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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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04/19/2008 Archived Entry: "Yaoi revew: Stolen Hearts"

Stolen Hearts
Story: Maki Kanamaru
Art: Yukine Honami
Published by the Juné Imprint of Digital Manga, Inc.
ISBN-10: 1-56970-816-9
ISBN-13: 978-1-56970-816-3

Review by Cat

It's never good when a bonus story is more interesting and memorable than the main story, is it? This is the case with Stolen Hearts, which is a shame because it's not very often we have an opportunity to have a European historical tale in manga or rather, BL manga.

Anyhow, Stolen Hearts comprises a three-chapter-and-an-extra tale of a cat-and-mouse chase in 18th-century Europe; a Japanese high school oddball comedy, and a contemporary fantasy tale in the world of American politics.

According the back blurb:

"Life is good as the son of an aristocrat. All the money and free time offers everything one could want - elegant accommodations, fine clothing, sumptuous food and drink, smashing parties, and as many sexual partners as you can count. But for one particular upper-crust snob, priorities are about to change.

When a forthright and noble thief comes a-calling, he leaves behind an air of mystery that's too hard to resist. What is this sly rogue's connection to the fate of the crown? And what does any of it have to do with inspecting the elite-born sons' bottoms?!

Could it be he's truly the thief of hearts, who wears a mask to hide his desires?"

The last line is so wrong in many ways. He certainly didn't wear a mask to hide his desires. :P

Stolen Heart
A bored aristocrat's son is very, very, annoyed ~ not only has he been drugged with an aphrodisiac and forcibly seduced, this masked thief dares to say he's fat. Fat! He's known as the prettiest and most attractive noble in the society, so how dares he say that? OK, he steals things, which is certainly wrong as well. This gives him an excuse to chase the mysterious thief. Each time he thinks he's caught him, he gets seduced and after the event the thief informs him a reason why he finds him lacking. This annoys him even more and all the while, he starts to develop feelings for that rascal.

The oddest thing about this story is none of these characters has a name. I had to make up some for them. The short, spoiled-son hero is 'George' and the masked thief is 'Percy' (after Sir Percy, the fictional hero otherwise known as The Scarlet Pimpernel).

I didn't quite like George because he's such a walking stereotype. As a son of the noble, he's living up as a wastrel, spoiled brat, easily bored, arrogant, lazy, stupid, and - there's no way round it - slut. It could have worked, or more believable, if it wasn't for the fact that none of these matched his appearance of an innocent-looking boy. I mean, he looks as if he's just graduated from a training school for choir boys.

As for the story itself, it's a fun cat-and-mouse adventure which, basically, redeems its failings or rather, weaknesses. In a way it reminds me of that Cary Grant movie, To Catch a Thief, which I loved. As for these weaknesses, I won't go into details here until I follow it up with these:

Stolen Heart ~ The Beautiful Captive , Stolen Heart ~ The Wonderful New World and Be Nice

Now in some kind of a relationship with the mysterious thief, the aristocrat's son is bemused, mildly annoyed and suspicious when three things happen almost same time. Why are the young noble sons being abducted? Why members of the nobility are moving out of their country? Has his masked thief anything to do with either, or both? There are restlessness, unease, and suspicion in the air, but sod all that because he wants to know exactly what his masked thief lover is up to.

My jaws dropped when I reached the end, George and Percy's names still haven't been revealed. After the first story, I thought perhaps it was intentional in a way that it's part of the plot and that in the end, their names would be revealed with a dramatic flair. But no.

Anyhow, George - our bright-as-a-button, spoiled rotten (but has a heart of gold... well, tainted gold, anyway) hero - finally figures out what's going on. So, he sets out to make it right in his own way. Of course, as with how all things are, he cocks it up. He has to be rescued by his masked thief lover whose background starts to affect their - I'm not sure whether to use this or not - relationship.

