Visually stunning if somewhat plot deficient, Beast and Feast follows the forbidden and truly torrid romance between Hyodo and Kazuha, a Yakuza and detective.
This is pretty much the most classic cop x criminal story possible, in which childhood not-particularly-friends have grown up and gone down opposite paths, reconnecting thanks to a criminal investigation. We learn that Hyodo, the Yakuza, has carried a torch for Kazuha, the detective, for many years, though the story would work just as well if this weren’t the case.
Hyodo of course takes the opportunity to demand sex from Kazuha as payment for information. Kazuha successfully refuses this coercion, but Hyodo ultimately gets what he wants after rescuing Kazuha from a separate group of miscreants.
It seems both parties feel Hyodo is entitled to have his way with Kazuha in light of having rescued him, which is quite disturbing, but since I doubt anyone views yaoi as a bastion of healthy sexual mores, no harm done.
After an intriguing setup and astonishingly hot first encounter, the plot hits a bit of a rough patch. Actually, said rough patch lasts the whole rest of the book. There are minor hills climbed but no real climax; just a series of oddly heteronormative emotional struggles and minor crime related drama that is all resolved quickly and somehow never feels urgent.
Even the most nearly compelling plotline evaporates in a convenient deus ex machina, just in time to wrap up the book with a superfluous side story about the heroes’ history together.
Overall Beast and Feast reads like a salaryman romance, as if it couldn’t commit to any of the grit of the Yakuza genre. Our Yakuza doesn’t even have any tattoos!
Even if the story is hardly pulse-quickening, the smex decidedly is! And there’s a lot of it. Sexual language and images are not sanitized in any way, and this is a very manly couple with very manly bodies. Sweat drips, blush blossoms, and the panels veritably pulse with energy. There is a beastial nature to the sex and our heroes appear as predator and prey, tense and heaving. If you are a reader who values these scenes especially this is a book not to be missed!
The art all around is terrific. The design of the main characters is well considered and develops their personalities. This is particularly true in the case of Hyodo, who with his bright eyes and prominent canines (not to mention active tongue…), is every inch the eponymous beast.
The author uses chibis, caricatures, and implied line sparingly but very effectively, sometimes communicating more with missing information. The art elevates the star score of this book significantly and makes it a valued denizen of my collection.
Overall, Beast and Feast is a title that I’m sure readers will revisit many times, even if it is flipping through to find the sex scenes. These are some of yaoidom’s most gorgeous characters and the relationship really is sweet at the end of the day. Don’t buckle up for a story that will stick with you, but look forward to a visual feast of beautiful beasts!
Review by Dot Ringo
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
Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners gets full marks, no question. This odd little volume and all that makes it unique is immediately one of my all-time favorites. This story, which feels much more full than its 200 pages would suggest, follows Dr. Paul Thomas Haskins, a waspish Ivy League professor, and Jonathan, a student of his. Both these men are manipulative sociopaths, though whether that is in their nature or whether they are so deep in the closet that skeletons and old sweaters are suffocating them and giving them brain damage is not clear.
The characters choose not to see it in each other, and the narration is so successfully ironic that the audience could miss it too if they blink. This is hardly a love story, and the truth is, it’s hardly about Jonathan at all. This book could easily have detailed any of Paul’s many trysts, most likely with a scrappy cutie from the wrong side of the tracks, because that seems to be his type. This story is amazing in that it is a day in the life, rather than a snapshot of some defining, sweeping, meaningful romance. This affair may or may not be remembered, there is no real resolution, and everything will be the same tomorrow.
This book stands out in relative realness. The ongoing theme is that of the dreaded Closet. Our “hero” Paul is a 37 year old gay man who inspires no sympathy whatsoever, and never feels he deserves any. He is New England royalty from the oldest money and the highest position of privilege in the country. His life has been one of connection, nepotism, and leisure. As he says himself, his biggest problem is his receding hairline. Yet one can’t hate him because he is sentenced by his station to never truly be fulfilled in his own identity. The same syndrome is reflected in his lovers, though it manifests differently in each.
Socioeconomic stratification is touched upon. Even HIV is acknowledged. The setting and cultural context is very well researched and fleshed out, so the way the tight social web surrounding the school and the region seems to have all roads leading back to Paul feels natural.
Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners is a story of complex motivations in a complex context. It is also a story of smex. Good old fashioned hot stuff in most satisfactory quantities. The sex scenes are not explicit in the traditional pornier sense I usually gravitate toward, but they are objectively excellent. The faces are expressive enough to make one blush and the anatomy has tension, weight, and volume in all the right places.
The art is just as good throughout and the style is totally unlike any I’ve seen. The style also noticeably changes between the first and last panels, which is fun to watch. The art is minimal yet communicative with a high efficiency of line and very effective toning. From the settings to the outfits, the world building is tight and beautiful, and each character has their own unique features. Not every character is perfect either, something not often seen in yaoi. Of course they’re all attractive, but the basic bishounen mold is not at work here.
If you’re in the market for a terrifically crafted little human drama with truly interesting characters and lots of hot action, rooted in a relatable reality (hard to imagine someone NOT being in the market for that), this is a great score. I look forward to revisiting this treasure many times. I also have the feeling that the next time someone insists I give them a peek into the world of my special secret bookshelf, this is the one I will show them. This is a great yaoi, and also just a great book. I hope you enjoy it.
Desirable Swimming Boys does what it does very successfully. And what it does is boys doing boys. This is a lovely, smutty little romp that fails in its cursory attempt at psychological tension, but delivers in spades elsewhere. The story follows swim team members addressing their sexual obsessions in all sorts of complicated and counterproductive ways. Finally, a tall and dark deus ex machina turns this “love” triangle into a rectangle and brings our group to its symmetrical and rather moist climax. It is all highly enjoyable.
Here we find a very nice array of fetishes and tags, from rape to incest to group sex. While there is censorship, the filth level is still plenty above average. The art is good. The toning is blocky and very liberally applied, and there are some noticeable instances of Yaoi Anatomy Syndrome, but really nothing distracting. I was very impressed with the expressiveness of the faces, which are really beautifully and effectively rendered, and of course the aforementioned anatomical shortcomings are nowhere to be found in the sex scenes. Panel layout is frenetic but flows very intuitively, creating a complimentary feeling to the emotional tone of the story. Composition in general is tightly pulled in, so there is very little background to speak of.
What elevated this volume from one I was glad I had been able to enjoy one afternoon to one I was glad I own is the bonus story, Untitled. This one shot is really beautiful and I look forward to revisiting it. Untitled takes place in a single room in a vaguely dystopian context, where we watch as the routine of the lone character, a sex worker whose entire world is the plain room with the two-way mirror in which he lives and works, is interrupted. Each page floats on an offset border of lace screentone, deepening the effect of the decadence we feel from the world outside the room, and contrasting garishly with the stark minimalism of the panels. The common thread between Desirable Swimming Boys and Untitled is definitely their considerable explicitness, and I’m glad they’re in the same volume.
Overall, as long as what you’re looking for is a very high smut-to-story ratio, this book is a winner and I definitely recommend it!
Review By: Dot Ringo