Today's review is a two-for. Not only does this boys' love story center around a couple with an awkward (and strictly illegal) age gap, but also features a lot of stalking and a guy who won't say no!
*sigh* Just another day in the world of BL.
BOND OF DREAMS, BOND OF LOVE (Yume Musubi Koi Musubi), by Yaya Sakuragi. First published in 2008 and first published in North America in 2012.
Ever since he was a little boy, Ao has been utterly smitten with Ryomei, a local Shinto priest. Many years and one well-time wet dream later, he's finally gathered up enough courage to make his intentions towards Ryomei known. Ryomei is freaked out by Ao's declaration and turns him down, but Ao is not one to let rejection discourage him. One way or another, he's going to find a way to make Ryomei love him...that is, if Ao's boyish good looks don't change Ryomei's mind before that.
I guess if I can say one positive thing about Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, it's that I'm always happy to see a BL manga that's willing to tweak the all-too-tired seme/uke formula. Having a series where the tiny, boyish, emotional one is the pursuer and the tall, cynical, one is the pursued is somewhat novel, if not all that revolutionary. It's a shame I can't say anything else in its favor, as the premise has too much awkwardness under its sweet demeanor for me to get any enjoyment out of it.
As much as I could admire Ao's confidence in himself and his sexuality, the fact remains that this story is about a 17-year-old boy trying to bang a grown-ass man. Sakuragi keeps thing pretty vague when it comes to Ryomei's age, but it's safe to say that there's at least a good decade between the two of them, give or take a few years. That turns this potential romance into a sketchy jailbait fantasy, and I'm not the the only one who noticed. Apparently the Canadian customs office would agree with me, as this manga has been previously seized due to how their child pornography laws are written. On top of that, Ao is the sort of seme who doesn't know when to give up. (Hint: it's when the object of your affection says "No.") In time, his persistence feels less like youthful spunkiness and more like a creep determined to wear down a partner until they concede.
Since so much of Sakuragi's focus is on Ao and his thoughts, it's hard to get a clear read on Ryomei's personality and thoughts. He's got a busy life, what with his duties at the shrine, working at his family's bakery, and hanging out with his friends and their family at the local bar, but he's not a very communicative person. The only insight we get is through his reactions to Ao's come-ons, which start with annoyance and progress to flustered blushes and inappropriate sex dreams. The problem is that this shift doesn't feel natural or particularly motivated.
It's very telling that the only way that Sakuragi can get the story to progress is to bring in a third party to spell things out and set up scenarios to bring the leads together. Shuji, Ryomei's long-time friend, is better incorporated than most characters of this type, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a blatant plot device. If Sakuragi is having to resort to plot devices to bring her couple together instead of good, tasteful character writing, then that does not bode well for the rest of this series.
I wish Sakuragi was willing to tweak her art just as much as she does her seme/uke dynamic. Her art style is all too typical for BL: derivative, heavily stylized, and mediocre at best. Nowhere is that better typified than on the cover, where the perspective on Ao's face is the stuff of nightmares. The artwork inside the book is better, but her character designs do nothing more original than flip the usual body types for seme and uke. Thus, it's Ao who is tiny and childlike while Ryumei and Shuji are these hulking, horse-faced creatures with severe, permanently grumpy faces and awkward, spidery limbs. It works with her conceit, but it's not very pretty to look at. At least she's got some talent for layout and she does well with transitions, but a bit of good technique isn't enough to compensate for a style that leaves a lot to be desired.
I can appreciate to some degree what Sakuragi is trying to do with Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, but I can't abide by her take on romance nor her character designs, much less this series.
This series is published by Viz under their SuBLime imprint. This series is complete in Japan with 4 volumes available. All four have been published and are currently in print.