Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Collection Review: Just Around the Corner and the Student-Teacher Romance in Manga

The teacher-student romance is a common trope in shojo and yaoi manga. Although it has become increasingly stigmatized in American television and literature, it is still alive and well in Japanese manga.

Frankly, the American attitude is bizarre. Not because teacher-student relationships are a good idea.  But because the stigma rests on a proposition that is unsettling in the extreme: namely, that any teenager before the age of 18 is the equivalent of a child.

Statistics from the National Survey of Family Growth indicate distinct differences between 14/15-year-olds and 17-year-olds (16-year-olds occupy an uneasy middle ground). To provide a few examples:
(1) younger teens are far more ambivalent about having sex than 16, 17, and 18-year-olds;
(2) on the other hand, younger teens are more likely to consider getting pregnant a positive event than older teens;
(3) nearly all teens' first sexual encounter is with a partner 1-3 years older than the teen;
(4) the average age for teens to have sex is 17;
(5) older teens are more likely to use contraception during their first sexual encounter--over 50% of all teens use contraception, no matter the age;
(6) teen girls and teen boys who abstain cite religion/morals (culture) rather than worries about STDs as their primary reason--this reason is consistent across the ages;
(7) teens having sex has dropped since 1983, substantially for young men;
(8) teens in general are more likely to believe that it is okay for 18-year-olds to have sex than for 16-year-olds to have sex;
(9) teens' interest in having sex increases by 14% for young women from 14 to 17; for young men, it remains steady across the teens, only decreasing at 18/19-years-old (due, it appears, to worries about college, future jobs, etc.).
(10) types of sex that teens engage in increases with age.
The point: the idea that teens remain little girls and little boys until they turned 18 is stupid and damaging beyond belief. Maturation is more consistent, inevitable, and individual than this perception allows for.

Despite the Edgar R. Burroughs look--
or because of it--I like this cover!
I'm no fan of Twilight but the attitude that "those thoughts" don't belong in a teenage girl's repertoire is ostrich-like in its silliness.

I have always considered teacher-student fantasies a "safe" haven (much like reading vampire literature) for feelings, thoughts, questions, and concerns that American culture is reluctant to address. For me, the story wasn't about vampires or teachers; it was Orson Scott Card's Wyrms. The female protagonist fights strong sexual urges coming from an outside source--by all means, blame the aliens! But her awareness is natural and relatable--a huge relief to my teenage self.

Japanese fiction (manga/anime) likewise seems both more free and less panicked than much American discourse. Considering that Japanese teens have the lowest pregnancy rate worldwide (and a low abortion rate), the literature cannot be blamed for inflaming their sensibilities. Whatever is being worked out in the literature doesn't translate into actual social problems.

From a literary point of view, of course, the lack of social disintegration doesn't mean that all teacher-student stories are good. Toko Kawai's Just Around the Corner is.

The premise: Kiriya and Yuuya have a chance meeting. Kiriya believes Yuuya is 19 (because he looks that old and because he fails to admit the truth), only to discover he is a 17-year-old high school student when Kiriya begins subbing at Yuuya's high school. Kiriya attempts to end the relationship, then resigns himself to its inevitability. Ultimately, their relationship is discovered and the lovers are separated. Yuuya works hard to get into the university to which Kiriya has transferred, and the lovers are reunited at the end of the manga.

An unpretentious, straightforward tale--not particularly unique except for the non-depressing ending. Its uniqueness comes from the characters' realistic reactions and behaviors. Yuuya thinks he is ready for the change in his relationship with Kiriya--we will date but never go out as a couple, or out at all since then someone would guess we are together--but finds it is more unsettling than he anticipated. Kiriya is amused by Yuuya's occasional attempts to make him jealous rather than angered. However, Kiriya worries that Yuuya is trying too hard to be mature around him--not enjoying his youth.

