*This article is an English translation of an article from Good Life with Books ‘BL Kotohajime’.
A wanderer and a village doctor woven into a world straight out of an Ukiyo-e print
Written by Masatoshi Inoue
With the start of a new era, more and more people are paying attention to Japan’s long history, stretching back to ancient times. So, when I received this issue’s theme, “Trendy Boys’ Love manga with a Japanese aesthetic,” I had to stop myself from shouting, “I’ve been waiting for this!” I can’t wait to share some of my favorite titles with all of you.
This first one is Hidebu Takahashi’s first BL manga, Yuki and Matsu (Home-Sha / Shueisha). The first time I saw the cover, it made such an impression that it was burned into my memory in an instant. The art style is pure Japanese Ukiyo-e, and the depictions of the two characters evoke strength and gentleness along with a sense of impermanence. From the moment I saw them on the cover, I found myself intensely curious about their story (in other words, it was love at first sight).
There are two main protagonists in this story: a wandering ex-yakuza member, and Shoan, a conscientious village doctor who decides to save the former after finding him collapsed and bloodied in the snow. The two of them sleep together out of a shared longing, after which Shoan takes in the drifter, who he names “Yuki,” and they start living together. At first, Shoan’s devotion to Yuki seems a bit one-sided, but as the story progresses, the two of them uncover each other’s pasts and grow closer, falling so deeply in love that each finds the other truly irreplaceable.
One of the highlights of this work is the incredible artistry with which the two characters are depicted in each and every panel. Their emotional experiences throughout the manga show in their eyes with such intensity that the story is sure to draw you in before you know it.
On the other hand, the glamorous depiction of the characters contrasts with the deep and profound emotional nature of the story, providing an interesting counterpoint. Their child-like innocence and vulnerability are sure to tug at your heartstrings.
Yuki and Shoan both bear the burden of complicated pasts, but whenever you see their innocent smiles, you can’t help but feel their joy and love!
This work also evokes mysterious feelings, like it’s reminding you of something truly important. By all means, please check it out and experience this delightful manga for yourself!
Sigh at the beauty of entangled bodies and feel your heart warm up as ill-fated love is saved
Written by Fudansy
Japan’s new era is definitely a cause for celebration! The environment around BL manga changed dramatically during the Heisei period (1989-2019), and the genre has become more visible in various media! I can’t wait to see what kind of interesting new works will be published in the new Reiwa period! Since the theme this time is BL manga with a Japanese aesthetic, I chose this to share Yuichi Okadaya’s Sen series (Hakusensha) with all of you.
My first thought after finishing this one was, “I think this might be the first time I’ve ever read a BL manga so intently.” The world in the manga is depicted with incredible depth and detail, the story really resonates, and the characters are extraordinarily vivid. I think Sen goes beyond the realm of BL and is a work that even people who aren’t fans of the genre can enjoy.
This manga is set in a fictitious Japan with an atmosphere much like that of the Edo period (1603-1868). The story begins when Kusanagi, a master swordsman serving as the bodyguard for a princess being married off to the neighboring country, meets Sensai, a mysterious blind man dispatched from said neighboring country. After completing his mission, Kusanagi intended to return to his home country and settle down as an instructor in swordsmanship. But when he learns the truth about the princess’s marriage from Sensai, the two of them are set off on a long journey instead.
The story’s is the two characters traveling to various locations, progressing in distinct, episodic vignettes each chapter. They meet a variety of characters on their travels, including troupes of entertainers, long-nosed goblins, and painters. All of them are struggling through difficult situations, with heartbreaking attachment to the ones they love. If that was the extent of the story, the manga would just be a collection of heartbreaking stories, but Sensai is the core element that changes everything. He possesses a supernatural ability which allows him to grant t individuals with regrets or strong desires their wishes in exchange for their souls. The way he uses this mysterious power to punish evildoers and help the unrequited desires of others bear fruit makes for a story with a distinct sense of good and evil, which is refreshing (LOL) to read. You’ll also feel a sense of relief at the way each story of love overcomes its ill fate. Personally, my favorite story was the one about the sumo wrestler and the painter.
