Future Lovers, Saika Kunieda, 2008, Deux Press
Cover: Do not like. Everything else: Love, love, love.
I guess I could stop right there and call it a day, but that would be lazy. Even I see that. And despite lazy being my middle name (Kinu L. Kitty, as it says on my driver’s license), this two-volume series deserves better and, by God, I resolve to rise to the occasion. Or at least say something remotely coherent.
(brief pause as I contemplate the existential implications of the endless whirring of the blades of the ceiling fan)
This one does everything right. Except the cover. The art is good, and the faces are so expressive, I was done in by that alone. The stories are well told, kind of silly and harebrained and a wee bit angsty for spice, and utterly romantic in a big, goofy grin-inducing way that is the hallmark of really fine yaoi. This leads us to the third item on the checklist, the sex. Which can be fine, glorious, even, as long as the art is good – the story itself doesn’t have to be there for the sex to work. But when it all comes together, you have something that makes you stop and stare, thinking about what you’re reading and appreciating what you’re seeing, something that makes you reorganize your brain a little bit to make room for something you’ve learned about life. You want to read it again before you’ve finished it the first time. That was kind of sentimental, wasn’t it? Sigh. That’s the thing about falling in love. Ask REO Speedwagon.
The characters in the first story just got me. There’s a complicated, sly, sexy uke (who is small and blond and gay) and a big, uncomplicated lug of a formerly straight seme. (Let’s call them Akira and Kento, since those are their names.) There are angry grandparents. There are hilarious screwball comedy complications, and there is the word chorkle. There is romance and very, very hot sex.
I went back over some of the sex scenes several times and stared at them for minutes a shot, trying to figure out why they work so well. So I could tell you about it. The things I’m willing to do for you guys, huh? Here’s what I came up with, as it were. The drawing is deftly done. Skillful and clever about the details it reveals, whether that’s Akira’s flushed, upturned face (cliched? yes – but a favorite for a reason, in the hands of a good mangaka), or Kento’s hand clutching desperately at Akira’s hair after they fall into bed.
The story is filled with revealing touches. The facial expressions are priceless, constantly and fluidly shifting along every nuance of surprise, horror, jealousy, desire, and love. The reactions are played broadly for a sort of zany sitcom feel – sort of like “Three’s Company,” if “Three’s Company” had been any good.
(Spoilers ahead.) The characterizations are also rich. Akira tells Kento that he was only attracted to him because Kento looks like his lover who died three years ago. And then they run into said lover, with his terrifying wife and three kids. Not dead at all. And he looks like a doofus. Akira also does little things to spite Kento’s much-loved grandparents, and he’s moody and kind of bitchy, but also pretty sweet, sometimes. Sort of like a real person. And Kento is believably kind of a well-intentioned but emotionally clumsy guy’s guy who is, at the beginning of the story, firmly stuck in a self-centered and juvenile worldview. And they fall in love and make each other better people. It’s funny and exaggerated, but the real power is in how real Kunieda makes these characters.
The second story, “Winter Rabbit,” isn’t as good as “Future Lovers.” It’s shorter and less well developed. The drawing isn’t as good. It’s more hackneyed, and the characters don’t feel as well thought out. It isn’t a washout, though. The characters don’t do exactly what you expect them to, and the well-worn finish – the two characters get together at the end and promise to live happily ever after – plays a little less trite and a little more kinky to me because the couple in question were raised as brothers. (That’s a fairly common yaoi plot device and I don’t think it’s meant to seem as odd as I find it.) Also, the snow rabbit – that is quality cuteness.
The author’s notes at the end of Volume 1 deserve a shout-out, too. These are the best author’s notes I have ever read. She discusses men’s underwear and asks why in the 21st century would a man wear white briefs, and then goes on to discuss what kinds of underwear her characters would wear. This is all illustrated, by the way. Then she moves on to a meditation about men’s body hair: “Characters that I think would have underarm hair, leg hair and chest hair really trouble me.”