Yagate, Ai ni Naru: est em

Welcome back to the est em fanclub! I know you’ve been out there chewing your fingernails, waiting for me to heap praise upon her again, wondering when her graceful lines would appear here once more. The wait is over! Take those fingernails out of your mouth and join me with some indigo love and one of est em’s more recent BL works.

Although I have to say upfront, this will probably be the least fanclub-y post about est em you’ll find my brain writing since Yagate, Ai ni Naru features my least-favourite/most-squicky BL storyline: brothers. I let a lot of things slide in BL because you know, it’s boys’ love, it’s fantasy, it’s not meant to be any kind of real-life depiction of anything. I’ve read the theory, the academic papers, the lay opinions. I know that one of the reasons BL works for fans and those of us who like to ruminate on the deeper meanings of the genre is that nothing is off-limits and differing power structures can be played out in a multitude of ways. But still, I cannot get over the incest taboo that has been so deeply ingrained in my head by the culture I grew up in. 

And it does not matter if the brothers in question are not blood relatives, as is the case in Yagate. You grow up with someone, spend your childhood together as if you are related by blood, your parents and everyone around you treat you as if you are related by blood. And then you develop pants feelings for each other? It squicks me out. I cannot get on board with brother sex. So you can imagine how I felt when I realized that the men in the relationship in Yagate are brothers. (It probably says something about this on the back of the book, but I make it a practice never to read the backs of books. I like to read a work without knowing anything about it.) Fortunately, this is est em and her talent saves the day!

Even though Taisei and Kota are technically brothers in that Kota was adopted by Taisei’s parents after his own father died, they were older when it happened and each of them at different times says flat out, “I never once felt like we were brothers.” In fact, underlying the events of the story is Taisei and Kota struggling to figure out how they feel about each other and where they fit into each other’s lives. And being an est em work, sexual behaviour is limited to a couple intense kisses. The real focus is, as always, on the relationship the two men have with each other.

Both Kota’s adopted and real fathers are/were indigo dyers. His real father worked for his adopted father and Kota naturally followed in the tradition, learning the work from a young age. Taisei was more outwardly focussed and it was always assumed that Kota would take over the shop when his adopted father died. But then Taisei returns and asks to be taught the trade. Which is where the story starts. We see their history in snippets of flashbacks or, in the case of the death of Kota’s father, two poignant panels one below the other, the top one featuring Kota with his father, the bottom just Kota in the same room, now darkened. It reminded me of the panels in the shoemaker’s story in Hatarake, Kentauros!, the wordless sequence of the centaur’s human lover growing older while the centaur is unchanged.

I loved seeing est em turn her focus on this very traditional Japanese art. In the afterword, she notes that her own mother was a dyer (of another kind) so it was something she was exposed to from childhood. In writing this piece, she sought out an indigo dyer and watched the entire process to make sure she got it right. And she shows just enough tantalizing bits and pieces of this process that I found myself wanting to seek out an indigo dyer and see the whole thing for myself.

And of course, she takes advantage of the possibilities of the indigo imagery, creating the most gorgeous title pages for each chapter, images of Taisei sinking into an indigo lake, Kota rising up from a blue abyss, the two men back to back framed by rolls of exquisitely patterned fabric. I want to make posters of them all and cover my office walls.

I also like how she pushed further than the usual BL focus on the relationship between the two men to look at the traditions they live in, the pressures they face as artisinal craftsmen in a world that is less and less interested in tradition, the relationships they have with the past and their families. But it is the relationship between Kota and Taisei that frames everything and grounds the work, which is no surprise at all in a book by est em. It is the thing I love most about her, the fact that she can take a subject matter that I find squicky as hell and make me see the beauty and heartbreak in it.


  1. Usually, BL between brothers makes me feel a bit queasy too. Strangely, I didn’t feel it when I read this manga. Perhaps, just like what you said, it’s because Kota was adopted when he was older, so his brotherly attachment to Taisei was not very strong. Therefore the flow of their romantic interest in each other felt more natural.

    What I really like about est em is not only her art, but also the way she frames her stories. She never has to resort to overly graphic sex or intensely steamy seduction scenes, but you can still feel the attraction between the characters and even when they are only kissing, it’s still extremely erotic while not taking over the story as a whole, like it’s important but not that important. (Am I even making any sense here?)

