Blue Morning 1Akihito Kuze has lived with his sickly mother in the family’s quiet country villa for the first ten years of his life, so he is completely unprepared when the death of his parents thrusts him into the complicated, turbulent world of Meiji-era Japan’s titled nobility. Too young to take over the Kuze name and utterly naive to the sensitive social politics that rule his life, Akihito puts his trust in Tomoyuki Katsuragi, his viscount father’s hand-picked steward. Twelve years Akihito’s senior, Katsuragi is a remarkably intelligent and capable guide, despite his eyebrow-raising youth. But he’s also cold and calculating, willing to sacrifice much to achieve his objectives. As the years pass, Akihito comes to understand his frustrating milieu, his approval-seeking heart, and his beloved mentor’s motives. Conversely, Katsuragi finds his carefully-laid plans unraveling and realizes he may have taught his pupil rather too well.

Blue Morning presents a portrait of an unhealthy, unhappy relationship that first disturbs and then fascinates the reader as its power dynamic shifts and its participants develop into complex, sympathetic human beings. As products of the reputation-conscious, money-driven society in which both men are trapped, Akihito and Katsuragi make use of the system they resent, taking advantage of its nuances and structural weaknesses to manipulate people and situations in their favor. As their efforts—if not always their motives—can counteract one another, the protagonists often function as their own antagonists, much to their frustration (and sometimes the reader’s as well). Yet the system ultimately bears the most responsibility, having so burdened the characters with labels, pressures, and betrayals that it is a struggle for them to determine who they really are and what they really want. Happiness may be possible, but only if they break free.

Although creator Hidaka notes that this is her first period story, she adeptly depicts the era’s evolving, often-contradictory mix of traditional Japanese and adopted Western culture. Neither is all good or all bad, and different characters find comfort in various aspects of each: business suits and ball gowns or kimono and geta, English-style mansions or tatami mats and rice paper screens. Even Akihito’s late father embraced Western modernity, yet fell back on longstanding feudal loyalties to ensure the future of his estate. Supported by Hidaka’s attractive, clean-lined visuals and a narrative intermittently sprinkled with well-delineated flashbacks, a theme of tug-of-war plays out between master and servant, feudalism and capitalism, East and West, old and new, society and the self.

At four volumes so far, Blue Morning‘s ongoing tale of love complicated by ambition, obsession, secrets, and class is an unusually substantial yaoi story. The romance thread is accompanied by more dialogue, social drama, and discreetly graphic sex scenes than are customary for mainstream entries. More typical is its portrayal of same-sex love as a question of soul mates rather than homosexuality. The central relationship’s other dynamics may make some uncomfortable; for instance, Akihito is only seventeen when his relationship with Katsuragi becomes physical, and the not-always-consensual sex is more desperate and sad than sexy, an intentional touch that generates gravitas and vulnerability even when the characters are at their worst. Add in relevant discussions of circumspect family trees, patronage rules, and succession plans, and it becomes clear why mature readers are the intended audience here. For any such readers looking for emotion-driven period fiction, this moody romantic drama set amid the unprecedented change of the Meiji era may be an engaging option.

Blue Morning, vols. 1-4
by Shoko Hidaka
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781421555522
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781421555539
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9781421555546
Vol. 4 ISBN: 9781421555553
SuBLime, 2013-2014
Publisher Age Rating: M (Mature)

  • Jenny Ertel

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support!

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