Of course, I can't let this month pass without covering some strange example of BL manga, and this year I found a doozy. Tokyopop's BL imprint was actually fairly sedate compared to some of its competitors, but they still managed to slip some real oddballs out there like this little anthology.
MAN'S BEST FRIEND: INU MO ARUKEBA, by Kazusa Takashima. First published in 2004 and first published in North America in 2006.
Ukyo happens to find a stray dog on his way home from school one day. He just presumes that the dog, whom he names Kuro, is just a friendly canine. He could have never suspected that Kuro was in love with him, nor that when he gets excited that Kuro can turn into a man and start humping more than just his leg. There's also the story of two childhood friends who reunite as young men who must come to terms with their shared past, as well as the story of a man who wins a goldfish at a festival only to find that it too can turn into a beautiful young man.
You wouldn't think that I could be shocked by vaguely bestial BL after the bizarreness that was Love Pistols. Yet here I am, looking at an anthology with not one, but TWO stories about guys having sex with their transformed pets, with a far more blander, conventional bit of filler between the two.
The title story takes up half of the anthology, and beyond the premise of 'dog humps man' it's clear that Takashima didn't have many ideas about where to go with it. She knows how to set it up well enough, and the scenes where Ukyo and Kuro interact just as a boy and his dog are genuinely sweet. Then she makes the big reveal (in more ways than one) and everything goes south from there. It's weird enough that she expects the reader to just roll with the notion that Kuro is able to talk and transform because of magic or wishes or whatever. It's quite another thing to them to turn around and almost immediately have sex. No matter how attractively she might draw these men, no matter how tenderly she tries to frame these scenes and those that follow, we are still watching a man have sex with his dog. He might look like a man, but even in human form Kuro thinks like a dog. This may not be bestiality, but frankly it skirts the line too closely for my comfort.
Then to make matters worse, she does it again! The final story, "Princess Goldfish," is even more slight and baffling as a story. A young man wins a goldfish at a festival, it turns into a long-haired androgynous boy when he gets home, and the man basically shrugs his shoulders about the whole thing and proceeds to have sex with it. That's it. In comparison to them both, the middle story "Summer's Here Again" is more substantial and far less bizarre. It's about Ken and Kasumi, who discover after been separated for over a decade that the two love each other. Well, that and Ken figures out pretty fast that Kasumi was in fact a boy all along, despite his childhood misapprehensions. These sorts of stories are fairly rote for BL, but Takashima avoids the melodramatics and keeps the focus quite firmly on the boys' slowly shifting, clarifying emotions. It's not badly done in the least, but putting it in a story collection like this overshadows the good qualities and leaves only the most sensational and weird parts on display.
I wonder how many readers were willing to overlook the weirdness of these stories just to appreciate the art. I can't entirely blame them, as Takashima is clearly a cut above the crowd. It's not just that she's got a decent grasp on human anatomy, but that everyone has these large, naturalistically-drawn eyes that draw the reader's attention. They go a long way towards giving the characters' otherwise ordinary faces some depth of emotion. Speaking of anatomy, those looking for hardcore smut will likely be disappointed in this. Takashima does not linger on the sex scenes, and she censors them discreetly, even artfully through her use of framing or placement of limbs. One thing she does draw quite well are dogs. Kuro's canine form is nothing short of adorable, and she uses lots of wacky expressions and movement to great comedic effect during his scenes. That being said, her page layout is rather freeform at times and this can make it hard to follow the progression of panels. She's also not big on backgrounds, often just leaving it at a bit of screentone or a few lightly placed screen effects.
Tokyopop did something here that I wish more BL publishers would do: extras! In this case, they include a surprisingly long interview with Takeshima. It's clearly copied from a Japanese magazine, as they not only translated it but also replaced the chaotic layout that seems to be so common to so many Japanese magazines. It talks a bit about her inspirations as well as her characters here as well as in another Tokyopop-licensed work of hers, Wild Rock. There's also a gallery of rough sketches of the characters here, along with the usual omake comments from the author.
Takashima is a fairly talented artist, but this collection's focus on quasi-bestiality overshadows her deft hand at drama and sincerity. It's better than average for a BL anthology, but not enough to deem it a classic worth hunting down.
This book was published by Tokyopop under their Blu imprint. It is currently out of print.