Kiriya still insists on the proper honorific.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Merpeople in Star Trek: Why Yaoi, Continued

The first story I got published was
about mermaids in New England
In Reason 4 for "Why Yaoi," I mention that it "is also easier for me to come up with extensions to a yaoi story than to a paperback romance (although I've created extensions to those as well) . . . yaoi allows for greater objectivity. I have come up with complex, creative, and uncertain relationship storylines simply because I wasn't worried about gender issues--which is extremely difficult to avoid doing when one writes and reads any other type of romance."

One of my favorite creative endeavors is to imagine new aliens for the Star Trek Universe, replete with complicated cultural rituals: "Amok Time" gone, well, amok.

One of my favorite species is a species of merpeople--because, well, merpeople are awesome!

I have created several stories around this very cool planet (for all I know, Star Trek already invented a species like this, but since Star Trek has a tendency to invent multiple species with deceptively similar names, I figured I could do the same). The story below is less tied to the alien nature of the secondary protagonist or the alien-aspect of the planet though its problem originates there.

* * *

Character 1 is Liam, a human male. He lives on Earth, where, of course, there's no poverty, etc. etc. etc. But people are still people, so Liam is a high school dropout with no parents, who doesn't know what he wants to do with his life--except he loves the ocean. He works as a lifeguard and is saving his money (or credits or honor points or whatever) to take a single visit off-planet. The one place Liam absolutely wants to go, no question, is Pechea (based on the French word for "fishing" and yes, there's an actual place in Romania called Pechea, but coming up with alien names is hard).
Liam's ideas about merpeople are
founded in Earth books and lore, 
like the wonderful Narnia series,
which is still being read in the future.

In typical fan-boy manner, Liam has read everything about Pechea and merpeople he can get his hands on. But he isn't a scholar and he is only eighteen, so his understanding of Pechea has been filtered entirely through his human imagination. This is not a bad way to learn about something new but it gets him in trouble later.

He finally manages to get on-board a space-trip to Pechea by claiming to be a student. This is a relatively harmless deception but again, gets him in trouble later. Despite required "cultural appreciation" lectures whilst on-board ship, on planet he gets pulled into the activities of a group of thoughtless, dumb students who think it is fun to light things on fire (with the equivalent of gasoline) and throw them into the ocean.

This is bad, of course, on any planet. On Pechea, they might as well be trampling all over people's rooftops. As punishment, the college students are sequestered. However, the insightful judge realizes that Liam's reasons were less dumb callousness and more ignorant enjoyment and hands him over for Pechean "punishment" or reconciliation.

Inner Pechean homes have direct access to the water--
like this, only less tacky.
He is sent to live with one of the Pecheans who was above water during the incident and got hurt. The young man, Enjeru, was burnt, losing sight in one eye. This is the future and Federation medicine is available, so his sight will be restored and the burnt skin repaired. However, it is being mended in stages, so when Liam arrives, the wound is still noticeable.

By the way, Pecheans have tails in the ocean and legs on land, the reverse of E. Nesbit. Their buildings have upper levels that descend below the water. They also have buildings entirely underwater. Liam is staying at Enjeru's parents' home which is partly above water--with lots of open pools. 

This is a hate-at-first-sight relationship. Sort of. Liam is not even vaguely hate-filled and feels terrible about the whole throwing-fire-in-people's-living-space thing. He also loves Pechea as much as he thought he would--it's a dream come true and he would like to stay there forever. Enjeru rapidly figures out the type of person Liam truly is and is able to forgive him and move on. They become close friends, possibly closer . . .

Except politicians are being noisome. The families of the college students have protested their treatment (they are being held in a facility and not allowed to wander about or leave the planet). The Federation arranges for the students to be released, but the malefactors have to (1) leave the planet; (2) never return to the planet. Some well-meaning if clueless soul realizes that Liam was part of this group and arranges for him to also be "released," something that neither Liam nor, at this point, Enjeru, wish.

Once Liam is removed, his deception--papers claiming to be a college student--is discovered. He is given a third stipulation: (3) banned from space travel. Devastated, Liam returns to Earth where he finds it difficult to get hired to do anything involving interesting work (after all, a culture where no one commits crime would likely be more critical of its aberrant members than less).

