Being a history geek, I've always had a soft spot for historical BL, even if the ones I've come across so far have been disappointing. Today's offering takes that disappointment to new heights.
PLEASURE DOME, by Megumu Minami. First published in 2000 and first published in North America in 2007.
This collection of five stories spans the ages but shares a common theme of powerful men slaking their lusts on vulnerable men, even as they fall in love. We see a depraved medieval lord get his comeuppance from his right-hand man and a knight held prisoner, a Hindi prince conquering the heart of a British officer, a brothel owner finding salvation in a Japanese Christian martyr, an incestuous love triangle in fin de siècle France, and a Victorian-era master and servant switching places and discovering the depth of their devotion to one another.
I really wanted to give Minami some credit for choosing some unconventional times and places for her setting. You don't see a lot of stories set in medieval France (much less based on The Song of Roland), colonial-era India, or during the persecution of Christians in 1600s Japan. She uses some real historical figures and conflicts as the seed for some good premises. It's too bad that every single one is spoiled by some really terrible writing and her insistence on shoving in as much exploitative and kinky sex as possible.
Minami displays a veritable laundry list of kinks over the course of this volume. There are sex toys, alcohol enemas, anal insertion of objects like eggs and bells, bondage, aphrodisiacs, orgies, bestiality, and the sort of dom/sub relationship where grown men are turned into virtual sex slaves through near-constant rape. Even in a genre where rape as romance is the norm, this sort of content is pretty extreme and would likely turn off a lot of regular BL readers. She makes no attempt to ease the reader into her kinks. Instead she practically slaps them across the face with them and doesn't stop until the end. While I personally do not subscribe to these kinks, I don't necessarily object to their presence. I wouldn't mind seeing more BL explore the kinkier sides of sex. What I do object to is Minami's fondness for rape.
Every story finds a way to bring in rape. Even the last story finds a way to squeeze in a rapey con man in what is otherwise a fairly tame, even romantic take on The Prince and the Pauper. Otherwise it's nothing but a parade of decadent, evil men in fancy costumes doing their best to break down noble men through kinky sex, presented in a manner that is clearly meant to titillate the reader. As someone who generally does not like rape in her smut, this to me was far more disgusting than any kink she could have thrown at the reader. Worse still, she uses this near constant parade of rape as justification for the eventual romances in all but the last story. Eventually the raped and the rapists find themselves craving one another to the point where they delude themselves into believing it is love. At least she doesn't try to give these messed-up relationships some sort of happy ending. Most of the perpetrators end up dead or at the very least in bad circumstances.
Minami's faults go far beyond her taste in smut, though. Her writing is simultaneous rushed and disjointed, and more often than not things seem to happen for the sake of convenience than out of some logical progression of events. She only bothers with a few pages of set-up so she can get her semes raping young men as soon as possible and her characters jump straight from resentment to devotion in the course of a couple of panels. Hell, actually plot points are simply skipped straight over so she can move on to the next sex scene. Maybe that's just the fault of the translation, which is blunt and amateurish. She's clearly not concerned with her settings, the stories within them, or her characters. They are all little more than set dressing for her rape fantasies or hurdles that she awkwardly leaps over so she can get straight back to said fantasies. This sort of material is simply wasted upon her.
Minami's art is no better than her writing. Her characters are stiffly drawn and tend to have the same face regardless of time or setting. They damn near drown in their long sweeping hair or decadently patterned costumes. They also have some unusual features like their weirdly Vulcan-like ears or her propensity for drawing huge hands with weirdly huge fingernails. Not shockingly, the stiffness of her characters only gets more obvious during the sex scenes. Even when taken out of context, they possess all the raw sensuality of rubbing two scarecrows together.
They're also heavily censored, which means that all this kinky sex is taking place amongst men with no dicks. At best, there are vague shadows that suggest a penis; most of the time they simply have none at all. I don't know whether this is an original feature or something done by the publisher, but it seems strangely contradictory to the purpose of the volume. Of course, neither the story nor the sex matters when Minami is so terrible at putting them together. The pages are pure chaos with panels laid over one another at will and perspective is all over the place. It's just a mess of a book.
Pleasure Dome is pleasurable to no one but its creator. It's cruel, crudely written, exploitative, and assembled with an indifference that can only come from a lack of talent. Like history itself, let us learn from this series so that we never have to see it repeated.
This book was published by Media Blasters. It is currently out of print.