They Called Us Enemy

George Takei is known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek and for his passionate commitment to civil rights. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Takei and his family—along with over 100,000 Japanese Americans—were imprisoned in internment camps for the rest of World War II. Their crime? They were Japanese. They Called Us Enemy portrays Takei’s family’s experiences in the camps and the impact they had on his life. The result is a compelling and powerful narrative that lays bare the continuing prejudice, injustice, and passion in America.

Takei and his co-writers, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, have developed an engaging and relevant narrative. The story goes back and forth between the World War II era and contemporary times as it traces Takei’s family’s experience in the internment camps and his career as an actor and activist. The authors also provide accessible explanations of the political forces and factions at play, but it’s the personal story that drives home Takei’s points. Takei narrates his family’s experience from the perspective of an adult who has come to understand what happened, yet goes on to show how this experience and his family’s support have helped him in his career as an actor and activist. The mix of the past and the present with the personal and the political gives the story a balance between sad and hopeful. Takei also draws connections between the Japanese internment camps and the cruel treatment of immigrant children at the border, thus sending an important message about injustice and the importance of action in a democracy.

Illustrator Harmony Becker’s black and white illustrations both capture key historical events and figures as well as the emotional impact of Takei’s experiences. The illustrations portray historical figures in recognizable ways, yet the particular strength of Becker’s work lies in the emotional impact her work carries. Deceptively simple with strong manga influences, Becker’s illustrations portray the difficulties of Takei’s family and a child’s youthful exuberance and innocence with equal aplomb; the illustrations work well with Takei’s reflections, contributing to the surreal and painful mood that arises from the contrast between a child’s experience with an adult’s understanding of the injustice.

They Called Us Enemy is a powerful work that, thanks to its important message, the discussion of historical events, and Takei’s popularity, should find a readership in both public and academic libraries. The book explains the internment camps and themes of injustice and activism in a way that should be accessible to a range of ages. There are a couple of violent scenes (portrayed with minimal gore), and there are some difficult topics whose subtle presentation might go over the head of very young readers; therefore, this reviewer would recommend early middle school and up as the audience for They Called Us Enemy.

They Called Us Enemy
By George Takei Justin Eisinger Steven Scott
Art by Harmony Becker
ISBN: 9781603094504
Top Shelf Productions, 2019

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Character Traits: Japanese, Japanese-American Gay
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator

Bloom

Bloom, Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau’s LGBTQ+ Young Adult (YA) graphic novel, is a wonderfully illustrated monochromatic work that exemplifies “the grass is always greener.” Ari feels trapped in his family’s small, struggling bakery. Unable to afford college, he yearns to move to the city and pursue a music career with his band. He resents the early, grueling work in the business and his father’s lack of understanding. But during a delivery run, Ari spies a young man who could change his future.

Hector, the young man who catches Ari’s eye, has come to town in order to get his recently deceased grandmother’s house ready to sell, and he’s had to drop out of culinary school in order to do it. He loves to bake and thinks Ari is lucky to have a place in a family-run business. Ari, who appreciates his loving family, nevertheless feels not so lucky. Hector comes to work at the Krykos Bakery, hopefully, to take over for Ari. The two become friends and embark on a sweet, tentative romance.

Writer Panetta captures that fleeting, desperate feeling of young adulthood, where decisions could have lasting consequences and mistakes can ruin lives. Ari and Hector are both likable characters, although Hector comes across as more mature. In reaching out to each other, they are able to see their lives with a new perspective. Both young men are dealing with situations beyond their own control and yet are forced to make very adult decisions about their futures. The question is whether they can do the right thing—meeting their families’ and friends’ expectations while still being true to their own feelings and desires.

Ganucheau’s artwork is beautiful, soft, with a seafoam color palette. It’s still a cartoon style, but with a nod toward realism. Ari’s curls seem to float in the breezes. The best series of panels are often wordless, but convey a lot of emotion. Several pages of Ari in the bakery convey his frustration and lack of enthusiasm for his work, while a few pages later, Hector is pictured lovingly baking in his grandmother’s kitchen. As their romance heats up, disaster strikes. The fallout and resolution are handled realistically with bittersweet consequences for everyone.

