Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, Volume 2

Creator: Yaya Sakuragi
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421549583
Released: November 2012
Original release: 2009

Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, Volume 2 by mangaka Yaya Sakuragi was first released in Japan in 2009. The English-language edition of the volume was published in 2012 by Viz Media’s boys’ love imprint Sublime. I consider my self a fan of Sakuragi’s work and so am very happy that Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love is being released in English. It’s her second series to be licensed, following the tangentially related Tea for Two. Sakuragi also previously had two one-shot boys’ love titles published in English: Hey, Sensei? and Stay Close to Me. Although Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love isn’t my favorite manga by Sakuragi, I still quite enjoyed the goofiness of the first volume and its characters. I was looking forward to reading the second volume, and not just because I’ve already read everything else available by Sakuragi in English.

While at first Ao wasn’t sure, after somehow convincing Ryomei to submit to a kiss he is now certain: he is in love with the older man. Ryomei on the other hand, while being rather fond of Ao, isn’t quite ready to accept those affections. Unfortunately, turning Ao down without crushing his feelings turns out to be a difficult task and Ryomei is a little harsher than he really intended to be. Heartbroken after being rejected, Ao comes to realize how much he really does care about Ryomei. Shunpei, who feels he’s partly to blame for the situation, is concerned for his best friend. He, like Ryomei, didn’t understand just how serious Ao was about the neighborhood Shinto priest. And to make matters worse, Ao’s brother Aka, who he doesn’t seem to get along with well at all, is in town with some potentially troubling news.

Sakuragi admitted in the first volume of Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love that the series reflected some of her personal preferences when it comes to boys’ love manga, specifically a couple with a significant age difference and traditional Japanese attire. Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, while remaining its own series, incorporates many elements found in Sakuragi’s other works: a younger man aggressively pursuing an older, more reserved partner (Hey, Sensei?), karate and traditional Japanese culture, not to mention Shunpei (Tea for Two), cakes and pastries and a slightly airheaded lead (Stay Close to Me), and so on. But even though Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love shares these and other characteristics, the way that Sakuragi has pulled them all together in the series doesn’t really feel repetitive even if it does seem as though she’s thrown in anything and everything she personally likes. And I’m perfectly okay with that.

So far, Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love is a rather silly manga and won’t be to everyone’s taste. For me, that is part of the series’ odd charm. I don’t think I would like Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love nearly as well if Sakuragi had taken a more serious and realistic approach with the story. Most of the humor comes from the characters’ personalities. I was unsure of Ao at first—he’s very different from most of Sakuragi’s characters—but he’s really grown on me. He is delightfully crass and blunt, readily speaking his mind and completely oblivious to the discomfort and social awkwardness this causes others. He doesn’t embarrass easily (if at all) unlike Ryomei who is constantly being caught off-guard and greatly flustered by Ao. At this point in Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love it is clear that Ryomei cares deeply for the younger man, but this has yet to develop into a romantic love. I’m very curious to see how their relationship will progress.

Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, Volume 1

Creator: Yaya Sakuragi
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421549569
Released: August 2012
Original release: 2008

Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love is the fourth yaoi manga by Yaya Sakuragi to be licensed in English, but only her second series. I have been a fan of Sakuragi’s work since reading her one-shot Hey, Sensei?. I like her character designs and enjoy how she gives small twists to the tropes commonly used in the boys love genre. I was thrilled when Sublime, Viz Media’s new boys’ love imprint, announced that Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love had been licensed. The series is one of Sakuragi’s more recent works. The first volume of Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love was originally released in Japan in 2008. Sublime’s English-language edition of Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, Volume 1 was published in 2012. I actually wasn’t familiar with the series until Sublime had announced its acquisition. But even though I didn’t know very much about it, I was still very excited to see more of Sakuragi’s work being released in English.

Ryomei has been an important person in Ao’s life for years. Ever since Ao was small Ryomei, one of the priests at the local Shinto shrine, has been keeping a protective eye out for the younger man. Ao is now in high school and despite his cutesy looks is fairly capable of taking care of himself, at least when he isn’t completely oblivious to what’s going on around him. But when Roymei appears in his wet dream, Ao is at a complete loss as to what to do. He’s always been fond of Ryomei, but never expected his feelings would evolve into that kind of fondness. Curious, and against the advice of his best friend Shunpei, Ao beings his pursuit of the older man. As for Ryomei, he’s left aghast and confused, caught off guard by Ao’s sudden advances. The cute little kid he used to look out for has now become a horny, pervy teenager. Roymei never even considered that he would become the object of Ao’s desires and affection.

