Monday, May 19, 2014

Gunji by Gengoroh Tagame

Quick Rating: A+

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: Gengoroh Tagame is one of the greats in the manga scene. Up to now, most of his works have been published exclusively in Japanese. Bruno Gmunder is proud to present Gunji in English for the first time in his gay manga series. Also included: Ballad of Oeyama, a short story by Tagame.

Review: The Bruno Gmunder English language release of Gunji contains a four part story called Gunji and the oneshot Ballad Of Oeyama. 

These two stories are pretty different from other Gengoroh Tagame manga I've read. Gunji was originally published in Kinniku Otoko, a magazine chock full of BL/yaoi type muscle men stories. That said, there's an emphasis on romance over pornography, along with textbook BL nods, BDSM, and gay elements.

Gunji is the story of a runaway masochist sushi chef whose owner comes to collect him from the new restaurant he's been working at. Lots of violence, pain, humiliation with a splash of twisty dark obsession involving a shop family's son where Gunji used to be a sushi chef apprentice. Ballad Of Oeyama is the retelling of a Japanese legend put in terms of prejudice and being open to new experiences. 

Although both stories really knocked it out of the park imo, I most enjoyed the afterword where GT discusses his thoughts about creating content for a magazine whose readership and authorship is made up of about half women. He also mentions the difficulty of depicting hair color between races, an element GT updated in his completely revamped edition of Ballad Of Oeyama.

So. If you were left skeptical after reading Endless Game and/or Passion like me, and still looking for a nice mix between muscle men and standard BL fare, definitely give this one a shot. The price is steep, but you get some amazing content and color artwork... especially the right flap, which is a full color depiction of Gunji. Drool worthy. Yum!

My one detracting comment would again have to be about the handling of SFX. The English is placed on top of the Japanese SFX with a large, distracting stroke around the text, obscuring much but not all of the original SFX. The translations are not very useful either, typically a literal romanisation of Japanese onomatopoeia like [GAT... ...T!].

Disclaimer: none

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Alexios' Fate by Kayla Jameth

Quick Rating: C

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: Mature King Lykos has a sexy confidence that turns Alexios' head. Seduced by Lykos, Prince Alexios discovers a world of men he's never known before.

Meanwhile his slave Galen has gotten tired of waiting in the wings. He sets out to woo Alexios and win his heart.

Even Apollo can't leave Alexios alone. The young prince finds himself pursued by a god and in danger of a perilous love.

How will Alexios follow his heart when he unwittingly wins the favor of a god? Can Alexios escape the fate of Apollo's past lovers and have the man he wants?

Review: Do yourself a favor and read the Greek Lexicon of myths and characters at the end of the book before beginning Alexios' Fate.

The majority of the story is told through narrative. Told and told and told, so there is very little dialogue (and at that, contemporary dialogue in a historical novel-yikes!). The narrative is off-puttingly dense and gives an air of rigid constraint. I did manage to persevere in reading and found I enjoyed the book's plot and characters. It seems the author would do well if only she could loosen up her prose and pay more attention to pacing... the last third of the book is when the main conflict unfolds and resolves. Quickly.

Perhaps Alexios' finishes too easily as many layers of plot are left unresolved. I would love to read a follow up.

Disclaimer: none

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Boys, Be Ambitious! by Saburo Nagai

Quick Rating: A

Purchase: Sublime Manga

Blurb: When gorgeous transfer student Kazuma moves in to the ramshackle Akeboshi High Boys' Dorm #2, he immediately attracts the interest of resident airhead-with-a-heart-of-gold Masaji. Kazuma relentlessly rebuffs and abuses the other boy, but Masaji refuses to give up! After all, he just wants to be friends. Determined (for some reason?) to keep trying, Masaji chips away at Kazuma's abrasive aura, but could this sweet-and-sour feeling be what he thinks it is?! A super go-get-'em boy and a hot-and-cold beauty in a coming-of-age rom-com that includes a cast of colorful characters!

Review: Boys, Be Ambitious is HILARIOUS. And palate cleansing, after a streak of simpering schoolboy romances. There's a lot of physical comedy and jokes, and I was left wanting MORE. 

You'll see some people comment that the story relies heavily on humor and doesn't have much else going for it, and there's no explicit scenes or sex. And those are valid reasons to not like this comic, okay. Buuut, I have to admit that I liked this comic more than most of the Miki Araya and Sakurai Shushushu comics I've read. Sometimes their comedy went over my head, or I didn't find it very funny, but Saburo Nagai's work really hit the mark for me.

Hope someone licenses Smells Like Teen Spirit. Boys, Be Ambitious is a great introduction to Saburo Nagai, but Smells Like Teen Spirit showcases the real bread and butter of her craft!

Disclaimer: none

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Castle Mango 2 by Narise Konohara and Muku Ogura

Quick Rating: A+

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: Ever since he spotted Yorozu with a girl at the fireworks display, Togame has put distance between Yorozu and himself. Yorozu is already anxious because of Togame’s abrupt curtness when his mother suddenly collapses. Yorozu secretly manages the love hotel, worried about his family’s finances. And as if that wasn't enough... his precious hotel burns down?! 

It’s the moving conclusion to the story of two reluctant lovers who won't face their feelings for each other.

