Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Merry Month of Manga Review: KING OF DEBT

Of course, not every BL work can be as good as the last one.  Nor are all of them stand-alone stories.  Many books, much like today's selection, are anthologies of short stories where the author can explore all sorts of ideas and concepts.  It's just that also like today's selection, it's a mixed bag in quality at best.

KING OF DEBT (Shakkin Daio), by Sanae Rokuya.  First published in 2007 and first published in North America in 2008.


In the titular story, we follow former college buddies Taketora and Souta.  Souta has managed to hold down a steady job, but Taketora seems to spend his days bumming money off of Souta and repaying him with...well, his bum.  Their relationship changes when Souta learns that Taketora isn't quite as broke as he lets on.  After that is "Rush," a story about a boxing student and his coach.  Then we move on to "My Dear, My Bear," where a young man discovers that his teddy bear, a keepsake from his beloved older brother, can now turn into a young, attractive, and frequently nude man.  Finally, there is "VS.," where the competition between a couple of hosts becomes something far more heated and complicated.


BL is a genre that's not normally known for long, epic stories.  Many BL managaka are lucky to come up with enough material for a volume or two, and that's presuming that they get popular enough to merit a longer story in the first place.  As for the fans, many of them have no further use for the story once the seme and uke confess their love to one another.  That can be a problem because it doesn't leave them a lot of space to build up the plot or the characters beyond the basics, which goes a long way towards explaining why so many of them use and reuse the seme/uke tropes so much.  This problem is only magnified when it comes to anthology works like King of Debt

There are five stories here total, but honestly they are all so brief and bland that they all blend together into some inchoate mass of gay sex.  The only one that stood out in my mind afterwards was "My Dear, My Bear," and that's simply because it's about a guy who spends most of the story believing that his precious childhood toy can come to life and wants to have sex with him.  I almost want to give such a bizarre premise points for originality.  Of course, they all end up the same way: the couple confesses their love and celebrates with sex.  That can be titillating if built up properly, but the characters are such ciphers and the sex scenes are so rote and censored that you might as well be watching someone slap a couple of Ken dolls together.

I wish there was more to say about the other stories, but they are so short that the summaries I listed above are pretty much all you get.  At least Rokuya found a way to tie such disparate stories together in a way that's mildly clever.  The final chapter has all of the characters from the preceding stories interacting with one another at the same bar, and their barroom conversations serve as the epilogues for their own respective stories.  It's a shame that she couldn't bring this same level of cleverness to the rest of the stories here.  When it's not blasé it tends to be weird, and neither of those are substitutes for qualities like 'good' or 'interesting.'


Rokuya's art is very conventional.  Unfortunately that means that every guy here is pointy, gangly, stiff, and flatly drawn.  Regardless of what expression she is trying to capture, every guy's face seems to be stuck at 'mildly pissy' or in a lecherous leer.   Blushes are nothing but blotches of hatch marks awkwardly placed over faces.  The awkwardness of the bodies carries over to the sex scenes, as they all tend to be rather vague and plainly drawn.  She tries to make up for this by keeping the panels large but closely focused on the characters, leaving only a bit of room for some screentone at the edges.  Finally, she piles them all on the page in a rather messy manner, with lots of panels layered over one another without a lot of rhyme or reason.


The King of Debt is king of nothing but boredom, awkward art, and a bit of occasional weirdness.

Seriously, screwing your teddy bear? What the hell.

This book was published by Digital Manga Publishing.  The physical volume is out of print, but is currently available as an e-book at

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