Shinano Oumi, 2011, June

There are many – well, a couple of – things going on in Yakuza Café by Shinano Oumi. What I initially seized upon was that the Fuijisaki Clan Café, staffed by hulking former yakuza, serves nasty tea that stinks.

This book really resonated with me today because I had one of the worst cups of tea ever, this morning. I’m one of those possibly overly detail-oriented people who cares a lot about tea. I used to bring my own tea bags with me on trips because Lipton makes me frown. (I insist that this isn’t as annoying as carrying my own bottle of maple syrup, as someone I know does.) I haven’t carried for a long time, though, either because America is finally figuring out about tea or I’m just frequenting classier joints as I rake in the big bucks as a non-profit cog. It would be hard to say without conducting a study. Anyway, I went to one of my favorite places for breakfast this morning and noticed they were proudly advertising their new line of tea, which they proclaimed “tastes like couture.” I was somewhat skeptical because, while I’ve never in fact tasted couture, I did taste my flannel shirt this morning when it got sort of stuck in my mouth as I was trying to pull it on (pre-buttoned, obviously, because all that buttoning and unbuttoning stuff is fairly strenuous, and who has the time?), and it was pretty bland.

I attend a certain number of meetings and conferences for work, and the hotels and conference centers usually have fine tea. It’s often Tazo. I wonder why that is? I mean, Tzao is fine, but “the reincarnation of tea” (it is “blessed by a certified tea shaman” – and here I picture a filthy bicycle messenger who moved to Sante Fe to chase his or her bliss and became a healer of other former filthy bicycle messengers) always seems slightly incongruous in the bowels of a huge convention center, among busy go-getters walking and Blackberrying and/or iPadding at the same time and, occasionally, colliding into other Blackberrying and/or iPadding go-getters, which always makes me smile, for my heart is dark and twisted – or perhaps “matted” is a better word. I guess the Tazo marketing people have it going on, perhaps because Tazo is a division of Starbucks. Anyway, my question is why, with all the options available, a convention center can provide perfectly acceptable tea, while a restaurant – any restaurant – would serve tea that’s bland and lifeless but also sort of tastes like dishwater. And, apparently, couture.

When I got home, I thought I’d salvage the morning with a rollicking bit of absurdist manporn (well, first I took a long relaxing bath while I listened to Car Talk – I have delicate nerves). (Actually, first, I made myself a decent cup of tea. It was Metropolitan Monk’s Blend, although I considered a nice, plain-talking English breakfast, to cleanse the palate, or perhaps a good Earl Grey, in the spirit of getting back on the horse wot threw me and all that.) (And then I did some laundry; I keep forgetting, but it was on my mind today, possibly because of all this talk about clothing.) At some point in the day, at any rate, I sat down with Yakuza Café and a righteous expectation of some weird, funny, and lascivious escapism. (I obviously use “righteous” in the sense of “righteous weed, dude,” rather than its actual definition.)

I love yakuza yaoi. It’s one of the many tropes that never gets old for me. I especially like the really silly stuff, good-natured and sweet as a puff of cotton candy. I love the ridiculous plots about huge, disciplined tough guys falling for some adorable, smiley little fruit loop and behaving against character for the rest of the story. This one, for instance, is full of gangsters who cry at the drop of a hat. Copious, Ranma-style gushing tears. It’s just funny, sort of in a Benny Hill way. And there’s more of the fish-out-of-water humor with the café itself, which looks like the waiting area in an ad agency or something. Possibly a funeral home, since there’s calligraphy on the wall that reads “Mortality.” And, of course, the unfortunate tea.

There were a couple of sour notes, initially. It became clear almost immediately that this was going to be one of those “older man falls for true love when true love is a small child” things, which creeps me the hell out. It’s a common trope, but one I never get used to. Kind of a “you say romantic, I say someone call DCFS” kind of thing. Also, there’s the first sex scene. The little fruit loop touches the dragon tattoo covering the back of the man who fell in love with him when he was a child – hereafter to be known as Mikado, which is his name, and less awkward than TMWFILWHWHWAC. Whenever anyone touches the dragon (hyuck hyuck, she said “touches the dragon”), Mikado’s pent up emotions rage uncontrollably, so Mikado throws the fruit loop to the floor and has his beastly way with him. It is, in fact, a rape scene, since Mikado doesn’t ask and the fruit loop says no repeatedly, but in this, as in most of these yaoi rape scenes, the fruit loop doesn’t really mind too much. That one doesn’t bother me excessively; what perturbed me here was the initial unveiling of a penis (always a fraught moment, as they are often artistically sidestepped in some way that looks bizarre or troubling, like the classic “beam me up, Scotty, you big stud” bar of light). It’s the fruit loop’s penis, and it looks like one of those marzipan mushroom things. I’m pretty open minded, but that’s just not sexy.

Otherwise, though, I’m pretty good with this. The morning after the sex scene, Mikado tries to atone for his misdeed by cutting off his pinky. The fruit loop calls for help, resulting in what I see as a truly classic bit of dialogue: “Mikado-san’s trying to cut off his finger!” “Not again!” And a bit later, the evil marketer (there’s always an evil marketer) takes the fruit loop aside and says, “So you’ve encountered the dragon! You’re lucky to be alive.” That, my friends, is a good one.

There is a serious story at the end, providing Meaningful and Heart-Wrenching background for the evil marketer (by which I mean pat and overwrought, although it does involve flirting by way of full-back Buddha tattoos, which one admittedly doesn’t see every day), but we can overlook this, especially after we finally figure out who the hell it is we’re reading about (which took 15 pages for me). Let us spend no more time on it, and also waste no compassion on the marketer, for he is a marketer and doesn’t deserve it.

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