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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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06/07/2008 Archived Entry: "Yaoi review: Yakuza in love (volume 1)"

Yakuza in Love (volume 1)
Story and art: Shiuko Kano
Publisher: Deux Press
ISBN-10: 1934496073
ISBN-13: 978-1934496077

Review by Cat

God damn. Although I enjoyed and loved many of Shiuko Kano's manga, I usually write her works off as a notch above PWP (Plot? What plot?) because her characters' larger-than-life personalities (and, sometimes, sexual antics) tend to overshadow everything, including the plot itself.

When I cracked Yakuza in Love open, I expected the same: a large cast of strong personalities and a chaotic plot along with its seemingly random sub-plots. While it does live up to my expectations, it's a little different this time round: it actually has a plot. Even its sub-plots have a purpose here. Well, colour me shocked.

Yakuza in Love is a three-volume series that revolves Aoi Ichimura, who's a - in spite of his distinctive face scar in shape of a cross - handsome, orphaned 22-year-old that lives off pretty much nothing but luck, coincidences, and a couple of lies. He's also good-hearted, naive, kinda dumb, and a coward.

After his gambling-loving grandfather passed away, Aoi Ichimura understands he'll never lead an ordinary life and that he'll spend his life on the wrong side of the law as a petty gang member. Even his gramps said it: "With a face like that, ya got a snowball's chance in Hell of findin' a decent job."

With his late grandfather's letter of recommendation as an aid, he joins a small-time gang connected to a legendary city gang, the Flower clan. But instead of living up to everyone's expectations that he'd spend the rest of his life as a small-time gangster, he's appointed as an apprentice with a bright future.

How did he get to be in that position? Well, as Ichimura explains:

While at some gang-related event, he unexpectedly shoves a man out of way and at that moment, a bullet snaps through the man's hat, narrowly missed the chance of turning it into a successful assassination. But, to Ichimura's dawning horror, the man whom he's just saved is Toru Hanabishi, the fourth generation gangster boss of the Hana-gumi (Flower clan).

That's how he gets to where he is now. While Ichimura is happy enough to accept Hanabishi's offer, he's secretly scared that people will realise the truth: he's shoved the don out of the way to save a baby bird that was in danger of being squashed to death. Not only that, that he's never been in a fight nor has he ever been that courageous. His face scar has people believing that he's more than what he really is.

It gets crazier when Ichimura's told to pick up the Flower clan's underboss, Yuji Saikya, who's due to be released from prison that day. He's also told that from now on, he'll be Saikya's personal bodyguard in addition to being his apprentice. Ichimura's scared witless because he's heard about the legendary Saikya. He was sent to prison for five years after he went on a killing rampage against a rival gang. Still, he goes to pick him up.

To his surprise, Saikya is nothing at all how he's imagined. He's a very handsome 38-year-old widower who seems to have gentle eyes. Without realising, Ichimura has fallen in love.

After a couple of assassination attempts, secret conspiracies, a few walks through dodgy paths of gang politics, and unexpected turns of events throughout the story, Ichimura finally gets that he has growing feelings for Saikya.

Where will he go from here? Especially after it's now clear to Ichimura that Saikya's life is in danger? Does Saikya nurse similar feelings, too? Ichimura's eyes are getting all swirly-eyed, but which can save the day: courage, love, or both?

All this sounds so serious, but Yakuza in Love is actually a comedic drama that frequently resembles a nutty roller ride. It also has many gentle and sweet moments, mostly provided by our clueless but highly likeable hero, Ichimura, who - not only he has to deal with his own feelings - has to deal with many things.

Such as receiving luxurious gifts from a mysterious admirer, dealing with Chihiro Karasuma's apprentice who's disconcertingly perspicacious and yet clearly a mad dog, and struggling with a realisation that the don of the Flower clan has an interest in him.

Yazuka in Love doesn't revolve entirely around Ichimura and Saikya as it also features a couple of sub-plots that feature the near-sociopathic apprentice, Junki Ozawa; the loyal and cool-headed right-hand man, Chihiro Karasuma; the ambitious gang executive Ishiguro, and of course, the don of the Flower clan Toru Hanabishi. I won't name one character as it's a real spoiler, but the person is a ghost from Ichimura's past who might have a significant role later. Oh, let's not forget Ishiguro's mysterious and handsome apprentice, Azuma, whose role might become significant in life-altering events that clearly will come soon.

I have always been terrible at summarising a full volume, so sorry if it seems confusing. While it is confusing, but only at the start. It soon becomes easier to keep track of all these characters and the labyrinthine story. Just as when you get in the stride of following the story, it ends on a cliffhanger.

That's right, a freakin' cliffhanger. >_< I mean, I finished this book at around 2.05AM and there's no way of getting my mitts on volume 2. T_T According to Deux Press's release schedule, volume 2 is available for sale now and volume 3 will be released this September. Oh, that's not too bad. It's not like some manga series that have one release per year. Thank you, Deux Press.

Yakuza in Love deserves its 18+/mature rating. The story contains a couple of sexual scenes (none provided by the main couple, Ichimura and Saikya, though), graphic swear words, some light portrayal of violence, and a brief glimpse into the dark nature of the Yakuza business itself.

Art-wise, it's mostly old skool. It has a strong 1990s vibe. The kind you see in Yazuka movies and manga (Ryoichi Ikegami and Sho Fumimura's Sanctuary, for instance). Clothes are flashy, old-fashioned, but not so dated that it's off-putting. It still has Kano's trademark - almost all characters here, regardless of their gender, are great eye candy.

A random note: Chihiro Karasuma is a splitting image of Vash the Stampede from Yasuhiro Nightow's famous manga and anime series, Trigun. Vash was extremely popular at the time when this story was written, so it's sweet to see Kano's tribute to Nightow through her character, Chihiro.

There are more similar tributes throughout the story, too. Tributes to real-life actors, theatre companies, movies (there's a brief nod at cult movie director Takashi Miike!), and a couple of classic manga. Wait. Does this make me sound like I'm a no-life geek? Anyhow, these references have made me smile a few times while reading the story. Readers who aren't familiar with this kind of pop culture won't miss out if they didn't get it. These tributes aren't relevant to the story itself at all.

All in all, if you enjoy stories that resemble some kind of a soap opera with numerous moments of humour, drama and slow-paced developments of a budding romance, you will probably enjoy Yazuka in Love. I certainly did. It was hard to get into it at first, but it drew me into deep enough to make me look forward to reading the rest of the story.

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