Last year, in honour of 801 Day, I posted this interview I did a couple years ago with est em. Since I did not interview another incredible BL artist this year, there is no way I’ll be able to top that (although I am working on it! Surprises in store, fujos!). But that doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate this glorious day of perversion (a day after the fact!) and the extended celebration that is the 801 Moveable Manga Feast with all of you out there in Boys’ Love Town!
Because, you know, I live in Boys’ Love Town. As a manga translator, Boys’ Love is literally my day job. (Before setting down to write this, I was translating a rather heated moment between two rather heated men.) And as a translator of the fujoshi variety, I have read a *laht* of BL. The shelves of my office bookcase are stuffed with all kinds of BL with all kinds of kinks, from incest (I will never get on board with that one) to glasses (but yes to this one!) to reversible (and this one!), many of which I have translated into English for you monolingual fujoshi/danshi. Some have been boring, a few have been honestly awful, most are just run-of-the-mill type stories that I forget the second I’m done the translation, but a few have been really great and stuck with me, long after the project was finished. So in the spirit of celebrating the best BL has to offer, my brain presents to you now my top five BL translations.
Tableau No. 20: est em
Let’s just get this one out of the way first because if you’ve been reading this blog for more than a day, then you know I heart est em with shiny stars in my eyes, and I was thrilled to get the chance to translate this one. It’s not out until October in English, but you should wait on tenterhooks until then because it really is worth checking out. And if you’ve never read est em before (are there any fujos who haven’t??), this is a good introduction to her work. And to BL in general actually, if you happen to be a little skittish about reading things in a genre which is basically defined by “dudes getting it on with other dudes”, often with a healthy dose of “only gay for you”. There is sex in Tableau, but it is more arty than pornographic and you never see anyone’s bits (or the censorship of anyone’s bits). Like most of em’s work, the stories in Tableau focus on the emotional connection between the men, and how they come to terms with their own desires and the worlds they live in. And “En el parque” makes me cry every time.
The Incredible Kintaro: Naomi Guren
The polar opposite of anything est em has ever done, The Incredible Kintaro is the funniest BL I have ever translated. Likely taking the folk story of the inhumanly strong child Kintaro as its jumping off point, the story focusses on super-strong, super-sexy Kintaro and his childhood companion, high-school senior Makoto. After Makoto’s grandfather and owner/principal of Makoto’s high school dies, every baddie on campus is determined to take control of Makoto in an attempt to control the school. So the mad scientist science teacher builds a tentacle rape machine, with each tentacle controlled by joysticks manned by sadistic science club members, the flower arrangement teacher turns Makoto into a flower to be arranged, and the swimming instructor takes a time out from admiring his tanned body to give Makoto some special swimming lessons. But Makoto is saved from each diabolically sexy scheme by his hero Kintaro, who manages most of the rescuing half-naked due to baddie-clothing-interference. It is one-thousand-percent over the top and people are naked a lot in really ridiculous ways.
The Bed of My Dear King: Sakae Kusama
Kusama’s loose lines always remind me of est em, but she definitely has a style all her own, with a kind of frantic energy bubbling beneath her easy linework. I like all of her work that I’ve read and translated, but this collection of three stories is the one I keep coming back to. The title story is sweet and playful: Repairman Koga drives all the way out to Kono’s house way up the mountain in the middle of nowhere to fix the cable, but he gets snowed in by a terrible blizzard. Kono’s a sculptor and a bit out of touch with the real world, which leads to some funny moments. “Cherry” is another sweet romance, with class hottie falling for the overachieving nerd in glasses (for all you glasses lovers), while the last story, “Flowers”, gets a bit darker with a nice tragic backstory that brings the main characters together unexpectedly. I always find Kusama manages a strong balance of emotional resonance, character development, and sexy times, and The Bed of My Dear King is a perfect example of this storytelling style.
This Night’s Everything: Akira Minazuki
More than anything, the art in this one-shot about two young assassins in a post-war world grabbed me. Lots of stark blacks and whites, crisp lines, and hinting at shadows with lines rather than shading. Some of the panels are really exquisite. Story-wise, the book is also interesting. Nanao is a hardened assassin with more than ten years of experience working for a shady politician type who has his own security force/assassin team living in his house and doing his dirty work. Then new kid Aoi joins the team and is paired up with Nanao, who takes pleasure in breaking him in (you know, the BL way). But it turns out Aoi has his own secrets that turn Nanao’s world upside down. It’s probably the bloodiest BL manga I’ve ever read, so you know, if you don’t like people running around with swords, maybe skip this one.
Blue Morning: Shoko Hidaka
This four-volume series taught me so much about pre-WWI Japan! And it is a beautifully crafted, careful story with fleshed-out characters and real conflict! Akihito Kuze suddenly inherits his father’s title at the age of ten to become a tiny viscount under the guardianship of his handsome young butler, Katsuragi. Akihito falls in love with Katsuragi, of course, but the butler is ice-cold and keeps his young master at arm’s length. Things get pretty complicated as Akihito learns to navigate the world of the peerage he has found himself in while trying to win over Katsuragi. The relationship between Akihito and Katsuragi changes as Akihito grows up and begins to assert himself as master of the house, and Hidaka portrays the slow reversal of their roles so skillfully and realistically. And this slowly shifting relationship takes place in a complicated world; this is the only BL translation I’ve ever done where I had to keep a separate file of notes to keep track of all the titles and who is what to who.
And if you’ve made it this far, then you are clearly one of the true fujos and you deserve to be rewarded for your rotten spirit. Tell me (in the comments, via email, or on Twitter) what your favourite BL manga is (English, Japanese, French, whatever language you read it in) and why, and I will reward you with some seriously smutty doujinshi. Just look at this smut! R18 on every cover so don’t worry if you can’t read Japanese. Everyone can “read” R18 doujins!
UPDATE: I realize that I need to put an end date on this whole tell-me-your-favourite-BL thing, or I will be sending out doujinshi for the rest of my life. So tell me your favourites before the end of the 801 MMF (August 10)!