Black Sun has been one of my favorites for years. It is a shining denizen of that strange genre that draws from an historical framework, and is at once pure fantasy.
We meet our heroes, a general of the Approximately Ottoman Empire, and a prince who has just failed to protect his fortress from falling to the imperial army. The prince is to be the next conquest of course, trading his freedom and chastity for the lives of the fort’s inhabitants.
As the pages turn, the scope of the story gradually irises out more and more until what started as a personal passion more or less only concerning the central characters develops into a much greater conflict with implications far beyond them.
Be aware that this story starts with quite a lot of rape, and it could easily be argued that this is a Stockholm Syndrome story. Our darling uke will experience this assault outside the central relationship as well. If this will not sit well with you, please be warned.
This story structure is graceful, exciting, and very action-packed. Each character is satisfyingly wrapped up, and the side stories included in both volumes give the story both depth and levity.
The cast of supporting characters are each more engaging than the last, from the Emperor, to the wicked turncoat knight, all the way down to the palace’s pet panther. The characters each have a well considered, voice, character, and look, and each one has a backstory that the reader comes to understand not through exposition so much as storytelling.
It is very impressive how the author is able to fully develop such a complex story and so many complex character, with so much smexy time, in only two volumes and not have it feel rushed anywhere or have dry stretches.
The action is hot and plentiful, especially since it is uncensored! The bodies are beautiful and their endowments are certainly impressive. No matter what the characters are up to the proportions and movement are always on point, communicating tension in the right places and practically vibrating on the page.
Black Sun definitely exhibits that classic yaoi syndrome of heteronormalizing gay sex and simply not considering real life mechanics whatsoever, which can be a bit distracting if you’re sensitive to it, but there is plenty great enough about this book to make it a non issue.
The art is gorgeous and the world is truly sumptuous; Faux-historical Fantasy at its yummiest! I especially enjoy the costumes, and mercy me, our heroes (and everyone else) are hot. Ogasawara definitely has a mold that she uses to make faces, but they are always expressive and it’s always easy to tell characters apart because they’re so well designed. A convincing context is created well within the history that inspired it.
I sincerely recommend Black Sun, and I suggest purchasing the pair together for sure. The first volume ends so dramatically, I was very grateful I didn't have to wait for the conclusion. Unlike some multi-volume stories, this one's pace is consistent and exemplary across both books.
Shiuko Kano’s loveable roughnecks are at it again this solid spinoff of I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone. The central stories in this book follow Kousei Mogi, a blue collar single dad. Mogi’s dirty coveralls hold a heart of pure honey, and he’s a perfect pivot for the other characters.
The overarching theme of all four parts of the central story and the side story is love of dubious origin. Be it blackmail, drunken hate sex, or just plain hijinks, the first time any of these couples falls into bed together is hardly romantic in a traditional sense, and the reader spends significant portion of the story unsure, but not too worried, whether these are healthy relationships at all. In the end however, it really is a sweet book, full of sweet stories as only Kano Sensei can deliver them.
The scope of the relationships in this book are quite broad and interesting. We do not focus myopically on the interactions within the couples, but are privy to witness the greater social context in which they occur. There are graphic accounts of abuse and trauma, and real depictions of sadness. There are women and children in somewhat real development, beyond their usual roles in Yaoi as foils, and the characters’ stories intertwine in natural and interesting ways. Overall the pacing is excellent.
Kano’s art style is very unique and Maybe I’m Your Steppin’ Stone is no exception. Her characters have an interesting elongated morphology and an unusual facial frame, which it is easy to either love or hate. To be sure there are some jarring examples of Yaoi Anatomy Syndrome to be seen here, but overall the composition and rendering are good.
The aforementioned women and children also display exaggerated physicality, and are just as well drawn as the men. Unfortunately it can be a little hard to differentiate characters at times because their faces are so similar, which muddies the story.
During the plentiful, hot, and creative spicy scenes, anatomical missteps are nowhere to be found. The action is uncensored and juicy, including foot worship, toys, femoral penetration, and more. Run-of-the-mill this is not, I enjoyed the sexiness of this book the most of just about anything I’ve read recently.
I definitely recommend Maybe I’m Your Stepping Stone for its engaging characters, interesting plots, and delicious sexiness. It is not necessary to have read I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone for this high quality to serve as a great addition to anyone’s collection.
Review by Dot Ringo
I'm delighted to have found this manga. With Kiss Your Hair, Duo Brand has presented a generous portion of very engaging and well-paced one shots with a refreshing variety.
The art is fairly classic yaoi, but I was stricken by the attention to anatomical details and the world building, which was quite sumptuous. The diverse collection of settings and characters each seem very carefully considered and well developed, so the stories feel immersive despite their short length.
The spicy scenes are the most expressive of all, though not exactly explicit in the traditional sense. The prurient among us will find plenty to love in this volume, while the more modest will be plenty able to enjoy the stories without being forced out of their comfort zone. This balance is quite a feat, and Kiss Your Hair accomplishes it admirably.
Kiss Your Hair provides glimpses into an impressive variety of genres. Here we see historical, yakuza, sports, fantasy, school life, and more; not to mention the skillful combination of genres I would have thought to be unlikely bedfellows. From a personal standpoint, many of my favorite tropes are represented to a very satisfying end, such as forbidden love, addiction, blossoming youth, infectious magic, and an artist X model relationship to make Nin proud.
In genres of another sort a reader can expect butler, beard, and hair moe, bondage, voyeurism/exhibitionism, and an examination of childhood sexual awakening, among plenty of others. To indulge the cliché, Kiss Your Hair seems to have a little something for everyone. There is even a prose story at the end which I enjoyed just fine, considering that I usually can't stand those. The story which caps off the collection is easily the weakest part (probably because in a prose piece it is much more difficult to ignore the embarrassingly unrealistic sexual mechanics found in yaoi), but it's hardly enough to detract from the overall quality.
Kiss Your Hair stood out to me among all the yaoi I've read as a meditation on the various motivations behind sexual involvement. From love to lust to money to obligation and so on, these characters all have their own reasons and they're all interesting. It is a welcome respite from the cookie cutter story found in so many of the BL books available. I was genuinely impressed with this piece. I will read it many times and I would recommend it to anyone. My only complaint is that I cannot buy it in print and put it on my shelf; hopefully I will be able to someday, it certainly deserves it!
Review By: Dot Ringo