It's August, which means it's time once more for another month of old-school manga. Also, this weekend was 8/01, a date near and dear to yaoi fans everywhere. So I figured what better way to combine the two than with some old-school shonen-ai?
SHOUT OUT LOUD! (Sakende Yaruze!), by Satosumi Takaguchi. First published in 1996, and first published in North America in 2006.
Shino hadn't seen his son in years, not since his teenaged marriage ended in divorce. After his ex-wife's death, Shino is reunited with his now teenaged son Nakaya. While Nakaya is far from impressed with his father, Shino is determined to be a good father and a good provider for him. Shino is so determined to do so that he decides to supplement his struggling voice acting career with some boys' love audio dramas. Shino's determined to keep his side jobs a secret from Nakaya, but how long will that last when his coworkers are determined to make their professional relationships into very intimate ones?
I don't know if I've ever come across a BL manga that's in as much conflict with itself as Shout Out Loud! is. On one hand, you have this sensitive and fairly nuanced family drama going on between an estranged father and son. On the other, you have a fairly standard (if somewhat meta) BL set-up between a voice actor and his fellow cast and crew members. While both are handled with some degree of competence, the two can never quite mesh together, and it leads to some jarring tone shifts throughout the whole volume.
It's clear from early on that Takaguchi has a far stronger grasp of the father-son relationship here than she does on the smutty ones. Shino and Nakaya's relationship is strained in a very understandable and believable way. Nakaya chafes at being stuck with a man he barely knows. Early on he resents Shino for supposedly abandoning his mother, and even after they start getting along he's boggled by the fact that his father is so emotional and innocent. In all fairness, we see that Nakaya's got his own problems as he deals with the prospect of turning his talent for hockey into a career and a pregnancy scare that echoes his own father's situation at his age. Takaguchi never takes things too far into melodrama and she's willing to take the time to let their relationship defrost naturally instead of solving everything with just a simple man-to-man talk. Shino and Nakaya are the true heart of this story and everything about their half of the story works beautifully.
Then there's the BL half of things, and this is where Takaguchi starts to unintentionally slip up. It quickly becomes apparent that Shino's youthful looks, boyish voice, and overall naïvete makes him the ideal uke. This means that his castmates think it's perfectly acceptable to constantly hover over Shino or take every opportunity to corner him or take advantage of him physically. Hell, one of them even goes so far as to show up at Shino and Nakaya's home and hits on Nakaya even as he confesses to hitting on Shino. It seems like all of Shino's coworkers aren't so concerned with things like 'consent' or 'sexual harassment,' and it left me feeling fearful for Shino instead of titillated at the prospect of BL action. I know that this sort of thing is generally more accepted in BL and that I should be thankful that Shino's coworkers don't resort to rape unlike so many other semes, but the whole dynamic about it is just too creepy to intrigue. It's also nowhere near as well-written as the family moments, so it also comes off as frivolous and hollow in comparison. It's almost like these two halves are taking place in different universes, and maybe I would have enjoyed this more if I could just pretend that the voice acting portion is completely separate from the rest.
In spite of my misgivings about the story, Shout Out Loud! still stands out as an above-average example of shonen-ai. It's got a lot of heart and its leading men are really well-written. It's just that everything good about it is everything that doesn't have to do with the BL content, and a better balance between the two halves would have made Shout Out Loud! an instant classic.
Shout Out Loud! has art that has aged far better than most of its contemporaries. Much of that is due to Takaguchi's rather restrained art style. While everyone tends to be rather pretty, the characters here are nowhere near as stylized and disproportionate as one tends to see in shonen-ai, and it helps to ground the story in something closer to our reality. If anything, her art is almost underdrawn as she tends to favor a lot of light, delicate linework and sparsely sketched backgrounds. It's also quite chaste, never getting more explicit than a kiss. That's to be expected, though, when you learn that this was published in a shoujo magazine instead of a BL anthology. Still, it works with the general simplicity of the art and it's always easy on the easy and easy to follow, and that's why it's weathered these last two decades so well.
While Shout Out Loud! is hurt by the fact that the BL content is the weakest portion of the book, it's still strongly written and surprisingly nuanced. It's a work that's more approachable to newcomers than a lot of shonen-ai, and it's easily one of the best works put out under the Blu imprint.
This series was published by Tokyopop under their Blu imprint. This series is complete in Japan with 5 volumes available. All 5 volumes were published and all are currently out of print.