The copy on the obi for Strange, Yuruco Tsuyuki’s debut story collection, says “the best encounter of your life”, but I’m assuming that’s code for “your new favourite gateway BL,” code that only seasoned fujoshi can understand. The cover is an obvious fujoshi shoutout. I mean, sure, that could be a woman on the cover next to that tiny man, but years of reading man-on-man action have taught me that those large hands and muscular thighs are those of a man who works at a joso club of some sort. Plus, the rest of the obi copy informs us that the book contains stories about six pairs of men, another siren song for the rotten girls.
But this sneaky little book is not BL. It is a little dip of the toes in the water of men with feelings for each other, a skip away from the toxic masculinity on display in the everyday, a vision of how great the world can be when men aren’t afraid to be vulnerable with other men. It is still, however, a hop, skip, and a jump from BL town. Give it to your friends who don’t know how much they will love BL yet. Convert them to the cause in a stealth mission. It’s time for the fujoshi revolution, friends.
I haven’t read such an unabashedly upbeat book in possibly years. Which is not to say there is no conflict in these pages. That would make for a pretty boring read. The men in these six stories have their troubles. In the titular “Strange”, Odeko-chan is a high school student who goes to cram school because he doesn’t know what else to do with himself. He’s not particularly interested in anything, much to the dismay of his mother, who wishes he would play baseball or something. On his way home from cram school, Odeko-chan finds a lady’s shoe and tries to return it to its owner, an enormous woman on a swing in the nearby park. The woman is actually a gay man named, of course, Kuma (Bear), who works in a joso hostess club. Kuma is crying about a client being mean to him and when Odeko-chan sticks around to offer some kind words rather than being freaked out by Kuma’s appearance, the two end up in a strange sort of friendship. And it’s that friendship that sorts their individual troubles out, a theme that runs through the entire collection.
But Tsuyuki doesn’t bring us that trite “friendship conquers all” theme that you might see in a less sophisticated work. Rather, she gives us little peeks into the development of the relationships, the snarls along the way, and the ways we sabotage ourselves. The encounters in each story give the protagonists new lenses through which to view themselves and their worlds. Otaki in the two-part story “Friend” doesn’t have any friends, something he doesn’t really understand or even think too hard about. He prefers the company of books and spends his time at school working as the student librarian. But bad boy Kamitano disrupts that peace when he hides out in the library rather than going to class. Naturally, Otaki is annoyed, but then Kamitano asks him for book recommendations, and Otaki slowly comes to see that the tough guy is actually a lot more complicated than that. A thoughtless remark on Otaki’s part later makes him reevaluate himself and the way he deals with people.
We don’t get slapped in the face with loads of internal dialogue to depict the changes the characters gradually make to the way they interact with the world. Tsuyuki shows us this process more in the way they interact with the other characters, in particular with the other male protagonist. It’s a subtle, natural transition, giving each of these men their own little arc so that they are better people by the end of their respective stories. The key to each story is that the protagonists can only connect with each other when they stop trying to be one way or another and simply allow themselves to be who they actually are. It’s a simple thought, but a lovely one, and Tsuyuki executes it nicely.
“Move” has an uncle reconnect with his nephew through anime and dance, “Pretty” gives us a teacher who’s crazy about animals and a student who has possibly the cutest dog in the world, “Connect” brings two wildly different high school boys together through online gaming. And never fear, oyaji lovers! “Bright” stars a middle-aged man! He’s not wearing glasses (so that’s a point deduction), but he does get a makeover from a hot younger guy in Hawaii. And there’s gleeful splashing in the ocean! Tsuyuki also kindly includes “After”, a couple pages for each story to show us where the relationships ended up. You can probably already guess that they end up in good places. This is a book to read when you need to be reminded that people can be good and amazing.
Tsuyuki also has this great size thing going on in her art which I am so in love with. It reminds me a bit of Asumiko Nakamura, in that the proportions here can also get pretty wild. But while Nakamura toys with men with surrealistically broad shoulders and lanky legs, Tsuyuki sets her pencil to bearish-mountain men who loom over every panel they’re in. Pretty much everyone is just big. I’m sure this is just a stylistic thing, and they’re not all bears in here. But it’s refreshing to see characters who are simply large in a manga after so many lithe and skinny boys and girls. Tsuyuki also keeps things pretty clean in general, not a lot of clutter to distract the eye from going where she wants it to go.
This is another book from Torch, the publishers of the very different Majutsushi A and the 107 Goshitsu Tsushin. I can’t even imagine what editorial directive they have that would lead to them publishing all three of these books, but I think I love it. Their website says that they launched a couple years ago to look for “alternative expression” and “the path to our own old age.” Which, like, what? I don’t know what that means, but I’m very interested in finding out. I love book-related mysteries.