Mainly, for me, living in Europe becomes a disadvantage when read something like Stolen Hearts because it just doesn't jive with reality or knowledge. I mean, period details in the story background are such a mish-mash that it took me a while to figure out which period is the story supposed to take place. There's a bit of Edwardian there, a bit of Georgian or Regency here, a bit of Elizabethan over there, and some dashes of Louis VII over here. And there is a bit of Farmer George as well.

It's all over the place. It feels French, but the background and clothing details are somewhat British. Very confusing. I administered a head slap and treated the story as a fantasy 18th-century tale. It's somewhat worked.

On top of that, the story is a little odd. Fun, but odd. Characters are nameless. The plot is sketchy and odd in a disjointed way.

And here's the main thing: Honami's art style doesn't work here. Not for me, at least. Her characters look too innocent to make it believeable that they're part of the nobility that's famed for its jadedness and cynicism, even though it's clear that these characters are apparently jaded and world-weary.

It just looks so odd. Kinda like seeing a Labrador puppy in its kennel with a sign on his kennel above says, "Beware of this vicious guard dog". I suspect it's mainly this reason why Stolen Hearts didn't work that well for me.

That and the odd mish-mash of historical details as well as those stereotypes (clichés?). It's supposed to be a fantasy, I think, but the fact that there's a factual feel to some events make it hard to write it off as one. I do hold myself responsible for this as I clearly lack the ability to hold suspension of belief.

I think anyone who doesn't give a fig about that kind of thing while preferring to have a cute and easy breezy tale would enjoy it a lot more. I think so, anyway.

People Are What They Seem
As punishment for missing his mock test (or as this book describes, "make up test") twice, Tomoyuki Naruse is forced to volunteer to work in the student council for a fortnight. He's not happy, mainly because he's heard dodgy stuff - thanks to his classmates - about the student council and its president, Takuma Fujiyoshi, and Fuyijyoshi's weird nerd brother, Ken.

His fears are confirmed when he sees just how odd the Fujiyoshi brothers are and so, he decides to slog through the fortnight-long punishment with his sanity - and, to his eventual dismay, chastity - still intact. Will he succeed?

It's such an oddity that I still can't make heads and tails of it, so I really can't say much about it except to say it's a fun - in a bemused way - read.

Random note: Every time I saw this term - "make up test" - in the story, I giggled. Immature of me, but it makes me imagine it's set in a beauty or theatre school. But I didn't know until I spoke with an American friend about this that the 'mock exam/test' system largely doesn't exist in the U.S. Who knew?

Kiss Scandal
Congressman Rudd is in the running for a re-election and it's expected he'll win because he's widely seen as one of most promising - as well as the most handsome and charismatic - candidates in national politics. However, unknown to the public, he's in an intimate relationship with his secretary, Paul.

Paul is feeling uneasy because of two reasons ~ there's an increasing pressure for 32-year-old Rudd to marry and his own fear of ruining talented politician Rudd's clean record if the truth about their three-year relationship is revealed.

This is undeniably the gem of the entire book. Although the premise is so far-fetched that it's safe to write it off as a fantasy, it's a great read. I'm not a fan of reading anything with politics as part of its backdrop, but this is so far-fetched that it demanded my attention and, in the end, won my admiration. It's also sweet and somewhat funny in a way.

The only criticism I have for Stolen Hearts is the proofreading issue. I mean, Rudd's first name in Kiss Scandal is spelled differently almost each time it's mentioned. So far I've spotted Colun, Colin, and Collin.

[Clarification (2008 April 25): I was asked about the proofreading issue and so, I re-read Kiss Scandal to provide citations. I eventually realised my mistake - there isn't any. I studied it a bit more to figure out why I thought Collin's name was spelt differently almost every time. Then I finally realised. It's whenever his name appears in italics that that makes his name appear as 'Colun' and 'Colin'. So, it isn't a proofreading issue after all. My apologies.]

All in all, it's a 'meh' book, but enjoyable all the same. If anything here that deserves to be read, it's Kiss Scandal.

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