Foreign Love Affair, Ayano Yamane, 2008, 801 Media
I read this book because it fell out of my closet yesterday. Which is not especially surprising in my home and is also apt re. the plot. Synchronicity and all that, right? You go searching for a sweater because geez, it’s damned cold all of a sudden, and an awesome bit of yaoi literally hits you in the head.
The first thing I noticed, after the fact that it was kind of heavy and pointy – it really did hit me in the head – was that it’s really, really pretty. I ignored any concerns about physical injury and took a few moments to coo over the cover. Pretty! The scan doesn’t do it justice, because the background is a beautiful metallic purple that really shows off the delicate (yet huge and looming) pink flowers. Also the pretty boy in the open kimono and fundoshi. I was really quite taken with the pretty boy in the open kimono and fundoshi. I do not actually have a thing for fundoshis, myself – a bit the opposite, actually, as they usually strike me as sort of alarmingly diaper-like – but I’m making an exception in this case.
The second thing I notice was that this book is by Ayamo Yamane. Holy shit! I love Ayamo Yamane. I love her Target in the Finder series. And Crimson Spell. Why the hell was this book stashed away in my closet? Probably because of the fundoshi. Occasionally people enter the lair of the Kinukitty, and occasionally I do put forth some effort to make the stacks of porn less obvious. A lot of yaoi covers are pretty innocuous – they don’t trumpet “Woo hoo! Get it on!” I don’t worry about those titles; if someone actually picks the thing up and starts reading it, that’s his or her decision. I’m not into telling other people what to do. But this book cover doesn’t leave much to the imagination, does it? So, in meeting my code of trying not to offend or squick people out by accident, I must have tossed it into the closet and instantly forgotten about it (as I am wont to do).
Well, thank God the weather changed. This title is fucking awesome. (Heh. Fucking awesome. That’s a little joke.) (OK, very little. But I’m trying. I have a head injury, OK?) Having found a sweater, I sat right down and started reading. And here lies pretty much my only real complaint about this book (the impact mark on my forehead not being its fault). It is very small. Dense, heavy, and pointy, as I mentioned – nice, heavy paper – but small (7-1/4 x 5-1/8 inches – compare that with 8-1/4 x 6 inches for June and 7-3/4 x 5 for Deux). This should probably be embarrassing for me, but I will share it with you anyway: I couldn’t read the type. I had to take off my glasses, squint, and hold the pages kind of close to my face. I am middle-aged, yes, but I can read Deux titles just fine. It’s like that extra inch that Victoria Beckham tells us makes all the difference, but in this case, it’s the extra half inch. I don’t read a lot of 801 Media titles, and I’m not going to if they can’t size up a bit. Unless it’s Ayano Yamane.
Anyway. A Foreign Love Affair starts off with a bang. Ranmaru is a bratty – or perhaps actually obnoxious – newlywed on an Italian cruise. He’s a little bit fierce, a little bit dim – and so, so pretty. Ranmaru, we are informed in a little panel, is third underboss of the Ohmi clan. Three pages in, he’s fighting with his new wife, who hates him (and likewise, apparently) and kicks him out. On page four, he’s having a drink at the bar, hanging out of his kimono fetchingly.
On page five, he’s being saved from an altercation by our other hero, Al Valentiano. Al, you will notice, is named Al, while Ranmaru is named Ranmaru. Which is a typical pretty-boy name. Al is also about a head taller and definitely not hanging out of his kimono, in case you needed any further clues as to who will be the uke and who will be the seme.
After really an impressive amount of distractingly hanging out of his kimono in just a few pages, Ranmaru is divested of his robe and exotic undies on page 13 in a fast and furious scene that involves a certain amount of homo-virginal hesitation and lots of sweating and flushed cheeks and abandoned splaying and stuff. It’s all over in 16 pages, and that’s just the introduction. Good grief, the story hasn’t even started yet!
Once the official main story gets underway, we find out more about Ranmaru. He’s really pretty appealing. In addition to being so, so pretty. Which he is. Good grief, it’s egregious, how pretty he his. He’s also old-school yakuza, we’re told (which would seem to involve an untenable contortion in meaning of both “old-school” and “yakuza,” much less both together), and he’s really a ball of contradictions. He’s stereotypically manly in a proud and unromantic way, completely unafraid and confrontational and not reomtely in touch with his emotions. At the same time, he’s, ZOMG (as they say), SO PRETTY. Also kind of delicate, and clueless in a way that keeps leading to Al swooping in and rescuing him. And then debauching him. It’s really well-done debauching, too. I give it four stars.
Embarking on a tour of Italy immediately after the cruise – with his lovely bride and their thuggish entourage – Ranmaru promptly gets left behind at a winery and follows the bus, planning to walk 200 kilometers to Rome. He gets a ride from some dubious-looking Euro-trash, completely oblivious to any danger, but Al, wearing a highly improbably suit, even in the context of a completely ridiculous plot such as this, swoops in the saves him, taking Ranmaru back to his palatial villa. And debauches him. The Euro-thugs later kidnap Ranmaru, in a plot twist even more improbable than Al’s suit, and Al swoops in to save him again (in a helicopter, for which he gets bonus points) – although Ranmaru does get sort of raped. Sort of. You know how it is. Anyway, eventually, Al takes Ranmaru in his arms, whispers reassurances and endearments, and debauches him. By the way, everyone involved – Al, the Euro-thugs, the Euro-bosses – has a Japanese fetish. Ah – that’s the reason for the kimono and fundoshi. If this weren’t by a Japanese artist, I’d be disturbed about the ethnic stereotyping, but she’s obviously in on the joke, so good on her.
Half to a third of the book is taken up by two side stories. I’m always disappointed when the main story is so short, but Yamane made me enjoy the sides despite being a little disgruntled. There’s a little side story about young Ranmaru (in which it is revealed that Al’s assumption back in the introduction that Ranmaru had never been with a man was in fact erroneous). And there’s a much longer story that I was all set not to like because it wasn’t about Al and Ranmaru, and they had been so much fun. But this last side story starts out with the lines, “What lovely weather. I wonder if the lactic acid bacilli are all right…?”
We are not treading in untested waters here. The main character is pondering the bacilli while interviewing a marriage candidate his mother has sent over. He picks up the phone and tells his mother the interview thing isn’t working, and as he talks to her, he feeds a rat with a syringe. Within one page, we understand that Takaoka is a scientist and a workaholic and maybe not really interested in women. OK, perhaps that last bit was a foregone conclusion, but still, nicely done, Yamane. It’s good storytelling. Takaoka’s mother sends him to a meeting with a matchmaker (Serizawa), who sends him to a mixer. One thing leads to another, and Takaoka accidently gets Tabasco sauce in Serizawa’s eyes. Who hasn’t had that happen? The episode makes Takaoka realize he cares about Serizawa, and a bit later, when he runs into a drunk Serizawa one night, he takes him home, and – well, you know. I know you do. It’s all very pretty and romantic, although not quite as pretty and romantic and sort of batshit crazy as the main story.
So, there it is. I read huge amounts of yaoi, and most of it makes me smile a little bit, or makes me kind of wish I hadn’t shelled out $10-$15 for that. Or really wish I hadn’t. But A Foreign Love Affair delivers on the promise of yaoi – it’s crazy and sweet and romantic and pretty, pretty, pretty (albeit heavy and pointy and small of type). Embrace the fundoshi!
(If you want to buy this book, don’t go to Amazon. They list only used copies for $40+. The book is still for sale at the 801 Web site, here.)