Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Archetype: The Doubtful Romantic

Keito is 6'4"--he has mixed parentage.
Hajime is 5'3".
The doubtful romantic is such a common archetype in manga, I'm not sure that it is so much an archetype as a cultural condition.

Doubtful romantics are common to all romance. In manga, the doubtful romantic's shame is not rooted in the doubts themselves (I'm unattractive, I'm unappealing, I'm bad at my job) but, rather, to being in a state of doubt to begin with. It goes back to the idea that the Japanese aren't proponents of mental illness as a fallback position.

In fact, it inevitably turns out that all characters in manga are doubtful, even the so-called popular kids (see the popular girls in Dengeki Daisy and Kare First Love). Doubt haunts the medium.

In Cafe Latte Rhapsody, Hajime questions why tall--if awkward--Keito with his handsome face and university attendance and cosmopolitan background would be interested in him. But when he goes to confront Keito, Keito runs away! Why? Because he is afraid Hajime has come to break up with him due to his deficiencies. 

Last Portait: Good relationships
eschew pedestals.
In fact, in almost all cases of an interfering third party, the third party is inevitably more outwardly confident and aggressively assertive than everyone else. Until, of course, the third party gets his or her own manga and we discover that he or she has had doubts all along. In Tateno's A Murmur of the Heart, third-party Tuono seems utterly confident and even sardonic . . . until A Waltz in the Clinic in which Tuono is thrown for a loop by Ichii--the sardonic confidence turns out to be far more wry and self-effacing than we readers suspected.

Doubts are usually overcome not by outside affirmation (the Western approach) but by the main character resolutely deciding, "My doubts aren't doing anyone any good. If this continues, so-and-so would be justified in breaking up with me."

Consequently, in manga as divergent as Library Wars and Only the Ring Finger Knows, temporary doubts are considered positives since handling or overcoming them corrects the protagonists' selfish behavior and brings them in harmony with the group and ultimately the beloved.

Since romance is the name of the game, the break-up doesn't happen. Affirmation still occurs. But only because the other party acts out of love, not obligation. Unlike in Western romances, nobody has to love anybody (though wouldn't it be nice it they did).

Too much doubtful romantic does get irritating after awhile. But when handled with honesty and sweet intentions, it can be quite enjoyable. And in manga, refreshingly self-responsible.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Story versus Plot: Titanic versus Voyager

Webster's Duchess of Malfi: Lots of weird things
happen, then everyone dies and goes crazy is story.
In Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster distinguishes between story and plot--story is a series of events: this happens, then this happens, then this happens...

Shaggy dog stories often fall into this category: one thing happens, then another, then another. It can great fun even if it leads nowhere other than the final scene.

Forster considered story the most basic and uninteresting of fiction elements, however necessary. In a rather funny--though typically somewhat pompous--definition, he accuses story of relying on mere curiosity, "the lowest of the human faculties." A story's entire goal is "of making the audience want to know what happens next." He presents the image of "Neanderthal man [listening] to stories . . . the primitive audience . . . gaping round the campfire, fatigued with contending against the mammoth or the woolly rhinoceros, and only kept awake by suspense. What would happen next? The novelist droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they neither fell asleep or killed him."
Hamlet: Why and how should I act on the
ghost's instructions? is plot. There's a reason
Shakespeare outclasses Webster.

Plot, on the other hand, includes mystery, which Forster rates higher than curiosity.

Forster writes, "'The king died, and then the queen died' is a story. 'The king died, and then the queen died of grief' is a plot . . . 'The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king' . . . is a plot with a mystery in it."

Story versus plot is ultimately the difference between Titanic and Star Trek's Voyager.

Both works use an underlying structure to keep the narrative running--if the narrative takes place on the Titanic, then the story runs as follows: this happened, then this happened, then everybody died (except maybe one person). It is surprisingly useful, but only to a point. Going with the "hate-at-first-sight" trope, a story on Titanic goes as follows:
An enemy queen meets an enemy king on the boat, which then runs into a iceberg, which then sinks. At some point they decide to get along. And he decides to die for her (unnecessarily since the raft could have held both). Oh, and some people are rescued, but most of them die. 
Season 4: "The Killing Game"
Titanic as story is the reason that so many movies have been made about it and also the reason that so many movies about the Titanic end up being, in the long run, rather forgettable.

