After yesterday's review, I'm willing to look at some better smut. So let's take a look at a classic yaoi title! Lord knows it can't be worse!
KIZUNA: BONDS OF LOVE (Kizuna: Koi no Kara Sawagi), by Kazuma Kodaka. First published in 1992, and first published in North America in 2004.
Kei Enouji and Ranmaru Samejima have been a couple for years. They got together back in high school, when Ranmaru was a kendo champion and Kei was struggling to rebel from his yakuza roots. While Ranmaru's kendo career was destroyed by an accident, the two have managed to survive and maintain their romance. Things become complicated when Kei's half-brother Kai comes back into Kei's life, and it turns out that Kai is still nursing a massive, hero-worshipping crush on Ranmaru. Ranmaru is now caught in the conflict between the two, each of them determined that they are the only one worthy to possess Ranmaru and willing to employ all sorts of sneaky tactics to get their way.
Kizuna is one of the few yaoi titles you could reasonable classic a classic. It's relatively old for such a young genre, the first major work from one of the genre's best known mangaka, and it's also one of the few yaoi titles to have been license-rescued. It's also a melodramatic piece of crap, one that's too sleezy and lifeless to be as intense as it wants to be.
First of all, even for an uke Ranmaru is incredibly passive. He rarely protests when Kei and Kai start fighting over him, apparently content to be used like an object for their own selfish pleasures. Mind you, he rarely seems to protest anything. As such, he seems to be perfectly fine with Kei raping him in the kendo club practice room. He's a-OK with his professor trying to drug him and rape him at a gay club, and he never says a peep when Kai takes advantage of him while still under the effect of the date rape drug. Ranmaru seems to be blasé about everything in his life. He doesn't even get upset over losing his ability to perform kendo, which you'd think would be a big, even traumatic thing. I get that he's meant to be the cool-headed contrast to Kei, but cool-headed is not the same as emotionally inert.
Kei and Kai are certainly more forceful, but as characters they're no more endearing than Ranmaru. Both of them are thuggish brats who take what they want at will and punish others as they see fit for getting in their way, all in the name of 'protecting' Ranmaru. They're both stereotypical semes and I can't take either of them the least bit seriously. Each of them rapes Ranmaru at least once, although Kai is slightly more loathable for doing so while Ranmaru was under the influence. Both of them are locked in this ongoing grudge over who is the true illegitimate son of their father and who made the other's life miserable and neither has the slightest compunction about using Ranmaru to make their point. Kai flat-out stalks both Ranmaru and Kei, and it's only for this reason that Kai is able to stop Ranmaru's professor from his attempted date rape. If I haven't made the point loud and clear, they're both awful, utterly unsympathetic characters and I wished failure upon them both. The only time Kodaka could muster any sympathy for them is in a side chapter about wee little Kai wanting his dad to visit his school for Parents' Day and a sympathetic goon trying to comfort him by filling in has his "big brother." That would be incredibly sweet were it not for fact that Kodama tries to play it up as a romantic gesture in the end, which makes the whole thing in retrospect incredibly creepy.
I am genuinely baffled as to why people consider Kizuna to be such a classic. It's a very basic love triangle that's populated by two rapey douchebags and a total doormat that only moves forward because of a lot of ham-fisted, exploitative twists. I've read later works by Kodaka, so I know that she was (and is) capable of better stuff, so why do people continue to hold this up as her masterwork?
I will grant Kodaka this much: she is a good artist, and her skills were already quite refined even at this early stage of her career. Kodaka apparently used to be an assistant for Sanami Matoh, and if you look closely at her character designs here, you can see a slight resemblance to Matoh's own style, particularly in the eyes. That being said, Kodaka's style is far less dated and a lot more naturalistic. She also tends to draw them leering in such a way that it makes me think that rapeface runs in Kei and Kai's family. Kodaka's approach to the sex scenes is fairly mundane, being neither overly explicit nor tender and fluffy. If anything, they tend to go on a bit too long and they start to get tedious after a while. Still, she's got a good grasp on anatomy, far better than most of her contemporaries. She's clearly not so comfortable with the action scenes, which is why I suspect she tends to obscure them so much with speedlines, and her backgrounds are just kind of blasé and murky. I may have my misgivings with this series, but most of them do not lie in the artwork. If anything, the artwork is the highlight of the series. Yaoi art in general doesn't tend to age well, but Kodaka's art was (and remains) some of the best that the genre offers.
Kizuna is a lame melodrama populated by a trio of terrible characters, and the only thing that saves it from a red light is Kodaka's solid artwork. I'm glad that she got better as a writer in later years, but it's not worth it to revisit this work.
This series is published by Digital Manga Publishing, and formerly by Central Park Media under their Be Beautiful imprint. This series is complete in Japan with 11 volumes available. CMP published 9 volumes, all of which are currently out of print. DMP published all 11 volumes in 2-in-1 omnibuses, and all are currently in print.