From the matte cover artwork to the production art and the recipe for the Krykos sourdough rolls in the back, this is a great read for adults and older teens. There is no conflict over the homosexuality and the romance is fairly chaste, making this a great addition to a YA graphic novel collection, along with works like Heartstopper and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me.

Bloom
By Kevin Panetta
Art by Savanna Ganucheau
ISBN: 9781250196910
First Second, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 14+

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Character Traits: Gay

Love in Limbo, Vol. 1

A grizzled soldier wakes up in a field full of flowers. He has no memory of his past, not even his name. But before he can puzzle over that too much, a weird creature—a sort of bunny-puppy-alien hybrid—pops over to investigate him. So does the creature’s owner, a cheerful young man who says he’s here to help.

The young man’s name is Makoto, and he explains that the soldier has died and gone to Limbo, a place for souls awaiting rebirth. Limbo is a lovely and peaceful place… except when it’s attacked by huge, voracious monsters called “maws.” That’s why Limbo has its own defense force, a small group of fighters called Reapers who guard the realm and slay the maws. And the soldier, whom Makoto gives the name Calen, has been chosen as the newest Reaper.

Life in Limbo takes some getting used to. As a Reaper, Calen has important ceremonial duties in addition to maw-fighting responsibilities. Then, there’s the day-to-day routine of bartering, cooking, spending time with friends and sharing a house with Makoto, who soon confesses that he has a crush on Calen.

Calen still has only flashes of memory, so he doesn’t know much about what he did in life, but he has a feeling some of it was pretty bad. Even if he likes Makoto, does Calen deserve a shot at love and happiness? And does it matter that kind, bubbly Makoto is not entirely human?

A story where everyone is already dead and the protagonist is a scarred former soldier might have high potential for tragedy, but Love in Limbo is upbeat and cute. Calen is pragmatic enough to quickly accept his new situation, with little angst. Makoto is caring and sweet, and his biggest source of stress is fretting over whether Calen shares his feelings. The other inhabitants of Limbo are mostly friendly, including the cute bunny-puppy-alien creatures that Reapers and their caretakers (like Makoto) keep as helpful pets. The maws that Calen fights appear only rarely, and are always defeated before they can cause significant harm. This allows the story to focus mainly on Calen’s adjustment to Limbo and his new relationship with Makoto.

After Makoto confesses his feelings, Calen takes a while to consider how to respond. Once he decides he’s in, though, things move quickly into a long and explicit sex scene. It’s not just sex for the sake of titillation—the characters talk about what they’re doing, and their relationship continues to develop during the scene. Still, I will note that the book earns the “Explicit Content” label on the cover. This scene includes full-frontal nudity and detailed portrayals of sex.

In addition to sweet and steamy, Love in Limbo is sometimes quite funny. There’s humorous awkwardness between Calen and Makoto, but the best laughs are in Calen’s interactions with Makoto’s father. Grumpy, but good-hearted, Makoto’s dad alternates rapidly between the positions of “don’t you be getting ideas about my son!” and “you know my son likes you, so why aren’t you hooking up yet?”

Because Makoto introducing Calen to this new world is a big part of the plot, we learn a lot about the setting and how it works. Limbo is an interesting blend of original fantasy and various religious traditions. It’s run by beings called angels, but it also incorporates reincarnation, and some of the characters have supernatural abilities. For example, Reapers can summon their maw-fighting weapons, and the bunny-puppy-alien creatures give their owners the ability to teleport.

While the tone of this manga is mostly light and fluffy, there are hints that the stakes will rise in the second volume. Still, the ending of this volume is conclusive enough that it could be read as a stand-alone story. With love, sexytimes, and humor all set in a magical realm, Love in Limbo will appeal to fans of fantasy yaoi romance.

Love in Limbo, Vol. 1
By Haji
ISBN: 9781974706341
SuBLime, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Mature

Evolution, Vol 1: Origins of a Species

Evolution is based on a simple premise (however scientifically questionable it may be): what if the evolutionary process went on offense? Instead of the commonly understood slow change to adjust to new environmental conditions, the evolutionary response to extreme climate change and pollution becomes a rapid transformation of humanity to adjust to the state of the world. But it’s still a subtle change (at least initially), and one which tries to keep itself secret. The story focuses on three people who have become aware of the situation, in different ways.

