I quite enjoyed the only other manga I’d read by relative newcomer Kuku Hayate (琥狗ハヤテ), 2010’s Joujin, so even though I’m not a big fan of oneshot tankoubon, I picked up Shisei Gokumon (死生獄門) on my recent trip to Taiwan.
It’s a compilation of her work over a span of several years, though the manga-ka’s interest in mythological/fantasy elements is apparent in three of the stories. Also, the Chinese language edition I bought came with a promotional card with the volume’s cover art on it — a gimmick, but a shiny one.
In the first story of the volume, two sexually frustrated guards to the door of the underworld can only ever banter with each other in brief snatches before they’re once again separated on opposite sides of the door by their diametric natures, darkness and light. It’s all very symbolic and angsty without being terribly compelling.
In another story, a fantasy world prince seduces his grizzled knight/sword teacher as soon as he comes of age, their lessons predictably devolving into porn-without-plot by the end.
Later, the knight struggles to withstand his randy prince’s comes ons in the form of some sultry thigh-squeezing, but things get heavy by the last chapter when the prince goes into his first real battle and the knight makes him huff on some herbs until he can’t smell the blood any more. Basically, you start reading this story arc thinking you’re entering a world of harmless fantasy smex, and then you’re forced to follow along with some heavy-handed philosophising.
The final 3-chapter story at the end of the volume is new, the tale of a disillusioned host club employee from the country. Once day he receives a random act of kindness by a stranger, who turns out to own a local nursery (of the plant kind).
The host helps his older saviour join his club for one day to save up enough money to buy the guy’s adult daughter a snazzy birthday present, and romance happens somewhere along the way. I liked the daughter’s character, but the rest of the story was pretty bland and predictable, especially in light of the knowledge that Kuku Hayate can write dark and engrossing stories of a higher calibre.
Overall, there’s very little sex in these stories, which wouldn’t bother me in the slightest except that there’s not a whole lot in the way of plot either. I know it’s harder to execute fully fleshed out stories within the restrictive page count of oneshots (even multi-chapter ones), but this whole volume left me feeling like I’d been given a snack when I was hungering after a meal.