I’ve been catching up on my BL reading these days, after realizing I hadn’t read even half of the titles that ended up on all the year-end best-of lists. I may not be the most hardcore of fujoshi, but I do have a reputation to maintain and I had been neglecting my duties as an advocate of BL to the larger manga-reading public. Plus, so much great stuff was published last year that really, I’ve been neglecting my duties to myself as a reader and lover of comics. So in order to rectify this gross oversight, I bought a ton of BL while I was in Japan, some of which I read, some of which I packed into boxes bound for Canada to surprise myself with months after my return. And two of which, strangely, I packed unread into my luggage.
It wasn’t that I was especially eager to read these two series. It was more a case of no more room in boxes + some room in my suitcases + when I bought them = coming home with me. Which is fine, but why did that equation lead to two series with titles that start with “10”? Was I unconsciously alphabetizing my purchases? I’m waiting for the rest of the boxes of books to arrive to see if I was, in fact.
Until then, I felt like it was basically perfect to read these “10” series alongside each other and make them duke it out for supremacy in my heart, a manga battle royale. WHICH SERIES WILL TAKE HOME MY LOVE?
Probably both of them. I have enough love in my heart for more than one series of boys getting it on with boys. I’m generous of spirit. It helps that both series are basically right up my alley, in terms of the things I like in BL. Slow burn? Yes! You won’t find any sexy time adventures in book one of either of these. Not stereotypically BL portrayals of hot guys? You bet! Things I have never seen in BL or even comics before? Okay!
In 10Dance by Satoh Inoue, the thing I have never seen in comics before is ballroom dancing. In retrospect, it seems like the perfect BL topic, but then everything does, really. The champion of latin dance Shinya Suzuki and the champion of standard ballroom Shinya Sugiki, names differing by a single character (which makes it actually hard to keep track of them sometimes, but maybe that’s just because I’m bad with names; I had to double check a dozen times that I had the names right here), have a grudging respect for each other, having encountered one another on the ballroom dance circuit more than once over the years. But then they decide they want to learn each other’s dance style and so they set up some late night lessons to teach each other. Their female partners join in, but it is mostly the two Shinyas staying up late, alone in the studio, practising dancing and growing closer to each other. Things heat up hilariously, especially when classical Shinya is teaching latin Shinya to do standard ballroom dancing.
Classical insists that the key to standard ballroom is to make your partner feel like a princess and proceeds to demonstrate with Latin. Latin is doubtful at first, but after being swirled around the room so gracefully by Classical, he declares, “I could give birth to so many children right now!”, one of many moments where I laughed out loud with this series. Inoue manages to infuse so much humor into this story, while taking it completely seriously at the same time. There is a *lot* of information about dancing. You are going to learn about ballroom dance whether you want to or not reading 10Dance. Fortunately, Inoue has the skill to portray all this dancing fluidly, with lines full of motion and a great understanding of the human body. She also renders the mens’ bodies like physically trained mens’ bodies. They are dancers, after all, so you’ll find none of the willowy builds so popular in BL here (which I am not complaining about at all). Sometimes, I felt like she was even trying too hard to convey all the motion a dance manga requires, with too many sweeping movement lines, but I get that it can be hard to find your stride with something like this and there might be the worry that the reader just won’t get the movement involved in all this dancing.
In contrast, 10 Count by Rihito Takarai has very little motion at all. The cover promises serial killer, but the insides are all mental illness. Which was actually a delightful surprise, because I can count on one hand the number of manga I’ve that even touch on mental illness in any way at all, much less in a positive way. 10 Count is maybe a bit rushed, skipping over some details and making light of things, but honestly, it was just so refreshing to see a manga tackling the subject at all that I was willing to forgive these small-ish issues.
Shirotani works as the secretary to the president of a company. He has some serious OCD and is unable to touch pretty much anything. He wears gloves and washes his hands to the point where they’re raw. He meets Kurose when the president he works for is almost run over by a car and Kurose jumps out to save him. It turns out that Kurose is a therapist at a mental health clinic and immediately picks up on Shirotani’s OCD. He suggests that Shirotani get some help for it, and the two end up working toward freeing Shirotani from the compulsions that chain him down. They start behavioural modification therapy together, but as friends rather than therapist/patient. And Takarai’s treatment of the situation can be a little facile at times, but at other times, she really brings home just how insidious this mental illness is and how hard it can be to overcome, all the while making Shirotani’s heart pound for non-OCD reasons.
The art in 10 Count is more along the lines of the lithe BL boy than in 10Dance, but that works given that the protagonists are regular J-guys doing office jobs, and thus unlikely to be particularly built. They’re still a bit more bishonen than my tastes run, but the story was so engaging and the characters so well formed that I found it easy to dive into their world regardless. Still, Takarai’s no slouch art-wise either. She makes good use of panels and tone to convey Shirotani’s compulsive experiences and when he is pushed to his limits.
I kind of wish I could do a mash-up of these two and have manly men coping with mental disorders. But I’ll take what the authors give me. It’s no wonder both of these series ended up on the best-of lists last year. Both authors are doing interesting new things in the world of BL. I’m pretty excited to see where they’ll take things next.