Dr. Abe Hurley (in Philadelphia) has dedicated his career to the issue. He lost his position at the CDC over his focus on it, and at the beginning of the story is making his living at a free clinic under an assumed name. Sister Hannah (in Rome) encounters the disease when a man commits suicide in her church—and later realizes that she is also transforming. Claire (in Los Angeles) finds herself involved with the evolution via a film producer who is an old family friend.

The first physical manifestation is witnessed by the doctor in the form of a child who has grown gills to eliminate asthma attacks. He theorizes that the disease is a viral infection, like the common cold. As the story proceeds, other sightings are far more extreme, grotesque whole body transformations which artist Joe Infurnari illustrates in fanciful (and gross) ways. There is a continual shuffling between the three characters, which is greatly facilitated by colorist Jordan Boyd’s different color palettes for each of their story arcs.

Hurley sees the evolution as a threat to humanity, as “us versus them.” The other two are just trying to cope with changes in their lives, following their investigations where they lead. They are a diverse group of characters, and it will be interesting to see where the story goes. The End of the World scene that opens the series does not foretell a positive conclusion. This is a graphic horror story that earns its Mature rating with rough language and horrific images.

Evolution, vol 1: Origins of a Species
By Joseph Keatinge, Christopher Sebela, Joshua Williamson
Art by Joe Infurnari, Jordan Boyd
ISBN: 9781534306561
Image-Skybound Comics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: M

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Character Traits: Black, Latinx, Gay

Super Fun Sexy Times

Comic book artist Meredith McClaren has inked an adorable, erotic romp through the sex lives of superheroes, sidekicks and villains in Super Fun Sexy Times. It puts the “graphic” in graphic novel.

In a series of five vignettes, various characters work their way through casual encounters, discussions with long-time partners, and sexcapades with wives and husbands. Two rival sidekicks spend their downtime getting to know each other a lot better while talking shop. The dialog is sometimes sweet, sometimes hilarious (“CALL ME!”). A supervillain confronts his girlfriend with a long held, sexual secret. A lesbian couple carefully plans a fantasy fulfillment scenario. A dating couple negotiates the details of a planned sexual tryst. Discussing sexual history, medical status, relationship expectations, and carefully prescribed don’ts may seem awkward and unsexy, but their discussion proves to be anything but.

Plenty of comics and graphic novels have dealt with the sex lives of supers. Peter Parker married Mary Jane Watson, Selina Kyle left Batman at the altar. The entire subplot of the Incredibles movies deals with long-term, domestic relationship issues between a superhero husband and wife. Comic superheroes’ sex lives have always fascinated readers. McClaren gives us a glimpse that is appropriate for a new century and a new generation of comic fans.

Super Fun Sexy Times is packed with ongoing consent, active listening, and the importance of admitting one’s needs and desires. It also points out the need to listen to your partner and occasionally leave your own comfort zone. Sex-positive, body-positive, and intersectional, the characters represent a variety of races (and possibly intergalactic species, as well as altered humans). They are homosexual, heterosexual, and genderfluid. The chapters do include helpful, short character bios. The characters, even the villains, are all relatable and likable (even the aging assassin who feels he’s lost his edge and needs reassurance from his husband that he’s still in the game).

The art is a sweet concoction of pastel colors. Sleek, sexy lines and plenty of explicit detail (think Batman: Damned #1, only lighter and cute). McClaren is a seasoned comic book artist with titles like Jem & the Holograms and The Wicked and the Divine on her resume. And while the art may seem frothy, the issues this graphic novel addresses are not. Sexual agency, mutual respect, and LGBTQIA+ representation in comics are issues which should be discussed openly, even if it seems awkward. Sometimes, awkward is sexy.

The rating on this graphic novel is 18+ for explicitness. It is a funny and sexy read and is fine for any adult graphic novel collection. Super Sexy Fun Times is scheduled for print release in August 2019.

Super Fun Sexy Times
By Meredith McClaren
ISBN: 9781620106501
Limerence Press, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

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Character Traits: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, , Genderqueer, Nonbinary

Our Dreams At Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare, vol. 1

Tasaku has been found out: his classmates spotted gay porn on his phone and now the boys in his class call him a homo. Unprepared for being so suddenly outed, he contemplates taking his life by jumping off a ledge. He hesitates when he sees a woman appear to leap to her death before him, and catches up to where she would have landed only to find an LGBTQ support house. He reluctantly spends time there trying to depressurize from the social cesspool that is his school life, and in the process gets to know some of the other housemates better.

