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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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04/06/2008 Archived Entry: "Yaoi review: Glass Sky"

Glass Sky
Story and art: Yugi Yamada
Published by the Juné Imprint of Digital Manga, Inc.
ISBN-10: 1-56970-775-8
ISBN-13: 978-1-56970-775-3

Review by Cat

Although just a collection of oneshots, Glass Sky is one of Yamada's best works. It does have a couple of romantic comedies, but the heart of the book is "A Little Glass Sky", the story of Suzuki Naoki.

Ever heard of a saying: 'Don't let the bastards grind you down'? It's clearly Naoki's motto and that's what makes his story - which takes place during his school years - so heart-breaking. But first, let's see what other stories are about.

But I'm Young
Twenty-year-old Aoki works at a 24/7 store where he's in a complicated love triangle with high school students Kudou and his girlfriend Miyakawa. When he tries to define the situation, it unexpectedly spins out of control.

For frequent readers of Yamada's stories, this is a standard Yamada story. For those who aren't might find this a sweet, funny story, even with its almost-crazy-as-arse conclusion.

Could it Be Love?
Notorious playboy and college student Sakamoto Tadashi receives a love confession from Kojima. Wa-hey! As he pounces on Kojima, he immediately discovers a horror - he's somehow fallen victim to impotence. And so begins his painfully funny journey to recovery and love.

It's another comedy that deals with a dilemma and an eventual realisation what love is. Although the story is average, I was thrilled with this oneshot for one sole shameless reason: Suzuki Naoki! This is his first appearance as Sakamoto's college friend and ex who attempts to help his issue.

Too Embarrassed to Say
Kojima's still trying to wrap his head around the fact he's dating "unbelievably popular" Sakamoto. And that he's not all that prepared to accept the reality.

A continuation from Could It Be Love?, told from Kojima's point of view. I found this rather sweet because it explores that kind of situation that many new couples experience: moments of uncertainty, unfamiliar feelings, and not knowing how much they can reveal themselves to each other. It's also average, though.

That's All From Me
An unexpected reunion of two former college classmates - Kousuke and Ichirou - takes place at a club where a rakugoka tells "Kasa-go", a narrative joke about two long-time Go players.

This means a lot to me for an, admittedly, unusual reason: rakugo. It's an old form of comedy that is a combination of joke, storytelling, punning and word play. Usually it's just one person on the stage to tell these narrative jokes. It's slow-paced and gentle-natured. You truly have to listen to get all shades of humour, from the obvious to the not so obvious. Of course it all depends on the rakugoka's skill.

My grandparents ~ especially my grandfather ~ adored rakugo. Whenever we visited, he'd dragged me to a couple of afternoon performances. I was far too young to appreciate the gentle humour and the clever word play, so I associated it with boredom (and the permanently sore bottom from sitting in one place for too long). Quite similar to those friends who disliked going to church on Sunday. It was a little like that for me.

However, as years passed by, I grew to appreciate rakugo and everything it stood for. I hadn't realised until not long ago it's notoriously difficult for a comedian to perfect as an art. In spite of that and the fact it's considered 'dead', some comedians today still try because of the need to show respect and to invoke nostalgia.

That is, incidentally, what the heart of this story is about. The structure of this story is also little unusual - it has four layers of storytelling: the rakugoka's narrative joke; the present-day reunion between two male adults; the flashback to the day when they were students doing a performance of the same narrative joke, and the story within that narrative joke, which also reflects the nature of the complicated friendship between these two former class mates. It's a complicated balance that Yamada has, I feel, successfully upheld.

In a way, it's an oddity as a Yamada story, but what makes it such a nice read is it revolves around - and invokes - nostalgia. Nostalgia of those days when rakugo was popular; of those days when they were class mates when he tried to tell that narrative joke, and those days in the story of the narrative joke itself.

It's also somewhat an oddity because Kousuke and Ichirou are in their mid-30s, and they meet fifteen years since they last saw each other at college. It's a mature story that is somewhat capitalised on vagueness, nostalgia, longing and faded memories. Because of these - unusual for a 'yaoi' manga - elements, many readers dismiss this as a boring story. In a way, they're right, but it's a sweet story that means a lot to me.

That's Enough for Today
Feeling the bite of old age, Kousuke is cranky and suspicious towards his new-found relationship with his former college friend, Ichirou. They are in their mid-30s, so aren't they too old for all this romantic stuff?, he wonders. .