Approximately three years later, however, a Federation committee investigating the reasons for off-planet diplomatic crises (i.e., why do aliens behave so badly on each others' planets?) looks into the Pechea incident. One of the committee members interviews Liam, takes a liking to him, realizes he was merely young and stupid, not deranged, and acting as loco parentis, gets him a decent job at the Earth Aquarium--where he thrives. He loves taking people on tours, loves talking about the ocean, has friends, and shows an ability to come up with interesting displays.

In the meantime, in an effort to reunite with Liam, Enjeru enters Starfleet where he discovers, much to his surprise--since he never saw himself working in space--that he loves the environment and the work. He's a blue-shirted officer and works most of his time collecting and examining biological specimens. In the world of Star Trek: The Next Generation, he would be one of the crew-members to figure out why the tricyanate contamination in "The Most Toys" wasn't an actual tricyanate contamination. (Note: Pechean crew members have deep narrow pools in their cabins, so they can sleep--as they prefer--underwater.)

Eventually, the star ship to which Enjeru is posted comes to Earth and he tracks down Liam while on shore-leave. Liam is thrilled to see him and perfectly willing to go along with Enjeru's impetuous suggestion that they get married; they return to the ship with a paper marriage certificate before the digital version enters the Starfleet database, which means that Liam's restrictions about interplanetary travel aren't noted until he and Enjeru have left the planet. Eventually, the "cheat" is realized but their friends come to bat for them, and the matter is cleared up. The couple is allowed to remain together.

That is not the problem.
Vulcan does have seas.

The problem is that a planet lover married a space lover. They may adore each other, but their lifestyles are fundamentally incompatible. Liam tries to adjust by using the ship's holodeck to create sea tours for the school-age children (like on Enterprise, Enjeru is posted to a ship with families). But he kind of hates living only on ship. And he kind of loved his life on Earth although he didn't realize how much he loved it until he left.

When Liam's ability to plan in-depth and interesting exhibits regarding ocean environments becomes known, he begins to get offers from actual planets--like Vulcan--to come and put on shows at their planetary museums. And he takes the commissions, simply to get off ship and onto "real ground." These exhibits take him anywhere from 2-4 months to plan and install. He then rejoins the ship, which isn't always easy depending on its location.

Miles and Keiko--or the "fighting
O'Briens" as Nitpicker, Phil Farrand
sometimes calls them--do make it.
Enjeru supports Liam's career, and Liam supports Enjeru's. Yet as one would imagine, their time apart destabilizes their relationship. Absence makes the heart grow fonder; it also gives rise to stress, doubt, and loneliness--as we Star Trek fans saw with Miles and Keiko O'Brien on Deep Space Nine.

Here's where yaoi becomes useful. When I asked myself, "How do I solve this relationship's problem?" I didn't have to worry about two specifically gendered arguments (that I have heard throughout my life):

(1) "A good wife would stay with her husband and support his career; after all, if he cheated while she was away or because she refused to go with him, it would be her own darn fault. He comes first!"

(2) "A wife should never settle for being 'barefoot in the kitchen.' Any good husband would understand and support her decision to find a great job; otherwise, he would be a domineering, controlling, and possibly abusive jerk."

Regarding this story, I simply had to keep the marriage together.

Actually, first I had to figure out if my characters would want to keep their marriage together. And they did. (Big sigh of relief.) They get along and always have; they don't really want to be with anyone else; they find comfort in each other; and they admire each other. It's the lifestyles they hate, not the people. (The other cool thing about yaoi is that it presents an opposing view to the Western romantic ideal that love should overcome everything; yaoi, which dovetails quite nicely with early nineteenth century English literature, acknowledges that love is not always enough; the lives people lead and want to lead matter too.)

For Liam and Enjeru to make it, something somewhere was going to have to give. First, I had Enjeru delete a program he'd created of Liam on the holodeck to keep him company while Liam was away--à la Barclay. I know a program like this would upset a woman. I imagine a man might shrug his shoulders, as Liam does, yet not be entirely thrilled at being substituted for with a "perfect" version.

