Kairi Shimotsuki, December 2009, Blu

The marketing copy says: “In a distant future, violence has savaged a wild wasteland. Kyo, the leader of a ruthless group known as Madness, has spent the last few years imprisoned in a church, with no memory of his true nature. Tenderly cared for by Izaya, a gentle and beautiful young priest, Kyo’s life has become a tranquil one – until the day the church is attacked by an old enemy… The back cover further promises us a futuristic yaoi adventure filled with brazen lust, tender love, and murderous rages!

How can you go wrong with that?

Sigh.

This title is a mess. Not even a hot mess – more the floor of my closet kind. There are some nice things down there, but is it worth it to dig through all the murky crap to ferret them out? We have a big negatory on that, amigo.

I blame everyone. I mean Shimotsuki and I mean Blu. We’ll start with the publisher and work our way back.

The printing sucks rocks. The art is heavily toned and is very dark and dense in places, meaning there’s a lot of ink on the page, and that’s a disaster with the pulpy, gray paper Blu uses. There just wasn’t ever going to be any way to get this kind of art to print clean on this kind of paper. But the problem seems to go beyond that; the screens are so clogged with ink that you can see patterns. Reversed type (white type on a black background) is difficult to read, and faces (etc.) look dirty and grainy.

The darkest areas blend together into one indecipherable mass. Seriously, what the hell is going on at the top of the page here?

This is making me squeeze my eyes shut and pinch the bridge of my nose in annoyance. It’s more than just production problems, though. The printing fiasco only emphasizes the fact that the art is overly busy and often fails to provide much of a hint about what’s going on in the story. Not only is this ugly, but I defy you to tell me what’s going on in this page.

There are many pages like this. I figured out more or less what happened in the first third of the book by mentally filling in the blanks. It’s not like it required a lot of ingenuity. A priest, Izaya, is sheltering the leader of a feared gang of killers – the Madness referred to in the title. Izaya is beautiful, effeminate, and pure. He believes the killer, Kyo, is really a gentle man. There’s also a sword named Sigfreid. (Sigh.) A member of Madness (I think) shows up to steal the sword, killing everyone in his way. Kyo shows his stuff and goes nuts, killing the interloper and getting his sword back. He announces he’s going to become a bounty hunter and takes the priest with him. The priest is apparently able to dampen Kyo’s berzerker streak. Whatever. Details are thin on the ground, and frankly, I don’t care. To be fair, there is a kicky bit of interpersonal heat in a couple of panels that imply Kyo doesn’t just want to jump Izaya’s bones (that’s stated clearly, no implication necessary) but might also love him. And that Izaya might, in his innocently ignorant, Mary Sunshine way, also love Kyo. After they embark on their adventures, Izaya keeps saying Kyo was a different person in captivity – which appears to be almost literally true. Kyo was sweet and gentle in prison, and he couldn’t remember his crimes; and after he escapes, he can’t remember what he was like before he got free. I’m sure I’m supposed to be intrigued by that, but not so much, it turns out.

But, to continue that impulse toward fairness, I should also note that there are a few scenes that almost make up for the rest. After the priest keeps Kyo from killing someone else, Kyo is overcome with lust and jumps Izaya, holding him down and kissing him. (Izaya suppresses Kyo’s berzerker rages, and there is apparently a sexual element to that. Which is potentially hot. In theory, anyway.) It was difficult to figure out what actually happened because of the drawing and printing problems, but you can get it from context. Kyo quickly brings Kzaya off, and our exceedingly innocent priest couldn’t be more surprised.

I have no idea what’s going on with the porn actress thing, but the main image made me snicker, in a “that’s kind of nasty but it surprised a chuckle out of me, sort of like Perez Hilton” sort of way. It’s immediately followed by another scene that’s supposed to be funny and possibly sexy and is actually just mildly stomach-churning, but I’m taking my wins where I can find them.

I just paused for some serious introspection, which I will spare you. (You’re welcome.) The main problem with Madness is that its reach exceeds its grasp. I think it’s going for a Saiyuki kind of sustained violence and jacked up level of constant interpersonal strife and irritation. Sadly, Shimotsuki’s skills aren’t up to it. The violence doesn’t work because you can’t really see what’s happening; the art just isn’t good enough. And the interpersonal strife doesn’t work because the storytelling doesn’t have the goods either, which means that the constant bickering among the characters isn’t amusing. It’s annoying. It’s all a big muddle, like someone left a cake out in the rain. There are some good bits, like the idea of the innocent priest being in love with the bloodthirsty, terrifying killer. Madness itself is a fun idea – a group of killers so wild and bloodthirsty everyone is terrified of them. That has some very sexy, badass possibilities. There’s also some mysterious gang hunting down Madness members. That could be interesting, too.

And then there’s Miyabi.

I had high hopes for Miyabi. She’s absurdly busty, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t read yaoi titles for the female lady women characters (that would be a loser’s game), but the possibility of having one who’s just a member of the team, just as deadly and sarcastic as the men, that’s appealing. And Miyabi has a secret – she supposedly killed Kyo. Which she obviously didn’t, since there he is. Not that I’d blame her if she had. But anyway, nobody knows why she supposedly did it. I assume all will be revealed in volume 2, but I’ll never know, since I won’t be getting volume 2.

There are some other characters, some other complications. Things happen. If I haven’t put you off this book yet, you should buy it, and then you’ll know. And if I have put you off it, the details don’t matter anyway, do they? I may be making excuses for myself, but seriously, I used up all my energy clawing my way to the end of this thing. And not in a good way.

And while we’re talking about buying or not buying, I’ll note that this is an expensive title – $14.99. I was attracted by the heft, though, and I’d rather pay a few dollars more and feel like I’m getting something. In general, I mean. I’ve seen some pretty skimpy titles lately at the old price of $10-$13, and this makes me frown. It’s ironic, though, that I would really have preferred that this particular title be shorter. I was pretty crabby by the time I finished it, and for a book about a theoretically hot, crabby, insane killer with multiple personality disorder or something, that is a sad state of affairs.

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