A lot of BL manga has to find the right balance between story and smut. If you ignore the former for the latter, then you can end up with a rather sparse and empty manga like this one.
LEVEL C (Keiraku no Hoiteishiki Level-C), written by Aoi Futaba with art by Kurenai Mitsuba. First published in 1993 and first published in North America in 2005.
Mizuki is a popular model with a dark past. His is a lonely life until he meets promiscuous businessman Kazuomi. Kazuomi promises him a night of ecstacy that he will never forget and Mizuki takes him up on the offer. What neither of them could have suspect that this one night would turn into a serious relationship.
This might be the slightest manga I've reviewed all month. That's not to say that the story is bad. It's just that the story is very basic and truly is little more than a hanger upon which the writer hangs their smut.
The most original thing about it is the opening. It's not just the fact that it's build around a one-night stand, it's the fact that both Mizuki and Kazuomi treat it like a dare. It gives their encounter a certain sort of crackle of passion that might overwise be lacking. It's a shame that Futaba couldn't keep the mood up because the story and cast alike are severely lacking in personality. Sure, Mizuki gets a brief but concentrated bit of melodrama for his backstory and the both of them have older siblings (a twin in Kazuomi's case) that are said to be important to them both, but that's pretty much all we learn about them. The backstory never really comes into play in the larger narrative and the siblings play such minor roles that they might as well be strangers, and it leaves you wondering why they bothered with it at all.
He also doesn't waste any time getting these two together in a committed relationship, which is not necessarily a good thing. In the span of one chapter the two go from strangers to roommates, and by the next one the two confirm their love for one another. This might be fine if it were suggesting that this was happening over a course of weeks or months, but as-is this shift to commitment is positively whiplash-inducing. Mizuki might be young and inexperienced enough that I could understand him falling in love so fast, but it makes no sense for a playboy like Kazuomi. Right from the beginning, we're shown that he prioritizes sex above all things in a relationship. He's not particularly concerned whether it works out in the long-term or not, but instead is merely content to sponge off his partners for as long as they'll tolerate him. It's going to take more than sweet words to convince me as the reader that this guy is even capable of loving Mizuki for more than just his body or that he sincerely cares about him and his welfare.
Of course, Futaba never lingers on this issues for very long. They truly are little more than a prelude to the sex scenes. They tend to get dragged out because Mizuki tends to get scared about how fast and far Kazuomi likes to go and voices his protests. Unfortunately, because this is a BL manga Kazuomi almost always ignores Mizuki's pleas and Mizuki ends up enjoying anyway. It's framed in a far less violent and dramatic manner than one usually sees in these sorts of books, but it punctures the romantic mood that he's so clearly going for. At least the publisher chose to change one little fact that would have made everything so much worse. In the localized version, Mizuki is 18. In the original, he was 16. It was a wise choice on their part to do so, but no amount of localization could change the fact that the characters of Level C are too hollow to stand on their own and their relationship progresses far too fast to make sense for these characters.
The artwork is surprisingly attractive for both its age and subject matter. It's pretty obvious that this was made in the early 1990s, as the character designs have the delicate beauty and poufy hair that was so typical of the era. Still, there's a simplicity to them that lends them a certain beauty. This is only emphasized by the way that Mitsuba frames them. There are some downright elegant panels here, ones where a profile fades into the background dreamily or a passionate embrace is enhanced with the dramatic shading of a twilight evening. He makes great use of screentones, softly blending them into speech bubbles, emphasizing expressions, or just evoking the fall of light across a wall.
Even the sensual scenes retain this sense of elegance. They take on an old-school Cinemax quality thanks to the lighting and Mitsuba's choice to either frame the action in a way that avoid showing any explicit parts or action or just outright censoring any on-screen wangs. It's rare that we get more than the merest suggestion of the shape, and most of the time it's completely absent. I know this is not something done later by the publisher as at the time of its release the publisher made a big deal out of how this work was being presented uncut. He certainly goes out of his way to drag them out visually as much as possible, as each sex scene goes on for well over 20 pages. Indeed, his paneling tends to prefer large and sparse visuals in general, so it's Mitsuba's art that allows the story to stretch so far on such little material. In that sense, the two are well-matched.
Level C has simple yet refined artwork that is striking in its own way, but the story is too slight and stretched out to linger in the reader's mind after putting it down.
This series was published by Media Blasters. This series is complete in Japan with 6 volumes available. All 6 were published and are currently out of print.