Publisher/Year: Gentousha, 2007
Warnings: sexual harassment, coercion, dub-con and a protagonist whose hair, canonically, curls in exact proportion to his level of annoyance. Hm.
Fuyuki Toranosuke, a specialist in anti-terrorism, is on the most stressful assignment of his life as the personal bodyguard of the New York-based CEO, Kagami. A shrewd businessman and handsome blue blood, Kagami would much rather spend his time wooing Fuyuki than running his company. Soon Fuyuki begins to realise there is more to Kagami’s feelings for him than simple infatuation — but how can they overcome the restrictions of their bodyguard-client relationship?
The first chapter of Keep Out explodes off the page: the art is gorgeous and vibrant, the characters are engaging, and the story hits the right note between funny and romantic. Although Fuyuki is undeniably pretty, the writer Hichiwa Yuka does a great job keeping his personality masculine, which makes Fuyuki’s banter with Kagami sparkle — especially when he refuses to submit to the stereotypical ‘wife’ role . Readers with more scruples than me might find Kagami’s constant sexual harassment perturbing, but I took it in the light-hearted screwball spirit in which it was meant. It’s also patently clear that for all his ill-advised advances, Kagami desperately loves Fuyuki and wants a future with him. (Never mind that Fuyuki is hardly in need of a defender — he is a professional security specialist, after all).
Unfortunately, after this first self-contained chapter, the story is plagued with issues. The second chapter is bogged down by overly sentimental backstory, and the later chapters experience a severe shift in tone, becoming dark and melancholy. Keep Out also suffers from the fact that Kisaragi Hirotaka could only work on the art for individual chapters intermittently, and this is apparent in the manga’s uneven pacing.
Fuyuki’s painful family revelations are largely seen through others’ eyes, which distances us from him, while other key moments happen offscreen or in flashbacks, furthering our sense of detachment from the story. And although the plot sets up a mystery terrorism element, the clues were so lazily-placed that the reader has no chance of guessing the culprits’ motives before they’re revealed. The ultimate impression I had was that the author and artist had agreed on the conclusion (e.g. Fuyuki and Kagami, together forever), but the means by which they got to that point were cobbled together along the way.
The extra chapter after the conclusion of the main arc, featuring Shen Yi — Kagami’s uptight secretary who is secretly getting it on with the boss of Fuyuki’s security company — was cute enough. At least it was until the appearance of two ridiculous yaoi clichés: aphrodisiacs and the convoluted politics of chocolate-giving. Strangely enough, Shen Yi was an unlikeable arsehole during the rest of the volume, but adopts a highly erotic, almost feline persona as soon as he’s alone and takes off his glasses (hello there, cliché #3). I’m afraid to say that by the end of Keep Out, Shen Yi and Kodakura as supporting characters had much more personal and sexual chemistry than Kagami and Fuyuki, whose romantic tension fizzles out after the consummation of their relationship. Whoops, because I’m pretty sure that wasn’t intentional.
For all its flaws, Keep Out is still a beautifully-drawn manga that sweeps you along. The characters are also memorable and distinct enough that I’m tempted to forgive the choppy plot and just enjoy the ride.