Warning: The following post contains mature sexual content and triggers that may make individuals uncomfortable. Please be advised that it should be read by individuals over the age of 18.
Happy New Year, Iggles! I hope 2015 is the year you’ve decided to invest more time in manga. One of my manga goals, for instance, is to embark on a Great Saiyuki Re-read and basically annotate every scene (because grad school totally means you have enough time for that kind of thing), but that’s a post for another time. Anyway! It’s a new year, so let’s shake this martini up and look at a mangaka as opposed to a particular series: Ayano Yamane. She’s a favorite of mine because she combines angled artwork, plot, and smut, which are three of my greatest loves. Buckle up, friends, because it’s going to be quite an adventure.
For the last 15 years or so, Ayano Yamane has been one of the more famous figures in the yaoi community. She’s been around since the mid-90s when she was primarily creating Slam Dunk doujinshi (Slam Dunk dj) about the Rukawa x Hanamichi pairing. It wasn’t until 2000 that she published her first “official” work, for lack of a better term, a oneshot entitled “The Strength of Pure Soul.” In 2001, she hit it big with the Finder Series, also known as You’re my Loveprize in Viewfinder. This is the series that made people take notice of her, and it’s also a record-breaking boys love series. Yamane is still creating manga today, mostly working on the Finder and Crimson Spell series.
I think by now, dear readers, you all know that I love angled artwork. Have I ever defined what angled artwork means to me? Basically, it has a lot to do with style: there’s a lot of movement, the scenery looks realistic, lines are very clear and bold, and most importantly, the characters’ bodies aren’t misproportioned (yaoi hands, anyone?). I cite any work by Kazuya Minekura as a prime example of this because her characters don’t look like caricatures and have bodies appropriate for their lifestyles. Character faces have a sleekness to them (very bishonen because I’m superficial like that), and lines—whether it’s for a body or for the background—are very clearly defined. If a story is good I can get over my art preferences, but usually, I get distracted when the art seems off to me.
So with that in mind, Yamane’s work was designed for my soul, to put it lightly. The characters are gorgeous, the body proportions are more or less spot on, and the scenery is quite lovely. Yamane’s sense of movement is truly amazing. With any visual medium, you have to convey a sense of movement in order for the characters to really interact with the world. This is not a problem in anime because that has a video aspect to it, but manga (and comics) is unique in that it’s both visual and static. A character is meant to run across the street and yet they’re clearly not running because they’re forever transfixed on the page. This can be a problem in manga if there’s no sense of movement because it decreases the world’s believability. For instance, when I blogged about Noragami last month, I mentioned that the images felt very static and that I didn’t get the sense of danger from the demons as was intended because they seemed just stuck on the page. This can be due to a lack of sound effects, a lack of quick-cutting panels, or any number of things. Yamane’s work, on the other hand, seems to have found a way around that. Her characters often wear loose clothing or have long hair, which makes it easy for the reader to see the weather elements at work. Additionally, action scenes often first focus on a small shot of the body, such as a running foot or a shirttail whipping in the wind, before giving you a full-body shot. When there’s an action scene, you get several small panels in quick succession to mirror the characters’ heightened senses. The world feels lived in, mirroring our own with great success.
The only issue I have with Yamane’s art is that she tends to draw the same two faces over and over while changing up hairstyles for her main characters. It doesn’t bother me too much because it’s still my beloved angled artwork, but I would like to see more variation. Minor characters are often drawn with new faces, but perhaps Yamane uses the same main faces often because they’re pretty damn good-looking and proved successful in other stories.
Probably the biggest thing that elevated Yamane’s status as a top mangaka is her ability to effortlessly combine multiple plots (in a genre famous for being Porn Without Plot) in a way that makes them extremely dependent on one another. When I say “plot” here, I mean it in a dual sense: both the romantic plot—because the two main characters rarely feel the same way about each other at the start of the series—and the story plot, or the plot that affects the larger world and is the reason why the two characters were thrown together. Since Yamane puts equal importance on both notions, the success of one plot depends heavily on the other, and obstacles in one plot have ramifications on the other. So in a way, you almost get two stories; if you cut out the romance, you get a story about whatever world the work is set in; and if you cut out the greater story behind why the two characters met, you get a story about two characters building a relationship. However, to remove one plot is to greatly alter the significance of either story. After all, if you cut out one plot, why should you care about the struggles the characters go through in order to be together if you don’t have a sense of the world they live in, or why should the work focus on love when there are more exciting things happening?
Now of course, you might be thinking that this isn’t a new thing; after all, real life isn’t exclusively focused on one element in our lives, and we often have to juggle multiple parts of our lives at once. And you’re totally right. But with manga, and with stories in general, there’s always a genre attached to it that ultimately determines what the story is going to be about. Take Harry Potter, for example; the book is labeled as “fantasy,” and it’s those elements that take front and center. Yes, there’s romance, but it takes a backseat to the fantasy and adventure elements. You can take out the romance and still get a complete story, but if you take out the fantastical elements, you don’t get a story that’s quite as compelling as when both elements are present. So Yamane’s ability to make multiple genres work in a single text is fairly impressive, at least to me.
