June reading list is pathetic: WA 6 all together finally, and finally finished Ima Ichiko's Five Box Stories. The latter is a collection of early(ish: mid 90's) mild BL stories, first published in a magazine that's long gone and then persistently shopped around by one of her editors for several years until someone agreed to print the collection. (Is now in bunko as well. Editors know what they're doing.) Ima has an afterword about how she thought these stories were safely gone and buried and now here they are in tank again, thank you for reading them and now please go and bury the book in a deep hole in the back garden mmkay? Proving that no one likes their early stuff.
I agree that these aren't the best of her work, but the reason to me seems that the focus of BL- two guys in love- is necessarily too narrow for Ima's range. She excels at ensemble: duets are too confining for her but man does she pull off stunning sextets. No pun intended, because in fact that's not true: there's no overt sex and no need for overt sex, and indeed I can't imagine what overt sex would look like if Ima drew it. Embarrassing, I think, in kickinpants' way of 'Oh gee I interrupted you two guys, lemme just go refill your water pitcher here.' Watching two yaoi guys or BL guys having sex is fine: sex is what they're there for. Watching one of Ima's *people* having sex feels like an intrusion on someone's privacy, and so she doesn't show it.
So of course these stories are all about two guys in love, or falling in love, or dealing with the ramifications of being in love. At least two of them are delicate bittersweet stories where the guys only realize they're in love far too late to do anything about it: the missed opportunities and connections never made that life is all about. One story blew me away with the delicacy of a character's conflicted emotions about the man who adopted him; of course that's the one Ima says the editor blue-pencilled with 'I haven't a clue what you're trying to say here.' "And I was all sniffy and annoyed and redid parts to her suggestions, and now I look at it and think 'I haven't a clue what I was trying to say here.'" Well, FWIW the inkblot resonated with *me*, sensei.
Probably these stories seem slight in themselves because I'm comparing them with the long ensemble piece that is 100 Demons. It's more enlightening to compare them with other BL. Here's Ima's take on gakuenmono, where the guys do indeed end up screwing under the futon covers on a winter's eve: but where the emotional action that's the centre of the piece is never stated overtly. Here's her university pieces, where (what we eventually learn is) a couple is on the outs, violently so, in the first story: and then the second story, set several years earlier when both were students, gives us the POV of the seductive dangerous lover in the first one-- and he's nothing of the sort. One surmises that years of dealing with his ambivalent and close-clammed boyfriend have made him what he is in the first story. It's all a world away from 'rape of the bespectacled Council President after school hours' kind of story one finds elsewhere.
But the final proof that Ima isn't a BL mangaka at heart is that the most successful of her stories (Weird Guys- FTR, the one that deals with host clubs) is successful largely because there's a woman involved. She's someone who'll grow up to be one of Ima's trademark demented and managing females (the wife in Almost Paradise, Ritsu's aunt Tamaki and his grandmother as well, probably) but at this point she's young enough that you can see why she's demented and why she needs to manage. It's an unconscious behaviour that springs from being a victim of circumstances and resenting it.
In a way the demented female/ femme formidable in Ima reminds me a little of the same type in Austen. There's no doubt that their social situations go a long way in explaining the need to make their surroundings be what they want them to be. If Ima's women are on balance less neurotic about it than Austen's, the explanation probably is that late 20th century Japan still offers women slightly more opportunity and independence than early 19th century England. Slightly more: I note that the ruthless female in Ima tends to be in business for herself, which is a tough row to hoe in Japan. (And we'll mention that Grandmother, quite as overbearing with people if less shrill about it than her daughter, is as traditional as you can get. But that may be what happens when a woman tries to have the same kind of authority outside the home as she is legitimately allowed to have within it.)
Yes well. As I say, BL's focus is too narrow for someone as broad of scope as Ima. But Weird Guys is still a great piece of ensemble acting, right down to the pair of okama at the club who get huffy with the naive hero: 'just cause we talk like *that* doesn't mean we're *like* that.'