The underlying structure of Star Trek Voyager is, as with much episodic television, basically story (but): this happens, then this happens, yet everybody gets home. The "yet" allows for the introduction of plot from the characters' points of view, not only within each episode (which have arcs) but within the Voyager universe:
A ship gets lost and has to get home; four years in, the crew is taken over by an alien race that forces the crew members to take on new personas; seven years in, the crew is taken over by an alien race that forces the crew members to work on a planet; yet the ship gets home.
Returning to the same trope:
The enemy king and queen get lost on a ship that then prepares to return; four years in, they are placed in a situation that requires them to work together; after that event, they reconsidered their prior behavior; they grow closer followed by total reconciliation at seven years; when they return to "ordinary" life, they must decide whether or not their "fantasy" relationship can continue. 
Season 7: "Workforce" and James Read!

Not terribly profound. Yet it involves mystery and payoffs rather than simply resolving itself on the side of an indifferent geological phenomenon.

Will they get home together? is a story question.
Why and how will they get home as a couple? is a plot question.

No is Titanic's answer to the first question.
Maybe . . .if we can work something out is the answer in Voyager. 

In the long run, human agency/vulnerability is always more interesting than inevitable fate.

At some point, a fan-fiction alien story will follow, using Voyager's underlying plot . . .

Monday, November 6, 2017

Why Women Read Yaoi: Reason 6 (Really 10+)

Men and women may talk the same in romances (a debatable point) but they (still) utilize different gender cues.

One attraction of yaoi for women is the absence of female-gender-insistent cues (this is how women are supposed to behave!).

Context
Both men and women get criticized and stigmatized when it comes to finding a romantic partner (see #1 in "2 Books About Singlehood"). Unfortunately, women still bear the brunt of the criticism and stigma, not because men are so awful but because women get it from women as well as men.

That is, in the game of "protect my tribe," men will criticize men to other men; they will occasionally criticize men to women; but they will also often defend men to women: "You  don't understand that men are . . ." I can't say I don't admire this (even when it irritates me).
Al criticizing Tim to women: a joke 
because it's an exception

But women will not only criticize other women, they will criticize women to men, and defend men to women.

If that's too convoluted, think of it this way:

A man who doesn't have a spouse or partner may criticize himself; other men may criticize him ("Dude, you should get out more . . . "), and yes, he will get criticism or dismissal from women.

A woman who doesn't have a spouse or partner will criticize herself (until she learns not to), may get criticized by men (usually for not understanding them enough). She will definitely get criticized by other women ("If you would only...). In addition, any man in the picture will often be defended by other women ("There isn't anybody good enough for Bob...None of the women around him are attractive enough...").

Looks are an ongoing theme in Persuasion
--from Anne's supposed changes to Mrs.
Clay's supposed lack of attraction.
Cues
In man-woman romances, these issues must be dealt with, even when the writer--male or female--is bored to death of them.

That is, no female or male writer can indicate that he or she is not aware that looks are an issue for women in our society, that a female character is or is not physically weaker than the man, or that women have, for much of history, lacked certain rights and venues to assert themselves.

The issues are sometimes addressed directly (Anne's powerful exchange with Captain Harville in Perusasion, for instance). Many times, they are addressed through ongoing, incessant cues. Consequently, in order to hide gender, cues also have to be hidden.

