With the rainy season hanging firmly over the skies of Tokyo and the sweltering heat of July fast approaching, it is literally sultry over in these parts. The slightest bit of exertion is enough to send rivers of sweat streaming down my face. And my morning runs lead to all the moisture in my body being expelled from every sweat gland I have. It’s disgusting, but weirdly satisfying to be drenched in sweat (as long as you can go home right away and shower it all off). So it seems like the perfect time of year to hide in your house with the air conditioner on and let any sultriness in your life come from the pages of BL books. And what better book to get sweaty with than the latest from Haruko Kumota?
It’s been a long time since she released a BL book than was something other than my beloved Itoshi no Nekokke. That is not a complaint. If she has time to draw BL, I want her to spend it on showing me how happy Mii-kun and Kei-chan are. But I guess Kumota sometimes wants to stretch her wings and tackle something other than our blissed-out lovers. But that seems to be only very occasionally since there are only five stories collected here, spanning from 2011 to 2017. The one from 2011 is “Be Here to Love Me”, which first graced the pages of the Dame BL anthology, and it was just as much of a delight to read again several years later as it was when I first picked up that anthology. The tale of a man with a serious foot fetish discovering that his junior colleague is in fact the owner of the lovely, feminine legs he has been lusting for online, the fact that it is in this collection makes me wonder if foot fetishes and women’s underpants are no longer off-limits when it comes to BL.
Vampires, though, have never been taboo in the BL world. All the bloodsucking, a thinly veiled metaphor for other kinds of sucking! Sexy sucking! But Kumoto is never one to play it straight (I can’t decide whether or not I intended that pun), and the titular “Bara no Mori ni Ita Koro” offers a suitably off-beat take on vampires. There is the standard blood-sucking, but there’s also a surprising amount of rose-eating. The first page gives us Masamune biting into a rose on the bush like it’s an apple before his lover Yo comes to fetch him and they go home to a feast of roses prepared in a variety of ways. Masamune took Yo in as a child and raised him, so there’s some foster parent squick for those of us who are not into the incest stuff. But it’s not played up at all, and the fact that one of them is an eternal vampire and the other has gone through any number of reincarnations before finally landing in a human body again basically gets rid of any possible incest squick.
The second story, “The Rain in Monte Carlo”, has Ren, an older washed-up Japanese actor, filming a movie in Monte Carlo with a much younger Frenchman in which they are meant to be lovers. Ren is not so cool with having to do a gay love scene, and the movie set is slightly hostile to him, given that he doesn’t speak French and so has to rely on a clearly unreliable interpreter. But his co-star Jean-François reveals that he speaks Japanese, and so the two go out on the town together, with Jean dressed as a woman. Ren is uncomfortable with how hot he finds Jean, and of course, things go to sexy town. Because this is a Haruko Kumota book and she is the master of the hard right from hilarious into hardcore sex. Seriously. She can turn on a dime, and it doesn’t feel the slightest bit jarring.
And while I love tales of older men having awkward confrontations with their own sexuality, I love stories of would-be young toughs cracking to reveal soft interiors even more. “Yoshiki to Takumi” is just such a story. Leaders of rival gangs, Yo-chin and Takumi smash heads on the streets, determined to prove their own strength and superiority. But right from page one, Kumota lets us know that for all their posturing, they are just high-school kids. Takumi might have a cigarette dangling from his mouth, but it is accompanied by a note that tells the reader it’s just chocolate. With this one, tiny detail, Kumota shows that she’s not taking herself or these young toughs too seriously. Because they might be gang leaders, but all bets are off when you’re naked together in the sento bathhouse. And Takumi’s family just happens to run the sento closest to Yo-chin’s place. So they’re naked in hot water together, and you can clearly see where things will go next.
The push-pull as they alternately give in to and fight back against their attraction to each other is sweet as hell, and I guess Kumota liked these two enough to go back and give them a little epilogue. I could happily read a whole book devoted to the couple, so I hope she gives them a grumpy happily-ever-after at some point. I would actually read a whole book revolving around each of the pairings in this volume. Kumota has a real gift for coming up with compelling characters and giving readers just enough back story for them to feel fleshed out and real, but not so much that it becomes an info dump or distracts from the story she is trying to tell. Now that Rakugo Shinju is being published in English, maybe we can look forward to some brave publisher (SuBLime. Maybe you, SuBLime? Hmmm??) picking up this or another of Kumota’s BL. The English-speaking world needs more joyously smutty BL.