For this week’s Manga Monday, I decided to go with a blast from my past: Alichino by Kouyu Shurei. I first read Alichino way back in my freshman year of high school, which was frighteningly almost ten years ago, so let’s not focus on that. When I sat down to re-read it for the sake of this post, all I could remember was that the art was some of the most gorgeous I’d ever seen in a manga. Well, you know when people say “You’re lucky you’re cute…”? Turns out the art is pretty much all this series has going for it. I’m not sure why I’ve been holding onto it for all these years.
But seriously, you guys, Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the best and most feminist shounen mangas out there. It was written by Hiromu Arakawa, a wonderful author with a unique style of illustration, and a hero among female mangaka, and the series is clever, and heartbreaking, and funny, and literally everything you want from a manga series.
And I’m not talking about the crappy 2003 anime here. First rule of FMA is we don’t talk about 2003, unless it’s about the music (come on, L’Arc~en~Ciel, AKFG, Porno Graffiti? That shit was good). I’m talking about the manga, or at least the more recent anime adaptation (FMA: Brotherhood).
Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, living in the country of Amestris (it’s sort of loosely like 1920s steampunk Germany). The brothers learned alchemy as children, and when their mother passed away, they attempted one of alchemy’s greatest taboos—human transmutation—to bring her back. But alchemy is based on the principle of equivalent exchange: something of equal value must be given for what is received. And nothing is equivalent to a human soul. What they bring back is not their mother, and they pay dearly for the attempt; Ed loses an arm and a leg, and Al loses his entire body, only surviving because Ed binds his soul into a suit of armor. The story picks up on them as teenagers, traveling the country and trying to find a way to get their missing body/body parts back. Ed has taken a commission from the military to be a State Alchemist to help fund his search (they give him the title of Fullmetal Alchemist because of his prosthetic arm and leg, hence the series’s title), but the military complex is corrupt and has a history of asking its alchemists to commit atrocities in the name of the homeland. Ed and Al’s search eventually leads them to rumors of the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary item that, when used, allows the alchemist to bypass the laws of equivalent exchange. But the price of creating a Stone is beyond their wildest nightmares, and the corruption in the military extends further than they can imagine, and is linked to a plot older than the country of Amestris itself.
Warning: This post will discuss rape and is also probably be NSFW due to a discussion of the sexual content in the manga at hand.
So last summer I watched all of the adorable BL anime Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi (The Best First Love in the World). It wasn’t anything new or special when it comes to boys’ love titles, but it got a second season this last fall, and in between waiting for episodes to come out I discovered that SekaHatsu‘s manga-ka Shunjiku Nakamura had also written Junjou Romantica (Pure-Hearted Romance). Now, I had never read it, but from what I can tell (based on availability of merchandise at cons) Junjou Romantica is a relatively popular title within the BL genre. So to pass the time I figured I’d check it out.
Now I certainly don’t expect every gay romance story to deal with gay issues, or for its characters to be paragons fighting for queer rights and whatnot. Sometimes a problematic romance story is just a problematic romance story, regardless of the orientations of the two involved. But, after reading all the chapters I could access on my questionably-legal manga-reading iPhone app, I was left with only two feels: that Junjou Romantica was boring, and that it was rapey. I’d explain the plot of the series, but… it’s mostly relationship drama—there’s not much of one.
Let’s deal with the latter first. A continuing story trend I’ve noticed in boys’ love titles is this: There is an older guy who is the seme (he tops), and a younger guy who is the uke (he bottoms). This can be as close as a freshman-senior in high school gap to a full generational gap. The younger guy is crushing on the older guy, but is super tsundere and won’t admit it. So the older guy just pushes and pushes and smooches and gropes and the younger guy (from whose perspective we view the series) doth protest too much and if there’s not an eventual happy ending, it’s only because the series is ongoing and they can’t yet. In each of these series it’s portrayed as obvious that the younger kid wants it, he just refuses to say so. So each of these sexual encounters is begun despite the vocal refusal of the uke character, which is generally just rapey to me. BL has a really unfortunate tendency to create rape apologists out of its fans.
But Junjou Romantica takes it a step further for me. For whatever reason, whether because Japan still has a somewhat repressive culture when it comes to homosexuality and so Japanese people can’t just realize they’re gay, or for some other stupid reason, the manga-ka couldn’t just have had Misaki, the main character, meet his love interest Akihiko and realize he might be interested in him and have the relationship progress from there. No, Akihiko pushes himself on Misaki on basically their first meeting and rapes him. Misaki then has a sexual crisis, deciding he must be gay because he sure enjoyed that older man forcing him. Not a omg-I-was-just-raped crisis—a wow-good-thing-that-guy-showed-me-I-like-being-fucked-up-the-ass-I-better-stick-with-him-forever crisis. And that’s the basis for their whole relationship. From that scene onward it’s just pretty bog-standard Shunjiku Nakamura hijinks, but I could never move past the fact that their relationship was jump-started by a rape scene.
Moving past that, the rest of it is just boring. I’m not invested in their relationship whatsoever, because their characters don’t have any depth. Even the sex is boring—there is no mixing up of the seme/uke dynamic, like, ever, and each time they get it on Akihiko gives Misaki a blowjob and then fucks him. That’s it.
So, besides the gratuitous-but-boring sexing, I still can’t for the life of me figure out why people read this series. There are two other relationship subplots that are far less rapey and gross, but they’re not exactly compelling either. If you’re looking for some hardcore BL, pick up a doujinshi or something; if you’re looking for adorable gay romance, go… somewhere else. This series isn’t worth your time.