I didn’t realize it at first, but Shunpei is actually a character from another of Sakuragi’s series, Tea for Two. I was delighted to see him again in Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love. In Tea for Two he was an elementary school student, but in this series he has now grown into a fine young man. I was also delighted with Ao’s character. Although initially I wasn’t that fond of him or his character design (Sakuragi deliberately set out to create a cute uke, but I much prefer her usual, lanky designs), I came to like Ao very much. He’s a bit of an airheaded goofball with a one-track mind who at the same time is easily distracted. Much of the humor in Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love revolves around the fact that Ao’s personality is seemingly at odds with what might be expected from his innocent looks. He’s a cute character, but he’s also the most dirty-minded person in the series.

Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, Volume 1 is not at all a serious manga, tending more towards a lighthearted goofiness. The interactions between characters, especially when Ao is involved somehow, are highly amusing. The best reactions are reserved for Ryomei; normally he comes across as vaguely disgruntled and seeing him shocked and startled is very entertaining. The cast in Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love is huge, easily the largest I’ve seen Sakuragi work with. Ao and Ryomei may be the main characters but their friends, neighbors, and extended families all have a important roles in the manga; there is a real sense of community. I’m interested in seeking how Sakuragi will handle and balance the development of all of the characters over the course of the four-volume series. At this point, I wouldn’t say Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love is my favorite work by Sakuragi, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first volume and look forward to reading more.

Stay Close to Me

Creator: Yaya Sakuragi
U.S. publisher: Digital Manga
ISBN: 9781569701423
Released: October 2010
Original run: 2005

Stay Close to Me is the third of Yaya Sakuragi’s works to be licensed in English. I happen to be a fan of Sakuragi (Her Hey, Sensei? was the first yaoi manga that I ever read) and so I was very excited for the release of Stay Close to Me and hope to see even more of her titles available in English. Stay Close to Me, originally published in Japan in 2005, was translated and published by Digital Manga under its Juné imprint in 2010. (Hey, Sensei? was also released through Juné while Sakuragi’s series Tea for Two was published as part of Tokyopop’s Blu Manga line.) I preordered Stay Close to Me as soon as I was able, even before I knew what it was about, simply because it had Sakuragi’s name on it. Unfortunately, there was a distribution mix up and so I actually ended up getting my copy over a month late. I was very happy to see it finally arrive and was very happy to finally have the opportunity to read more of Sakuragi’s work.

Stay Close to Me contains two stories. The first is the four act title story “Stay Close to Me” and the second is the shorter, two part “Play to Win.” “Stay Close to Me” follows Yuzu who is absurdly tall for his age and towers over his classmates, something he is terribly self-conscious of since this includes Icchan, his heart’s desire and “prince.” Icchan has looked out for Yuzu ever since the two were in elementary school together. Although he would wish it otherwise, Yuzu is resigned to being decidedly un-princess like due to his size and so concentrates on becoming the best homemaker he can for Icchan. Unfortunately, his single-minded devotion to his prince means Yuzu can be a bit oblivious and easily flustered when it comes to other people seeking his affection. In “Play to Win,” Ohga unexpectedly runs into Takatsuki, a brilliant former classmate of his. It turns out that Takatsuki has a bit of a gambling problem and Ohga agrees to let him crash at his place for the rainy season. But despite the problems Takatsuki causes for him, Ohga comes to realize he doesn’t want him to leave.

I have always been fond of Sakuragi’s lanky character designs and in the case of Yuzu, her style is a perfect fit. Not only is he obviously tall, but Sakuragi is able to capture his self-consciousness and physical awkwardness in his facial expressions and posture. “Stay Close to Me” is a little different art-wise than much of Sakuragi’s other work. In the author’s note, she mentions that she kept thinking to herself “shoujo manga” while working on it, throwing in more sparkles and flowers than she normally uses but to great effect. Stay Close to Me is definitely played as comedy and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. This is particularly true of the title story, but “Play to Win” also has its goofy moments. The humor is also evident in Sakuragi’s art with overly dramatic poses and panels accompanied by groan-inducing, ridiculous (but in a good way) dialogue.

One of the things I appreciate most about Sakuragi’s work is how she plays around with yaoi tropes and stereotypes. “Stay Close to Me” has an obvious reversal with an uke being untypically taller than his seme. But at the same time, Yuzu is still sensitive and prone to blushing. However, the princess can still take care of himself and, when the situation calls for it, his prince. The approach in “Play to Win” is more subtly different with the portrayal of its characters’ personalities and attitudes. Even though the story is short, Ohga and Takatsuki show a surprising amount of depth and come across as real people with both good and bad traits. At one point, Yuzu is described as being both hilarious and adorable, which I think is a pretty good description of the manga as well. Hilarious might be a little strong, but there is no denying that Stay Close to Me is funny, cute, and sweet. It is certainly the most comedic of Sakuragi’s work currently available in English. Stay Close to Me is not perfect, but I liked the story, loved the art, and adored the characters.

Manga Giveaway: Crazy Karate Contest

I am currently in possession of an extra copy of Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2, Volume 11: Creative Cures and so I have decided to run a contest. The giveaway is open world-wide, so if you’re interested in a chance to win a free, brand new copy of Ranma 1/2, Volume 11, read on!

