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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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05/16/2008 Archived Entry: "Yaoi review: Dog Style (vol 1)"

Dog Style (vol 1)
Story and art: Modoru Motoni
Publisher: Kitty Media, imprint of Media Blasters
ISBN-10: 1598831259
ISBN-13: 978-1598831252

Review by Cat

I figured that since volume 2 is due out next month, I ought to read volume 1 as it's been a while since I read it (if there is one thing a gadfly and I have in common, it's an inability to remember for long).

When I received Dog Style last year, I had to do with just a skim because I was already on a trip to Christmas Hell, so I remembered very little about it, which in the end is a good thing. So how does it go this time?

Motoni has a strong cult following mostly for these two reasons:

a) her works tends to feature these elements: a black sense of humour, originality, strong intellectual and philosophical slant, streak of eccentricity, and a strong sense of lawlessness.
b) her body of works rarely fails to make us ask this question: "Is she on crack?"

What won Motoni a lot of attention is, aside her other works, her three-volume story, Shiikugakari Rika AKA Rika the Breeder, which sets in a dark, twisted world of an all-boys boarding school where it has its own laws. (It's quite incredible that it's still not yet published in English, but it might have something to with a legal mess involving Biblos [original publisher that went bankrupt last year] and Libre. I'm not sure what's going on, to be honest, so I won't say any further on this.)

And yet only two of her works are published in English: Poison Cherry Drive (not many readers, including myself, understand why this was published first in English as it's seriously on crack) and the first volume of Dog Style.

While at Koyo High School Teru Chiaki witnesses something he's not supposed to see: a kiss between Miki Terayama and (older) Kashiwa who happens to be Teru's best friend's older brother. He definitely knows Miki doesn't want him to see the kiss because Miki's given him a look that could kill. Unknown to them, the connection between Teru and Miki is further established.

Still, Teru is more concerned about something else - his best friend Kashiwa is increasingly spending time with his new girlfriend Kana while making promises to spend time with Teru that he eventually fails to keep. This leaves Teru feeling out of sorts and alone, so he spends time at an abandoned warehouse. To him it's a refuge where he can watch sunsets, laze around and drink alone. Unfortunately for him, it's also home to that guy Miki.

They earlier have agreed to share the warehouse and that each can only visit the warehouse on scheduled days. This way, they can leave each other alone. However after Teru witnessed the kiss, Miki turns it round by declaring that he's taking the warehouse as his. It goes down hill from there. Or up hill.

Meanwhile, Teru has to deal with a bunch of Nannogi High School guys who are after him. They don't realise that Teru isn't the guy they thought he was. Some time ago Teru, upon seeing his best friend Kashiwa - who accompanied his girlfriend to visit her friends - surrounded by members of leader Kijima's gang, informed them that he was actually Kashiwa. They have been after him since then.

Incidentally it's this very thing that coincidentally and comically throws Teru and Miki together, forcing them to go on a run together. While on the run they get to know to each other, which eventually gives them a sense of comradeship. Miki decides to call him Stray Dog because Teru reminds him of a stray dog he once wanted when he was a child and because Teru is crazy that way. For Teru he finds that he's increasingly feeling comfortable with Miki, which isn't something he's used to.

All this, of course, leads them to a place beyond an ordinary school-life friendship. Where will they go from here? Will Miki ever tame wild stray dog Teru? Will Teru get over his issue of being shorter than most guys - especially Kashiwa and Miki - around him? Will both escape the pursuit of Kijima's gang?

The chaotic nature and fast pace of their (mis)adventures make it quite tough for me to summarise so easily. Basically it's a black comedy with a massive toe in subtle realism and, in a way, the absurd. There isn't a straightforward plot, really. It's a patchwork of fast-paced incidents that makes the story seem episodic in a way. And yet there is enough substance for all to create this sense that it'll all come together in the end.

Although it implies that it's a shallow, wild and in-your-face tale, it really isn't. If we were to remove the chaotic appearance and over-the-top comedic moments, it's basically a character-driven tale of two guys looking for somewhere to belong in a world where people aren't always reliable. Especially those who can only find time to fit you in, as Teru's his best friend Kawisha has been doing to him, and those who refuse to draw a strong line between yes and no, as Miki's best friend (older) Kawisha has been doing to him.

There are clues towards the end that there will be much more to come with volume 2. Such as, Nannogi High gang leader Kijima seems to have his eye on both Miki and Teru and for different reasons. Not only that, there are the Kashiwa brothers to consider. They are suspicious about how well Miki and Teru get on, so what they will do about it?

There's so much going on and many humorous moments that Dog Style is pretty much a fun roller-coaster ride. It's certainly not for those who dislike anything anarchic, which this story seems to be. I admit I both love and hate Dog Style, which is how I generally feel about Motoni's body of works. I think I have every book she's written so far and yet, I would never consider Motoni a favourite. I suppose it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You want to turn away but you can't, which is how I am with her works including Dog Style.

What does disappoint me is the overall value of the production. Some pages are printed out of alignment. Occasionally the proofreading is a bit iffy. For instance, "I'm gonna take to Kana" when it's clearly meant to be "I'm gonna talk to Kana."

Also, all Japanese SFX are left untranslated, which was a little annoying and disruptive because I had to mentally switch between English and kana. It wouldn't be a problem if there was only a few, but this volume has quite a few, so I didn't enjoy this experience. However, I imagine it might be worse for readers who cannot read kana at all. I don't quite understand the logic behind Kitty Media's decision on this, to be honest. Even so, the art and typesetting are clean and nice enough to put up with these irksome issues.

Motoni's Dog Style is clearly different from the norm in English-translated BL manga and that's what makes it unique and irritatingly fun. You either like it or you don't. I do, even though I wish I didn't.

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