Publisher/Year: Libre Shuppan, 2008
Warnings: Oh, let’s see…torture, bondage, non-con use of sex toys, S&M themes, emotional and physical abuse…and extremely corny love confessions.
N.B. Only the first three chapters and its brief extra (i.e. the yakuza content) are covered in this review. (Though for what it’s worth, I thought the ED chapter was creepy and deplorable, and the volume’s final oneshot affectingly bittersweet).
When troubled youth Nirasawa left home, he was taken under the wing of senior yakuza member Kabu. Years later, Kabu realises that Nirasawa is not only willing to die for him, but is also madly in love with him. Kabu rejects Nirasawa, and comes to regret his decision when he is obliged to torture his former protégé for valuable information. But no matter what’s done to him, Nirasawa refuses to break.
I imagine for a certain type of reader the warnings above would be an attractive proposition, but personally, they just squick me. That, and the fact that Ike Reibun’s art in this tankoubon is not just extremely graphic but is also realistic, made reading the first chapter of Bi no Isu difficult. Nonetheless, this is the first yakuza manga I’ve read in a long time where I actually believed the characters were yakuza. Not only is our anithero Kabu merciless and selifsh, the other members of his clan are all exemplars of the murderous, back-stabbing, feuding criminals they’re supposed to be depicting. Even the brief glimpses the reader gets of the excesses of this lifestyle are rendered seedy by the characters’ transactions and constant underminding of each other. But once I’d accepted that this might be a BL manga, but it was not a romance, I could deal with it.
And then the next two chapters happened. The characters are no less violent and manipulative, but Nirasawa’s knack for spouting the most amazing declarations of love and loyalty at just the right moment somehow transform this dark manga into a bloody weird love story. Kabu is always undone by Nirasawa’s words and actions, which often results in him confusedly lashing out. By the time I got to the rather soppy extra chapter it was all I could do to stifle my giggles at Kabu trying to wrestle with his decidedly un-macho feelings. I’m not entirely sure if the ending was in keeping with the hard tone of the first chapter, but I suppose this was Ike-sensei’s way of paying back her romance fans’ patience for the less than salubrious elements of Bi no Isu.
As mentioned above, the art in this volume is Ike Reibun at her finest, and some of the action scenes are truly cinematic. The variety of angles she uses during Nirasawa and Kabu’s confrontations is also refreshing and is another testament to this manga-ka’s skill. That and the cracky yet in-character ending really cements her place as the queen of dysfunctional BL couples.
If you think you can stomach (or get off on) the torture in the first chapter, this manga has unexpected romantic payoff. And if you’re looking for a more realistic depiction of yakuza than the manga norm, this should be your first stop.