March has come, and I’m snailing my way through one and just started on another (though I am zooming through it), so don’t expect any game reviews soon. In the meantime, I’ve finally finished these two titles by two of my favourite names so I’ll just write a quick review. Yamashita Tomoko is not a new face to BL, but Stroboscope (ストロボスコープ) is her first BL tankoubon in the last 3 years, published by Libre Shuppan in 2012. The other title is Room Share (ルームシェア) by Ishino Aya, published by Opera (Akaneshinsha) in 2012. (Sorry for the blur photos.)
I read Stroboscope first so let me start with it. It consists of 4 titles in all, and does have R-18 content – I just didn’t photograph them. But as always, you shouldn’t read her works for the (awkward) sex in my opinion but for her story-telling. Anyway, first up is Stroboscope, the oneshot which was published earlier in Nakeru BL anthology (泣けるBL). This is probably my favourite work in this tankoubon. Kazu, the cafe owner, takes in Renji and aptly likens it to taking in a stray dog – ‘cos in the end Renji is the one who “sniffs” up Kazu’s inner self, past and fears. His past and fears may not appear ground-breaking, but they are also easier to relate to. The narration is absolutely captivating, as the same phrase is constantly used at different points in the story – there is nothing happy, sad, loving, or lonely for Kazu. He has no likes or dislikes, no leisurely activities, and only runs the cafe as if going through the motion – even claiming that he wouldn’t care if it collapses one day. Renji catches whiff of his past one day through the customers’ gossips, and breaks down Kazu’s apathetic front later. This scene, which takes place over several pages, is my favourite as Kazu’s apathetic expression is slowly shaken and he breaks down into an awkward mess. I’ll leave Kazu’s past and the ending undisclosed so that you can find out what happened for yourselves.
The second oneshot is Good Morning, Bad Day which was first published in 2011. I think this falls under the category of ambiguous endings which may leave you hanging. Well, basically these two happened to graduate from the same high school, and randomly decided to live together (even though they hardly know each other) since they’re going to the same university too. Oh, at the same time they also have sex. Their names are never told, but basically the bottom guy is at a loss as to what exactly their relationship is, as shown in his rather amusing monologues. This question isn’t exactly resolved in the end, so that’s why it may leave some people hanging. But at the same time you may also try to infer and draw your own conclusion from the narration and the other guy’s actions. Despite this ambiguity, I actually quite enjoyed Good Morning, Bad Day.
The next one, Chain Gang, was published in 2012 and is a really short oneshot. So the best way to describe it is that, Chain Gang refers to a group of prisoners chained together + the theme is omorashi (…peeing). Yeah, let me just leave it to your imagination. The last one, Devil’s Thoroughbred, is actually one of her earlier works from 2005, and was first published as a doujinshi. You can see the difference in that her style is rougher in a sense. It starts off with Hazaki raping Kinaga and well, it does give one a bad impression of Hazaki. But this act is not romanticised and Kinaga come to terms with the circumstances despite this betrayal and goes with Hazaki’s threat afterwards too, as a form of self-protection. So somehow I could continue reading on – that is till the end, when it is suggested that Hazaki actually has romantic feelings for Kinaga but couldn’t bring himself to confess since Kinaga would probably kick his a** instead. The wrap-up was a bit cliche, but then again I’m not sure how else it would end given that it is a oneshot. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two works, but it was an interesting read.
There is a 2-page coloured illustration insert in the middle. Following that are her usual one-page follow-ups as well as “essays”, which I think are best described as drabbles by Yamashita Tomoko. The first part has her flipping through a dictionary and randomly picking out 3 words, with which she’ll attempt to create a BL story from. There are 13 of such cases and each span for 4 pages. Some work (surprisingly), some are just crack, and others…are weird and make you wonder what took place in her mind lol. The next part has 13 themes such as death match (which became SM, a favourite theme of hers as you can see from the photo), royalty etc. and span for 2 pages each. The last part consists 6 themes for either the seme or uke, and each span for 2 pages. The photographed example has the theme of 超年下(攻) (a much younger seme), and it was pretty funny to read her train of thought.
This section is a total of 80+ pages so while most of them were amusing to read (since it records her train of thought too), it was a bit too long for my taste. I called these drabbles as they were mostly “moments” and not so much proper stories I guess? I would’ve preferred to read one or two more oneshots from her instead, and then the rest of the pages can be the more interesting essays. ‘Cos I only thoroughly enjoyed two oneshots and a handful of her essays, I wouldn’t readily recommend this. I would rather recommend her older tankoubons such as Barairo no Hitomi wa Bakudan, or Je t’aime, café noir. So well, it depends on what you might prefer.
Unlike Ishino Aya’s earlier tankoubons, Room Share does not consist of one shots and follows a single couple throughout the volume. Tanaka and Oohara have pretty opposite personalities, but they live together and…yup, have sex together. Like Tsubaki Biyori/Dayori, there isn’t really any serious conflict and it basically depicts their daily lives. As usual, Ishino Aya’s showing of the story through images is beautiful. She also subtly shows Oohara’s inner feelings for Tanaka through the same method. For example, it’s raining and Tanaka gets two umbrellas. You have a few panels showing Oohara’s constant gaze, before he offers his own to another girl and the two guys end up sharing an umbrella. There are many other instances like this for Oohara, but unfortunately hardly any for Tanaka – probably also ‘cos Tanaka always speaks his mind, unlike Oohara. The thing is, it isn’t clear as to whether they think of each other as lovers and this issue is never really addressed – except when Tanaka childishly sulks at how Oohara shouldn’t treat his lover like that, and Oohara thinks “Lover?”. So seeing how the most explicit sex scene is between Oohara and another guy, it may turn some people off.
Another thing I enjoyed was how a person’s trait can be seen as both positive and negative. Tanaka is the type who can’t seem to stop fussing over Oohara – but ‘cos of this he would sometimes do unnecessary things such as throwing Oohara’s top in the washing machine, only to find out later that Oohara’s mobile phone was inside too. \o/ These sort of incidents seem to happen on a regular basis, yet Oohara is never really seen asking for compensation. And when Oohara unconsciously starts complaining aloud about all of Tanaka’s negative traits, and his friends advise him to break it off already lol. But every time Tanaka annoys Oohara, Oohara later finds something positive about Tanaka and would sometimes blush when he’s alone like an otome.
I enjoy the fact that the passionate scenes between this couple end up being…awkward and not very romantic (with both of them having to catch their breath), especially when you compare it to Oohara’s scene with another guy. And this is random but, I always tend to stub my poor toes and to finally see a similar scene in a manga – it made me smile a little. /o\ All in all, Room Share is a light and enjoyable read of the simple-minded Tanaka whose head is always full of meat, and the more sensitive Oohara who isn’t always truthful with his feelings. Just don’t expect any finality I guess and enjoy the everyday moments? If you’re looking for Ishino Aya’s oneshots instead, the answer is every other BL tankoubon of hers so far.