Our Dreams At Dusk pulls off the delicate balancing act of depicting internal and external LGBTQ struggles and emotional development without becoming didactic. Non-binary creator Yuki Kamatani deserves accolades for their careful depiction of all the housemates and their varying approaches to Tasaku’s newfound presence among them. While they function as a support group and safe space for one another, they’re not structured like a group therapy session and act in a much more open-ended manner. When Tasaku wants to sit in the corner and stew, the rest of them give him his space and go about their creative activities. In one striking scene, a quieter old gentleman in the group who loves classical music plays a record for Tasaku, which transports him through wavy effects.

Readers may recognize the antagonism of Tasaku’s classmates and the arguments they make about their so-called friend whom they also label “homo.” Much like A Silent Voice, Our Dreams At Dusk nails that feeling of being caught between personal expectations and others’ judgment. Tantamount to Tasaku’s frustration is the feeling that everyone else is weighing their own perceptions of what “homo” behavior is on his shoulders, as well as how he should explain himself. Characters experience multiple no-win rhetorical arguments in their daily life, such as “Whoever says it’s discrimination is the one who is discriminating” and excusing homophobia as an “old school” mindset. Kamatani’s detailed backgrounds transform into stark, isolating voids when societal pressures mount against the cast’s sense of self. Tasaku doesn’t want to be outed, and he doesn’t want to sit in a circle and talk out his feelings—so he doesn’t! This manga has greater ambitions than that.

The other main plot in this volume involves a lesbian member of the group, Haru, who freely tells people about her girlfriend Saki, even though Saki would rather they keep their relationship 100% private. Their dynamic is a tension of personal preference, with both of them motivated by their feelings toward each other. One of the book’s more powerful visual metaphors is a structure that the group house’s owner wants torn down and rebuilt as the members see fit. Haru tearing down a wall stands in for her getting up the nerve to express her true feelings to Saki. Tasaku has a similar moment, but removes a single nail before feeling the personal progress it represents.

This leaves the one element of the story that feels a little confusing, though maybe it clears up in later volumes, and maybe some readers won’t mind this at all. The lady who seemingly jumped to her doom is the same person who owns the group house’s property: “Someone-san.” The other housemates describe her as a mysterious figure who only raises more questions the more she is observed. Is she a ghost? A myth brought to life? In a story that is otherwise brimming with sensitive depictions of realistic circumstances, Someone-san represents (so far) a paranormal element that could use a little more context.

Our Dreams At Dusk is a must-have for your manga collection. The artwork is largely realistic and without a shred of fanservice—Tasaku crushes on a boy, but nobody’s ripping off anyone’s shirt. We never see what was on his phone that outed him. Shelve this alongside My Brother’s Husband and Princess Jellyfish for maximum impact. A description of the second volume indicates that gender identity will also be explored. Under Kamatani’s careful pen, these issues and characters are brought to life with a special tenderness that will fill readers’ hearts to bursting.

Our Dreams At Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare, vol. 1
By Yuhki Kamatani
ISBN: 9781642750607
Seven Seas, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 13+

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Character Traits: Japanese Lesbian, Gay
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, LGBTQIA+ Creator

Escape Journey Volume 2

Older and wiser, Naoto and Taichi are back again in Ogeretsu Tanaka’s second installment of the Escape Journey series.

The story picks up a few years after book one, with the charismatic couple busy finishing their senior year of college. The turbulence in their relationship is gone, thanks to their efforts to learn from one another and grow together. Things start to change, however, when Taichi decides to enter the Mr. S University pageant in hopes of winning a trip-for-two hot springs vacation. After Nishina, an angsty art student, spots Naoto and Taichi sharing an affectionate moment on campus, the drama returns. Blackmail, secrets, insecurity and an unknown future threaten the very foundation of a relationship they thought would last forever.

Tanaka’s sophomore effort is a strong one, tackling the issues introduced in book one to a greater extent. The lack of social acceptance for two men in a loving relationship is a sad reality. The two worry their families will disown them and their friends will shun them. And their worries are not without cause. Tradition is hard to break away from, especially familial pressure to marry and start a family of one’s own. Both of the young men’s families persistently pressure them about girlfriends and getting serious. After Taichi does muster enough courage to come out to his mother, her initial reaction is, “Is it… my fault?”

