Given that I will be sitting next to Taiyo Matsumoto being his English voice when this is posted (come see us at TCAF!), I feel like I should be writing about another of his books here, especially given that in the last couple of months, I have read basically all of them. And they are all good and worth writing about, but it is sort of a masculine overdose. I am not at all opposed to work with male protagonists and characters, but when I read too many books without women in them, I am forced to wonder what kind of weird procreation systems the worlds in these books are equipped with. And when I start fleshing out those systems in my head myself, I know it is time to read something with more of a female perspective.
So it is kind of hilarious that I reached for Bara no Iro no Ho no Koro to give me that perspective, considering there are literally two women in its nearly two hundred pages. But you know, it’s Boys’ Love or walking that line at least, by a lady creator who has created some fine lady characters (one day, we’ll talk about Utsubora), and maybe, like any good fujoshi, what I was really looking for was some poignant boy-on-boy action. Something Bara Iro has in spades. Although no actual boy loving, which prompted one Japanese blogger (forgive me, I can’t find the link again) to categorize it as “Boys’ Love (?)”.
It meets a lot of the criteria, but fails to pass the big test: boys getting it on in some way with boys. A boy does kiss another boy, but never in any typical Boys’ Love way, and the one overt boy-boy relationship turns out to be a lie. But that’s okay, you don’t really have a chance to get invested in it.
We meet our heroes Andrew and Paul on their first day at an elite junior high school, a boarding school naturally, somewhere in the US in the fifties apparently. Andrew is brash and outgoing, the son of the town mayor, while Paul is quiet and prefers to wait things out. He chastises Andrew for fighting back against the bullies that have made him a target, insisting that they will lose interest if Andrew doesn’t give them the satisfaction, blah blah blah. Of course, Paul ends up targeted by the very same bullies, and tries to put his policy of non-engagement into practice, resulting in a broken arm and a whole bunch of bruises. Andrew then steps in for his own beating to protect Paul and now we’re getting into BL central.
Except it doesn’t go that way. We skip ahead a year to the new school year, Andrew and Paul end up roommates, and we see Andrew’s less-than-stellar home situation. Andrew is forced to confront his own sexuality and what he wants in the form of a hot 17-year-old married woman who is more than willing to introduce local school boys to the wicked ways of the world. She is contrasted with an exploration of homosexuality that gets Andrew thinking and experimenting on his own, and realizing that maybe he has feelings for this guy Paul he shares his room with. Lots of family stuff on both sides, but in the end, Paul and Andrew don’t get together despite the fact that every BL convention has taught me their getting together is inevitable.
I only realized that Bara Iro is part of the world of J no Subete when I got to the previously unpublished extra at the end, when Paul and Andrew meet up again as adults. The tension is still there, but now there is a curly-haired blond in the picture. So now I have another three books to read (there are three in the Subete series) to find out just what happens to this Paul character. Because I want to know. Because Nakamura is a compelling storyteller, revealing just enough at just the right time to draw you forward. And I have to know how things turn out for this weirdo Paul.
And I cannot get enough of her art-wise. Between her and Sunny, I am feeling pretty spoiled lately in terms of art. I love her languid, long bodies. I love her half-lidded, sensual glances. I triple love her starburst eyes. I especially love how Donna (the married temptress) here is given enormous black starburst pits for eyes, while all the guys get smaller starbursts. There is something so fitting about those black pits for a character like Donna who has no real identity of her own and has been forced by circumstances to live off of and make herself available to men. And the long necks, wide shoulders, and delightful expressions of shock that I have enjoyed in her other work are all present here.
I would suggest that the fujoshi out there use Bara Iro to proselytize. The story is mainstream enough not to scare skittish readers off, but BL enough to intrigue and perhaps bring reluctant readers into the BL fold. Also, it is just flat out beautiful and you can show it to people as proof that “manga” does not equal “big eyes + boobs”. I am so, so sick of that trope and so, so happy that creators like Nakamura exist to prove it wrong.