When I first saw the Stargate: Atlantis pilot, I wanted
the city to stay underwater.
Learning that Enjeru deleted the program, Liam then does some of his outside-the-box thinking (both men are quite perceptive; Enjeru is Spock-observation-perceptive although with a somewhat different personality from the good Vulcan; Liam is McCoy/Neelix perceptive in his willingness to go WAY off base to find a solution).

Liam contacts his parental figure from the committee (who also helped him after he got married) and together they get Liam assigned to the Federation's diplomatic corps. It helps that at this point, this once-delinquent has Vulcan, Trill, Ferengi (regarding a profitable exhibit, naturally), and Bajor clients/contacts. By joining the corps, Liam now gets to go down to nearly every planet the star ship encounters, rather than wait for shore leave. And he gets to help with introducing "our" (Federation/Earth) culture to new planets. So he gains a team, which he needs as an reserved extrovert, and a purpose and access to "real ground" as often as he needs it.

He and Enjeru split their vacations between Earth and Pechea (so that restriction is lifted as well).

I find this type of solution far more satisfactory than (1) the couple breaking up; (2) the couple sacrificing endlessly for each other.

It is possible to figure out this type of solution with any kind of romance. Gender pressures don't dictate how individual writers solve the individual problems of their individual couples any more than such pressures do in real life. Despite what sociologists may believe, gender arguments are not the default for relationship discussions--people's personalities do rise to the fore.

But it is quite frankly easier for a writer, at least, to solve problems when gender issues are left off the table entirely.

Image result for copyright Katherine Woodbury

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Thoughts Inspired by Captive Prince, Volume 1: The Hate-At-First-Sight Couple

In Black Sun, Leonard's request surprises
even Jamal, who couldn't be sure Leonard
didn't feel only hate.
A common trope in romance is the protagonists who loathe each other. Although I loved this trope when I was younger, the older I get, the more unlikely I find it. It reminds me of those dreadful chick-flick movies--not Bridget Jones, which is a high-energy, aren't-we-having-fun? pastiche--but those dreadful concoctions in which a single revelation destroys the relationship (until it is unlikely resolved at the very end).

If the couple can't make a go of it in the face of a "oops, I screwed up" or "oops, I forgot to tell you" moment, then the relationship wasn't meant to be. Better to leave it alone then force it through a series of hoops and this-is-what-is-supposed-to-happen romantic demands.

Pride & Prejudice is an exception of course although I side with those critics who claim that Elizabeth and Darcy didn't suddenly discover their mutual attraction; they were interested in each other from the beginning. They also make peace before they begin their final courtship. The relationship develops organically, however riddled with issues.

So . . . the  daggers-drawn relationship can be fun and captivating, if handled correctly.

C.S. Pacat handles her (literally, in some scenes) daggers-drawn relationship correctly.

--Slight Spoilers--

First, Damen and Laurent have legitimate reasons to distrust and even hate each other. The hate-at-first-sight couple which hates based on "the wrong ya done my family!"--only to discover later that the wrong was never really done--is tiresome at best and highly irritating at most, usually because the whole matter could be cleared up with a bit of "hey, did you know?" communication at the beginning of the story.

But Damen and Laurent have true problems to overcome--and forgive. On a far less extreme note, Darcy and Elizabeth have true petty meanness to overcome--and forgive.

Medieval Jamal and Leonard under-
stand each other because they speak
the same language of honor in battle.
"It was only a mistake!" is not enough. For the hate-at-first-sight couple to work, the protagonists must have something to work through. Far too many writers try to argue that their characters are wonderful and perfect and sweet--it's the big, bad hate that's getting in the way; once it's gone, their characters will recognize each other's wonderfulness and have no more problems.

Writers who give their characters flaws and struggles, on the other hand, provide the possibility that those flaws and struggles can be overcome.

