Now it's time to take a look at a brilliant stand-alone work from SuBLime as well as one of my favorite BL mangaka ever.
TABLEAU NUMERO 20 (Sakuhin Number 20), by est em. First published in 2009 and first published in North America in 2013.
An art conversator finds a lost masterpiece, a work previously only known to exist in the form of a sketch. For years, the man obsessed over that sketch and the haunting eyes of the man in it. Imagine his shock, then, when he brings the painting home to work on it and finds the subject standing naked on his balcony. The man in question, Yves, turns out to be the key to the mystery of the artist’s works, and alongside the conservator Yves learns to let go of his lost love. Alongside them are other stories, ones about frustrated flamenco dancers, of a couple separated by time and the loss of memory with age, and a man struggling with his unspoken love for an old friend.
Yep, it’s time for another est em anthology! I’ve long been a fan of her works, and was thrilled to learn that Viz’s SuBLime imprint was picking up yet another. It’s on par with a lot of her other anthology collections (meaning that, of course, it’s incredibly good and achingly emotional), but there are a couple of stories that really stand out.
The first is the title story. It’s the closest est em has ever gotten to magical realism. She makes no explanation as to HOW Yves came to life, but that’s really not the point to the story. It’s not about the how, but the why, and the why is hauntingly tragic. It’s the story of a talented young man and the troubled man he loved, and how that talent tore them apart, and it’s a real tragedy. Their love story is so powerful that the one between Yves and the conservator feels almost perfunctory, like it was just something added for the sake of the fujoshi. Est em is usually good about not simply inserting sex for the sake of titillation alone, so it’s an odd misstep for her. There’s also a sequel chapter at the end, but it too feels a bit perfunctory and it ends with a resounding ‘meh.’ In spite of all that, it’s a beautiful done story and easily the best of the lot.
The other standout story is "Raselgado", starring Jesus, a frustrated flamenco dancer. He’s tired of dancing for a bunch of ungrateful tourists, just as much as he’s tired of one-night stands full of blowjobs from some of those same tourists. His partner/guitarist wants him to move on to the big city, where a dancer of Jesus’s caliber could truly shine, but Jesus is hesitant. As pretentious as it sounds, when he lets loose, his dancing is no less than an extension of himself, of his heart and soul, and part of that same soul is tied to his partner’s guitar. It’s a familiar topic for est em, one about tortured artists and Spain and such, but the ending is peaceful and hopeful.
The remaining stories, while not as impactful, are just as good as the rest. "Not Just a Merry-Go-Round" is the weakest of the lot, since it mostly just chronicles one man’s unrequited love for his divorcee friend. "En El Parque" is soft and sweet, centering on two men who meet in a park – one old, one young. The young one is having relationship troubles; the old one is always waiting for his lover. The conclusion is sad and sweet and hopeful at once.
Tableau Numero 20 is yet another solid collection of stories from the mind of est em. All of them are good, but two of them are real gems, some of the best of her career. I’m glad that Viz is willing to take a chance of her works, considering that everything else of hers is long out of print.
est em’s art has only grown more refined with age, if Tableau has anything to show for it. Her linework has never been more confident and polished. The characters are as handsome and realistic as possible, and it goes a long way towards selling the reader on some of the stories. You can believe that someone could become obsessed with a drawing of Yves when she manages to make his pale eyes so piercing and lovely, framed with their long cherubic lashes, on the page. You can believe that Jesus is such a brilliant dancer when you see a montage of his as his feet fly across the page, his hair swinging in the air as his partner strums his guitar. Backgrounds come and go, although those present are nicely drawn. Even the color artwork is stunning, best exemplified by the stunning choice of cover art.
Tableau Numero 20 is not only one of est em's best books, but easily one of the best books in SuBLime's library. It's beautiful, touching, and not to be missed.
This book is published by Viz via their SuBLime imprint. It is currently in print.