I have been studying karate for a little over a year now. I absolutely love it and it has been really good for me. I also happen to love when karate makes an appearance in the manga that I read. It doesn’t matter whether it’s crazy karate like in Ranma 1/2 or Yu Yagami’s Hikkatsu! or something more serious—it just makes me happy. Sometimes, karate might not be critical to the story itself, but is important to a specific character. Eikichi Onizuka, the eponymous character from Tohru Fujisawa’s Great Teacher Onizuka, is a second-degree black-belt and captain of his university karate team. In Yaya Sakuragi’s yaoi series Tea for Two, both Tokumaru and his sister study karate and he helps teach the kids’ class and run the dojo’s training camp.

So, you may be wondering, how can you win a copy of Ranma 1/2, Volume 11?

1) In the comments section below, name any martial arts manga or martial artist manga character that hasn’t been mentioned in this post or in others’ comments. If possible, include the style of martial art involved.
2) If that style is a form of karate, you get a bonus entry!
3) If you’re on Twitter you can earn another entry by tweeting about this contest. Make sure to include a link to this post and @PhoenixTerran (that’s me) so that I know you’ve tweeted.

And that’s it! One person can earn up to three entries in the contest. The winner will be randomly chosen and announced on Wednesday, September 29, 2010—so you’ve got two weeks to get your entries in.

VERY IMPORTANT: Include some way that I can contact you. This can be an e-mail address, link to your website, Twitter username, or whatever. If I can’t figure out how to get a hold of you and you win, I’ll just draw another name.

Contest winner announced—Manga Giveaway: Crazy Karate Contest Winner

Hey, Sensei?

Creator: Yaya Sakuragi
U.S. publisher: Digital Manga
ISBN: 9781569700471
Released: April 2009
Original run: 2007

It is almost entirely the fault of Yaya Sakuragi’s Hey, Sensei? that I am now gladly suffering from an addiction to yaoi. Before Hey, Sensei?, I had never read yaoi. I had a basic understanding of the genre, but for whatever reason I had never tried it. (It actually really surprises me how long it took me to get around to reading any.) So, when I came across a review on Graphic Novel Reporter praising Hey, Sensei?, especially for not falling into some of the traps of the genre, I figured “Hey, why not? I gotta start somewhere.” I tracked down a copy with a little bit of difficulty and when it finally arrived I only allowed myself one chapter a day to make it last. Since then I’ve read plenty more yaoi and continue to do so but Hey, Sensei? remains one of my favorites—not just because it was my first yaoi manga, but because it is really quite good.

Hey, Sensei? actually contains two stories: the main story “Hey, Sensei?” which is four acts and an epilogue, and “Unbreakable Bones,” which is a one-shot. In “Hey, Sensei?”, high school math teacher Isa is taken aback when his ex-girlfriend’s younger brother, now one of his students, makes a pass at him during a review lesson. Isa can hardly take the situation seriously—what could Homura possibly see in a guy ten years older than him? The age difference will cause some difficulties, and they communicate terribly, but the two men have fallen hard for each other. In “Unbreakable Bones” two childhood friends are unexpectedly reunited after fourteen years. After growing apart, Yuji became a juvenile delinquent although he’s turned his life around and is now working in a ramen shop, while Manabu has become the small town’s local policeman. Yuji hates the idealized memories Manabu has of him, only to realize that he’s the one stuck in the past.

I really enjoy Sakuragi’s art style. Her men are distinctive and handsome and are unmistakably male. Her figures are elongated and angular, particularly noticeable in the hands and fingers and in the long, lanky legs when standing. These slightly odd proportions may bother some people, but I quite like the effect and love her character designs. Sakuragi also does a fantastic job with facial expressions, especially with the eyes; the characters don’t always come out and say what they’re feeling but it’s pretty apparent just by looking at them. She is also skilled in showing the same character at different ages and make the changes look natural while still being identifiable. One issue that I did have with the art was that the genitals were blurred out or erased. However, I’m not sure if this is the case in the original Japanese version or if the art has been censored for the United States which does happen. Either way, I found it distracting and feel that it calls more attention to itself that way.

While the stories in Hey, Sensei? may not be particularly original, Sakuragi makes up for it with the depth of her characters and their feelings for one another. Homura is immature, hot-tempered and brash but ultimately very sincere while Isa is inexperienced, sensitive and reserved but very capable of being stern when necessary; Yuji and Manabu’s relationship is also very sweet. The translation has an occasional awkward moment but overall is very good. In addition to Hey, Sensei? becoming a favorite, I have also become a huge fan of Yaya Sakuragi—I’ve also read and loved her Tea for Two series—and will pick up anything that she has worked on. However, Hey, Sensei? will always hold a special place for me. It’s one manga, yaoi or not, that I come back to again and again.