If I had to choose a favorite amongst BL publishers past and present, I'd have to go with SuBLime. Viz might have been a late comer into the BL market, but they've learned from their predecessors in a big way and have crafted for themselves a solid library of titles, including today's selection
SLEEPING MOON (Nemureru Tsuki), by Kana Miyomoto. First published in 2008 and first published in North America in 2013.
Akihito Odogawa is coming back home after many years, but he's far from thrilled about it. For generations, the men of Akihito's family are cursed to die at age 30, and Akihito's 30th birthday is not too far away. Akihito's discomfort at home isn't helped by his cousin Ren, who alternates between hanging around the house gloomily and making uncomfortable passes at Akihito. Then one night Akihito finds himself transported to the past. Together he must work with one of his distant ancestors to find both the cause and the cure to his family's curse, even if the process uncovers some very restless spirits.
Sleeping Moon manages to combine boys' love with supernatural mystery in a way that's moody, compelling, and extremely well-balanced. Right off the bat, the cast is a lot more understated than what one usually sees in BL. There are no broad stereotypes, no hysterics, and no semes and ukes for the most part. The closest anyone comes to that nonsense is Ren's occasional ignorance of personal boundaries and even then it's rare and restrained enough to not derail my enjoyment of the story. Since the cast mostly acts like people instead of tropes, the focus of the story can be on the mysteries of the past and on all the supernatural stuff, and that's where the story truly shines.
The plot proper is also fairly understated, but that allows Miyomoto to focus on building up an air of spookiness that serves the story well. She parcels out just enough information to keep things moving along and she uses this same approach with the romantic elements. She slowly and subtly lets the tension build between Akihito, Ren, and their ancestor Eitaro, let their interactions gradually turn into a sort of supernatural, time-travelling love triangle. This kind of restraint is rare in the genre and it takes some genuine skill to pull it off.
As for the supernatural elements, it's one part time-travelling ghost story and one part haunted house story. There's something pleasingly Gothic about the concept of a family curse and a sprawling old house loaded with mystery, as well as the gradual revelation about Eitaro's ties to Akihito's family, but here the focus isn't on melodramatic Gothic excess but the quiet tension of family secrets left long unspoken. Miyomoto's restraint as a writer allows her to focus on building the mood and the mysteries first before she starts breaking out the actual scares. That quiet, spooky mood almost lulls the reader into comfort before she snaps them out of it at volume's end with the appearance of the first unhappy spirit and it's quite an effective scare.
It's not often that I find a BL work that works so well on every front. It's a compelling mystery, an understated romance, and just a well-written manga all around.
Miyamoto's subtle approach also applies to the art. The characters are all proportionate and handsome. Honestly, their only fault might be that they tend to all look a bit generic. The sensuality is mild at its most. It never goes beyond a rough make-out session, preferring instead to trade in a lot of longing looks and a few furtive kisses. She doesn't neglect her setting; if anything, she takes great care in how she draws Akihito's family estate. She doesn't indulge in a lot of dark and moody lighting, but she does make it look beautiful while still capturing the stifling air around it and making it seem old and mysterious. Such effort goes a long way towards selling the mood of the piece to the reader. Her panels and page composition are not flashy, but neither are they stodgy and straightforward. She often likes to wedge in smaller reaction shots over one another, and it helps to give some of the more dialogue-heavy scenes a sense of liveliness, which also helps to keep the reader engaged in the story. In a genre that's often loaded with visual excess, Miyamoto makes her work stand out by imbuing it with quiet, graceful skill.
Sleeping Moon is the perfect antidote to those who love supernatural romances but are tired of all the drama (and vampires) that the subgenre tends to come with these days. It's quietly compelling, masterfully moody, and great looking to boot. It's yet another gem of the SuBLime library and one well worth seeking out.
This series is published by Viz under their SuBLime imprint. This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available. Both volumes have been published and are currently in print as well as available as ebooks through SuBLime's website.