In the prior list, I removed certain cues:
  • Appearance: in the original exchanges, there are multiple references to the women's looks (loveliest, softness of her skin, beautiful, etc.). Almost none of the exchanges contain references to men's looks, even in exchanges between men. I removed all these references.
  • Use of "gentle" to describe the female (never the male) partner. I removed "gentle" and "gentleness" from multiple exchanges.
  • Verbal action: men instigate nearly all the discussions on the list. In Persuasion, Wentworth's opinions run the discussion. In Beauty & the Beast (image), the Beast does all the demanding/questioning. Part of the male claim on verbal action is the time-period. However, Niles and Daphne's exchange from 2000 is initiated by Niles (actually by Frasier, followed by Niles). In The Closer (image), although Brenda is a tough straight-shooter, almost all marital disputes are begun by Fritz (this is in keeping with Brenda's avoidance techniques towards anything but crime). The most lingually proactive woman from the list is Dinah from Ellis Peters' 1970 novel. Chandler and Monica (image) are perhaps the most equal in verbal action. There was very little I could do about the male tendency to run the conversation except to cut some of the male dialog
  • Physical action: all the male characters on the list are more physically active/attentive than the female characters. As mentioned above, time-period has something to do with this. Regarding Our Town, I removed George's explanation that he waited for Emily but she walked home with someone else (a common dating trope in 1940s-1950s literature). George approaches Emily for a second time at the beginning of the exchange. Again, Dinah's 1970 ride in the ambulance and visit to the hospital stands out. In the exchanges between men, both men are equally active and far more prone to aggressive action. 
  • Naivety: women are often described as unknowing and naive in romances. This is implied to be a natural condition (unlike Julian's naivety which is connected to his Sheldon-like literalism). Jamie, from A Walk to Remember, cavils about her abilities (granted, she is ill). In marked contrast, the supposedly less assertive male uke in Finder, Akihito, indicates a thorough understanding/judgment of the world. Oscar Wilde and Ennis and Jack are simply pissed. From Our Town, I removed Emily's youthful (and dated) exclamations of "awfully" and "golly." From Forster's quote, I removed Lucy's plea for help/instruction. Regarding Niles and Daphne, I removed Daphne's protest, "You shouldn't say such things."
Many of the cues listed above depend on the time-period but they still crop up in all writing today, from romances to literary tomes to scripts. They are not necessarily wrong or bad or unfair or, for that matter, unrealistic. Daphne, for instance, may not take the initiative in the revelatory exchange between her and Niles but she is still coming to terms with his feelings. In the long run, she proves a powerhouse in the relationship.

Likewise, it is impossible to determine how much Captain Wentworth's confessions are considered by both Austen and Anne to be rather sweet and naive in themselves. The ironic tone is too strong.

The point: these cues are inescapable. In fact, even when a text refutes or challenges the cues, they can become so bewilderingly omnipresent, they reach the status of either white-noise or screeching fingernails on blackboards (remember that?). It rather depends on the overall writing.

If one tires of the cues, one has to go to yaoi or M/M. There's a lot to be said for being able to escape to literature which is all about personality, rather than "appropriate" (reactionary or progressive) behavior.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Do Men in Romances Really Talk Like That?

Is it true that male characters in romances (written by women) don't talk like how men really talk (romantically)? (Or would it be more accurate to state that nobody talks how characters talk in romances?)

Is romance dialog gendered?

The following are snippets of romantic confessions, epiphanies, arguments, and reconciliations written by men and women with gender signals removed. Is it obvious who wrote what? Is the gender of each speaker/protagonist apparent? How much do we readers/viewers rely on outside cues when it comes to romance?

Other than the removal of gender signals, the only other changes are slight tweaks in punctuation. For the scripts, the parentheticals are from the original text.

The images are of couples NOT included in this list, and they do not correspond to the examples (except indirectly--and nope, I don't mean the sex of the characters, or not). 

Example 1
And soon words enough had passed between them to decide their direction towards the comparatively quiet and retired gravel walk. There they returned again into the past: more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment. And there, as they slowly paced the gradual ascent--heedless of every group around them, seeing neither sauntering politicians, bustling housekeepers, flirting girls, nor nursery-maids and children--they could indulge in those retrospections and acknowledgements, and especially in those explanations of what had directly preceded the present moment, which were so poignant and so ceaseless in interest. All the little variations of the last week were gone through. Thus much indeed W. was obliged to acknowledge: that W. had meant to forget A. and believed it to be done.

Example 2
  "I love you," C. said because this might be the only chance to say so.
  "Really?" J. asked, propping up on one elbow but not pulling away.
  "Yes, really. Since you [traveled with me] the first time." Maybe even before that, but it wasn't as if these things began at obvious moments. Falling in love wasn't like a bird hatching from an egg, for all both events were rather messy and fraught with vulnerability.
  "That's what I suspected," J. said, brow wrinkled as if C.'s declaration required a reorganization of the mind's contents.
  "Had you now?" C. shouldn't be amused but couldn't imagine a world where all J.'s idiosyncrasies weren't amusing and adorable. "Why?"
  C. didn't need to hear J. say, I love you in return. It wouldn't matter--they'd part company one way or the other, and giving a name to the thing between them wouldn't change that. But C. was used to wanting things that didn't make any sense.
  "Because you're my favorite person," J. said simply.

Example 3
N: It is not too late for us. I meant what I said when I said I would leave M. It's NOT crazy. Not if you feel the same way I do. I love you . . . It's the truth. Lord knows, I have tried to deny it, tried to pretend that I am over you, but not a day has gone by when I haven't thought of you. But I need you to tell me, and I can accept it if the answer is "No." How do you feel about me?

