Desirable Swimming Boys does what it does very successfully. And what it does is boys doing boys. This is a lovely, smutty little romp that fails in its cursory attempt at psychological tension, but delivers in spades elsewhere. The story follows swim team members addressing their sexual obsessions in all sorts of complicated and counterproductive ways. Finally, a tall and dark deus ex machina turns this “love” triangle into a rectangle and brings our group to its symmetrical and rather moist climax. It is all highly enjoyable.
Here we find a very nice array of fetishes and tags, from rape to incest to group sex. While there is censorship, the filth level is still plenty above average. The art is good. The toning is blocky and very liberally applied, and there are some noticeable instances of Yaoi Anatomy Syndrome, but really nothing distracting. I was very impressed with the expressiveness of the faces, which are really beautifully and effectively rendered, and of course the aforementioned anatomical shortcomings are nowhere to be found in the sex scenes. Panel layout is frenetic but flows very intuitively, creating a complimentary feeling to the emotional tone of the story. Composition in general is tightly pulled in, so there is very little background to speak of.
What elevated this volume from one I was glad I had been able to enjoy one afternoon to one I was glad I own is the bonus story, Untitled. This one shot is really beautiful and I look forward to revisiting it. Untitled takes place in a single room in a vaguely dystopian context, where we watch as the routine of the lone character, a sex worker whose entire world is the plain room with the two-way mirror in which he lives and works, is interrupted. Each page floats on an offset border of lace screentone, deepening the effect of the decadence we feel from the world outside the room, and contrasting garishly with the stark minimalism of the panels. The common thread between Desirable Swimming Boys and Untitled is definitely their considerable explicitness, and I’m glad they’re in the same volume.
Overall, as long as what you’re looking for is a very high smut-to-story ratio, this book is a winner and I definitely recommend it!
Review By: Dot Ringo
"The Imperial Army’s Love Academy" was very disappointing. In keeping with Mizukami’s general style, this is a very smutty piece of hard shota, set within an historical context. All of this is well and good if that’s what you’re looking for, and Mizukami is a champion at it. Where Love Academy breaks down, however, is its attempt to have a plot. What we have here is a threadbare framework of what attempts to be story, character, and relationships, attempting to support a porno, by an artist who is very good at the porno thing.
The arc of the “romance” at work here is definitely cringeworthy, and this is by yaoi standards. Unhealthy relationships are nothing new, unexpected, or even necessarily objectionable in our genre, but this one really takes the cake. We watch an adult, Onizuka, not only prey relentlessly on a child in a sexual sense, but also break him down on a personal, petty level. The child, Yamato, becomes more and more isolated until rather abruptly coming to “love” Onizuka. Handled more competently this could make for an interesting psychological story, but it’s all played totally genuine and without nuance, so the resulting relationship seems tacked on, absurd, and boring. In addition, it’s a bit offensive the way Yamato’s pain seems to dry up suddenly along with the last of his personal boundaries and the self respect he has doggedly clung to throughout the story. Again, I realize this is nothing at all unusual, but in the case of Love Academy, this trope is especially poorly handled.
Love Academy essentially opens with our hero Yamato, an underdeveloped teenager, being raped by his adult superior officer in a pitch black room. This is the first of several highly explicit and well rendered sex scenes, which are hot despite censorship. This is where Mizukami Sensei really shines; In the depiction of young boys being brutalized. Their style is very unique and quite lovely, one can tell Mizukami’s work immediately. The characters have interesting features, though there is one mustache that needs to be killed with fire, and if you look at some crowd scenes everyone’s identical. This is not the only time Mizukami has used a vaguely period military setting. The world building in this book is generally unsuccessful, though the uniforms are very nicely rendered, as are the human forms in general, and the toning is great. Visually this is a very good work.
Overall I can’t recommend The Imperial Army’s Love Academy. Yaoi fans have high levels of patience for ridiculous relationships and terrible plots, but in the case of this book the “story” is actually bad enough to negate the good things about it.
Review By: Dot Ringo
With Juné Manga's upcoming "yabara" kickstarter project, winter anime hits like "Yuri on Ice," and psychological online manga like "Killing Stalking," the definition of "yaoi" has become much more of a grey area.
At its core, yaoi is defined as romantic relationships between two male characters. These stories are predominantly made by women for women. Beginning in the 70s, the boys love genre would depict "bishounen," or pretty boys, having platonic relationships with one another (what some would consider "shounen ai" today). These would progress into more explicit contents in fan made doujinshi, slowly becoming regularized in the manga form as well.
For many years yaoi was not considered "gay manga" as it did not depict homosexual relationships in realistic ways. Intending it to be a fantasy, mangakas would create overly dramatic plot lines, features, and content that would never be found in the real world. These fantasies appealed and catered to the female aesthetic and desires much more than males, thus male readers grew to have a distaste, and even offense, for the genre.
"Bara" was created as the male counterpart to yaoi, made by males for males. Instead of having feminine features, these men are extremely muscular and hairy. Exchanging less plot for more sexual fantasy, the contents are mostly explicit.
In more recent years, the blending of the two genres has been occurring more and more. Moving away from stereotyped plots like dubious consent or overly feminized men, modern changes such as this have started to resonate with both fujoshi fans and the LGBTQ community. Many authors are now exchanging these known yaoi tropes into more realistic human relationships with plots such as traumatic pasts and less social taboo. Works by artists such as Sakira, who draws very muscular bara men with plenty of sexual content, have grabbed the attention of both sets of fans for her ability of comedic storytelling and unique art style.
With modern streaming and subscription services, the ability to watch and read online with same day releases has caused anime and manga fans alike to flock to these digital sources. The blending of cultures and fans has caused both positive and negative effects for the yaoi, LGBTQ, and general otaku communities.
Last season's hit anime "Yuri on Ice" caused a rift with these communities and sparked debate on what the definition of yaoi truly is and where does one draw the line. Modernizing the yaoi genre and getting rid of social stigmas can cause people to argue "is it yaoi?" or "is it just a relationship that happens to be homosexual?" Some have come to define modern yaoi that if the relationship between the two males is the main plot source for the story, then yes it is a yaoi. If there are much larger plot points and two characters happen to be homosexual, then it is just a subplot romance, thus not a yaoi.
It has truly become a definition in the eyes of each personal reader. Where someone draws the line may vastly vary to someone else based on their upbring, lifestyle, or even just their personal taste. The best part about having an expanding grey area are the debates themselves, if done in healthy open minded settings. Talking about issues and social awareness can be massively helpful and healthy when done under the right circumstances. Now while this is not always done in the most positive ways, as most any disagreement can lend itself to, the community itself still encourages everyone to be as respectful and open minded to any and all.
Whether you spell it yaoi, yai, yoai, or simply yaoi, the big question is: where do yaoi comics go from here? With an ever expanding yet smaller world, there are thousands of plots, artists, and genres to choose from. Whether you enjoy the beautiful bishounen, muscular baras, or even a blend of both, chances are there is a story out there just for you.