fewer lapses in posting, only to disappear for months in the longest one yet.

What happened?  Well, truth be told, I just got burned out.  I tried to write, but my attention would flit away and nothing would come.  I kept busy enough with work and life and video games, but it's only until now that I've finally been able to focus again on writing and this site.

So let me say here and now that I'm sorry for buggering off without so much as an explanation, but now I'm back and ready to kick things off in style, with a month all about boy's love.  After all, just because it's smut doesn't mean it can't be good or that it isn't above criticism.  Today's review mercifully applies more to the former.

BORDER (Border - Kyokaisen), by Kazuma Kodaka.  First published in 2007, and first published in North America in 2011.

Yamato is the head of the Suo Detective Agency, a loose confederation of Yamato's fellow orphans/childhood friends who investigate the crimes that slip under the notice of the police.  Their methods may be unconventional, but they are always effective.  Unfortunately, a accidental run-in with an undercover cop has brought them and their agency to the notice of Detective Makita, and he is determined to find out who these boys truly are.  In the meantime, though, Yamato flies off to Okinawa to meet up with old friends and reflect on his past.

Border manages to strike a good balance between plot and porn.  It's not a perfect balance, but it's better than most.

Truthfully, it's easy to forget at times that this is supposed to be yaoi.  Sure, there are a few sex scenes here and there, and it's hard to ignore Kippei, who is a swishy, maybe-kinda-bisexual member whose constant attempts to hit on Yamato are played up as a running gag.  Still, there's a lot more emphasis put on the crimefighting and Yamato's past then there is on the gay sex.  The underground detective agency even reminded a little of Until Death Do Us Part, minus the future tech.

Halfway through the volume, the story takes a hard left into backstory, when he meets up with his former squadmates upon the anniversary death of their former leader.  The reunion is doubly bittersweet for Yamato, as he had a brief affair with the squad leader which ended with the leader sacrificing himself for Yamato.  It's honestly the best part of the volume, but it's also the most troublesome.  On one hand, it's good to see Kodata start to flesh out Yamato as a character, and that while Yamato's teammates had varying degrees of awareness about Yamato's affair, they don't harbor any homophobia about it in the past or present.  On the other hand, this part begs a lot of questions.

First of all, what is a Japanese teenager doing joining what is heavily implied to be an American military unit?  After all, what else could a bunch of Caucasian-looking characters with military training and ranks and English names be doing on Okinawa otherwise?  And while Yamato may be an orphan, he's still a Japanese citizen, so how does he go about joining this group?  I'm also baffled yet amused by the commander's reaction to learning that the troop pet is frequenting rent boys is "This is clearly affecting team morale!  I shall solve this by sleeping with you!" and proceeding to do so vigorously and graphically.  As a way of getting more sex into the plot, it's really forced and the fact that they are soldier and commanding officer brings up power dynamics which are either very uncomfortable or very hot, depending on how your kink flag flies. 

Border is far from a perfect work, but it's the kind of yaoi that I like to see.  It's the kind that tries to put emphasis on plot and character instead of just making the hot guys bone.

I'm equally glad to see a yaoi series where the characters actually look like men not like overstylized shoujo characters.  There's a touch of the bishonen look to our main cast, but otherwise look normally handsome, with squared jaws, realistic proportions, hair that doesn't resemble sculpture, and clothing that falls and folds like the real deal.  Kodata's also good at drawing action - the fights are clear to follow, drawn  with a fluid sense of motion, and all with a minimum of speed lines.  She's also admittedly good at the other sort of action in this book.  The sex is surprisingly uncensored, brief enough to not get tedious, and mostly sticks to the realities of anatomy and sexual positions.  It's just a very handsome and well-drawn series.

If you're looking for a well-drawn yaoi series with seinen sensibilities and a greater emphasis on plot than porn, Border may be just the series you're looking for. 

This series is published by Digital Manga Publishing.  This series is ongoing in Japan, with 5 volumes currently available.  3 volumes have been released and are currently in print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!