Example 4
E. said to L. [about G.], “Now it is all dark. Now Beauty and Passion seem never to have existed. I know. But remember the mountains and the view. Ah, dear, if I were G. and gave you one kiss, it would make you brave. You have to go cold into a battle that needs warmth, out into the muddle that you have made yourself; and your friends will despise you, oh, my darling, and rightly, if it is ever right to despise. Am I justified? Yes, for we fight for more than Love or Pleasure; there is Truth. Truth counts, Truth does count.”

Example 5
G: I'm glad you spoke to me about that...that fault in my character. What you said was right; but there was one thing wrong in it, and that was when you said that for a year I wasn't noticing people, and...you, for instance. Why, you say you were watching me when I did everything...I was doing the same about you all the time. 

E: Life's funny! How could I have known that? Why, I thought...

G: I think that once you've found a person that you're very fond of...I mean a person who's fond of you, too, and likes you enough to be interested in your character...Well, I think that's just as important as [other things] and even more so. That's what I think.

E: I think it's important, too.

G: So I guess this is an important talk we're having.

Example 6
E: You got a better idea?

J: I did once.

E:  You did once.  (Approaches.) I'm gonna tell you this one time.  And I ain't foolin'.  What I don't know, all them things that I don't know, could get you killed if I come to know them.  I ain't jokin'.  (Walks away.)

J: Yeah well, try this one, and I'll say it just once.

E:  Go ahead.

J: Tell you what, we coulda had a good life together, had us a place of our own.  But you didn't want it. You count the damn few times that we have been together in nearly 20 years.  Measure the short fuckin' leash you keep me on, and then you ask me about [those other times] . . . and you tell me you'll kill me for needin' somethin' I don't hardly never get.  You got no idea how bad it gets.  And I'm not you.  You are too much for me.  I wish I knew how to quit you.

E  (stricken, weeping) Then why don't you?  Why don't you let me be, huh?  It's because of you that I'm like this.  I'm nothin'.  I'm nowhere. I just can't stand this anymore.

Example 7
A: There are these people out there, willing to do incredibly dangerous things to get what they want. It's like some giant game of chicken. And what is it they hope to gain? A boatload of money? Or you?

R: Are you planning to join in their game?

A: Hell, no! All the stuff I do . . . it's not to get your attention. See, what I want is to watch through my viewfinder. I want to see what people behind the scenes are going. See the things people don't generally show to others, like who they really are. You're going to show me that, right? I'm the only one who can desire that. I'm the only one who'll get to see the real you.

Example 8
The thought that loathing, bitterness and contempt should forever [replace love] is very sad to me...I blame myself for the entire ethical degradation I allowed you to bring on me. The basis of character is will-power, and my will-power became absolutely subject to yours. It sounds a grotesque thing to say, but it is none the less true. Those incessant scenes that seemed to be almost physically necessary to you...were the origin and causes of my fatal yielding to you in your daily increasing demands. You wore one out. It was the triumph of the smaller over the bigger nature...There is, I know, one answer to all that I have said to you, and that is that you loved me...Yes: I know you did. No matter what your conduct to me was I always felt that at heart you really did love me...you loved me far better than you loved anybody else.

Example 9
  “Do you love me?" I asked.
   J smiled. "Yes."
  "Do you want me to be happy?"
  "Of course I do."
  "Will you do something for me then?"
  "I don't know if I can anymore."
  "But if you could, would you?"
  I cannot adequately describe the intensity of what I was feeling at that moment. Love, anger, sadness, hope, and fear, whirling together sharpened by the nervousness I was feeling. J. looked at me curiously and my breaths became shallower. Suddenly I knew that I'd never felt as strongly for another person as I did at that moment.

Example 10
D. came to the bedside...and sat down with a composure which was not maintained without effort and anxiety. A flickering succession of emotions passed over R's face: astonishment, alarm, dismay, despair, longing, hope, the resolute and heroic rejection of hope. Even when the face closed up and sealed itself, D. declined to remember anything except the brief glimpse of longing, and the even briefer coruscation of hope, quenched implacably as soon as it was born.

"Hullo," D. said. "They told me I could have just ten minutes. I had to see for myself that you really were going to be all right." D. had insisted on traveling with R. in the ambulance that night...an experience like that is going to leave its mark; it had left D extended, enlightened, a person completed, mature enough to know all too well that the supposed losses had not been great, and to turn a shrewd, honest, even predatory eye upon the gains. How curious! D. had never once hunted H. [as D. was hunting R.], never for a moment been jealous.