One of the most appealing aspects of this manga is the characters that appear in it, including the main protagonists. Sensai occasionally speaks in an elegant Kyoto dialect, and his character has abundant romantic elements, one such example being the tattoo that is visible on his back when he devours a soul. Kusanagi has a rugged appearance, but he’s sophisticated, manly, and has the unyielding spirit of a samurai, making him one incredibly cool character! The people the protagonists meet in each story are also all distinctive in their own ways, and the characterization is so rich they all come across as truly human. In addition, this work also features the same beautiful depiction of muscularity that Okadaya demonstrated in The Man of Tango (Ohzora Publishing)! Although this manga doesn’t emphasize love scenes, whenever they did pop up, I couldn’t help but sigh at the beauty of rippling muscles intertwining!
If you’re looking for a profound and moving story for a rainy day, by all means, check out this manga. As the series is still ongoing, I’m sure the two protagonists are off traveling and saving someone new as we speak. I look forward to the day I can see where they go next.
Fantasy horror in the Showa period (1926-1989) depicting the darkness in people’s hearts
Written by Kifujin
Our first curation theme for the new era is “Japanese aesthetic.” As such, I’d like to introduce Ichiko Ima’s Gengetsuro Kitan (Tokuma Shoten).
Set near the very beginning of the Showa period, tells the story of Shoichiro Tsurugi, the young proprietor of a well-established premium miso store, who is taken to a teahouse in Yoshiwara called Gengetsuro. At the teahouse, he meets an unusual “taikomochi” (a type of entertainer in this time period) named Yosaburo, who supposedly doesn’t do well in traditional performing arts but tells amazing ghost stories. Shoichiro takes an interest in him.
Starting from the funeral of the protagonist’s father, a series of suspicious incidents occur one after another. There are rumors that these things are happening due to the previous shop owner’s father being concerned about Shoichiro’s ability to handle said shop and thus being unable to move into the afterlife.
In reality, the relatives of the previous owner tried to take advantage of his accidental death and were plotting to place their own son in charge. As a result, both Shoichiro and Yosaburo end up becoming targets for murder.
This is a fantasy horror story set in the early Showa period. In the end, the horrors were caused by the human heart, rather than curses or ghosts; the miso store’s successor-related issues were caused by humans, after all. Not to mention, Yosaburo, who is said to be an artless taikomochi, has numerous sword cuts all over his body, which were also caused by the human heart.
Ichiko Ima uses her incredible artistic ability to depict this darkness of the human heart in a beautiful way. Since this is a horror story, there’s plenty of blood, and numerous pages of skeletons and bleached bones as well. But the art throughout is breathtaking.
I’ve seen the original prints, and the level of detail is simply incredible. The drawings have a rough look to them, but when you take a closer look, the detail is immaculate. This incredible artistry is what makes this fantasy horror manga so special!
Personally, the one thing I found to be slightly unfortunate was that there weren’t a lot of BL elements to it. Shoichiro flirts with Yosaburo, but Yosaburo frantically dodges his advances, so it takes a long time for the relationship to progress. Actually, the way they inadvertently form a bond and develop affection for each other over time makes this more of a modest and platonic BL manga in my opinion.
The work itself focuses more on fantasy horror than BL themes, with the relationship between the two main characters simply adding color to the story.
If you’re a fan of Kyoka Izumi’s works, this may be right up your alley. The first 5 volumes are currently on sale.
Translated by Lapin, inc. Edited by Suika.
About The Asahi’s Shimbun’s “Good Life with Books ‘BL Kotohajime'”
A monthly column that introduces and recommends BL books from a variety of perspectives for those who want to learn and read about the world of BL. The BL staff at the hybrid general bookstore “honto” (https://honto.jp/) brings their recommendations with a full range of characteristics.
Good Life with Books ‘BL Kotohajime’
First Year of the New Reiwa Period! Three Popular Boys’ Love Manga with a Japanese Aesthetic
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