Saturday, June 25, 2022

Review: INNOCENT BIRD

Tokyopop was one of the first manga publishers to find success in BL manga, first with their release of FAKE and Gravitation and later on through their Blu imprint with like Junjo Romantica.   Sadly, nothing everything out of Blu was a winner.

INNOCENT BIRD (Na Mo Naki Tori No Tobu Yaoke), by Hirotaka Kisaragi.  First published in 2002 and first published in North America in 2007.



PLOT:

While the endless war between angels and devils rages on, Shirigasi strives to become a holy man.  Once he had been Satan's favorite concubine, but now he wants to become human.  To do this, he must not only forsake his demonic nature but must find something precious enough to trade with God himself to achieve his dream.  Along the way, he meets with Karasu.  He's an angelic investigator who finds himself increasingly charmed by Shirigasi.  As the two of them fall in love, they must fight back against the forces of both Heaven and Hell who seek to punish them for disobeying the natural order of their world.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Review: ONLY THE RING FINGER KNOWS

Central Park Media might have been the first manga publisher to tackle BL, but DMP became famous for publishing nothing but BL, starting with the very book I'll be reviewing today.

ONLY THE RING FINGERS KNOWS (Sono Yubi Dake ga Shitte Iru), based on the light novel series by Satoru Kannagi with art by Hotaru Odagiri.   First published in 2002 and first published in North America in 2004.



PLOT:

No one could be more handsome or perfect than Yuichi Kazuki.  That's what Wataru presumes, at least until he encounters Yuichi one day in the bathroom.  Yuichi is haughty and rude to him, and by accident the two exchange one another's rings.  The rings are a school trend that indicate one's relationship status, one where best friends and couples exchange identical pairs of rings, and the coincidence sets the rumor mill churning.  The more that the two interact, the more Wataru finds himself fascinated by Yuichi and the possibility that his cold demeanor hides a much stronger emotion.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Review: GOLDEN CAIN

The history of BL manga in the US begins in the early 2000s.  The first company to try their hand at it was Central Park Media, as part of their ill-fated Be Beautiful imprint, so how does its first release hold up nearly 20 years later?

GOLDEN CAIN (Kin no Cain), by You Asagiri.  First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2004.



PLOT:

When a concert goes wrong, Shun is stunned when a handsome blonde stranger saves him from the crowd.  He turns out to be Cain, a mysterious new model with a connection to Shun's older brother Keiichi.  Shun is overwhelmed by Cain and his intense beauty, but can Cain save Shun from the overwhelming guilt he feels  and a stalker set on blackmailing them both?

Friday, June 10, 2022

Review: TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE ETERNAL HEART

Once again, we're doing a month of BL manga reviews here at the Test Drive, but this year it's going to be double the reviews!  We're starting with a fairly recent book from a creator who has already made a splash with readers.

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE ETERNAL HEART (Gesshoku Kitan), by Syundei.  First published in 2015 and first published in North America in 2019.



PLOT:

Terumichi finds himself hopelessly drawn to his alluring classmate Yamada.  As the two get close, strange things start to happen.  Random boys start stabbing and attacking Yamada, but Yamada is always able to walk away.  The more he investigates, the more he realizes that Yamada's strange personality, the attacks, and Terumichi's dreams are tied to a Taisho-era author and the nine boys he seduced and killed to fuel his work.

STORY:

If you came into this book expecting something along the same lines as Go For It, Nakamura!, then you will be in for quite the shock.  Where Nakamura was sweet, awkward and sunny, Total Eclipse of the Eternal Heart is dark, moody, fatalistic, and just as good as its predecessor.

If anything, this book is a testament to how good of a writer Syundei can be.   The pace is slow and methodical, carefully revealing new information about Yamada and each new vision of the past.  She does not shy away from the darker acts performed, but neither does she revel in them to excess.  Much like Terumichi himself, the reader finds themselves drawn further and further into the mystery until it's far too late to escape.

Not surprisingly for a story that involves reincarnation, the emphasis here is on cycles, be they of violence or rebirth.  What starts as seemingly just another high school crush turns into a fated meeting of murderer and victim, trapped for decades in an endless circle of bloodshed and exploitation for no reason beyond one man using literary inspiration to justify his sociopathy.  It all leads up to the point where Terumichi seemingly submits to his fate, only to turn around and push back against it all in the story's surprising finale.  It's just an amazingly crafted mystery that must be experienced for oneself.

ART:

This book also features the same vaguely Takahashi-esque character designs that I found so charming in Go For It, Nakamura!, and amazing makes them fit just as comfortably here as they did there.  I guess it's fitting they should look somewhat old-fashioned considering all the flashbacks to 1920s Japan.  That being said, Syundei really pushes them to the limit.  She gets a lot of range and nuance of emotion out them without loosing what makes them attractive, even in the midst of bloody murder or traumatizing rape.

Did I mention that there was a lot more adult content here than in Nakamura?  Again, Syundei doesn't linger on the gruesome details, keeping the focus more on the reactions of the victims, but she also makes it clear just how depraved Yamada can be.  While her panels remain fairly small and unornamented, she also employs more dramatic angles and visual symbolism than usual in them which really adds to the drama of the story.  

RATING:

Total Eclipse of the Eternal Heart is a beautiful, dark, twisted masterpiece.  So long as you are willing and able to handle the content it has to offer, you will be rewarded with a great BL manga.

Also, for fuck's sake Seven Seas, just recognize your employee union already!  Spend money on your staff and books instead of on union-busting lawyers!

This book is published by Seven Seas.  It is currently in print.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Review: THE APOTHECARY DIARIES

 As this 10th edition of the Merry Month of Manga comes to an end, it's time to cover one last oversight.  This has been one of my favorites for the last two years.  If not for the fact that its first volume came out so late in the year, it absolutely would have been in my 2020 Holiday Reviews.  Now it's time to finally give it its due.

THE APOTHECARY DIARIES (Kusuriya no Hitorigoto), based on the light novel series by Natsu Hyuga and character designs by Touko Shino, with story by Itsuki Nanao and art by Nekokurage.  First published in 2017 and first published in North America in 2020.



PLOT:

Maomao didn't ask to be kidnapped and sold to the imperial palace as a servant, but it happened anyway.  She hoped to just work off her two-year contract and return to her father's apothecary in the pleasure district.  Unfortunately her curious nature and knowledge of herbs and medicine lead to her getting elevated to food taster for one of the imperial consorts.  Now when she's not fending off the attention of the handsome court eunuch Jinshi, she's dealing with all sorts of potentially deadly palace intrigue.