Identifications

EXAMPLE 1 is from Persuasion by Jane Austen, the reconciliation between Captain Wentworth and Anne at the very end of the book. Note the irony.

EXAMPLE 2 is from the M/M Romance Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian, a woman. The lovers are Courtenay (a man) and Julian, his Sheldon-like lover.

EXAMPLE 3 is from the episode "Something Borrowed, Something Blue," the Frasier episode where Niles and Daphne finally confess their love. It was written by two men and directed by a woman.

EXAMPLE 4 is from A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. The speaker is George's father, Mr. Emerson. He is speaking to the protagonist Lucy about accepting George.

EXAMPLE 5 is a snippet from Our Town by Thornton Wilder. The conversation is between George (different George) and Emily.

EXAMPLE 6 is from the script of Brokeback Mountain, a script based on a short story by a woman, rewritten for film by a man and a woman, which script was then directed by a man and acted by two men. (All these people are "authors" since the script is tweaked to fit their needs, including the actors--Hollywood is still very obliging when directing straight men in gay parts.) J is Jack. E is Ennis.

EXAMPLE 7 is Akihito Takaba speaking to his lover Ryuichi Asami in the yaoi series Finder by Ayano Yamane. Takaba is in fact the uke.

EXAMPLE 8 is a letter from Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas after Wilde ended up in jail (because of Lord Alfred Douglas).

EXAMPLE 9 is from Nicholas Sparks' A Walk to Remember. The narrator is Landon Carter. He is speaking to Jamie, his girlfriend.

EXAMPLE 10 is Ellis Peters' The Knocker on Death's Door. Dinah is visiting Robert after the capture of the murderer (who tried to also kill Robert).

My tentative conclusions (of course, I knew all the answers though I didn't closely study the quotes until after I chose them): women are far more pragmatic in their romance dialog, both when they write and when they are written about; men are far, far, far more sentimental.

And . . . everybody wants the same stuff. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Vampires in Manga

Vampires in Japanese manga definitely indulge in clannish behavior. Although there are loners, a la Angel, generally speaking vampires and vampire hunters arrive on the scene replete with a family-reunion size amount of baggage: "Here's my Uncle Harold. Here's my Aunt Vivian. Here's my cousin who strangles rabbits. Here's my uncle's nephew's cousin once removed who lived during the Reign of Terror."

Cyborgs, vampires AND
nineteenth-century dress.
Contemporary Japanese vampires don't differ tremendously in character from their Western versions, being as prone to sheer violence, angst, uncertainty, and double-personalities as their Western versions. Even more than the Western versions, they seem almost entirely associated with steampunk.

The steampunk milieu is typical of vampires in general (Bram Stoker continues to haunt us), but it has a solid foundation in current manga from Black Butler--which includes the demon/occasionally pointy-toothed Sebastian--to The Case Study of Vanitas, Bloody Mary and Vassalord.

A fun exception is My Pathetic Vampire Life in which the narrator, a vampire endlessly repeating high school as required by law (everyone knows he is a vampire) tries, for once, to fit in with the other students. The setting is entirely contemporary and the first volume at least has a somewhat early Whedon flavor. In one scene, the protagonist is invited to go clothes shopping. Thinking that the other students will behave in the store the same way they behave in school, he shows up expecting high fives and groupie behavior. Instead, he finds them wandering about browsing separating. He realizes that he has more in common with them as individuals than he realized.

Good fantasy--especially good vampire fantasy--shows us more of who we are. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Writing Romances: The Rising Action

Connie Willis has developed the
"ridden by ordinary problems like how
to get a ride" plot to an art-form.
Rising action in romances usually falls into two categories: shoe-shopping or interpersonal conflict.

Shop-shopping refers to rising action that deals almost entirely with the day of the heroines or heroes: whom they talk to, what they do at work, the jolly times they have with personal friends, their family obligations, etc. etc. etc.

I am not terribly fond of this type of romance, hence my use of "shoe shopping." But it does have its place. When done correctly, it can provide more information about the protagonist; in "realistic" romances, it can ground the protagonist in everyday problems and conflicts. In adventure romances a la Georgette Heyer, "shoe shopping" becomes a series of ongoing exploits: carriage chases, unintentional kidnappings, mistaken identities.

