Publisher/Year: Libre Shuppan, 2010
Warnings: rape, coercion, dub-con and symbolic rice omelets.
N.B. This review is based on the complex Chinese translation of the manga《緊密擁抱的情人》published by 尚禾文化事業有限公司 in 2011. Please also note that I don’t have furigana available for the characters’ names, so the romanization may be incorrect.
Desperate for money, Aoi accepts a hit on the yakuza boss, Kurihara. Unsurprisingly, he’s caught during the assassination attempt — more surprisingly, Kurihara chooses to exact his revenge not through torture, but through sex. Months later, Aoi is Kurihara’s kept lover, and neither man is happy with the relationship. But it seems the more they try to pull away from each other, the harder it is to escape from their emotional and physical entanglement.
The final two stories in the volume concern two construction workers who fall in love in the bleak of winter, and a historical piece about a neglected kami.
If Aoi was your friend in real life, you’d beg him to break off his abusive relationship with Kurihara, who is unapologetically cruel and selfish. And while we never find out the circumstances that made him think murdering a yakuza boss was a good way to make some fast cash, Aoi is nonetheless a sympathetic character just trying to make his way in a harsh environment. Of course, this isn’t real life, and if you can accept this story’s dark premise, Kuku Hayate positions us so that we hope Kurihara and Aoi stay together against all logic and tenets of mental health. Even the late appearance of the policeman character — who in any other manga could ably fill the role of the romantic lead — is unable to sway Aoi from his tempestuous attraction to Kurihara.
Kuku Hayate’s art does an excellent job of evoking the stark urban landscape of Tokyo. Her lines are scratchy and raw-looking, and her characters’ expressions are vivid (Kurihara’s uncoloured irises especially succeed in giving him an intense, predatory aspect). All of the above makes the manga’s extras — a mini-chapter and a few humorous vignettes — somewhat surprising though, because all the characters are chibi-fied. Not only that, they’re particularly cute and sweet chibis. I can’t say they really fit the tone of the rest of the tankoubon, and Kuku-sensei apologises in the atogaki, explaining that she couldn’t help but finish the volume on a happy note. Well, more power to her (and the chibis).
For all that, though, Kuku-sensei manages to subtly convey the progression of Aoi and Kurihara’s slow-burning relationship in only a few chapters, and by the end I was more than happy to read their story’s resolution and the inevitable but amusingly indirect love confession that follows.
The volume’s other two oneshots are also satisfying (if melancholic), and prove that this manga-ka can create consistently engaging stories. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.
This isn’t a gentle story, but if you have a yakuza kink like I do, it will hit all your buttons (and ultimately satisfy the closet romantic inside you too).