Fourth Generation Head: Tatsuyuki Oyamoto

Tatsuyuki may be the son of a yakuza head and destined to take his place one day, but that doesn’t mean he has an easy time or enjoys his place in life. He fell for a man who left him; now life has no joy and Tatsuyuki just wants things to be normal, like they were before Minori. His father sends him to Fukuoka, to the yakuza branch there, to try and help him get his head back on straight. One night of drinking and partying leads him into the hands (and very strong arms) of a beautiful dark haired boy with glasses and a whole lot of trouble.

Before we talk about anything else in this manga, we need to talk about the fact that Fourth Generation Head covers some difficult topics. There is discussion of sexual abuse of minors, women forced into sex work, and one of the characters chooses to offer sexual favors as a way to repay a debt that borders on abuse. The second topic is only touched on briefly, but the other two are discussed/shown several times in the manga, so that is something to consider before reading or adding to a collection. There is also the usual occasional non-consensual moments often seen in manga of any genre that involves sex, but thankfully these are not frequent and are brief.

That being said, Fourth Generation Head is actually very good and avoids a lot of the stereotypes of the yaoi/boys love(BL) genre. At first, Tatsuyuki and Nozomi’s relationship feels uncomfortable and toxic, but it evolves over the course of the manga into something very sweet and supportive. They embrace their pasts and open up to each other, almost like a slow burn story in reverse. We have the first sex scene starting around page 18, with a short scene a few pages before at a sex work establishment, but the sex gets sweeter and more affectionate, less just lust fulfillment, as the story goes on. Tatsuyuki even seems to go back to accepting his role as the next yakuza head by the end of the story, making his power his own to use as he sees fit.

Fourth Generation Head has fantastic art; it’s clear Scarlet Beriko has worked to refine her style. The panels are never static and there aren’t really any moments of confused action where the reader has trouble understanding what is supposed to be happening. Every character is visually distinct, like Tatsuyuki’s slightly pointed ears and Nozomi’s large, detailed eyes. Even Tatsuyuki’s assistant/caretaker, Mr. Asoda, who we only see a handful of times in the manga, is distinguishable from the generic bodyguards he’s usually accompanied by. Proportions are very distorted in everyone’s bodies, but that’s also very typical of this genre, as it’s done in a way to accentuate hands and torsos/hips.

A side note: the summaries found on sites like Amazon mention that Tatsuyuki is questioning his sexuality, but aside from a brief scene in the beginning, we don’t have extensive agonizing over whether it’s okay or not to be with another man by Tatsuyuki. This is also refreshing, as this is often a trope in yaoi; one character lamenting that they are abnormal or telling their partner that they should be with a woman, often almost any time they have sex. One character does make periodic mention of being like both a man and a woman, or that he doesn’t know what he is, so that might be how Beriko circumvents this particular trope. That character is drawn in corsets and/or skirts in some of the chapter dividing art as well, and it’s unfortunate we don’t get more discussion of this character and gender because otherwise the chapter art could be uncomfortable, given the character’s past.

As far as recommending Fourth Generation Head, I definitely suggest it for libraries that already have a BL collection or are looking to build one out. It’s not just the standard story, and it’s well written and drawn. From what I can tell, this is a one shot story, so there are no further volumes to collect, though there are other stories by Beriko set in the same universe. This makes it easy and hard for collection development, since if this volume is lost there won’t be a volume missing from a series, but readers who enjoy it won’t have a sequel to look forward to.

Fourth Generation Head: Tatsuyuki Oyamoto
By Scarlet Beriko
ISBN: 9781974707102
SuBLime Manga, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Mature

Candy Color Paradox, vols. 1-2

Yaoi, or boy love, as a genre can fall into the trap of too many tropes and not enough originality. This is not the case with Isaku Natsume’s manga series, Candy Color Paradox. In fact, her work is a breath of fresh air, combining an adorable romance with a compelling storyline that stands on its own. In volume one we meet Satoshi Onoe and Motoharu Kaburagi, two of rag mag Shinkan News’ top journalists. Onoe’s reporting skills are rivaled only by Kabu’s dexterity with a camera and nose for a scoop. However, the two have very different approaches—while Onoe prides himself in his integrity and ethics, Kabu is willing to do whatever it takes, morality aside.