Second, the legitimate reasons for Damen and Laurent to hate each other are BIG. Yet from the point of view of history, especially the assumptions and viewpoints embedded within ancient cultures, they are not so outrageous that they can't be overcome.

Granted, this is easier to do when the culture--invented or otherwise--provides rituals and a mental framework that make overcoming the transgressions a likely possibility.

Pamela's near-rape by Mr. B is rightly inexcusable in our own culture--and nearly in her own. Yet the context of servitude within her own culture provides a framework of understanding. Without that framework, there is nowhere for Mr. B and Pamela to go.

Likewise, in C.S. Pacat's fantasy world, the codes of honor, duels, and to-the-victor-go-the-spoils provide a framework of understanding even something as large as "you killed my brother in battle." These aren't random, sociopathic reasons; these are comprehensible reasons.

Third, Damen and Laurent get along from the beginning (although they don't realize how much).*

Like Darcy and Elizabeth--who enjoy talking to each other almost before they realize it--and Fili and Tauriel, Damen and Laurent have an easier time communicating with each other than anyone else.

One of my favorite scenes in Volume 1--and the one where I knew I would read on to Volume 2--occurs after Damen promises (tentative) obedience if Laurent will look after the slaves from Damen's own country. They then attend a party together:
Laurent used . . . the propensity of courtiers to fall back in reaction to Damen's presence as a means of extricating himself smoothly from conversation.

The third time this happened, Damen said, "Shall I make a face at the ones you don't like, or is it enough to just look like a barbarian?"

"Shut up," said Laurent calmly.
I started laughing. It wasn't merely the banter (which starts much earlier in the volume), it was that I could see the same conversation happening under very different circumstances.

--Way More Spoilers--

Speaking of Hamlet, Hamlet and Horatio are also a unit.
I knew by the middle of Volume 1 that Damen and Laurent would end up together--no way was I reading through three volumes to find everyone strewed across some floor somewhere full of holes at the end a la Hamlet. And I was amused because I could absolutely see Laurent using Damen in exactly the same way as a fellow king--to extract himself from a diplomatic conversation and/or turn that conversation to his and Damen's interest. And I could see Damen being equally amused and exasperated and even, since he would know Laurent better by then, willing to go along to see what Laurent was planning. (All this is way more interesting than everybody dying, anyway.)

In a good hate-at-first-sight relationship, the couple are already functioning as a unit before the hate is resolved.

*C.S. Pacat captures this idea of Damen-Laurent as a-unit-before-they-realize-they-are-one in her short story "Green But for a Season." She also captures the outside-versus-inside perspective of the couple. Jord perceives the unit-nature of Damen and Laurent's relationship when they are working over the map without fully understanding what he sees.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Collection Review: Steal Moon

Coyote's run-in with the "Gentlemen of
Mynah" links back to events in
Blue Sheep Reverie.
Steal Moon by Makoto Tateno (mangaka of Yellow) takes place in the Blue Sheep Reverie universe, a series that should be commended if only for having such a great sci-fi name.

Blue Sheep Reverie revolves on the common sci-fi trope of loosely controlled anarchy. It's post-apocalyptic but not quite as depressing as, say, Canticle of Leibowitz. Cities are controlled by gangs, whose feudal nature makes the cities more like Italian city-states than, say, Chicago in the 1920s (or at least people's image of Chicago in the 1920s). There is a "federal" government but its job is mostly to prevent the occasional violence in one city from spilling over into another.

Steel Lahti is the "king" of one gang; Kai is his lover. Blue Sheep Reverie follows their adventures and relationship; it belongs to high romance and is briefly reviewed here.

Steal Moon is a side story that takes place half-way through book 6 (although Coyote is introduced earlier). It has a more mythological/fantasy tilt than Blue Sheep Reverie (which is basically Hamlet with guns and a proactive prince), specifically Egyptian mythology. The couple is Coyote and Nozomi, a military soldier working undercover and a belligerent streetfighter.

