Dokyusei: Asumiko Nakamura

I first came across Nakamura’s languid, lanky style in—what else—Manga Erotics F, with the serialization of her mystery story (You can see videos of her in action on an Erotics f piece here!) But this was the serialization of Utsubora and I came into it halfway through, so although I loved her ridiculously drawn-out lines, I couldn’t really decide on her storytelling skills. And you know where this story is going: Me, Japan, bookstore, books, oh hey!, Nakamura section. The only decision left was which book to buy.

Remembering Khursten’s thorough and deeply informative profile on Nakamura, I decided to check out some of her BL work in the form of Dokyusei (Classmates). Mostly because I already knew she had chops in the world that Erotics f caters too. But BL is a different, more finicky place and I was interested in seeing if she could balance the luxurious languidness of her beautiful lines with the sexy needs of boys in love.

Turns out? She can. Dokyusei is both sensitive and erotic without dipping into the magic glowing phalluses that pepper the pages of many a BL comic. These boys don’t ever get naked, but the tension between them is obvious on every page. Serious, glasses-wearing Sajo and rock-band rocker Kusakabe are in the same class, but that’s about all they have in common. Kusakabe helps Sajo learn the song they are singing for the school festival and, in the process, sort of falls for him. Kusakabe’s never thought of himself as gay, but he hasn’t ever really been that interested in the ladies either. Whereas Sajo’s pretty firmly in the dude-loving camp and more than a little concerned about Kusakabe’s vague intentions. And then there is the incredibly broad-shouldered, very gay music teacher they share who has his eye on Sajo.

As far as BL setups go, there is nothing particular interesting here, but it’s what Nakamura does with the premise that makes this stand out from your run-of-the-mill high school BL. The pacing feels so real, with one boy approaching the other, getting the timing wrong, pulling back, trying again, while the other tries to figure out just what’s going on and how he feels. The addition of the teacher to this little love affair would be super creepy if it wasn’t happening in Japan, where this sort of thing happens surprisingly (to Western eyes) often. And Mr. Teacher is waiting patiently for Sajo to graduate so there’s nothing super creepy going down either way.

But what really makes this title is Nakamura’s art. I could seriously drown in these pages. Or really any pages she has drawn. The way she puts eyes on a page is incredible. They are like explosions, so detailed, making me think of supernova or some other explosively beautiful astral body. And her characters are almost ethereal despite being planted in the most mundane of worlds. (After all, is there anything more obviously of this world than attending school?) They’re lazy ghosts, enjoying completely sketched out bodies only when necessary, but more often than not, missing legs or defining lines to outline limbs and peripheries. And facial expressions are delicious, generally moving from sleepily sexy to deep ennui with occasional forays into genuine surprise.

She also has such a knack for tiny moments of hilarity. The overall story is serious, two young men searching for identity and a way to connect with each other, tripping over the misunderstandings that are inevitable when communicating with anything less than mindreading. But the book is filled with tiny moments that seriously cracked me up. Like Kusakabe dashing towards and then fleeing from the incoming tide on the beach. Or Kusakabe giving pervy teacher a big ol’ elbow to the face and stealing away with Sajo. It’s just enough to keep things from sinking into tragic love story. Because even thought this isn’t a tragic love story, any love story set in high school tends toward the tragic. It is the drama-making tendency of that age. (I am so often so grateful that I am not seventeen anymore, with everything so life and death. So many emotional extremes! I just cannot handle them anymore.)

Dokyusei was enough to convince me that I should be reading more Nakamura, if only to stare at her gorgeously luxurious and languid characters. I want to see what she can do with a more challenging story outside the BL framework. Which meant another trip to the bookstore! (Fortunately that is my favourite thing.) And in that magical wonderland, I happened upon a treat subtitled When I Was Thirteen, which happens to have an obi with a ringing endorsement from Natsume Ono. And we all know what I thought of the last book I read endorsed by Ono. So basically, you should expect gushing from me about Nakamura in these pages soon enough. (And if you have particular works by her that you would recommend, you should tell me now while I am in Japan and can pick them up.)  

(And please excuse the very shoddy image quality. I don’t have access to a scanner, so I am basically taking pictures of the pages, with less than amazing results.)

(And check out these amazing cosplay pics! People really love this book.)

7 thoughts on “Dokyusei: Asumiko Nakamura

  1. I think her art is the kind where people either really love it or really hate it. It’s just that distintive. I have a friend who loves her stories but detests the art. I am in the ‘loving it’ camp, personally. I mean, check out those eyes! I think the way she draws the eyes of her characters is the main reason why they look so other wordly and mesmerizing.
    I have to confess that the first time I read Dokyusei, I had a massive crush on Sajo. Only reminding myself of my age made me behave and kept my dignity intact. I’ve read all three books of the series and I think Sotsugyousei – Haru is the best. *spoiler alert* There is a scene of first time sex, but it’s tasteful and not overwhelming. You should check out Sora to Hara too.

    By the way, I just want to recommend you this book –> 地上はポケットの中の庭 by 田中 相.
    It’s one of the best mangas I’ve ever read this year.

    1. I agree, her art is very much of the polarizing kind. People either love her lines or hate them. But like you, I am in the love them camp. The ethereal looseness is just so gorgeous and attractive for me. I’m planning to read the rest of the series, as it is. I really enjoyed Dokyusei, so I want to see where these crazy kids end up. (Also, I love that you had a crush on Sajo. He *is* pretty hot and all!)

      Also, thanks for the recommendation! I’ll definitely check it out.

  2. I hope that you will read J no Subete and Barairo no Hoo no Koro. Personally, I believe these two are the most stunning works of Asumiko. Her stories and her art, how the tragedy flows from words to the art line in each frame, she is always one of my favorites.

    1. Thanks for the recommendations! I’m definitely planning on reading more of her work. (I have two of her books sitting in the pile to be read next to my desk right now, in fact.) It’s just so gorgeous.

  3. I liked your review at the time and am happy that J-Manga brought this over with one of their better translations (and is selling it to non US people to boot)

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