Hey all! It’s been, hell, it’s been a while since I’ve picked up a Manga Mondays around here, but for the good of all I sat down yesterday and re-read all of the Trinity Blood manga I own just so we could talk about it.
Explaining the plot of Trinity Blood is a bit tricksy. You see, the manga is based on a set of light novels, and an anime exists as well, and each of them differ slightly. But the manga is the one I’m familiar with (I’ve never read the novels, and it’s been years since I watched the anime), and this is Manga Monday, not light novel Monday, so I’ll do my best to sum it up.
The setting is a post-apocalyptic Eurasia, divided into human and Methuselah empires. The Methuselah are a long-lived alien species whose traits and habits strongly resemble the human vampire myth, but the story makes it clear that calling a Methuselah a vampire conveys ignorance and/or xenophobia. Humans (mostly led by the Vatican, which controls most of Western Europe) and Methuselah (whose empire is based more in what was once western Russia and Eastern Europe) have held an uneasy peace for centuries, since the apocalyptic events that coincided with the Methuselah’s arrival.
The story starts off in the city of Istavan in Hungary, on the border of the two empires, where Sister Esther Blanchett, a young nun, is betrayed by her best friend and falls in with a priest from the Vatican’s special forces in order to stop the traitor. Political, emotional, and dramatic tensions mount as her former friend plots to set off total war between the Vatican and the Methuselah. After diffusing her former friend’s first attempt, Esther follows the priest, Father Abel Nightroad, back to the Vatican, where she is trained to be a part of the special forces as well.
Abel is a great character, a textbook crouching moron hidden badass who loves humans and tries to embrace pacifism despite his dark secret: he is a genetic experiment, a bloodsucking creature called a Crusnik who feeds on Methuselahs, developed during the first interspecies war as an ultimate weapon for the humans. Most of the time he’s a goofy, clumsy guy who flirts with literally everyone (even the robot priest) and takes 13 sugars in his tea; but fuck with him, give him a reason to release the nanomachine controls on his Crusnik form, and he’ll end you.
Esther is, after re-reading this series, one of my favorite manga heroines. She’s never oversexualized or objectified. She and Abel, save for a few instances when they’d just met, have a relationship that is wonderfully, relievingly platonic (yay for realistic male-female friendships!). She often gets herself into sticky or dangerous situations, but she almost always saves herself (and others, at times) rather than needing to be rescued. She is fiery, caring, and noble, a good on-the-fly strategist and a loyal friend, but also flawed in different ways. She is often naive; she has to train hard to become a skilled marksman; and when she learns Abel’s secret, she is realistically and understandably terrified of him and has a difficult time overcoming this fear to restore their friendship.
This was one of the things that, weirdly, really made me happy about her characterization. When you find out that one of your good friends is hiding a terrible monster, especially when it’s something you’ve been trained to fear, hate, and kill, inside himself, it’s unrealistic that a person will just shrug the revelation off and move on with being friends with no issues. (This was one of my biggest beefs with the Blue Exorcist anime.)
The series is also full of other strong female characters, both human and Methuselah: Esther and Abel’s boss, Cardinal Caterina Sforza, is a caring but stern administrator and a genius at political scheming. The Empress of the Methuselah is a loving and maternal figure who’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and kick ass when the situation calls for it. Lady Astarothe is a low-ranking Methuselah noble who’s loyal, intelligent, a skilled warrior, and comfortable with her body. (But seriously on the topic of objectification, this series is really wonderfully non-objectifying while not being afraid of the female form—there’s an entire scene where Astarothe and Esther talk in the bath, and even though that meant ten or so pages filled with boobs, the scene wasn’t portrayed in a sexually titillating (/badpun) way—they just happened to be in the bath, and thus there was nudity.) The rest of the cast, both female and male, are a bevy of interesting, unique, and well-developed characters as well.
The story also has a lot of interesting religious aspects and themes. Any divergences from current Catholic doctrine or practice (female cardinals, militaristic special forces populated by priests and nuns, robot priests, and boy popes) I personally forgive, because considering the story is set 900 years in the future a hell of a lot of things could have changed. Abel and his family are both named after and obvious callbacks to creation-myth characters: Abel, Cain, Seth, and Lilith. Other character names are obvious callbacks to notorious Catholic leaders of the past—Caterina and her brothers, a bishop and the Pope, have the surname Sforza, a family closely tied to the Borgias in medieval/Renaissance Italy.
There are also interesting race-related themes, regarding intolerance, fear, and hatred of those who are unlike ourselves. That’s another reason I liked Esther—although she grows to accept humans and Methuselah for their character rather than making judgments about their species, we see that she has to work through her preformed prejudices in order to do so. I found this far more realistic; if she’d started out as a girl from a border town growing up around fear of ‘vampires’ for her entire life, and then the second she met a real one she immediately befriended them, it would reek of Mary Suedom to me.
The art of Trinity Blood is beautiful and the storytelling is clever, funny, and flows very well to me. Unfortunately this series was licensed in the US by Tokyopop, which went under last summer, so only the first dozen or so volumes of this ongoing series are available in English. Despite that, however, it’s definitely worth checking out. Give it a look and tell me if you liked it as much as I do! (Athough feel free to write less—good gorram I wrote a freaking novel here…)