One drawback to Yamane’s work is that she often neglects female characters. They have little place in yaoi stories, but it’s always extremely strange to leave them out completely. When they do show up, they’re usually very flat (a.k.a. they have little purpose to the overall plot) and are often a family member. The only good thing about their appearance is that since they’re in a yaoi tale, they have very little chance of being stuffed in a fridge to further the male’s story.
This deserves its own section because you will come across it in every iteration of Yamane’s work. Yamane does not shy away from sex scenes, and I swear you get at least five per chapter. Truth be told, the onslaught on sex scenes gets a bit repetitive. However, Yamane must be aware of this, because she always has one of the characters reveal thoughts that give great insight into their character, which makes skipping these sections difficult. It’s a tricksy move, to be sure.
However, if you’re familiar with Yamane’s work or the work of other yaoi artists (Shungiku Nakamura’s Junjou Romantica, for example), you’ve probably noticed that the majority of the main characters’ first sexual encounter together is nonconsensual. Rape is, unfortunately, the starting point for a lot of yaoi series, and I have no possible explanation as to why this is so. The characters almost inevitably end up falling in love, but yaoi often casts an extremely dark shadow over these relationships. Yamane’s work is no exception. So ultimately, Ayano’s work usually explores how two characters can create, sustain, and manage a relationship in a tumultuous environment.
Two of Yamane’s biggest works are the Finder Series and Crimson Spell. I don’t want to get into much detail about these works because I plan on reviewing them later on (Yamane post 2!), so I’ll keep it short. Finder was the first Yamane work I read, and it’s one of my all-time favorite manga series. It follows Akihito Takaba, a photographer who gets involved with Ryuichi Asami, a gentleman involved in the underworld. The two become caught up in a fight with Fei Long of the Chinese Mafia, and Takaba becomes a pawn in their games. Eventually, though, Takaba appears to become fairly important to both men. The romantic elements build up the overarching crime plot and vice versa; Takaba and Asami’s relationship makes both of them vulnerable to attacks because they are one another’s weakness, and the criminal world can suffer if Asami avenges himself on anything done to Takaba. It’s not a forbidden romance or anything, but it the story does have a sense of futility to it.
I was honestly surprised that I enjoyed this series so much because it doesn’t fit into any flavor that I tend to favor, like the supernatural. What I’m in for, surprisingly, is the romance. This series is dark; there’s no getting around that. Spoiler-alert: Asami rapes Takaba in the first chapter, and Takaba slowly falls in love with him. The main thrust of the series is whether this is real love because we’re presented with ample reasons as to why Takaba should leave Asami—Takaba is kidnapped, beaten, and violated once he gets involved with Asami—and he only finds refuge in Asami’s arms. And of course, the series also explores whether Asami truly feels anything for Takaba, or whether Asami is simply using him. Like I said earlier, even if yaoi is stereotypically viewed as being Porn Without Plot, the genre constantly reasserts its darkness with these kinds of elements.
Crimson Spell has the potential to kick Finder off the top of my Yamane pyramid because it not only has angled art, plot, and smut, but it’s a fantasy series as well. Be still, my heart. Fantasy is not a typical genre for a yaoi work to be set in because most series deal with the men’s struggle to accept their feelings in a world that doesn’t accept gay love. So having this story in a fantasy world was a nice departure as it allowed new possibilities to open. Anyway, Crimson Spell follows Prince Vald and his journey to lift a curse that makes him turn into a demon. He meets up with a sorcerer named Halvir (who supposedly can help Vald lift the curse), who somehow realizes that “the raging demon that Vald turns into every night can only be calmed when Halvie satisfies his lust!,” or so says the back of my copy of the first volume. I won’t lie, friends; that description literally made me laugh out loud. But don’t let that throw you off because this series is a great example of world-building. Since we’re on an adventure in a fantasy world, Yamane introduces us to new places and species, all of which help Vald and Halvir develop a relationship. These characters aren’t strangers to a new world, which would slow the story down as they had to learn about these new things. Instead, these characters come to us fully formed, with pasts that have clearly affected their current actions and attitudes.
Similar to Finder, this series also has a dark shadow cast over it; while the back cover initially made me laugh, it turns out that when Halvir sleeps with Vald the demon, Vald is unable to remember this when he wakes up as a human. He is, in essence, raped every night. Vald’s gratefulness for Halvir’s decision to try and help remove the curse comes easily makes the reader uncomfortable because of the use of dramatic irony; we know that Vald shouldn’t be so trusting of Halvir, and yet there’s nothing we can do to alert him to this. If Vald begins to fall for Halvir, we as readers can only wait to see if Vald’s feelings will overcome his anger at finding out the truth. And when all of this is tied into the fantasy genre, you have two fairly disparate elements at work.
Should You Check Out Yamane’s Work?
This really depends. Although I personally love Yamane’s oeuvre, character interactions and relationships can be highly uncomfortable for a reader. Things can be triggering, and if you’ve never delved into the yaoi community before, Yamane may not be a good first step because it throws you right into darkness. At the same time, Yamane’s command of plot is commendable, and her artwork is killer. But at the end of the day, I think you have to first accept — certainly not approve of — the way relationships work in this particular world if you want to check her series out.
So! Do you think you’ll check Yamane out? Is there a particular mangaka that you would sell your soul to? Let us know in the comments!
Until next month, then~ じゃあね!