Review: Hope you're wearing waterproof mascara when you read this one ladies and gents, it's a tearjerker. It's no secret, if you've read many of Konohara Narise's novels, that she likes to give her characters shitty lives. Fortunately for this book, the characters' painful pasts are redeemed through the power of love. (Or are they?) Ogura Muku's illustrations were emotionally compelling yet still cute and beautifully drawn. 

Yorozu wasn't my favorite character in the first volume, but his actions to help his family and come clean about why he started dating Togame in the second forced me to like and become invested in him. Togame brings out his emotionally stunted schtick in volume two, but who could blame him once you hear his whole ugly background. Especially his reasoning that he should give Yorozu the chance to grow up and be a conventional salaryman or whatnot. Tsundere boys, two please.

And the way Yorozu can't take a hint when Togame begins to distance himself, wow. Cue the waterworks. Despite Togame trying hard to enforce the distance, he can't help but step in and help Yorozu when he's making bad choices and/or when tragedy strikes.

Even the bits between Togame and Yorozu's brother got to me. The little guy is drawn with such cute facial expressions, and their scenes together are very touching. At the same time I was crying a little inside for Togame's little brother. 

My only nitpicks would be that we don't get to see much of a HEA for these characters. It's a shame that they couldn't squeeze a third volume out of Castle Mango. :(

Crossing my fingers for River's End novel to be licensed and released! It'd be wonderful to read more of Togame's sob story tbh.

Disclaimer: none

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Shock & Awe by Abigail Roux

Quick Rating: B

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: After barely surviving a shootout in New Orleans, Sidewinder medic Kelly Abbott has to suffer through a month of recovery before he can return home to Colorado. He’s not surprised when fellow Sidewinder Nick O’Flaherty stays with him in New Orleans. Nor is he surprised when Nick travels home with him to help him get back on his feet—after all, years on the same Marine Force Recon team bonded the men in ways that only bleeding for a brother can. He’s very surprised, though, when Nick humors his moment of curiosity and kisses him.

Nick knows all of Kelly’s quirks and caprices, so the kiss was a low-risk move on his part . . . or so he thought. But what should’ve been a simple moment unleashes a flood of confusing emotions and urges that neither man is prepared to address.

Now, Kelly and Nick must figure out what they mean to each other—friends and brothers in arms, or something even deeper?—before the past can come back to ruin their tenuous future.

Review: This little Sidewinder story. There's plenty 'will they, won't they' tension following an incendiary first kiss between Kelly and Nick. But things go downhill swiftly. There's a lot of implied background we readers aren't privy to, and without that context to understand their actions, motivations, reactions, I found myself disengaged. It was sorely lacking in the um, for lack of better description, sparkly shit that makes the Cut & Run series so great to me. Without that connection- understanding, passion, what have you- it read cheesy. Like a bow chika wow wow porno.

Disclaimer: none

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett

Quick Rating: B

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: At forty-seven, Mr. F’s working life on London’s Skin Lane is one governed by calm, precision, and routine. So when he starts to have recurring nightmares, he does his best to ignore them. The images that appear in his dreams are disturbing—Mr. F can’t think of where they have come from. After all, he’s an ordinary middle-aged man.
As London’s backstreets begin to swelter in the long, hot summer of 1967, Mr. F’s nightmares become an obsession. A chance encounter adds a face to the body that nightly haunts him, and the torments of his restless nights lead him—and the reader—deeper into a terrifying labyrinth of rage, desire, and shame.
Part fairy-tale, part compelling evocation of a now-lost London, this is Neil Bartlett’s fiercest piece of writing yet: cruel, erotic, and tender.
Review: This is the third book I've read that features London and its trains... probably the most haunting of them all.

A study of isolation and obsession, and love (or the absence of it). With a powerfully satisfying ending. Nothing turned out as I'd assumed it would. Thankfully. 

The narrator was pervasive, without the book would have lost its eerie atmosphere. Can't say I'd change anything about the novel, but the narration was incredibly intrusive and that level of self awareness made it difficult for me to fully immerse myself in the story.

Disclaimer: none

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Map of the Harbor Islands by J.G. Hayes

Quick Rating: A+

Purchase: Amazon

Blurb: "A Map of the Harbor Islands" is the long-awaited novel from J G Hayes. This book charts the turbulent life courses of two South Boston friends, Danny O'Connor and Petey Harding, from their childhoods through their adult lives. 'Golden Boy' Petey has it all going for him - grains, charisma and his close friendship with Danny. Then, an accident on the baseball field changes everything. Petey wake from a coma a different person, completely different from the boy Danny knew and loved. When Peter confesses that he is gay, it sends Danny on an odyssey he never dreamed could happen.

Review: This book calls to mind a loving mixture of A Prayer for Owen Meany and the gay classic At Swim, Two Boys. It's a work of real literary merit with its beautiful, luscious prose that meanders slowly through one of the most heartrending tales of friendship and love I have ever read. Danny and Petey's friendship develops through the book in hand-picked events from grade school to their early thirties. Their love story is slowly strengthened through the discovery of Petey's "otherness" and seemingly forever unrequited love of Danny. As Danny struggles to come to terms with Petey's sexuality, Danny begins to question his own. From there the book's all close misses at mutual love and happiness. Only at the end of the book, when the narration finally reaches a present-time setting, do the two arrive at the same place. 

[Spoiler: Unfortunately the book never explicitly states that Petey and Danny ride off into the sunset together, but the book leaves the reader with such abiding hope that you could paint their lives after the book ends as vividly as if the story continued.]

Disclaimer: none