Between the Sheets

Between the SheetsCreator: Erica Sakurazawa
U.S. publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781591823230
Released: May 2003
Original release: 1996

Between 2003 and 2004, Tokyopop published six manga by Erica Sakurazawa, some of the very first josei manga to be released in English. More than a decade later josei has still yet to establish a firm foothold in North America, though things seem to be improving and publishers continue to make an effort. Most of the josei that I have read I have thoroughly enjoyed. I wish that there was more available in English, but in the meantime I make the point to support what is currently available and to track down those titles, like Sakurazawa’s, that have gone out of print. The first of Sakurazawa’s manga to be translated was Between the Sheets, which was originally published in Japan in 1996. The volume was not my introduction to her work but out of all of Sakurazawa’s manga that I have so far read, I feel that it is one of the strongest in terms of storytelling. Between the Sheets was initially brought to my attention due to the elements of same-sex desire that play a critical role in the manga’s story.

Minako and Saki are extraordinarily close friends. They frequently hang out together, enjoying the bars and party scene where Saki, despite having a boyfriend, is constantly on the lookout for men. But when Saki and Minako share a drunken kiss in order to convince an undesirable suitor that they’re a couple and to leave them alone, Minako finds her feelings for her best friend beginning to change. Minako had always admired and cared deeply for Saki, but now her love has turned obsessive. She wants to be with Saki. In some ways she wants to be Saki. Saki views Minako as an extremely important person in her life but nothing more than a friend while Minako wants to be everything for Saki: her lover, her protector, her one and only. Convinced she knows what’s best for Saki, Minako will do anything to get closer to her and to drive others away, including sleeping with Saki’s boyfriends.

Frankly, Between the Sheets is an exceptionally disturbing and even horrifying work. Minako’s obsession with Saki creates an ominous and foreboding atmosphere. Each turn of the page seems as though it could reveal some sort of horrible tragedy worse than what has already occurred. Minako’s feelings become self-destructive and her way of dealing with them hurt not only herself but Saki and the men in their lives as well. Often in fiction and romance one person’s utter devotion to another is held as an ideal. However, Between the Sheets takes a much more realistic approach to this sort of extreme, obsessive desire. Minako’s fixation on Saki becomes all-consuming. It’s not flattering and it’s not romantic. In fact, it can hardly even be called love anymore. Her friendship with Saki has evolved into something much darker and much more dangerous. The damage done may be irreparable.

Because of its subject matter Between the Sheets can be a tough and uncomfortable read; it is not at all a feel-good story and there is very little happiness to be found. The characters are entangled in a web of lies, cheating, and betrayal. Unpleasant emotions like hatred, anger, and jealously overshadow those of adoration, love, and affection. However, Sakurazawa handles the intensity of those feelings in a believable way. That realism is probably one of the reasons that Between the Sheets is so troubling. Minako appears to be normal and innocent, her twisted way of thinking hidden safely from view. Sakurazawa’s artwork reflects this—on the surface nothing seems amiss. If readers weren’t privy to Minako’s inner thoughts, they might never suspect the unhealthiness of her state of mind. But eventually her actions and their tragic consequences cannot be ignored and make it quite clear to everyone involved how unbalanced she has become.

My Week in Manga: October 29-November 4, 2012

My News and Reviews

Over the past weekend, I posted the first in-depth manga review for November—Yaya Sakuragi’s Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love, Volume 1 published by Viz Media’s new boys’ love imprint Sublime. I’m a fan of Sakuragi’s work and so was very happy to have more of it published in English. Bond of Dreams, Bond of Love isn’t my favorite manga by her, but I still enjoyed it. Last week I also posted October’s Bookshelf Overload. I had a little too much fun on ebay last month, so I’ll be trying to curb my impulse buys for at least the rest of the year. Finally, the most recent manga giveaway is going on. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, so there’s still time to enter for a chance to win the first seven issues of the original English-language release of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. I didn’t realize it until now, but as can be seen by the quick takes below, I spent last week reading a bunch of out of print manga. Most, except for a few of the Cyborg 009 volumes, are still fairly easy to find, though. (Fortunately, Comixology plans on releasing all of Cyborg 009 and the rest of Shotaro Ishinomori’s works digitally.)

Quick Takes

Angel Nest by Erica Sakurazawa. Apparently, Angel Nest is the second book in a loosely related three-volume series. I haven’t read the other two, but Angel Nest stands on its own, so it doesn’t really matter. The four-story collection takes its name from the first and longest story, which I actually found it to be the least interesting one out of the bunch. (Although, I did get a kick out of the angel’s preference for gin.) In “God Only Knows,” a gay man tries to hook up his straight best friend with a girl. “Tea Time” follows a woman who finds comfort in a tour guide when her boyfriend seems to have abandoned her. And in “A Gift from the Heavens,” a young man finds unexpected companionship after stealing a car on a whim.

Broken Blade, Volumes 1-3 by Yunosuke Yoshinaga. It took a little while to grow on me, but I ended up quite liking the first three volumes of Broken Blade. Unfortunately, the rest of the series is unlikely to ever be licensed in English. (But at least we have the anime adaptation.) Rygart Arrow is one of the very few people born without the ability to control magic, making him somewhat of an outcast, but he may also be the key to his country’s survival as the continent becomes embroiled in war. I did have some difficulty telling the different golem designs apart, which didn’t help during the fairly frequent mecha battles, but the worldbuilding and multi-faceted characters in Broken Blade are great. I particularly liked the intrigue surrounding the leadership of the various factions.

Cyborg 009, Volumes 1-6 by Shotaro Ishinomori. I’m not sure why it took me this long to get around to reading Cyborg 009, but I’m glad that I finally did. (Now I just need to track down the rest of the English volumes.) A group of misfits from all over the world are kidnapped and coerced into serving as human guinea pigs for the Black Ghost organization’s experimental cybernetic enhancements. After escaping, the zero-zero series is constantly being pursued by increasingly more advanced cyborgs. However, it’s the prototypes’ remaining humanity that allows them to prevail. Cyborg 009 is almost all non-stop action; the confrontations occur everywhere from deep sea trenches to outer space.

Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President, Volume 1 by Kaiji Kawaguchi. As election day approaches in the United States, I thought it would be appropriate to give Eagle a try. The manga takes place during the 2000 American presidential election. Takashi Jo, a Japanese reporter, is personally selected by presidential candidate Senator Kenneth Yamaoka to serve as his foreign correspondent. Jo eventually comes to realize that Yamaoka may very well be his father. Having a bastard son is the type of scandal that could ruin Yamaoka’s chance of being elected. Even though I have very little interest in politics and therefore found portions of Eagle to be rather tedious, the manga is well-written and I’m curious to see where Kawaguchi might go with the story.

Truly Kindly by Fumi Yoshinaga. Truly Kindly is an enjoyable but somewhat peculiar collection of boys’ love stories from Yoshinaga. I’m not sure how these seven stories ended up being collected together since there doesn’t appear to be an overarching theme. Some are very serious in tone, others are romantic, and some tend towards the goofier side of things. The first three stories are modern tales (two take place in Japan and one in the United States) while the rest are period and historical pieces. Truly Kindly also includes the story “A Butler’s Proper Place” which takes place during the French Revolution (a time period favored by Yoshinaga) and is the basis for another of her works, Lovers in the Night.