The decision to come out is another difficult issue the two must grapple with. While Taichi is ready to make their relationship public and handle whatever repercussions there may be, Naoto is ambivalent. As someone very close to his family, the threat of losing this bond for the sake of one relationship is a major risk. Discrimination also is a factor, as evidenced by the realtor who indicates that rental applications are approved or denied based on sexual orientation.

Additional stressors include the uncertainties that pop up in any committed relationship. Can they last forever? Is their love enough to justify all of the hardships? What happens next? And when it comes to the future, the two also face the uncertainties of graduation. From worry over credit load to finding a job, their struggles will resonate with many adults on the threshold of such a major transition.

Complementing the text, the highly detailed illustrations create expressive characters who pull readers in. Tanaka alternates between character close-ups and bird’s eye views to heighten the intensity of more intimate moments and convey action, respectively.

The bedroom scenes, quite explicit in nature, also rely more on image than text to tell the story. In fact, the text is reduced to auditory descriptors of the action unfolding within the illustrations. This effectively captures the physicality of the experience by engaging the senses. The pictures also reveal more about the characters’ inner emotional states. In many frames, Naoto looks pained during intimate moments, suggesting a lack of mutual enjoyment unexplored within the story itself.

Overall, I enjoyed observing how the main characters change from book one, growing as individuals and as lovers. The two have overcome their uncertainties about their relationship; and are committed to one another wholeheartedly. Taichi is much more thoughtful and attuned to Naoto’s needs, though he still borders on losing control when he becomes upset or impassioned. I do question why Tanaka made the decision to jump ahead several years. In doing so, readers miss out on watching this relationship evolve as well as the majority of Taichi’s and Naoto’s college experience.

I do commend the author for her commitment to creating a nuanced, complex, “other guy” character in Nishina. Neither good nor bad, his decision to blackmail is complicated by his strong morals and tragic past. Readers will struggle with their opinions about him, which makes for a compelling story that delves into the complications of life and relationships.

I also am glad to see the bike motif return. As in the first book, the bicycle serves as a symbol of the two’s relationship, connecting them as well as offering an “escape journey” from the physical and emotional confines of the city.

Ending in a cliffhanger, the book will keep readers wanting more. It is most appropriate for adults due to the explicit content.

Escape Journey Volume 2
By Ogeretsu Tanaka
ISBN: 9781974701322
Sublime Manga, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: M for Mature

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Character Traits: Gay

My Brother’s Husband, Vol. 2

In the conclusion of My Brother’s Husband, Gengoroh Tagame continues the story of a Japanese family learning to accept and embrace a new member in spite of cultural and social taboos in Japan, as well as learning to face personal fears and worries.

Mike Flannigan showed up on Yuichi Origuchi’s doorstep in Volume 1 and announced he is Yuichi’s deceased twin brother’s husband. Japanese hospitality trumped initial shock and Mike is welcomed into the Origuchi home where Yuichi; a divorced, stay-at-home father cares for his young daughter, Kana. Kana is instantly enchanted by her new, hulking, Canadian uncle, and the affable Mike is eager to learn more about his husband’s family and culture. Yuichi is much more tentative and guarded in his acceptance of the brother-in-law he never knew he had.

Volume 2 of the manga covers more of Mike’s extended visit. The family learns to accept the sweet-natured man and Yuichi begins a deeper look at his relationship with his estranged brother. It also features more incidents that reveal the status of gay relationships in Japan: Mike enjoys a night out with a closeted gay friend of Ryoji’s from high school and Yuichi has a tense meeting with Kana’s teacher about Mike’s visit and its effect on Kana.

My Brother’s Husband is Tagame’s first all-ages manga and his clean, simple characters and uncluttered backgrounds make this an easy and enjoyable read. The plot is dramatic–not melodramatic.