When done poorly, this type of rising action becomes an ongoing check-list of stuff to do that leads nowhere: I did laundry, then I went to visit my grandmother, then I saw my friends. I read one fantasy romance where the female protagonist stopped worrying about the end of the world, so she could go to the mall to shop for clothes--which is not too different from the old-fashioned suspense novels in which the heroine sets aside worrying about the murderous ghost who wants to eat her brains because she has to stay and wash the floors of the haunted mansion. Seriously?

Of course, if the ghosts are like this, she should stay!
Generally speaking, I prefer interpersonal conflict because (1) it keeps the heroes/heroines and heroes center stage; (2) it keeps the rising action from turning into a list of things to do.

I am, however, completely opposed to the Ross-Rachel approach to rising action: continuous, ongoing, boring fights. They remind me of a great comment in a review of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. The reviewer points out the childishness of the main characters. When they discover they were "manipulated" by their friends into getting together, they should thank their friends, not have another fight, full of personal offense.

No, no, not this.
Some of the best romances I've read were quiet in their rising action--more similar to Persuasion than to Pride & Prejudice. Don't get me wrong, within the "arguing couple" genre, Pride & Prejudice is one of the best (the arguments aren't simply manufactured; they rest on real misunderstandings). But the quieter Persuasion is in some ways more satisfactory since Anne and Captain Wentworth are continually interacting, overcoming their past assumptions and rethinking their futures. When I wrote my Persuasion tribute with Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliott, I attempted the same approach. No fireworks, simply a slow recognition of mutual attraction and compatible personalities.

Although, again, I prefer the latter (interpersonal conflict) to the former ("shoe shopping") approach, both forms of rising action can work. Within manga/light novels: 
  • Only the Ring Finger Knows by Satoru Kannagi is a well-written example of "arguing couples" and ongoing misunderstandings that revolve around a series of activities: tests, school fairs, and jobs. One of the few "shoe shopping" series I like. 
  • Cat Sebastian's Ruin of the Rake is a good example of "slowly getting to know each other." This book is definitely all about the interpersonal relationship. Although stuff happens (as a plot requires), it happens not as a series of activities but as a set of consequences predicated on previous behavior. 
  • Captive Prince by Pacat--like S by Aiki--is an example of "slowly getting to know each other" despite the background of ongoing action: "shoe shopping [with swords]" and interpersonal combined.
Advice for Romance Writers: whether you choose shoe-shopping, arguing, or getting to know each other, make sure the rising action RISES. Classic plots must move forward.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Apple & Honey: His Rose-Colored Life: College Angst and Art

Apple & Honey: His Rose-Colored Life by Hideyoshico is one of my absolute favorite manga volumes. It is quiet and ordinary, being the tale of two boyfriends in college. Their meeting is actually described in a prior volume of short stories Apple & Honey.

The second volume focuses on Natsuki and Komano exclusively (and has some of the funniest single strip stories I've ever read). It details the beginning days of their relationship, leading up and past when they first have sex. It is the ultimate show-don't-tell. The psychology is all through interaction. There is some inner dialog, but it is the inner dialog of the moment, not the inner dialog of reflection and explanation. The author never tells us how to think.

Some readers criticize the volume because one character starts out as ostensibly "straight". I address this criticism in a prior complaint. For now, I'll state that the designation isn't the character's although he doesn't deny it either--when used by the narrator, the label appears to be more wry than absolute.

And it is irrelevant to what the young men are going through. Natsuki's self-effacing and pained comment early on in their relationship, "You were a popular kid, weren't you?" followed by Komano's uncertain response (he was but doesn't want to say so) is so perfect to the age (19/20) and the milieu (a college cafeteria surrounded by their noisy friends), it rings true at every level.

This is slice-of-life taken to the nth degree. Honestly--it makes me happy not to be 20 any more since I can relate too well. But it also impresses me with its profound comprehension of human nature.

* * *

Another odd criticism of this and other manga is "the art is bad because it is incomplete--sketchy."

I have seen quite a lot of manga art that I didn't care for. But the reason had nothing to do with the style being bad. It had everything to do with personal taste.

That is, there are certain styles of art I don't care for--like cubism, for example--but that does not mean that cubism is an inherently bad style. It isn't. I can admire Guernica even if I have zero desire to hang it in my house.

When I read this type of criticism in reviews, I start thinking that Paglia has a point: not training students in art makes them witless. I go on and on a bit more about that here.

A lovely final scene from Apple &
Honey that captures the loneliness of
being uncertain in a couple.