Their relationship is not as credible as some of Tateno's other manga relationships, mostly due to lack of character-building moments. The two-volume set is action-packed, moving from cyberstalking to car chases to political fallout in rapid succession. The characters are memorable, however--one of Tateno's strengths. She knows how to individuate types, which is a seriously under-rated skillset among writers. And the ending is sweetly romantic.

Kai is the character to the right.
One of the most interesting aspects of Steal Moon is something I mention when discussing The Guilty: characters are perceived differently depending on the narrator. In Blue Sheep Reverie, Kai is the narrator--that is, the audience is almost always in Kai's head, following his choices. He comes across as contemplative and conflicted. He eventually replaces his internal doubts with absolute devotion, yet his is the type of devotion based on independent choice--he isn't the obedient follower; he is the "I will back you in my own way" follower.

Although he is the same character in Steal Moon and embodies the same traits, Steal Moon's narrator--the impetuous, in-one's-face Nozomi--notices the patient, contemplative part of Kai's nature more than anything else. (Interestingly enough, Steal Moon was written after Blue Sheep Reverie, Volume 1 even though it takes place later in BSR's chronology--Kai remained consistent throughout Tateno's creative process.)

To put this another way, as with many manga and light novel characters, Kai doesn't realize how self-contained he seems from the outside. In Steal Moon, we get to see the Kai who keeps his own counsel rather than the guy who worries a lot. Same guy. Different perspective.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Archetype: Fun and Boisterous and MINE

Nonami is somewhat more troubled
than the usual fun and boisterous type,
what with being a yakuza and all.
But his method of confessing love
to the bewildered doc is typically
straightforward.
In the last post I discussed the common archetype of the stern and aloof hero, who is utterly devoted to the heroine/hero (depending on whether one is reading shojo or yaoi).

The flip side of the coin is the fun and boisterous hero, Bingley's extrovert to Darcy's introvert. Like Bingley, this hero is often guileless and forthright. He is occasionally more intellectual than Bingley and often more perceptive. But he has the same "Hey, I like you! Isn't life grand!" approach to life.

Unlike the stern and aloof hero, he is people-oriented. Rather than only letting one person through the gate, he lets lots of people through the gate! However, he only lets one person in the citadel. Everybody gets to hang with me; only you know my secrets. 

This archetype often has more of a romantic "past" than the stern and aloof hero (although the stern and aloof hero's romantic past may surprise you: T'pring, anyone?). However, once he's made up his mind, he has made it up for good (in her continuation of Pride & Prejudice, Colleen McCullough has Bingley cheat on his wife; I found this utterly unlikely; the Bingleys of the world seem blithe and unconcerned on the surface, but they have a core of pure honesty; to an extent, this is because at their core they don't see the point in making life difficult. Adultery=difficulty; therefore, adultery . . . is not even on the table; in typical guileless fashion, they would be surprised if anyone even brought it up.)

I get a big kick out of this hero type in manga, especially yaoi manga, where it is somewhat more common (the stern and aloof hero dominates shojo). Yaoi often delivers the Bingley-Darcy combo pack, as in What Did You Eat Yesterday? and Beast & Feast, Black Sun, and Open the Door to Your Heart in which the boisterous guy-who-has-travelled-the-world-and-does-everything-from-collecting-antiques-to-working-as-a-fry-cook pairs up with the reserved guy-who-works-as-a-tax-collector (who gets irritated with his boyfriend who has NEVER filed taxes).

This hero is also almost always portrayed as a dog (see image from Beast & Feast, above, the high school years).

Fun and boisterous heroines are less common but do exist--Yuki from Fox and Wolf is a good example. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Archetype: Brooding and Aloof and MINE

Reserved Kazuki brings flowers to a
surprised Wataru.
Several years ago, Isaac Asimov wrote a very funny piece about why Spock (of The Original Series) was so sexy, i.e. "dreamy." He asked his twelve-year-old daughter. She responded, "Because he is so smart." Asimov's response (in sum): "I never knew smart guys finished first!"

I postulate an accompanying reason: The Spocks are so attractive because they give off the aura of being one-woman men, if the woman can crack the shell. Spock's smartness is both his attraction and his shield. Only one other person is allowed inside. (For Slash fans, that person is Kirk.) 

