Dining Bar Akira, Tomoko Yamashita, 2009, NetComics
I was sold on this title when I saw the cover. That backfires on me sometimes, yes, but sometimes you just know. Look at those grim, sour faces. The threat of violence in the angle of the frying pan and the smears of tomato. The hint of interest and promise of…
The drawing in this volume just blows me away. I love the style, just a little more realistic than the tall, tall, tall, skinny, skinny, skinny, inhumanly pretty boys. These characters are immediately identifiable as men, and the expressions – every shade of volatility, incredulity, and annoyance. The first page tells the whole story.
Torihara, a part-time worker at Akira’s restaurant, tells Akira he has feelings for him. Both of them are guarded and twitchy and petulant anyway, but Torihara’s news freaks Akira the hell out. This isn’t one of those stories where one party confesses his love and then waits, broken-hearted, until the other party realizes he’s really been in love along, and then everyone embraces as flower petals trail across a splash page. Torihara doesn’t expect Akira to take his declaration well, and he’s not so thrilled about the situation himself. But he’s really irritated about Akira’s reaction and takes every opportunity to show it.
There’s not much story or character development here, but the situation interests and pleases me. Also, I’m just a big fan in general of cranky. These characters are extremely ambivalent about their feelings for each other, and, you know, that happens, sometimes. Even though Torihara started the ball rolling, when he notices that Akira is starting to fall for him, it makes him uneasy. He thinks Akira is a mess and a drunk and kind of an idiot. We can all sympathize, I think. As for Akira – who is a mess and a drunk and definitely an idiot – he wants to be straight, and even if he didn’t, he wouldn’t want to get together with Torihara, who is much younger and also an employee. It is yaoi, though, so they’re doomed. They circle each other, they fight, they give into the sex, they can’t deal with any of the relationship stuff that isn’t sex, they fight, they finally work something out.
Did I mention that they fight? For fully 75% of the book. It’s pretty entertaining – the art, anyway. I’m not crazy about the translation – normally I don’t pay a lot of attention, but I kept getting the feeling that there were colloquialisms that weren’t quite coming across. You know, when the characters are arguing and there’s lots of banter and should-be witty repartee, and you find yourself saying “Huh?” a lot. Also, typos. Come on, people.
There are a couple of short side stories that are equally well-drawn, and also bitchy and adversarial, although nobody’s actually coming to blows. Ah, well. In the first one, “Foggy Scene,” the opening page once again tells you everything you need to know.
“I think my contacts are gonna fall out” really did it for me. The premise of this story is slightly twisted in a way I find endearing. Yatsue is a high school student who has is in love with his best friend, who isn’t interested, so he drowns his sorrows in a fling with an older man he meets at a club (and lie about his age to). Because every detail is incredibly realistic, said fling shows up at school the next day as the new teacher, Isai. Yatusue pursues the teacher, not because he’s in love with him, but because he can’t have his friend, and he wants someone to want him. I won’t ruin the ending for you – it’s interesting and ambiguous.
In the last story, “Riverside Moonlight” – it’s just a few pages, so more of a vignette, really – Minamida is freaking out because he’s just had a wet dream about an ugly guy he works with. Again, we’ve all been there. Actually, the guy doesn’t look bad – more of a bear than a troll. But Minamida obviously isn’t usually into bears. Just takes one, though.
I think it’s worth looking through this book just for the art. It made me stop, over and over, to analyze the nuances of expression after expression. And if you like your yaoi touchy, ill-tempered, and cross, with a twist of twisty, I think you’ll be into it. I was so enamored I ran straight to Amazon and ordered Black-Winged Love, Yamashita’s other manga that’s available in English. (Dining Bar Akira came out in August, and Black-Winged Love, October. Huh. Nothing useful to say about that – just, huh.) You might be hearing more about that later.