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!

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