Kana, with a child’s innocence and honesty, instantly accepts Mike for who he is and quickly becomes attached. She eagerly introduces her uncle to her friends. Yuichi, initially uncomfortable with his brother’s sexual orientation, slowly warms up to Mike and learns to deal with his own uncertainty and possible homophobic feelings. It’s the family moments that have the most emotional impact in this final volume of the manga. A trip to an onsen (a Japanese hot springs inn) includes Natsuki, Yuichi’s ex-wife and Kana’s mother. It’s really evident that Kana gets her clear-eyed view of the world and her common sense from her mother when Natsuki tells Yuichi he’s definitely matured during Mike’s visit and says, “I think we can call us a family.” Mike, Yuichi and Kana also make a solemn trip to the Origuchi family grave. The Japanese reverence for their ancestors comes across and the fact that they absorb Mike into their observance obviously means a great deal.

The family has a bittersweet parting in the final chapter as Mike’s visit comes to an end and he returns to his life in Canada. No one remains untouched by the events, including me, especially by Mike’s heartfelt promise to see Kana again (after failing in his promise to Ryoji to visit Japan together before his death). The story ends on a hopeful note for the family and for Japan—where gay marriage is still illegal and many homosexuals live life in the closet.

This manga is one of the best all-ages titles published last year. Its honest storytelling, high-quality artwork, and cultural relevance address a lot of timely social issues in a way that makes this work an invaluable addition to any manga collection.

My Brother’s Husband, Vol. 2 
By Gengoroh Tagame
ISBN: 9781101871539
Pantheon Books, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: All ages

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Character Traits: Gay
Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator

Coyote

In an unnamed, modern, but vaguely Eastern European city, a blood feud simmers below the surface and threatens to engulf a pair of young lovers. If the plot sounds familiar, it could be Romeo & Juliet. Throw in some werewolves and it could be the plot to any of the Underworld films. In this yaoi manga by Ranmaru Zariya, it’s a Romeo & Julian story involving an ancient, noble family and a hidden race of werewolves. The lovers both live dangerous double lives, hiding secrets, and not daring to exchange real names or phone numbers.

The younger man, shy and wary as his namesake, is the titular Coyote. He’s an orphaned member of the endangered werewolf pack, threatened by the mafia-like Galland family. He watches a beautiful, blonde piano player, whom he calls Marlene night after night. Marlene, nicknamed after singer and actress, Marlene Dietrich, calls Coyote “Lili,” after Dietrich’s famous song, Lili Marlene, and pursues the youth with an intense, sometimes teasing passion. The pair play a fraught game of cat and mouse while skirting the violence that threatens the peace of the city and exposure of the werewolves, who, hunted for sport as well as ancient, Eastern medicine, are on the verge of extinction.

Coyote, orphaned as a young boy, seems ready to take his place in protecting his pack. He’s given a task by his leader—take out one of the remaining members of the Galland family. In the meantime, the head of the Galland family decides to move against the pack once and for all. On top of this tense, violent standoff, Coyote inconveniently enters his first “heat.” Confused, frightened, and driven mad with lust, he is relieved when Marlene rushes to his rescue. What follows are some exceptionally well drawn sexual encounters, with plenty of yaoi-related sexual tropes.

Coyote was first published in Japan in 2016 and has been on yaoi fans’ radar for years. Popular to the point of being illegally scanned and posted online, it is a joy to see a proper, legal, English publication by Viz Media’s SuBLime imprint. The English translation is modern and smooth—no awkward idioms or dated language. The artwork is gorgeous. The backgrounds are detailed and stylish. With more realism than a lot of manga styles, the story is played straight (no pun intended), with no comedic or shojou romance special effects. The plot twists carefully, but not unexpectedly. It is an explicit, in-depth romance between star-crossed lovers.

Coyote’s secret mission is exposed at the end of volume one. With volume two slated for publication this summer, only time will tell if Lili and Marlene are ill-fated, as Marlene’s hidden past threatens to collide with his and Coyote’s precarious future.

This manga is rated Mature for explicit sexual content. I personally think it’s one of the best yaoi titles published in 2018, next to Scarlet Beriko’s Jackass, and I would recommend it as an addition for any yaoi manga collection.

Coyote. Vol. 1
By Ranmaru Zariya
Art by Ranmaru Zariya
ISBN: 9781974700516
SuBLime, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

Escape Journey, vol. 1

Love is complicated. The friendship that comes so naturally for two young college students somehow gets twisted and turned into anger and conflict every time they try to become lovers. Within Ogeretsu Tanaka’s first installment of Escape Journey, we get an up close and personal look at a tumultuous relationship that may or may not have what it takes.

