But now I really want to see how so robustly heterosex a mangaka does m/m.
As I said over on Aesthe, Karin, for all its gender-bending, runs on a very basic male-female view of the world. (shrug) Daoism does; deal. It's also a highly exuberant form of heterosex we get in Karin, but then one doesn't expect the Great Western Mother or various Pearl Spirits to be wilting lilies. I mean, one of the pearl spirits *is* a wilting lily, but another stalks whatever male comes near her, and the third roundly tells her long-lost son that though she tends to wander around without clothes, she's only ever 'copulated' with one man, his father: though it was she, of course, who put the moves on him. (Innocent virginal son is shocked by her language: she uses the word for animals mating, 'cross tails'.)
But we come to Kurotsubaki with its Kyoto geisha, the height of refinement, artifice and art, and much obscure information about the various public ceremonies of the geisha world with equally obscure vocabulary to match, to say nothing of refined feminine Kyoto dialect that, oddly, this gaijin decodes exactly as she does colloquial male Tokyo dialect (to say nothing of Chaucerian English) ie say it to yourself and figure that what you think it sounds like is probably what it is.
Kochou, our refayned geisha heroine, is as exuberantly sexual as any Great Western Mother, and Kawasou likes to show her being it. We have many opportunities to see her displaying the lineaments of gratified desire. This geisha world- which in RL, as Liza Dalby has said, is fundamentally matriarchal- is matriarchal in its values as well. The terminology of the rest of society, to say nothing of our own society, doesn't apply to it. Complacent husband, ménage à trois, even lover: those are the wrong words. There is, simply, Keiji, the guy Kochou lives with, her danna and 'nii-han' and dresser and partner. And there is, simply, Shuuichi, the gifted young kabuki actor who's in love with her in his young romantic fashion, which is sweet but which ignores the fact that their relationship is fundamentally one of professional admiration and rivalry far more than romantic love or sexual attraction. And there is, simply, Shuuichi's father, with whom Kochou is also having an affair, a mellow civilized and sophisticated older man who quite understands the way Kochou's world runs.
I like them all but Keiji takes my fancy most. I'm not a fan of heterosex in manga, not the way I usually find it. Rambunctious otoko-rashii self-satisfied rough diamonds with the manners of a cow, and the women who love them. Feh. There's also, though no examples come immediately to mind, the sensitive soft romantic hero kind: stock female fantasy, who nowadays gets written as a BL uke. (There's probably one in Fushigi Yuugi, but I can no more read FY than I can read CLAMP.) Has anyone ever put the two together? besides Kawasou, I mean?
Because Keiji is rambunctious and otoko-rashii and yells a lot (but everyone in Kawasou yells; it's one of her things) and is also, as I say, the guy who does Kochou's hair and ties her obis and cooks her meals-- duties that the owner of a tea house, which is what he is, doesn't normally undertake. He also worries about her when she gets into creative depressions over her dancing and figures out ways to get her out of them. He belongs to the geisha world and grew up with its values; he's in a partnership with a dancer whose talent he admires; he knows his own value, knows that he knows aspects of Kochou that no one else does-- including professional dance ones secret even from Shuuichi-- and just doesn't mind that she sleeps with other men. It's a part of the artist's world, is all. (Or mostly is all: see last paragraph.)
A book review back in the 80's when, it seems to me, book reviews were more quotable than they are now, had a Useful Quote about 'the difficulties women face in being sexual and procreative beings in a world that allows them to be neither with dignity.' Underline the last two words, which has always seemed the essence of the problem in representing female sexuality. It may be that the puritan west has problems associating sex with dignity at all and is determined to present even male sexuality in terms that are cringe-worthily cutesy or so good ol' boy jocular the skin crawls-- as anyone can attest who has even looked at a dictionary of sexual slang. The time when sexuality becomes explicit-- adolescence-- seems to colour the attitude to it ever after, and in other cultures than ours. Is why I like Kawasou's take: her women (and her men) have a profound integrity in their energetic sexuality, and that's as close to dignity as one needs to come.
What I especially liked about vol 2 is that it contains an arc about an internationally famous director (pretty clearly modelled after Kurosawa, I'd say) who's directing a film about the Shinsengumi. He sees Keiji and Kochou at one point, recognizes Keiji as the son of a friend from his youth, a promising actor who died young, and determines to have him in the film. (They come to the set because pretty-face blond Shuuichi is playing Okita. Who else?) Keiji agrees to appear in a small bit-part as Hijikata's 'shadow'-- the dark side of the man that will come out later; but is blasé about the movie career the director wants to push him into, so that he can be the star his father should have been. Thanks but no thanks: Keiji has his tea house to run, and that's where his identity lies.
There's also a great bit at the end where Kochou becomes possessed by the spirit of the famous courtesan, Shimabara, whom she's been playing in the film, and goes after the actor who plays Hijikata, who's equally possessed by the man he portrays. She fails to come home the night before a big Gion New Year's do. Keiji and Shuuichi-- worried that she'll muff her *professional* responsibilities, note-- track her down to the actor's hotel room. Keiji knocks the actor unconscious, tells the possessed Kochou, 'If you want him, come with us-- Shimabara', and takes them all back to his house. Where he throws the shutters open and calls out to the cherry trees in the garden, in impeccably masculine Japanese: 'You guys, give me a hand, OK?! If you don't want 'Kochou of Gion' to be taken away, call on all your friends through the whole of Gion to come help me out. *Got* it??!!' And then proceeds to bring her to herself the way he's told Shuuichi he will: 'I'll make her remember. Directly. Through her body!' And does. Orgasm: good for cramps, insomnia, and expelling spirits.
(Shuuichi of course is sitting there all the time thinking 'Always so terribly sure of yourself, Kei-han. And I still think that was more malice than anything.' Yes, but not malice towards Shuuichi himself, I fancy: because you'll recall that the other person in the room is the actor whom Keiji crossed swords with-- in all senses of the word-- during the film shoot.)