Akira Minazuki, June, 2011
“Can a buttoned-up professional hope to fend off a rogue romantic’s aggressive advances … or is the heat of playful passion too enticing to ignore?” I briefly pondered this breathless question, posed by the back cover, but was almost instantly drawn into an even deeper, more important question – to wit, why can’t I have purple hair too?
The back cover also promises that the book “features a feast of beautiful men fumbling and fighting as they do their best to resist true love!” I think the copywriter did an especially good job here. And how often do you think about the work of the copywriter? Books are often purchased or not based on the back or inside front cover, but does anyone ever pause to congratulate the nameless publishing wage slave on a job well done? No, they do not. (Not that I take this personally or anything.) Ahem. That minor distraction over, let us “sink [our] teeth into sweet, savory temptation!”
The first story, “We’re Eating In Today,” is the sort of thing I often find annoying, the “lower-level employee comes on too strong but eventually seduces senior employee anyway” trope. It loses some of its punch in the U.S., I think, since we don’t get exercised about organizational hierarchy in the same way. It makes the scenario less shocking. I also tend to find annoying behavior annoying. It helps that the junior employee, the manager of a chain restaurant – let’s call him Ted (his name is Iwakiri, but I can’t keep that in my head because I suck) – is really pretty sweet, despite proposing the moment he meets Norton (that’s Matsumoto, who is higher up on the corporate food chain because he’s from the parent company’s planning department) (if Iwakiri gets a random new name, it’s only fair that Matsumoto does, too). So, the insta-proposal thing is irritating, yes, along with the unsolicited ass grabbing, etc. It’s supposed to be funny and cute, and it isn’t, BUT.
As with so many things in life, you have to try to lighten up and go with these fine yaoi clichés, and if a creator can sell them to me, I’m willing to buy in. This story isn’t exactly substantial, but it has something, and somewhere in there, I started rooting for them to get together. Shy Norton is SO SHY. Sweet, pushy Ted is SO SWEET AND PUSHY. Norton comes to Ted for help with a work problem, and Ted couldn’t be more supportive. And they have sex in a restaurant booth. Using cream for lube. (You have to love that.) Then there’s a complication caused by Norton’s thinking he should never see Ted again (you can sort of see his point), and the complication is resolved, and they have sex. Norton couldn’t look more miserable as he tells Ted he loves him.
I won’t spoil it (although I was recently reading about a study indicating that people actually enjoy stories more after they know what’s going to happen, rather than enjoying them less), but here’s a damned cute little scene at the end, too – more riffing on the shy Norton is shy theme, and it is thoroughly charming.
All right, I’ll admit it. I don’t care about spoiling the damned scene. I’m just too lazy to describe it. All right? Are you happy now?
The second story, “A Flower Petal Falls from the Sky,” is the main event. It’s a quiet, beautiful little thing that is obviously based on folk tales about Yuki-onna, a ghostly woman who lives in the snow. My favorite depiction of her is the “Woman of the Snow” story in Kwaidan (a 1964 movie directed by directed by Masaki Kobayashi – it tells four Japanese ghost stories and it is the shit, people). The Yuki-onna figure in the manga is a man named Kirin (which we know is going to be significant, a kirin being a sacred beast, and lucky, too). Kirin is sly and mysterious, and slyly and mysteriously seductive. And Shinnosuki, the handsome young doctor he meets in a blizzard, is similarly mysterious. And hot. He’s the bishonen Clint Eastwood, to painfully mix our cinematic metaphors (and what else are we here for, after all?). We know this is the case a) because of the way he’s drawn, b) because he turns down Kirin, and c) because he’s so cool about it.
Kirin is impressed, too, looking speculatively at Clint’s mysterious and attractive back and thinking, “There haven’t been many people who’ve rejected me.” A few pages later, after a few manly acts of kindness on Clint’s part, Kirin gazes off into the mid-distance and thinks, “I want this man’s life.” Then he fills us in on his back story, which doesn’t take long, since all he can remember is wandering in the snow and “a nothingness like hunger.” He steals life from others “to make up for something I lack.” But all these souls only satisfy him for a moment, and he has to take another one. Like me and – well, any number of snack foods, really. Anyway, this kicks ass as a romantic setup, as far as I’m concerned.
Kirin finally wears Clint down and achieves rolling around on the floor status, but he decides not to kill Clint because “I want to be touched more,” which Kirin clearly finds fascinating. Then every time he thinks about Clint, he starts to melt. This is perhaps heavy handed, but I’m willing to overlook it in the heat of the moment. There’s a lot more story after this, but basically, we all know what happens. They fall in love and Kirin becomes real. I enjoyed getting there, though.
The last story, “Love at Your Fingertips,” is about a shy apprentice sculptor who gets to work with his reclusive mentor, who likes to touch things. Because, you know. He’s a sculptor. There’s a slightly weird flirtation that ultimately flings them into each other’s arms (and, subsequently, onto the floor, as well). Also nice.
I love the art in this manga. Minazuki has a distinctive style and reliable draftsmanship, bless her heart. It’s a luxury not to have to worry about strange distortions in every other panel. She has another manga recently published in English, This Night’s Everything, which is next on my to-read pile. There’s an assassin, and I love me an assassin.