Monday, May 19, 2008

J-Boy 1

by Biblos

This had a brief review on the Library Journal blog In the Bookroom, and based on that I submitted a suggestion for purchase at my library, and then found out from the library's new graphic novels RSS feed that we did purchase it — isn't the interwebs neat?!

I've had it out for a while and finally was forced to read it because some other jerks had made hold requests and I couldn't renew it any longer. Luckily, it was a pretty quick read and interesting enough to keep me up past bedtime for the couple of hours necessary to finish it in one go. (Still had to pay $2.50, darn it all.)

It's an anthology of one-shot and spin-off yaoi stories originally published in a Japanese serial. As with most compilations, some hit and some miss; I'd say the hit-miss ratio is about 70% to 30%. One or two stories were downright confusing, a couple were creepy (child-molester creepy, not spooky creepy), and four of the good ones really stood out. A couple of stories were more on the romantic side, most at least insinuated sex, and a few were very unambiguous about the characters getting down and dirty — but even the most hardcore scenes had the genital areas covered or blurred out. (It's rated for matures audiences 18+ and has a parental advisory for explicit content, one on the front cover and one on the back.)

Before I give you some highlights, I want to mention something that I absolutely adore about manga. In addition to the speech bubbles and the regular narration, they include lots of little side notes. Some are essentially sound effects (like the fight scenes in the '60s Batman TV show), some indicate actions (grab, stare, dash, hug), and some indicate emotions (stunned, blush, thudding heartbeats). Now, I'm kind of making this up, so it might be totally wrong, but I suspect that the prevelance of these annotations has some relation to the fact that Japanese writing is not entirely abstract (the way our strictly phonemic alphabet is) but also has ideogrammatic and symbolic elements to it, which makes the characters and words easier to stylize and incorporate into an illustration; for example, when a person is drawn with lines to indicate motion, characters for a word describing that motion can be drawn in a style that blends with or enhances or even takes the place of the motion lines. It doesn't quite work the same way in English, which is one of the reasons the annotations sometimes seem bizarre in translated manga. (The other reason is that sometimes the translation itself is weird.)

Aaaand, the whole point of the preceding paragraph is to introduce the first highlight, which nearly made me pee my pants laughing: an upset and crying neko samurai with the words "man tears" next to his face. The story, "Neko Samurai - Ocean of Barrier," is one of the best in the book. (A note in the margin explains that tachi is the person who is leading and giving in a sexual relationship, the one taking care of the partner, while neko is the person who is receiving in a sexual relationship, the one being taken care of by the partner. Top and bottom, essentially — I have more to say about gay stereotypes in yaoi a bit later.)

Actually, looking back, "man tears" was in a different story that I can't find now. But the samurai story — about an almost-thirty guy searching for his ideal tachi to whom he will give his virginity — was great, sexy, and a tiny bit raunchy, though less visually explicit than some. Other standouts include:

  • "Indecent Encounter," about a guy with a nipple fetish who seduces his younger brother's classmate; one of the most explicit sex scenes in the book.
  • "The Summer and the Nostalgia," more on the romantic side, although they definitely do it at the end.
  • "Loving Boys Boarding School," where the boys are forbidden contact with girls and turn to each other for sexual release; they also have Native American–style "spiritual" names such as Tongue of the Heavens, Well-hung Babyface, and Public Toilet (because he's "open for public use, mostly for semen excretions").

Bottom line: great book, highly recommended to yaoi fans, and I hope the library gets more volumes.

In closing, however, I want to mention my frustration, not just with gay stereotypes that sometimes show up in yaoi, but even more so with many of the characters' unwillingness to accept their own homosexuality and their simultaneous willingness to accept society's judgement and lack of acceptance of homosexuality. Sure, their uncertainty and the hiding of their desires creates tension that adds to the story, but it would be nice if they eventually got over it.

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