It’s been a while since I wrote about BL, not since Niboshiko Arai graciously offered up the twin delights of Kagakubu no Megane and Adana o Kure. I’ve been reading it pretty steadily, of course—got to maintain my fujoshi membership, after all—but most BL I read doesn’t really require further discussion. Stuff like Moichido Nandodemo and Dental Darling are fun and interesting in their own ways, but there isn’t too much to pick apart. Yes, I laughed out loud when I came across Dental Darling, but I can’t write a thousand words about the ridiculousness of a dentist BL. (Although in hindsight, it was probably inevitable, and I’m actually surprised there haven’t been other dentist BL. I mean, the possibilities of that chair alone!) And Moichido was beautiful and heartrending with its lovely tale of a romance ripped apart by a sudden accident and retrograde amnesia. They learn to love each other again, of course, because this is a happy-ending type BL. And that is literally all I have to say about this kind of story.
But then there is the BL like Ever After or Itoshi no Nekokke that I have Thoughts about. And the BL I have Thoughts about will not leave me alone unless I spend an inordinate amount of time ruminating over them here. Canis the Speaker is definitely one of these. For so many reasons. First of all, although it’s a spin-off of Zakk’s earlier Canis: Dear Mr. Rain and Canis: The Hatter, it has basically nothing to do with that series, and actually goes to a much darker place than those earlier books, so the question of why slap the Canis on it at all continues to perplex me. I feel like it’s not doing the “brand” (as it were) any kind of favours. There’s not usually a big overlap between readers who like this kind of story that requires all kinds of trigger warnings and those who want a story where sexy times are more of the clothes-on, romantic-nuzzling type thing you see in the earlier Canis.
The one thing the books all have in common, though, is Zakk’s clean lines and expressive art that reminds me of something like a cross between nineties’ anime and some forgotten European comic artist from the seventies. Which sounds weird and awkward, and it is. Some pages I was all in, totally in love with the way their artistic style serves the story, and other pages put me off with tiny noses and pointed jaws that reminded me too much of old-school BL and its oddly-proportioned bishounen. But they know how to break up a page, where to put what panel, and just how to measure out the story beats, so that I was completely hooked after just a few pages. But I wasn’t exactly sure what I was hooked on.
The Speaker is ostensibly a BL book, serialized in noted BL magazine Opera, and yet the first half is devoted to following three little boys at an orphanage. And not in some gross shotacon kind of way. Just Harold, Samuel, and Tadanobu being little kids who stumble upon a mystery at the orphanage. Usually, there are farewell parties when one of the kids is adopted into a family or goes off to boarding school or something, but their classmate Aria slips away without so much as a goodbye. The more they look into this strange disappearance, the more tangled the situation appears. And while the boys are too young to understand the implications of what they learn, readers are given more than enough information to realize that this orphanage is trafficking in children. And yes, consider this where all the triggering stuff begins. If you are not cool with the direction a story that has children being sold into slavery might go, or if you just want to read the rest of the book with fresh eyes, you should jump ahead to the last paragraph.
So now that I’m really invested in Haru, Sam, and Nobu, and their sweet friendship being ripped to shreds by an evil, child-trafficking nun, we suddenly flash forward a few years to Nobu as a young adult forced to work in a yakuza brothel far from the European orphanage as the “release valve” for customers with particularly violent tastes. This is where we finally get something close to our first sex scene, except what Zakk mostly shows us is a tattooed yakuza guy putting out his cigarettes on Nobu and essentially raping him. And not in a BL “he really wants it” kind of way, the real kind of scary, rapey way. But Nobu’s smart, and once he learns Japanese, he turns his attention to other languages, with a little help from a friendly desk clerk at the brothel. I’m assuming this is where the “speaker” part comes in.
By the end of book one, Nobu’s positioned himself to move up in the underworld, and I’m assuming book two will find him reunited with his childhood friends, and they will enjoy threesomes or something while running from the law? Honestly, this is one series where I can’t even hazard a guess as to where it will go. I’ve come across my fair share of yakuza stories, both BL and non, and this is the first time I’ve seen children sold from Catholic orphanages to criminal organizations. But if you like your BL dark and maybe not all that BL-y in terms of romance/sex between some guys, and you’ve always wanted a little Harriet the Spy thrown into the world of man-love just for fun before everything goes way south, this is the book you’ve been waiting your whole life for.