Kaim Tachibana returns to the basics of the yaoi genre in the appropriately entitled Boys Love. While she doesn’t subvert a number of traditional yaoi tropes, she does depict a relationship not bound by some of the usual “rules” of yaoi.
The set up to Boys Love is pretty much cookie cutter yaoi — difficult, young and promiscuous male model with a troubled past makes trouble for older straight professional who gets sucked into his orbit. Luckily the execution of this story avoids a lot of the problems that usually plagues these stories. The story starts out with the chilly model Noeru being interviewed by straight-arrow magazine editor, Mamiya. During their first meeting, poor, innocent Mamiya makes the mistake of commenting favorably upon a piece of Noeru’s art-work, unintentionally causing difficult memories from Noeru’s childhood, which had originally inspired the work, to surface. Noeru is furious at Mamiya for blindly walking onto a very specific emotional landmine and decides to use his power of celebrity to punish the writer for having the misfortune to have accidentally seen into his heart. Noeru who has shut his feelings away, while freely opening his body up to countless numbers of men, ends up fixated on Mamiya in his attempts to piss off, make trouble or just plain threaten the poor guy.
In most yaoi, Noeru would usually use his power of celebrity to blackmail Mamiya into sex and god knows what else, but here, Mamiya refuses to fall into these kinds of traps. Instead, he asserts his own humanity as well as Noeru’s by refusing to fall into the empty role of sexual conquest Noeru attempts to box him into. In the end, Mamiya forces Noeru to get to know him and likewise, does his absolute best to get to know Noeru. One of my favorite scenes in the book is the stubborn Mamiya forcing Noeru to teach him how to swim. The most interesting part of this title is that the focus is not on the two developing a sexual relationship but instead how they come to develop a strong emotional bond in spite of their very different temperaments.
Noeru is a selfish prick for the most part, but Mamiya is one of those unbelievable “good guys” in manga who can somehow redeem anyone. As the two grow closer, Kaim once again dives into the cliche bucket by having Noeru’s classmate and childhood friend become possessive and dangerously protective of his bond with Noeru. This classmate’s intervention changes the two lovers’ fates but not their strong bond, which does not end in spite of a sharp and unfortunate turn of the plot.
The art is attractive and clean, if a bit generic, particularly in the character work. Mamiya and Noeru are both attractive types, although Mamiya looks too dewy and soft to be a fully-fledged adult (which is perhaps an intentional choice), while Noeru’s sharp, cool look nicely reflects his character as a boy who seems to have grown up entirely too fast.
In the end, what I enjoyed most about this work was the focus upon the growing emotional bond between the main characters, and I ended up forgiving the over-use of yaoi tropes in order to position the characters so they can meet each other and develop a very strong bond that seemed to go beyond traditional notions of “romantic love.”
Review copy provided by DMP.