February 11, 2007
My escapist literature of choice these days comes from the Flower Comics Cheese! imprint, especially "short story" anthologies by Kayono (no last name).
Her tankonbon anthologies (she does serials as well) each contain several stand-alone stories. Flower Comics, a division of publishing giant Shogakukan, is an established shoujo manga publisher that targets the same demographic as magazines like Seventeen and YM.
In terms of narrative structure, her stories follow a predicable outline: 1) girl meets boy under unusual circumstances; 2) in the midst of negotiating said circumstances, girl and boy girl fall in love; 3) girl and boy toss off their clothes and jump into bed; 4) they live happily ever after. (Steps 1, 2, and 3 do not necessary occur in that order.)
Well, most stories ever told follow a predicable outline and romances all the more so. The unique contribution of the author, then, is the ability to tell the same story only different. Kayono is particularly inventive in this regard, especially with supernatural themes.
The titular story in Rei Kai Bi Dan has a rogue angel (roguish male protagonists also being de rigueur) stealing a magical gem from God and then hiding it on--literally on--a girl he runs into while on the run.
He then has to do some meticulous searching (see step 3) to get it back. The story is clever and romantic, with tragedy averted and, yes, ending happily ever after. Kayono doesn't hit a home run every time, but the beauty of this format is that you're not stuck with lackluster stories. Unfortunately, as with Rei Kai Bi Dan, you don't see more of the characters you would like to follow around longer.
Kayono's skills as a pen-and-ink artist stand out as well. I really like her "neo-real" approach--completely idealized but still representing real human beings with full faces and rounded edges--as opposed to the David Bowie "Thin White Duke" designs once favored by CLAMP (though they seem to have abandoned it), and that has become, for some strange reason, the hallmark of yaoi.
The main contribution of the Cheese! editorial policy to the genre is the requirement that step 3 be depicted with a luscious, baroque, R-rated explicitness. The illustrations are tasteful, to be sure, and nothing approaching actual hentai. But the imprint is called Cheese! for a purpose (somebody at the company has a cute sense of humor). A good comparison in this regard is Harlequin Blaze.
To quote from the Blaze editorial guidelines:
The tone of the books can run from fun and flirtatious to dark and sensual. Writers can push the boundaries in terms of characterization, plot and explicitness . . . . We want to see an emphasis on the physical relationship developing between the couple: fully described love scenes along with a high level of fantasy, playfulness and eroticism are needed.
Just add pictures and you've got Cheese!
(A big hat tip to Emily at her Random Shoujo Manga Page, a great introduction to the genre. ISBNs reviewed: 4091381413, 409138143X, 4091381421, 4091381448.)
UPDATE: more Cheese! here and here.