Publisher/Year: Houbunsha, 2002 (Localised in English by Deux Press)
Warnings: attempted rape, gratuitous nose bleeding and a stalkerish protagonist in leopard print shirts.
N.B. When I reviewed Amai Jouken I thought Munekazu was going to be the only BL character I came across with canonically blue hair for a while. Well. I was wrong.
When the young master of the Tatsumori yakuza clan, Tatsumori Ukyou, sought refuge from his enemies in a humble ramen shop one day, he fell in love at first sight with the shop’s aquamarine-follicled proprietor, Kakeru. Two years later Ukyou finally returns to the ramen shop to ‘propose’ to Kakeru, only to find it under attack by rival yakuza members. Ukyou manages to fend them off, but Kakeru isn’t happy — he doesn’t want anything to do with a yakuza, even if they saved him. In desperation, Ukyou devises a plan to pose as a homeless drifter so he can get closer to Kakeru without revealing his true identity. But how long can this farce last?
Three volumes, apparently. From the first page of the first volume it’s abundantly clear that this is an exaggerated story with over-the-top characterisations. Its genre is a hybrid between restaurant/yakuza, but doesn’t take either element very seriously: when Ukyou returns home to the family compound, for example, he is greeted by a double row of black-clad guards bowing in tandem. In other scenes the traditional yakuza rituals are parodied and the most common stereotypes about their personalities (e.g. a fondness for hideous pastel suits) are rolled out repeatedly.
And all of that’s fine — Secret Connection is a farcical comedy. What I found more disturbing is that Kakeru’s age is never explicitly mentioned, and he is repeatedly referred to as ‘boy’. My educated guess is that this aspect was left intentionally vague to play both sides of the reading field, i.e. fans of shotacon, and those crazies who actually have a problem underage pornography. (I hope my sarcasm is choking you). And while there isn’t any sex in the first volume, virtually all of the (male) characters seem to spend most of their waking hours fantasising about Kakeru dropping trou for their edification.
Kakeru himself is a Mary Sue. He is noble even in suffering, generous to the needy, and goes so far as to comfort the least-deserving of his enemies. The enemies themselves — disgustingly lascivious, criminal and creepy though they are — come across as old school, incompetent movie villains I could never convince myself to be worried about. Nonetheless, for such a cheerful-looking manga, Secret Connection is more bloody and violent than some of the ‘serious’ yakuza manga I’ve read recently.
Speaking of the art, it’s by no means terrible, but I’ve always found CJ Michalski’s style a bit amaterish-looking, almost as though it’s the first long project of a debut manga-ka. Even so, the story (and especially Ukyou’s ridiculous antics) managed to wring a few laughs out of me, and the cracky bathhouse scene with increasingly ridiculous genital censorship was pretty fun. Throughout Secret Connection though I couldn’t help but wonder how Ukyou had time to fulfil his obligations as the heir to the largest yakuza clan in the Kanto region while waiting tables for Kakeru. Then again, I’m probably thinking too much.
In the end the story arc for this volume was resolved, though the manga’s central plot device is dragged into the next (and probably the third) volume. The problem is, I’m not sure if I liked it enough to see it all play out.
If you’re looking for something light and silly to read (but with Japanese mobsters), this is a safe option. Just don’t expect any mind-blowing romantic or emotional revelations to come of it.