Around: Niboshiko Arai

Around_AraiFall is for reading! Or eating! Or art! Honestly, I can’t tell which. It seems like Japan loves to proclaim that any variety of things are the perfect activity for fall. There are far fewer activities dedicated to any of the other seasons, for some reason. I guess it makes sense not to push anyone to do anything in summer; it’s so hot you will die if you exert yourself. But winter seems like a reasonable time to try and do a thing or two. And spring? Isn’t that season all about starting anew? But fall gets stuck with the lion’s share of activities for the year, so we better hustle to get it all done before winter comes and renders us all useless and unmotivated until next fall.

My fall has been all about overextending myself. Foolishly. But everything’s sort of happening all at once, plus people coming at me with jobs I can’t really say no to. Like, I just got back from the United Arab Emirates, interpreting for a bunch of Japanese authors at a book fair. Authors I like and one of whom I have translated. It is pretty hard to say no when someone comes knocking at your door with something like that. I got paid to go ride sand dunes like a roller coaster with a certain best-selling mystery author, and then we went to a camel farm! I also held a falcon very reluctantly, while the falcon’s owner/trainer/random man with a falcon ran off suddenly and left me there with a bird of prey on my arm whose eyes I was afraid to meet because I didn’t want to seem aggressive and have it rip my face off right there in the desert.

But my overextended autumn means less noodling about in the pages here because the paying kind of work is taking up all of my computer time. As always, though, I am reading book after book after book. A lot of recent reading has been a matter of devouring everything written by the too many authors I was interpreting for in the last month, but you know I cannot leave my manga obsession by the roadside. Still, I have no time to discuss all these treasures with you here at length, the way my brain and I have done since time immemorial (in internet time). But my brain insists that we at least take a moment before jumping back on a plane next week (this time to the usual Tokyo) to have a little book time here with you. It’s been far too long since we got all fan-girly over anything online.

Harem_AraiSo how about some boy-on-boy action because I am a fujoshi at heart, as much as I do also love the ladies! As I waited not-so-patiently for the latest and final instalment of Sennetsu (Why?? Why is it over? Is there a support group I can join for this?), I was seriously withdrawing from Akayo Noda’s scratchy lines and blushy noses when I remembered that I had one of her earlier BL works waiting on my shelf to be read. Around is one of those intertwined short story collections that I am so partial to, set in a high school because that is the classic BL setting and every BL artist is required by law to complete at least one volume in this setting or be permanently banished from the world of man love. Arai gives us a delightful array of high school boy pairings in the ten chapters of this volume, with some couples appearing in the story of others to lend a coherency to the whole endeavour. There’s really something for everyone here.

“Kaicho to Mayuyama-kun” is the tale of a student council president obsessed with dark-haired, serious boys in glasses and the dark-haired serious boy in glasses who refuses to become part of his harem. In “Shinmachi Junji to Shinkui Jinsuke”, two childhood friends grow up and into new selves but find love together. There’s a really great section in this one that overlaps so many different times in their lives when they have sought each other, a sort of eternal time loop on a two-page spread with extra tanuki action.

Tanuki_AraiI particularly like Arai’s delinquents, who are—naturally—not actually that bad at all. Sota of “Sota-kun to Kamo” really just wants Kamo, the object of his desire, to like him back and is thrilled when Kamo agrees to go out with him, but then worries obsessively about messing everything up by being too weird. To the point where he enlists his partner in crime Yukinari to accompany them on dates to keep Sota in line. The cutest part of this story is maybe how totally into Kamo’s smarts Sota is, although Sota doesn’t really get why anyone would actually take books out of the library. And then Yukinari gets more of a starring role in “Toshoshitsu to Yurei” when his “spiritual powers” set the student council president on a hunt for the source of the ghost in the library. It turns out to have been a photograph of a pair of secret lovers (whose tale is told in the next chapter “Kare to Kare”) hidden there, in the hopes of their love living on even after they graduat and separated to go to different universities.

Kick_AraiArai offers up every type of high school boy through the course of this volume—juvenile delinquent, drama geek, playboy, nerd, and more—so there is bound to be something for every fujoshi. And while it is one of her earlier works, Arai’s trademarked blushes and gangly hands are fully on display here. Sometimes, the proportions of bodies are wonky in a non-intended way, but it’s fun to see where Arai came up from and how she’s evolved and grown as an artist and a storyteller. If nothing else, it will soothe your heart while you pray for her new series to please, please start soon. (Why, Sennestu, why?? You were too good for this world!)

JD_Arai

2 thoughts on “Around: Niboshiko Arai

  1. I love Arai’s art. The boys look like normal students with actual personalities. Is high school your preferred genre when it comes to BL? I personally like salarymen, bonus point if there is some age gap thrown in.

  2. I love love love Arai’s art! She’s one of my faves. But high school is not my preferred BL. I appreciate that it’s a kind of gold standard for BL, so I enjoy reading the various takes by different artists. But I prefer stories with adults! Salarymen are great, but my bonus points go to glasses!

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