Lovers and Souls
Kano Miyamoto, Deux Press, 2008
This is one of those mangas. I read it just last week – late last week, even – and I felt all happy and a little swoony about it, especially the main story (out of five; the other four are pretty short). Pretty art, complex emotional whatsit, ambiguous sexuality, casual prostitution, and a good amount of”explicit content,” as promised on the cover. Yes! Houston, we have a winner! And a week later, I still love the main story. I might still love the secondary stories as well, but I can’t remember them.
This is an interesting phenomenon (interesting to me, anyway). I read a lot of yaoi. A lot, a lot. And my memory is not – well, it’s really not very good, that’s true, but I do manage to stumble along and get to work and back and pay the bills on time. Usually. What I’m trying to establish here is that I’m not significantly impaired. The only reason this matters, as far as this column goes, is that I don’t have the slightest idea what’s in the stories between pages 113 and 238. And if I do not suffer from significant mental impairment, this might mean that there’s not much there there. Lord knows it happens.
We’ll table that logical leap for a moment and discuss the main story, the part between pages 1 and 112 that I do in fact recall. It’s a melancholy little thing with a surprising and, I thought, absurdly melodramatic ending, even for melodrama. Now, I know melodrama is supposed to be a dirty word, but I’m a fan. I’m not dismissing anything because it contains a hefty dose of melodrama, or even an excess, necessarily. I’m just saying. It’s really a stubbornly emo ending. I thought it was maybe a bit much, but it worked in context, and there was a point to the out of nowhere-ness, so I can live with it.
“What the hell happens?” I hear you asking. I’m not going to say, because the element of surprise is really important. I don’t mind spilling about the rest of the plot, though. Shinomiya is hot and aimless and earning money for college by posing nude for Matsuoka, a photographer. Matsuoka wants Shinomiya, who says he’s straight, but – maybe not so much, since all it takes is some extra cash. After he tries it once, Shinomiya gets pretty comfortable with both gay sex and Matsuoka, eventually working in a gay sex club. (As one does.) The story is about their relationship and how it develops.
This isn’t the kind of story where flowers explode all over the page. It’s quiet and subdued and sort of grim. The character development is believable, if kind of strange. The photographer, Matsuoka, seems like a complete dick at first, apologizing to the obviously offended Shinomiya about “that incident” and asking what it’ll take to get him in bed. He stuffs $100 down Matsuoka’s pants and forces a kiss on him, offering him money for more and telling Matsuoka to think about it before he has to force him. Nice. The next time we see them together, Shinomiya is taking pictures of Matsuoka and seems much nicer. He does offer Matsuoka money for sex, but he seems a lot less predatory about it, and Shinomiya accepts, saying he’s kind of interested in Matsuoka. Earlier, Shinomiya had been musing to himself that he isn’t especially interested in other people, and he doesn’t much care what happens with his body. Over the course of the story, the disinterested part changes. It doesn’t happen smoothly, and neither party exactly understands it, but Shinomiya starts to fall for Matsuoka. And Matsuoka shows a surprising amount of gentleness and insight, given his opening scenes.
Well, it ends badly. I feel OK saying that much, since the back cover announces that this is “a tragic tale of love found and lost.” The story is a little sordid, a little vague, and, dare I say, bittersweet. I wouldn’t say it feels realistic, but it has a ring of truth about it that I responded to. It had enough presence to keep me thinking about it, days later.
So, let’s go back to the other stories, the ones I apparently stopped thinking about instantaneously. If I ever thought about them in the first place. Let us look over them, you and I, and retrace what happened.
Story two, “Vanity,” is about Shinomiya’s response to the unfortunate events wot I do not explain. It’s good – in some ways, maybe better than the main story. Shinomiya is depressed and confused and desperate, and his reactions are believable and even sexy, which is a deft trick. This story really illustrates how complicated and fragile and coincidental and harrowing relationships with other people can be. OK; I hadn’t forgotten his one. I just thought it was part of the first story.
Next: “Sleeping Beauty.” This one is the backstory for a something fleetingly mentioned in “Lovers and Souls,” that Matsuoka had taken a picture of Shinomiya and entered it in a contest, all without Shinomiya’s knowledge, much less permission. That detail, tossed out at the very beginning of the manga, had made me wonder about Matsuoka. That and the non-con and the $100 kiss. These points, taken together, made him look, well, kind of sleazy. You know, just a little. But he turns out to be very different. This little story gives us just a bit of insight into this blessedly complicated character, and, oh yeah, the ending is super-sweet. I forgot it because it almost isn’t there – only eleven pages. But, in retrospect, they’re a nice eleven pages.
Story four: “Eternal Moon.” It’s a nice little story, too, sparse and real. Long enough to develop the characters of two friends who fall in love. It doesn’t play as trite as it sounds. I would have enjoyed this more the first time I read it (and thus possibly remembered having read it) if I hadn’t spent a certain amount of my limited mental abilities wondering if Kai was the character from the first two stories, who I remembered only as bi-guy (and this is where I admit, to my shame, that certain Japanese names just slide off my brain as if it were coated with Teflon). What the hell was that guy’s name? Oh, Hikaru. Well, he isn’t. May you all learn from my stupidity. (Also, a bonus: Toward the end, Kai – not Hikaru at all – wears his hair in that half-updo thing I’m so excited about. Woo hoo!)
Story the last: “Tomorrow’s Sky.” This one is about the characters in “Eternal Moon.” (Hey, there’s a theme there! Eternal moon, tomorrow’s sky – yup, definitely a theme. You can’t fool me.) It’s told from the point of view of Nozaki, the other half of the couple. Public affection is offered and fidgeted about, a fight is fought, insecurities are aired, and understanding is fumbled toward. It’s short and not necessarily substantial, this story, but it is quietly gentle, the kind of story that leaves you with a smile. Which you should savor, since in about thirty minutes, you’ll have no memory of this moment. If you’re like me, anyway.
I love Kano Miyamoto’s art, the pacing of her stories, and her over-arching lack of desire to create plot. She is able to convey wonderful subtleties of expression and nuances of emotion without a lot of movement. And that may have something to do with my lapse of memory, too. The more plot you have, the easier it is to remember the details. But those aren’t the kind of details this manga is concerned with. I was left with an understanding of the characters, a feeling for them, and the ways they experienced love. (Which did include explicit sex scenes, by the way, involving invisible penises – well, you can’t have everything.) So, good enough. I’ll put this one on the keeper stack and probably read it again, one day. The whole thing will no doubt be brand new to me, by then. And I’ll enjoy it just as much the second time. (Cue “Feels Like the First Time as background/fadeout music.)