Weekly reads round-up 12th June

Following on from last Wednesday’s update, it looks like this is going to be a regular feature along with my Weekly Watch posts. So many blogs post individual reviews of episodes, shows or books that I wouldn’t be adding much in the way of new content by doing the same, and sometimes I don’t always have a ton of stuff to say about an episode or book, so for now I like this weekly round-up format.

I did manage to read a little of volume 2 of ‘Escape Journey’, which you may remember from last week’s post. Naoto and Taichi are nearing the end of their time in university by the second volume, and have been a couple since the events of the previous book. They’re not ‘out’ to many people, but they seem happy together. So of course there has to be some disruption to the relationship.

Longer-running BL stories do seem to follow the same story format, which I get a little tired of, particularly the way the first challenge to the central relationship always comes from a third guy who wants to steal away one of the leads for himself. In this case, the mysterious new man is Nishina, an art student who claims to have no romantic or sexual interest in Naoto but is instead blackmailing him into posing for his artwork, threatening to release photos of him and Taichi. Flashbacks show Nishina may be mourning for a relationship himself, and he certainly seems down on the idea of two men having a loving relationship – one scene shows him questioning whether Naoto really plans to stay with Taichi forever or whether he’ll realise he prefers girls after all.

Taichi also faces a meeting with his estranged mother, and takes Naoto along to introduce him as his lover, something I actually don’t think I’ve seen done in BL. I much prefer when stories take unexpected or unused routes – while a ‘coming out to family’ plot would feel overdone in western media, it’s rare enough in manga that I’m happy to see how it plays out. It also reinforces the challenge that Naoto and Taichi face as a couple – they want to marry and have a family but feel that Japanese society simply doesn’t allow for that. I do like it when long-running romance stories allow their couples to face external challenges together rather than have all the drama come from romantic or sexual threats to the relationship.

Both characters here really feel well-rounded, and although Naoto can be a dumbass at times and Taichi can be emotionally distant, the manga is sufficiently well written that you root for them because of their flaws rather than in spite of them. Even allowing us to see Nishina’s backstory makes him more of a sympathetic antagonist rather than a full-on villain.

I picked up another manga from BL publishers SuBLime this week. ‘Candy Color Paradox’ focuses on older characters; Onoe and Kaburagi, journalists for a tabloid publication. Onoe is forced to work on an investigation with Kaburagi, putting him in an awkward position as his girlfriend recently broke up with him after confessing her feelings for Kaburagi. The two men are required to work in close contact for a while, on stake-outs and undercover jobs, for some big news stories. Over time, Onoe comes to realise that, while Kaburagi has a knack for lying and is very generous with his attention when working with women, he hides a jaded ennui when it comes to his work, and a noble compassion for his co-workers, especially Onoe whom he admires for his integrity.

It’s interesting to read a BL in which neither character is in lust with the other. Instead, the romance, such as it is, develops from feelings of admiration and intrigue; Kaburagi has a natural charisma that Onoe feels drawn to, while Onoe has a reputation for honesty that Kaburagi feels he himself has lost due to the seedy nature of his work.

Onoe isn’t exactly a likeable protagonist – he holds on to his dislike for Kaburagi for an annoyingly long time, refusing to talk about why he hates working with him. Even after Kaburagi’s more compassionate nature is revealed, Onoe still insists on keeping him at a distance. There’s also an unexpected POV shift in chapter three, which allows us to see why Kaburagi is interested in Onoe who, frankly, has been as much of a jerk as Kaburagi has in the first two chapters. Foe-yay rarely makes sense to me, and at times it was tough for me to understand why these two characters had been paired up at all. Even after they’ve actually slept together, they still don’t seem as if they’re enjoying each other’s company very much.

I was tempted to read the second volume just to see if they actually start to show some affection towards each other, but since the synopsis reads, “Kaburagi and Onoe still bicker constantly, but at the end of the day they’re firmly in love,” I don’t think I’ll bother. How do people who “bicker constantly” manage to love each other? I don’t know where this trope comes from but it’s something I’ve seen before in BL. I’m not sure if it comes from the belief that grown men can’t be affectionate with each other, or if it’s lifted from a lot of straight romance stories about bickering married couples. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Give me stories about men who can be honest about their love, who make romantic gestures and show affection toward their partners. Foe-yay worries me.

Luckily, I have been reading older-men-in-love content this week, which I’m more than happy to recommend. Aero Zero, creator of ‘Men+Monsters’, has kindly shared some of their work with me:

AERO ZERO is an ace non-binary comic artist and professional colorist who has made many NSFW consensual M/M bara fantasy erotica comics and worked alongside industry professionals since 2012. Aero’s art has been featured in many professional comics, anthologies, and other works.

They currently draw/write ACE OF BEASTS and MEN+MONSTERS among many other comic projects, while running their comic sites MEN PLUS MONSTERS & BARA COMICS, as well as the MEN PLUS MONSTERS shop. Their comics and art have gained critical acclaim from thousands of readers around the globe.

‘Knight of Alanoc’ runs on a similar premise to ‘Candy Color Paradox’ (albeit in a fantasy world), with two reluctant colleagues who develop feelings for each other as they work together. But it’s done in a much more enjoyable way, with no toxic masculinity to work around, and no dub-con or awkwardness of any kind. For a manga reader like me, it’s a rare treat to read something with such vivid colours, and the artwork is lush, with as much emotion in a simple facial expression as in any of the dialogue.

You can buy print copies of Aero Zero’s work through the shop linked above, or I believe you can support them on Patreon to read their work online (follow the ‘Bara Club’ link on the main website). I decided to treat myself to a copy of ‘Men+Monsters’, which arrived in less than a week – I’m going to set some time aside to sit and read it so I can properly enjoy it – this isn’t one to throw in my bag to read on the bus!

Be aware that some of the content is NSFW (the online shop helpfully indicates which works are and aren’t SFW).

I have actually been looking for some SF or fantasy lit to read lately, in a bid to read stuff that isn’t comics or fanfiction. But honestly, it’s tough trying to find something that grabs my attention. I’m pre-planning for a short holiday next month, and as much as I’m looking forward to having entire days when I can do nothing except read and drink tea, I’m angsting over what I actually want to read. So feel free to send recommendations my way – I prefer older characters, and queer-friendly stories with diverse characters. Urban fantasy is a big yes; historical fantasy less so.

Next week’s read round-up is likely to include ‘Men+Monsters’. I haven’t read much in the way of fanfiction this week, largely because my commute to and from work is disrupted and that’s when I tend to read the most. So that’s a bummer.

If you’re a creator of a certain age (30+) or a creator of work that focuses on older characters, I’m keen to read and share your work – use the Contact link to send things my way, or find me on Twitter @oldanimefan.

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