After a failed attempt at romance back in high school, main character Naoto and ex-flame Taichi find themselves inadvertently in the same social circle on their first day of college. After the shock of seeing one another wears off, the two must struggle with old battle scars and a rekindled attraction that makes it difficult for them to stay apart.

Thus begins the book’s lengthy exploration of whether or not the two can overcome their past (or should), in order to get it right this time. Complicating things is their decision to keep their past romance secret from their new friends, a facade that becomes harder to maintain once Taichi starts attracting the attention of a mutual female friend.

As a boys’ love manga series, Tanaka’s thoughtful exploration of sexuality within today’s societal structure is a welcome addition. For Naoto, and I assume Taichi as well, their love for one another is a natural offshoot of the deep connection they have. It is the external world, and the barriers it poses, that are the main problem. Naoto verbalizes this struggle as he states, “Girls can go from friends to lovers, and then marry the guy. But for me and Taichi, lovers was the end of the line…” Through such dialogue, Tanaka touches on cultural beliefs and stigmas that still pose challenges, even in modern times.

Modern technology also plays an important role within the story as mobile phones and handheld devices connect the characters through texts, videos, games and images. Theirs is a digital world, with the only physical interactions seeming to occur within the confines of the college campus. Setting thus takes on an important role, initially reuniting Naoto and Taichi, and forcing them to remain in almost daily contact. Whether it is class, lunch hour or study sessions, the aforementioned physical space is pivotal in allowing their personal relationship to evolve.

In stark contrast to the techno-centric social sphere is Naoto’s preference for an “old school” bicycle as his primary mode of transportation. For the main characters, it also comes to symbolize their escape from the stresses and confines of everyday life. By fleeing the city on their trusty set of wheels, the two are able to get back to the basics and simply be who they are. In fact, my favorite illustrations are the full-page spreads that precede each of the story’s six chapters, or “escapes,” which filter out all the non-essentials to zero in on Naoto, Taichi and the bike. Readers who pay close attention to detail will enjoy observing how the duo’s expressions, posture and proximity to one another changes as the story progresses.

Tanaka’s deft hand also creates eye-catching characters and scenes that I enjoyed poring over long after I finished reading the last bit of text. (Admittedly, my guilty pleasure was admiring the artsy haircuts and hipster fashion featured throughout.) Naruto in particular stands out thanks to the twinkle in his eye and the detailed facial expressions that made his appearance as captivating as his personality. In contrast, Taichi’s brooding features and penetrating stare were the perfect fit for his shy and contemplative nature. Clearly, physicality is an essential part of the book, which the images convey more vividly than the text alone. This is especially true for the romantic scenes, which allow readers to see the bodies entwined in passion that borders on violence. In fact, I thought one particularly violent scene actually crossed the line into victimization. Unfortunately, Tanaka does not fully explore this serious issue, which is more or less brushed aside after it happens.

In addition, the illustrations include visual cues that indicate shifts in time, perspective and mood. I found this especially helpful when moving between Naoto’s outer and inner dialogue, as changes in shading and tone provided a distinct break that prevented any confusion between the two. I really enjoyed the glimpses into Naoto’s inner thoughts, which often involved snarky and humorous commentary on the situation at hand.
Tanaka also accentuates extreme emotion such as anger, jealousy or shock through visual cues that represent a change in artistic style. While the majority of the book is done with realism in mind, intense moments temporarily flatten characters into cartoon-like versions of themselves. The more primitive the image, the rawer the emotion. In many of these scenes, the text also becomes sparse to nonexistent, allowing the images to do the talking.

Overall, the book is a fast read that runs the gamut of emotions. The main characters show a surprising amount of depth given the somewhat superficial crowd they run with. Sadly, this does not hold true for the underdeveloped supporting characters. I was especially disappointed in the “flighty” females, whose muted reactions to emotional situations struck me as unrealistic. Thankfully, the backmatter’s biography section provided more detailed character sketches about the prominent female characters as did a bonus story set a little while after the main story ends.

Regarding age recommendations, I would limit this book to adult and mature readerships due to its sexual and violent content.

Escape Journey, vol. 1
by Ogeretsu Tanaka
ISBN: 9781974701315
Sublime Manga, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Mature