Needless to say, the two prefer to steer clear of one another until their editor decides to pair them as a stakeout team. As the unlikely duo explore the underside of politics and fame, Onoe begins to learn a thing or two about undercover work, and his new partner. From dislike to grudging respect to perhaps something a little more, Onoe begins to explore his bisexuality thanks to his undeniable attraction to the elusive Kabu. That is not to say it’s smooth sailing for these goofball lovebirds, on the contrary, the storyline is filled with bickering, misunderstandings and conflict as they figure one another out.

Volume two shows how their relationship evolves and deepens over time, despite the daily tiffs and misunderstandings. Here the realistic conflict probes further into the personal sphere as we learn more about Kabu’s childhood and family, especially a vindictive sister who attempts to shake up his love life. Throughout, the couple struggles to figure out how to function as a pair both intimately and professionally—no small task, especially when a hot lead on the investigative beat threatens to tear them apart.

True to the BL genre, the series features plenty of familiar tropes such as the attraction of polar opposites, an abundance of misunderstandings (the bickering can admittedly border on overkill at times), a slow burn, and of course the uke and seme characterizations. And while I understand that passive/dominant pairings are a common trend for this type of literature, I still have problems with the dubious consent in these sexual encounters. True, none of the bedroom scenes are too graphic, but Kabu clearly is the aggressor to the point that he appears to hurt and/or force Onoe into sexual acts he is not comfortable with. At the end of such scenes, however, both do seem to be content and very much in love, which does help to ease some of my discomfort.

When it comes to the illustrations, both books excel visually. The images are refreshing with crisp lines, stark shading and clever paneling. Particularly effective is Natsume’s use of the double-page spread and montage to cover action quickly and keep the book moving at a good pace. Hours-long stakeouts would definitely get boring if not for a fast way to cover the passage of time until the action picks up. The characters also are appealing, with a unique design that often elongates the torso and plays with proportion. In addition, I had no trouble telling the characters apart thanks to their distinct and expressive facial features. I enjoyed Natsume’s decision to omit the magazine editor’s eyes in most scenes as well as her ability to convey emotion through the change in eye shape for other characters.

The text itself also stands out in a number of different ways. For starters, it is a great way for the author to communicate with the reader, and the book often features little asides in which Natsume offers more information or her opinion on the situation. The inclusion of inner dialogue also provides the story with more depth by allowing readers to peek into the characters’ subconscious. By doing so, we often know more than the characters themselves, which heightens the drama when misunderstandings pop up. Thankfully, Natsume does a great job of differentiating between the many narrative approaches through the use of different fonts and the presence or absence of text bubbles.

The book is not only visual, but auditory as well. In fact, some of the more intimate scenes rely solely on image and sound to tell the story. The many “thwps,” “nnhs,” “boffs” and “mmns” offer an array of fun sounds to imagine, and it is no wonder the series was made into an audio recording. Check out the back matter in volume two for a closer look at the recording sessions.

Overall, I appreciated that the storyline was not secondary to the romance. Speaking of the romance, I also thought the characters were adorable together, minus a few uncomfortable sexual encounters. As the perfect mix of fun, humor, romance, and conflict, I am curious to see where the series will go. Interestingly, Candy Color Paradox was only intended to be a two-part series, but Natsume has received the go ahead to create more installments. And I am glad, indeed. Due to its sexual content, this series is best for an adult audience.

Candy Color Paradox
By Isaku Natsume
Art by Isaku Natsume
vol 1 ISBN: 9781974704934
vol 2 ISBN: 9781974704958
Sublime, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

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