This type crosses borders in a way that other archetypes simply don't. Blink--there he is again. Darcy. Somewhat less aloof (but still one-woman) Daniel (Stargate). Sherlock (in his multiple manic guises). And many, many manga heroes.

In manga, the two threads--smart and devoted to a single woman or man--are woven tightly together (the brooding, aloof hero is almost always an ace student; he is also almost always a leader despite his internal discomfort with the role). Hence, the bewilderment over supposed yaoi heroes who claim to be straight right up until they fall for the funny, quirky, optimistic hero protagonist.

I've discussed elsewhere why I think the supposedly straight yaoi hero is not a matter of wish-fulfillment for female readers. Rather, instead, he showcases love (or rather, recognition) transcending everything (and everyone) in order to bring the compatible lovers together.

To put it another way--the point of the smart, aloof (or at least not immediately available) hero is necessary to the ultimate romantic fantasy: I let you inside, then close the gate.

Us against the world. 

Not a yaoi couple: that's dressed-as-a-
boy Mizuki with Sano, who confesses
when pushed to the limit.
I could now debate the plausibility and/or workability of that desire, blah, blah, blah. But that's a waste of time. It's powerful. It transcends culture. And it is often the way that people narrate or define their relationships in real life. It's a language that speaks to something so innate in us that the stern hero who casts a jaundiced eye on everyone but the lover shows up over and over again throughout history and countries.

From a writing point of view, this hero is usually not the narrator. Like Elizabeth with the original Darcy, shojo and manga narrators are often the recipients of the aloof hero's devotion. Their job is to ponder (1) what the heck is up with this guy; (2) figure out if they can reach him; (3) figure out what to do once they have reached him.

It sounds highly exhausting in real life, yet we readers still root for these couples. Everybody needs a haven. (And perhaps, secretly, we all believe that we are Darcy,and someone should try to figure us out.)

Coming next: Fun and Boisterous and Mine

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Collection Review: Until the Full Moon

Until the Full Moon and @ the Full Moon take me back to Sanami Matoh (Fake). I read them because of Fake. Matoh has also written a number of fantasy manga full of high jinks and ADHD characters. These latter manga are cute but rather too frantic for my tastes. Fake has its own moments of over-the-top antics and scenarios, but it is grounded in the "case" structure. There are also plenty of reflective moments in Fake, especially for the series' couple.

Until the Full Moon and its sequel @ the Full Moon fall between Fake and Matoh's more high energy manga. The premise is delightful (and common to Japanese manga): a character, Marlo, is male except during the full moon when he becomes female. His change makes it possible for his family to marry him to his childhood friend, David, who is totally fine with the whole wacky world of Marlo (and happens to love both male and female Marlo equally although the ostensibly shojo manga is quite coy about the sexual relationship between them and implies at the end that Marlo will now be female most of the time and only male during the full moon, which will make having a baby possible since Marlo can hide during the full moon to stay female).

The manga is fun, mostly due to Marlo's female persona; although entirely female and downright cute, she is still rather tomboyish. Taken together, she/he is absolutely darling. The first volume has a stronger set of stories and the first set (Until the Full Moon) is better plotted than the second (@ the Full Moon), but both are engaging.

My favorite part is the short story at the end of Volume 1: the fairy tale explanation for Marlo's condition that takes place in a Stephen Sondheim-like past. It's sweetly romantic with a decent pay-off.

@ the Full Moon is fascinating because Matoh's art changes; the top and bottom image are from Until the Full Moon while the middle images are from the later @ the Full Moon. In one of her afterwords, Matoh argues that her art didn't change that much--it was always developing in a single direction. And I think she has a point. But it is noticeably different. I didn't care for the difference at first, not because I didn't like the art itself but because I'm such a huge admirer of Fake, which resembles her older style more than her recent one.

However, Matoh still manages to capture motion, which is a powerful and admirable skill for a mangaka.