    I was wondering if est em has a strong presence in BL community in Asia. I have a friend who is a 150% fujoshi and she has never heard of her! I was a bit scandalized. Granted, she was not Japanese and she was based in Singapore, but honestly. Then I insisted that she should check her mangas out, but she said she prefers the works of Hidaka Shoko or Takanaga Hinako. I think she likes her men slender and feminine and story lines that are more straightforward.

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me who wasn’t too bothered by the romance in this one. I wondered if I was just willing to forgive est em anything. I totally agree with you about what makes her work so interesting. Obviously, she is a talented artist, but she also has a real gift for framing the story in just the right way so that it’s erotic and intense without being boringly graphic. She makes the steamy stuff a part of the story rather than the point of the story. You’re completely right.

      I don’t know if she has a strong presence in BL in Asia, but she seems pretty popular here in Japan. I see her work prominently displayed in every bookstore I go into, so she clearly sells. But if you like people like Takanaga Hinako, you’re probably not going to be that interested in what est em has to offer. They are worlds apart. But yeah, scandal. You should not be allowed to call yourself fujoshi if you’ve never heard of est em.

  2. I was lucky enough because this book was available when I ordered some used manga from a Taïwanese agent! At the beginning, I wanted to buy all books I couldn’t find new as some Ima Ichiko’s old manga, Yoshinaga Fumi’s Kodomo no taion, Okano Reiko’s Fancy Dance and of course est em’s manga. est em’s manga are pretty hard to buy since only Kuslar was published by big publisher Tong Li. The est em’s manga I mainly wanted to buy were Happy End Apartment and Kuslar. I encountered Yagate, Ai ni naru and I added it to my order, Chocolate lover was the other one.

    At first, I didn’t really want to read Yagate, Ai ni naru, because I’ve read the first lines of your review! The story is about… brothers >_<. So BL-cliché! But I was so surprised reading the book because the story is so good, so well-told. est em is a queen… and Yagate became one of my est em's favourite. It's the first time for me reading a long story from est em (never read Golondrina or Ippo), since this brother story is almost a book length. What a surprised! As I was expecting some fan service boys' love and maybe more sexual content, I was in front of this difficult relationship, this profound link between those two men. I love the way est em brings her audience to this traditional work such as kimono indigo dyeing.

    And now I read your review… and I share the same feeling of surprise ^__^ !

    Anyway, thanks a lot for all these est em reviews 😀 .

    1. Oh lucky find! That’s so great you managed to get a copy of Yagate. I’m glad you did decide to read, despite being turned off by the brother love thing like I was. Because it really is pretty great, right? The relationship between her characters has always been em’s strong suit (and one of my favourite things about her work) so it’s no surprise that the relationship in this one too is so interesting and surprisingly realistic.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying my est em reviews, too, because I’ll no doubt continue to write about her work as long as she keeps making it. I’m a big believer in promote what you love, so I have to talk about artists and authors whose work constantly amazes me. And est em is definitely in that group!

      1. You’re right about sharing your thoughts on authors you like! At the beginning, I wanted to do that on my blog but sometimes, I’m just so lazy!!! And sometimes, I just don’t know what to say about the manga. I’m trying to write again, espescially on manga I read in Chinese, it sometimes can help to know what’s the story for people interested.

        est em is really amazing. I was completely amazed by Yagate. I think this one became one of my favourite from her! I’m still waiting to read Sono Otoko, Amatou ni Tsuki but I lent it to a friend xD. Her relationships are often realistic. And she also know how to be funny, as in Happy End Apartment. I’m surprised I wasn’t so in love with Kuslar, except for the drawing.

        I was really lucky I could buy Yagate and Happy End Apartment because they were hard to find. And I was lucky Sono Otoko, Amatou ni Tsuki has just been published by this small publisher at that time. Kuslar is not rare at all, it can also be ordered on Yesasia.

      2. It’s hard to stay motivated sometimes, and then life can get busy around you and you don’t have time to share thoughts on authors. That’s basically me right now. I’ve been reading a ton of great stuff, but I just haven’t gotten the chance to write about any of it. Hopefully soon! Keep writing when you can. I feel like you always have interesting thoughts on the manga you read.

        est em is pretty great. I think maybe you didn’t love Kuslar as much because of the time period thing? Pretty much all of her work is set in the present, so maybe the past setting of much of Kuslar was just too jarring for you? In any case, let me know what you think when you get the chance to read Sono Otoko. I definitely love hearing other opinions on work I’ve talked about. Hurry and get the book back from your friend!

        But you are having such good luck with manga lately! I hope you keep finding great books!

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