A continuation from That's All From Me, the story of Kousuke and Ichirou. Nothing to write home about, but it's a nice tie-up to the previous story.

Our Symphony
A school pupil is running late for an opening ceremony and he somehow stumbles across another pupil who's doing 'Beethoven's 5th symphony in C minor, opus 67' on piano. It's instantly love at first sight.

A quirky and steamy little comedy that isn't what it seems. Yamada loves having a 'what if?' in her stories and so, it's no surprise that she'd produce something like this.

The Teacher I Love
Seven years after getting together at school, Tetsu frets about whether his cute boyfriend - and former teacher - is getting bored with him, especially with all these hot-blooded boys at school on the prowl.

Whenever I read a high school pupil x teacher story, I wonder what could happen to the couple a few years later? With The Teacher I Love Yamada explores this question with her usual brand of humour and sly dig at the popular story device itself. Although average, it's a fun gallop through the land of What if?

Guys, Girls
Two working men get their heads turned upside down when one suspects the other isn't a guy because of his growing attraction towards him.

You want an idiot couple? You'll find it here. It's a short whimsical story that can be enjoyed with a cuppa and half of a biscuit. It's a good thing ... hm, maybe not because it puts you in a relaxed mood that will soon be destroyed by the following story:

A Little Glass Sky
Due to his feminine looks and 'campy' mannerisms, Suzuki Naoki is frequently a victim of school bullying. The ringleader is Yada who soon takes it a lot further than expected. Stuck in a spiral of destructive nature, both begin to have complicated feelings for each other, even though Naoki can't see how it'd end well for both.

Yay! Suzuki Naoki's story! It's one of most heart-wrenching stories Yamada has ever produced. It's not a typical love story. It's a story of first love, teenage angst, loss, and an eventual acquired understanding of the human nature.

I'm not that keen to write anything more than that because I feel it's best to leave it for readers to discover for themselves. The art is not up to Yamada's standard, but the story itself is so compelling that it's easy to overlook some dodgy art bits. If you need a reason to buy this book, A Little Glass Sky is that reason. Read it in Borders if you have to if you don't believe that it'd leave a little impact on you somehow.

A side note: I especially loved the title, A Little Glass Sky. It clearly comes from a popular children's story - I forget the title now (it might be 'Our Little Glass House') - about conformity and individualism. We all behave according to what the society expects of us and while we do it, we create a secret little world of our own to express our inner dreams and desires, even it means hurting those we love or care for to protect this little world.

However, we might some day realise that to ensure its longevity, we have to have the courage to break the glass to reveal our little world to the bigger world to make them accept this little world. It's a question of finding courage and strength to do so. Yamada's story soon reveals which character has the courage to break through and which doesn't. Hence the poignancy of the title.

A school reunion party where a news announcement helps Naoki to conquer the inner demon that haunts him all these years.

The conclusion of Suzuki Naoki's story. I urge you not to read this until you read Wild Man Blues from Spring Fever (Mizu Numuru). It's such a sad tale, but it's a happy ending for Naoki who finds happiness with a guy who's heavily featured in Wild Man Blues. It's quite complicated because I detest the guy for what he did to Naoki and yet I cannot help but feel sorry, especially when seeing how it ends for him.

This book is roughly 200 pages long and yet it feels packed with a reasonably strong rereadablity factor. I mean, I read that June book, J-Boy by Biblos, which is about 300+ pages long (roughly 5 pages per story), but I never bothered to reread it. It didn't have anything worth returning to for. This is not the case with Glass Sky. I think this is my fifth re-read and yet, it still hasn't failed to lose that freshness. Especially Suzuki Naoki's story, A Little Glass Sky.

Glass Sky has a bit of everything - comedy, romance, angst, thought-provoking moments, silliness, heart-felt sentiment, shallowness, drama, mature adults, teenagers, and many more. Honestly, it's a real gem. Whether a Yamada fan or not, it makes a good addition to a BL collection.

--The Suzuki Naoki story--

Although "Glass Sky" can be read as a standalone, this list is for readers who'd 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] a 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 that takes place at a school reunion party, featuring Naoki, Chika, Sohei and a tiny guest appearance from Ayu).

Sorry that this is such a long review, but I suppose it's a long-winded way of saying, "Get a copy!" I promise next reviews will be a lot shorter. ... well, short-ish.

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