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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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04/02/2008 Archived Entry: "Yaoi review: Laugh Under the Sun"

Laugh Under the Sun
by Yugi Yamada
Published by the Juné Imprint of Digital Manga, Inc.
ISBN-10: 1-56970-776-6
ISBN-13: 978-1-56970-776-0

Review by Cat

When Sohei Shirai was 17 and high on an ambition of becoming a world-class boxing champion, he almost killed a school classmate during a friendly round of boxing. This traumatised him enough to abandon boxing altogether.

Now at 25, with nothing but good looks to his name, he lives off the kindness (and lust) of working women who take him in as their live-in lover. His life goes nowhere and he knows it, but has convinced himself well enough to believe he doesn't care. However, there's a tiny thought that rattles around in his skull: how long can this go on?

After his latest sugar mummy boots him out, he’s broke and homeless but there’s one place he can go – his childhood friend Suzuki Naoki’s apartment. Instead of finding Naoki, Sohei comes face-to-face with Chikazawa Osamu, also a close childhood friend and at times, worst enemy.

Chika has that special ability of recognising Sohei’s secret fears and emotions. However, to Sohei’s annoyance, he also has an ability to piss him off easily. Chika’s always been cool-headed and mature. Not at all like Sohei who’s hot-headed, impulsive, aimless, and wild.

Regardless, there are no one more important to Sohei than Chika and Naoki. He knows Naoki always has the time to listen, even if he keeps interrupting poor Naoki’s love life. He also knows whenever Chika criticises; it’s done in the name of friendship. He knows no matter how bad he would behave; both will always be there for him. They are his safety net.

So, finding Chika at Naoki’s place surprises him. He senses there’s something big changing and he doesn’t like it. Especially after learning why Chika was at Naoki’s - freelance journalist Chika and graphic designer Naoki have decided to set up a company together.

This revelation leaves Sohei vaguely unsettled. Will his safety net be taken away? The feeling increases when he suspects there’s something going on between Chika and Naoki, which awakens these vague feelings within him towards Chika, especially when during a quarrel Chika reveals never seen Sohei as a friend. Sohei slowly twigs on what Chika has been really feeling all these years.

Sohei’s sense of unease increases even more so when Chika tries to encourage him to take up boxing again. He’s well aware that at 25, he’s too old for boxing. However, Chika makes it clear to Sohei that if he doesn’t try, he’ll never be happy. With that said, he basically kicks Sohei’s arse to the nearest boxing club.

And so begins Sohei’s journey.

"Laugh Under the Sun" was published eight years ago and as far as I can see, it stood time well. In honesty, because I’m such a fan of Yamada Yugi that I expected the usual storyline, but to my surprise, it’s a little different from the norm. Instead of a story of two “I’m no homo!” guys falling for each other, it’s a poignant tale of a guy growing up.

I would classify "Laugh under the Sun" as … perhaps, 'Lad Lit' (as opposite to Chick Lit) because the story mostly revolves around Sohei’s journey to becoming a better man while reviving his abandoned childhood dream and finding love. I admit at first I was a bit miffed (mostly because I'm still feeling the effects of overdosing on lad lit novels), but soon I found myself rooting for Sohei.

Don’t get me wrong – Sohei’s romantic relationship with Chika is very much part of the story. It’s just not as centred as other Yamada stories. It has all Yamada trademarks, though – comedic moments (especially where Naoki is involved), interesting dialogue, sly digs at social issues, and poignant moments. While there aren’t many, sex scenes justify the ‘Rated 18’ rating.

However, I’m not that impressed with Yamada’s handling of Sohei’s probably biggest change: his love life. I mean, this is a self-confessed super macho guy who’s been around a block or two with women and doesn’t shy from making homophobic comments. Then there is he - getting romantically involved with his male childhood friend. There isn’t much reflection on this life-altering change. I felt Yamada’s glossed over this part, making it somewhat a fairy tale. That’s when comparing with other but seemingly realistic issues within the story.

I mean, Yamada has done well in addressing Sohei’s lack of direction that affects many people in real life; Sohei’s growing awareness that he’s getting old, especially when competing against much younger boxers; Chika and Naoki’s struggle with the current climate of employment that presently exists in real life Japan; Sohei’s homophobic comments; the complexity of years-old friendship, and many more.

So, it’s a little strange that she held back from including the effects of the change might have on Sohei. It’s not a serious thing, though. Perhaps she did it to enforce the romantic aspect to soften the reality of some social issues in the story? If so, I suppose it makes sense why she held back.

There isn't much to say about Yamada's art work - it's the usual business. It's still sketchy, but good enough to make it unique, quirky and memorable. There's still a round of some awesome facial expressions (probably my favourite part of Yamada's art). There's still the kind that makes poignant moments truly poignant.

Production values -- the book feels solid enough to make the read enjoyable. Not so heavy nor so thick. Just right. There aren't many SFXs, but when there is one, it's left untouched with an English translation beneath. Dialogue text is easy on the eye, but the typesetter in me isn't that impressed with the layout of some dialogue text. It feels rushed, but that just might be me. In short, it's a reasonably good job all round.

All in all, I’d say "Laugh Under the Sun" is one of Yamada’s better works. Granted, it won’t achieve the classic status that her probably best known work "Close That Door!" has, but it’s definitely worth getting.

Mild spoiler alert: there is a possible continuity error.

In "Laugh Under the Sun", just after giving a school reunion invitation to Sohei, Naoki reveals the fate of their former classmate, which marks an important emotional turning point for Sohei. Yet in "Chiisana Garasu no Sora" [Little Glass Sky; renamed as "Glass Sky" under June/DMP], it’s during the school re-union that Sohei, Chika and Naoki learns from a friendly former classmate about the fate of their classmate. Heh.

--The Suzuki Naoki story--

Although "Laugh Under the Sun" can be read as a standalone, this list is for readers who like to follow Suzuki Naoki’s story in chronological order:

- Glass Sky
(the story of Naoki and Yada at their high school)
- Laugh Under the Sun
(the story of Chika and Sohei eight years after graduating from their high school with Naoki as a major side character)
- Wild Man Blues (an extra from ‘Mizu Nurumu’ [Spring-warmed Water])
(an oneshot of Naoki and his childhood friend, Namakura Ayu, which takes place eight years after Ayu moved away from their hometown with his family)
- Never Cry (renamed as 'Extras' in "Glass Sky")
(the conclusion of Naoki’s story, taking place at a school re-union party, featuring Naoki, Chika, Sohei and a tiny guest appearance from Ayu).

Review of "Glass Sky" available soon.

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