Thursday, April 13, 2017

Collection Review: Maiden Rose--and Thoughts on Understanding a Genre

Delve into a genre--romance, mystery, country music, possibly even literary fiction--and what appears monolithic from the outside (All fantasy is the same!) appears far more variable from the inside (No, it isn't!).

Not all comic books/graphic novels/manga are the same.

Delving, however, takes effort. It means actually reading (and discarding) different works by different artists within the genre. It means developing an inner criteria or standard about what makes something bad or good. (Teachers should also do this: develop a personal theory or ideology about teaching; I have always enjoyed taking classes from teachers who have developed their own theory/style--even if I disagreed with their ideological perspective--more than from teachers who teach-from-the-book or teach-lesson-plans-developed-by-someone-else.)

I mentioned in a previous post that delving with yaoi is somewhat more difficult than with shojo--simply because yaoi is less accessible. When I started my research, I ordered three yaoi books through Amazon: A Gentleman's Kiss, But You're My Teacher, and Maiden Rose.

At this point, I was batting 1 out of 3.

The short story collection, But You're My Teacher, falls into the category that I discuss in my posts about manga short stories: Only a Premise. It is basically porn and reminded me of the endlessly amusing Provenza quote from The Closer:
Do you know why I hate porn? Guy delivers a pizza, it never gets eaten. Girl's refrigerator breaks, it never gets fixed.
Gentleman's Kiss was my introduction to Ken-doll art and to the problem of a couple that I was given absolutely no reasons to believe should be together. It was my introduction to the problem of relying on stereotypes (rather than archetypes) to sell the characters.

Maiden Rose was--and continues to be--in a class to itself.

The soft sigh or silence before
chaos descends is well-captured
in Maiden Rose.

Maiden Rose was also confirmation that explicitness does not automatically equate to erotica. Neither does it automatically equate to porn.

Maiden Rose is quite remarkably explicit, so much so that I artistically censored it for my own peace of mind (something I have never bothered to do with Black Sun). But it isn't porn. I attempt to tackle why in other posts. Suffice it to say here, the use of sex in any type of fiction to further that fiction's plot is only as salacious as (1) its tone; (2) its effectiveness.

Maiden Rose is nearly impossible to describe adequately. It belongs to high romance. It also belongs to history, being a thinly veiled exploration of Japanese culture and politics between WWI and WWII. It is also incredibly well-written, having strong, memorable characters (not only the main characters but the supporting cast) and quick, insightful, show-don't-tell dialog. The politics is believable and organic, arising naturally from the series' world. Both volumes are impressively well-translated, being possibly the only contemporary works I've read where the word "equites" is used properly and as a pun.

Ultimately, Maiden Rose is a love story. It's high romance love, so despite the relationship's consummation, there is the same ongoing, heart-aching sense of yearning that one experiences from other slice-of-life artistes, such as Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star, Garden of Words) and Hayao Miyazaki.

Which brings me to my final point: the art of Maiden Rose is the most impressive out of all the manga I read. The series is in a class of its own.