Okay, I’ll be straight with you: there aren’t actually any decorative gourds here. I just wanted to contribute to the general online narrative of autumn being all about decorative gourds and pumpkin spice lattés. I wanted to be part of the group, you guys. But I promise you the BL part of that title is one hundred percent truth! There is for real BL in here. Classic BL! Also newer BL because I couldn’t actually pick just one title to write about. Because I am indecisive. Despite the fact that I have extremely strong opinions. The two apparently do not go together. I am indecisively possessed of strong opinions.
Like my declaration of fall being for SFF. Such a strong opinion! I ran with it for several weeks! But now, as autumn slips away and the days become shorter in their inevitable march toward winter, my strong opinion also fades and drifts into the hazier territory of “maybe fall is for BL?” Because I have been reading BL lately. It’s a good thing my translation/interpretation lets me become passionately devoted to and interested in a topic or person for a brief period of time because that is apparently how my wishy-washy, fervently devoted brain works, and I don’t know how I’d ever make a living in any other line of work.
So the BL! Let’s get to it before my brain moves onto some other upcoming passion! (I feel it brewing deep inside my neurons.) Kyuso wa cheese no yume o miru by Setona Mizushiro and Wandervogel by Sakae Kusama! Sexy times! Sakae Kusama is an artist that I follow so when I saw this beautiful beast at my local bookstore, it was off the shelf and in my hands before I even knew it. But Mizushiro is new to me, although the rest of the world seems to be well acquainted with her work. I was out for drinks with a couple fine ladies when her name came up, and when I expressed my utter obliviousness on the topic of Setona Mizushiro, I was greeted with surprise and more than a little reproach. “Keiko Takemiya says Kyuso is the BL!” my younger colleague informed me, shocked at my lack of knowledge, and so I immediately decided to fill in this gap in my education. Because we all know how much I love Takemiya, and if she holds a BL up high for all to worship, then I must join the rest of the world in getting down on one knee. Or at least pick the damned book up and see what the fuss is about.
And what is the fuss about? Otomo finds himself between a rock and a hard place (hurr hurr) when his shopaholic wife sets a private investigator on his tail (hurrrr) to catch his cheating ass (hurrrrr—I’m so sorry, you guys, I can’t stop). It turns out that the PI just happens to be a guy he knew at university, Imagase. And Imagase is not just gay-for-you; he is gay for reals, and he’s always had a crush on Otomo. So he promises to make a false report to Otomo’s wife for a kiss and whatever else he can get away with. And thus the plot is set into motion. It’s not quite rape-y, but the whole thing starts out pretty non-consensual—or at least consensual under duress—so if this is the kind of thing that makes you run for the hills, you should probably just stay away from this one. Otomo does eventually come to see Imagase’s charms, of course, because otherwise this wouldn’t be BL. But it’s a slow build. Imagase is steady in his pursuit of Otomo, and Otomo finds himself feeling some bewildering things and facing some new hard truths about himself.
And unlike most BL, Imagase faces a woman as a serious contender for Otomo’s heart, which is an interesting narrative choice that Mizushiro really commits to. Natsuki doesn’t just pop up to inspire a moment of jealousy or a realization in Otomo of where his true allegiance lies. Otomo really is pulled between Imagase and Natsuki, and the two of them have their own little catty relationship as they vie for their salaryman dreamboat. I can see why this book gets the love it does, but it’s never going to be my castle on this hill. Mostly because I am so not a fan of this art style, the classic-leaning BL/shojo with the angular faces and shaggy slices of hair cutting across foreheads and occasionally impossible proportions, all held together with more tone than a large stationer’s stocks.
I’d much rather dive into Sakae Kusama’s work, even if her storytelling is sometimes wonky. I’ve translated a few of her books, and every time, I have to stop and wonder who is saying what or what is actually going on in a scene. And I do it again a few times in Wandervogel. She has a way of not really attributing word balloons to any particular person that leaves scenes open to misinterpretation. (Or perhaps that is just me being a bad reader of comics.) But even when I am wondering exactly what is going on in a particularly scene, I’m revelling in her sketchy, loose lines and puppy-eyed protagonists.
Wandervogel is a series of interconnected stories following first Ko-chan, a university student searching for his childhood love Yu-chan, and then Yu-chan’s older brother figure Okitsu, a claustrophobia sufferer who can’t even sleep indoors anymore. The story of Yu’s disappearance from Ko’s life is unnecessarily convoluted and confusing, but their reunion is adorable, if entirely unsexy. Okitsu, in the meantime, runs off to Okinawa where he can sleep outside year round without fear of freezing to death. But then a severe typhoon forces him under the spacious roof of Ibu, a famous writer who has his own secrets. And this part of the story does get sexy, so fear not. Kusama’s still got her sexy powers.
But neither of these BL is especially full of the hot and heavy. They’re both about the emotional aspect, the deepening connection of two men thrown together for various reasons. Which actually makes them both cozy reads in a cooling season. Like autumn. Fall is for BL! (Such a strong opinion for just right now!)