The end! A journey beginning nearly two years ago brings us here. Oh those sweet innocent days when we did not know the depths to which Keiko Takemiya was capable of bringing a character! Remember when we had no idea how very in lust creepy nineteenth century Frenchmen were with tiny blond French boys? Yes, it was a gentler time. Now we have seen things, we know how cruel this world can be. Or at least the world of Takemiya’s juggernaut of tragedy, Kaze to Ki no Uta.
Having read the entire series now, I have to say again how incredible it is that this even got published at all. It took years for Takemiya to convince anyone to publish it uncensored, and you can see why. There is a *laht* of stuff that might offend basically anyone, especially in 1976 Japan. Incest? Check! Rape? Check! Monstrous parental figures doing incredibly sick things? Check! But some smart editor saw the real value of this story and took a chance on it. And we have been crying over Gilbert ever since. Major spoilers coming your way now! The end is discussed! You have been warned!
Book Nine starts off with Gilbert being happy having a birthday, so you know something bad’s on its way. If there’s anything I’ve learned reading this series, it’s that Takemiya will never let Gilbert be happy. So of course, we pick up with Adam and his Auguste-sponsored war on our little lovers. He threatens and menaces and injures, and then abruptly disappears as I expected. Because we need to get ready for the big run at the ending. The running away I thought would happen in Book Ten ends up happening in Book Nine, after Gilbert confronts Auguste. And his defiance of his father/uncle/former lover is so perfectly depicted; his love for Serge is conquering all! I have to be honest: At this point, I started to think that maybe there could be a happy ending for Serge and Gilbert. After all Takemiya has put them through, I thought maybe, just maybe she will let them live out their love in some country house in Switzerland.
But really, I should have known better. After a lovers’ suicide attempt, the two escape, with the help of friends and lovers of true love, the boarding school that means to separate them and head to Paris. Where naturally, they encounter more trouble and the one vice that had not shown up in the series yet. Despite my brief moment of hope of a happy ending, it’s been clear for several books that really, the only way this can end is with Gilbert’s death. And Takemiya worked hard in these last two books to make that death as tragic and poignant as possible. And she nailed it. I cried. I saw it coming and I still cried.
Throughout the series, Takemiya tackles a lot of heavy issues like racism and homophobia, but while they were still at boarding school, it was hard to see any real class issues. After all, everyone in the book is rich enough to go to this expensive school in the middle of nowhere. But once the pair move to Paris, Takemiya gets class in there. It’s interesting to see how despite the fact that Serge has so far been positioned as a black sheep of sorts, the product of his noble father running off with some Roma woman, he is still a member of the upper class. He’s going to be a viscount once he turns eighteen. He forgets this himself until Patricia (who will replace Gilbert once he dies (because in the grand tradition of BL, he is only gay for Gilbert)) reminds him of it. And his class privilege is obvious in his interactions with the inhabitants of the shitty apartment building he and Gilbert end up living in. So even while he is being discriminated against for the colour of his skin in his workplace, he is discriminating against these people around him. It’s a nice display of intersectionality before the word was really even invented.
There are some annoyances. Some of the story in these last two books is clearly just padding meant to draw things out, and she overuses the device of Gilbert overhearing something he wasn’t meant to hear to kick the action forward. But overall, these last two books expertly bring this twisted story to an end. The last half of Book Ten focusses on Serge and his emotional aftermath, and it is so jarringly honest. He is practically catatonic, lost in his memories of Gilbert, his regrets, his grief. Friends try to rouse him, bring him back to live with them again, but he can’t. Until he finds the piano again. I love that this passion of Serge’s helps him to accept Gilbert’s death and work through his grief. And he has a support system set in place several books ago, so his recovery and return to the world does not feel forced or out of character.
The one thing I definitely could have lived without was the tacked on extra chapter at the end of the story showing the history between Rosemarine and Jules. Although it did give insight into why these two did the things they did in the main story, it just felt forced and unnatural. I’m guessing it was one of those stretch-out-the-story things that manga magazines love when they have a popular series ending, but it actually made the end less meaningful to me. Rather than leaving us at the moment when Serge takes to the piano and realizes Gilbert lives on in his heart, we are shown a Serge who is basically done with grieving, just so we can get the back story on Jules and Rosemarine.
These last two books have too many incredible scenes to scan and post here. Takemiya was clearly not just pulling out all the narrative stops, but also the artistic ones. The deep, disturbing darkness of Gilbert returned to Auguste, the collage of what the piano means to Serge, the swirl of memories when Serge encounters his former rival, there’s a lot of beautiful and expressive stuff in these pages.
Particularly impressive is the chaotic shock of the carriage accident, which in many ways is the climax to the whole series. Gilbert, delirious, high, hallucinating, in nothing but his nightclothes, stumbles through the rain toward a carriage he imagines holds Auguste. The angles of the panels twist and turn, inked drawings are combined with rougher pencils, and everything is skewed so that it is nearly impossible to follow. It feels like an accident. It pulls you through as if you were the one being hit, not Gilbert. These pages only confirmed for me Takemiya’s genius. She has a perfect understanding of how manga works, how it reads, how to use panels and spacing for maximum effect on her readers. The pages of the accident are a story in and of themselves, perfectly encapsulated.
But you, you my monolingual readers, may never get the chance to read this incredible and foundational series. There’s no way this will ever be licensed, if only for the fact that the protagonists are fourteen years old when the whole thing starts and seventeen when it ends. In other words, no one is legal and that is problematic in North America. But I wish it would be licensed (and that whoever licenses it lets me translate). Kaze to Ki no Uta is beautiful and emotional and tragic and intense. Takemiya somehow manages to perfectly capture just what it means to be a teenager and figuring all this life and love stuff out. With some very NSFW themes. And if you are the target audience for this series, that’s exactly what you are looking for.