It’s been a while since the est em fanclub met. Thank goodness Ohta Publishing thoughtfully put together this collection of interconnected shorts from est em. Otherwise, it would be another day of crying into our pillows, waiting waiting waiting for more est em. The est em fanclub actually got very lucky in August, which saw the publication not only of Sono Otoko, Amato ni Tsuki but also Book Three of Golondrina. No crying into our pillows anymore!
I’ve gotten to the point with est em where I don’t even check what her new books are about. I just see the words “est em” next to a title I don’t know, and before I know it, I’m at home with the book in my hands. Which is why I replied “politician BL maybe, I don’t know, the guy on the cover’s wearing a suit” in response to a fellow est em fan asking what the new title was about. It turns out that no, Sono Otoko has nothing to do with politicians. It’s not even BL. The tiny French subtitle tells the story: “Une histoire d’un amateur de friandises”. A story of a connoisseur of sweets. If you pay attention to more than the suit on the cover, you can clearly see a bar of chocolate in his inner jacket pocket. So not politics. I think the suit blinded me. Guys in suits!
The book itself is so beautiful that when I freed it from its plastic wrapper and opened it up for the first time, I could not stop myself from crying out “pretty!” to my empty apartment. The jacket is semi-transparent showing off the detailed turquoise and gold cover, with its pattern like the crest of some ancient family. The obi is gold and very lovely, but very unscannable, which is why you do not see it here. The first page of the book is that same semi-transparent paper covered with this repeating crest pattern in gold. And the pages of the manga itself are printed in a rich brown ink, very reminiscent of chocolate. There’s some real effort put into the design of the book itself, making the thing a treat to have in your hands and roll your eyeballs over.
Not noticing at first that this was published by Ohta (they of the Erotics f), I had expected this to be BL. Mostly because of the guy in the suit on the cover. So it was a bit of a shock when things get surprisingly sensual with a lady in the first story “Truffle au chocolat”. em divides these pages up into panels lengthwise, so there is a languid urgency to them that the other panels in the story don’t have. It is the perfect release in a story which is otherwise tight and controlled.
The entire collection balances in this place between abandon and control. Even em’s lines are somewhat tighter and cleaner than in her other work. It’s perfect fit for the subject matter. Naturally, the stories take place in Paris, and revolve around a particular chocolate shop and one of its very regular patrons, Jean-Louis. This is a man who loves chocolate, who sees the world through the lens of chocolate, and in these stories, he teaches people around him to see the world in the same way. So the woman in the first story, one of the chocolatiers at the shop, finds the love and sensuality within her she needs to make the perfect chocolate. In “Croque en bouche”, an uppity fashion editor gets stripped naked and rebuilt by Jean-Louis and sweets. His dentist learns that life is no fun without chocolate in “Quiche lorraine”.
Although all the stories are equal parts charming and compelling, the real standout for me is the second story, “Bonbon liqueur”. Jean-Louis stops by the shop for his daily eating of the fancy chocolates only to be disappointed by the creations of chocolatier Henri. He chastises Henri for bringing his personal problems into the kitchen and they go out for drinks, so Henry can cry on Jean-Louis’s shoulder. But of course, Jean-Louis does not drink. He merely sits next to Henri pounding back scotch and eats liqueur chocolates. The guy is serious about chocolate. Henri gets drunk and J-L takes him back to the hotel where Henri has been staying since his wife booted him out. There, J-L counsels Henri on getting his wife back while giving him the most sensual kiss I’ve ever seen in comics.
Although the stories in the first half of the book tend to circle in on this connection chocolate has with sensuality, the second half strays more into the territory of family and other kinds of love. We get some of J-L’s history in “Perle de chocolat” when he visits his mother in the hospital, and we see his kindness shine through in “Crêpe au nutella” when he shows a child actress the delights on indulging your sweet tooth. And a thread running through all the stories is the slow development of a romance with the chocolatier from the first story. It provides a solid, subtle arc and an upbeat conclusion to the book.
Obviously, you are very unlikely to hear me ever say anything bad about est em, but even considering my (exceptional) bias, Sono Otoko, Amato ni Tsuki is a strong collection of stories about a world you don’t often get to read about. And you will want to eat so much chocolate by the time you are done.