I’m not going to lie to you: I grabbed Fubin BL on one of my many book shopping trips in Tokyo because of the “The Latest BL from Takako Shimura” splashed across the obi in enormous letters. Shimura is always one of those artists I just enjoy reading, even though I rarely go out of my way to hunt her stuff down. But I love the perspective on sexuality and gender she brings to pretty much all of her work (like in Wandering Son, which I think is her only work in English) and the thought of a new BL piece from her after she has spent all this time really honing her gender-coloured storytelling seemed like too spectacular a gift from the BL gods to pass up.
On first glance, I also thought the title was Furin BL (Adulterous BL), which made it sound like something along the lines of the Dame BL anthology. So all the way home, I was wondering to myself just what exactly adulterous BL was, only to discover when I pulled it out of the bag that it was actually Fubin BL (Compassionate BL). (The characters actually don’t look that much alike; I just wasn’t paying that much attention.) The idea of compassionate BL deflated my balloon a little, but either way, the collection does still have Takako Shimura and Haruko Kumota, another favourite, so I decided to give it a chance and learn what makes BL compassionate.
From the stories in this collection, I would have to say that a BL story is compassionate if it features brothers and/or school boys, with a story featuring both clearly at the top of the compassionate pile. Basically, Fubin BL is a collection of things I find squicky in BL manga. (I don’t have anything particular against school boys, but when they are in junior high, that is uncomfortably close to shota style for me, especially when the seme is a teacher.)
Shimura’s story “Okite Saisho ni Suru Koto wa” (The First Thing I Do When I Wake Up) of course manages to climb up to the top of this little mountain of squick with adoptive brothers, one in Grade Twelve and one in Grade Ten. They become brothers in Grades Nine and Seven, respectively, and it’s the older, more serious Kimi who falls in love with the younger, playboy Natsuo. Kimi’s gay, Natsuo likes the ladies, problems ensue. The whole brother thing is handled pretty gracefully in a non-squicky way, with Natsuo pointing out that a real older brother wouldn’t ask his younger brother to touch his junk, which made me laugh. There’s a self-awareness in this story that you don’t usually see in incest stuff, which I definitely appreciated. And of course, Shimura’s round, expressive lines are always a treat. I particularly love the eyes in this one, almond-shaped for Kimi, slightly droopy for Natsuo. They just seemed to so perfectly encapsulate the boys’ personalities and the subtle changes from panel to panel really show what’s going on in their heads.
Obviously, the other stand out for me was Haruko Kumota’s “Love in Motion”. I don’t know how she can manage to strike such a balance between total perviness and sweet moments. She can make the dirtiest things into pure love and unicorns. It is a gift she has. She takes up the other half of the compassionate equation–school boy–and pairs him up with a teacher flipped style. The boy is pretty sadistic and totally dominant, and the teacher is torn up about his desires and the fact that they could completely ruin him if anyone found out. But boy hero loves the thrill of maybe getting caught, forcing the teacher to do it in more and more public places. And because it’s Kumota, it is basically the only story in the collection that does not shy away from some serious sexy times. But because it’s Kumota, the serious sexy times almost make you say “aaw” as you enjoy their adorable love. Add a dash of my favourite of her mannerisms–the little satisfied puff of air–and how could I not love this story?
The other compassionate school boy stories are your standard unrequited/forbidden love dealies and pretty forgettable for me. I did really enjoy “2-chome no Chisana Sakana” by Hideki Kawai, which surprisingly features no schools or brothers, although school is mentioned. Kenji runs away from his old school friend Harunobu when he realizes that Harunobu is getting married and the love he has will always go unrequited. But then! Harunobu finds Kenji working in a drag hostess club and the two start hanging out, but Kenji is always worrying that Harunobu will never want him because he is not the woman he dresses as at the club. He’s got a lot of worry about his body, constantly comparing it to that of a real woman and coming up short. The story never gets into whether he is trans or whether he just wants to be whatever he thinks Harunobu wants, but either way, the story felt like it had more depth than a lot of the others in the collection.
And for sheer adorable fun, free of school boys and brothers and the tainted world of the everyday, you basically cannot lose with Ukino’s “Parsley and Mini Tomato”. Yes, food products personified. And best friends! Parsley and Mini Tomato grew up together in the same tiny garden and agreed that they would become super delicious and get eaten together. But sadness! No one wants to eat Parsley; they only ever eat Mini Tomato. How will these two friends overcome this hurdle?! You will wonder how Mini Tomato can keep showing up on plates with Parsley after being eaten so many times, but you should just ignore that question and enjoy their unbelievably cute love.