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Your Definitive Guide to Fumi Yoshinaga

Posted by: Erin F. on March 14, 2008 at 12:06 am

I found it a bit hard to find a good list of Yoshinaga’s work online in English, even on Wikipedia. Here is a list by year scraped together from Anime News Network’s Encyclopedia. (Pssst, DMP… ask your intern to log onto the ANN database and update it. Your Yoshinaga titles are under-represented!)

stackofyoshinaga1.JPGThe Moon and the Sandals (1996)
Truly, Kindly (1997)
Solfege (1998)
Ichigenme…the First Class is Civil Law (1998)
Lovers in the Night (1999)
Garden Dreams (1999)
Antique Bakery (1999-2002)
Gerard & Jacques (2000)
Don’t Say Anymore, Darling (2004)
Ohoku (2005)
Flower of Life (2006)
Kinō Nani Tabeta (2007)

I’m looking forward to Ohoku, a matriarchal fantasy set in feudal Japan. Ohoku was the Winner of Excellence Prize of the Manga Division at the 2006 Japan Media Arts Festival. Kino Nania Tabeta? sounds like a fun return to hot guys eating delicious food.

The best page I’ve found dedicated to Yoshinaga is the The Fumi Yoshinaga Resource Index.

–Erin F.

Antique Bakery (DMP)

If I were to try explaining why the Antique Bakery is so damn tasty, I’d probably express it as a recipe:

2 cups passionate dialogue
2 cups hot men
1 cup mouth-watering pastries
½ cup interesting clientele
¼ cup yaoi
dash of humor
dash of melancholy

In a more analytical moment, however, I’d attribute Antique Bakery‘s appeal to its characters; Yoshinaga assembles one of her most memorable casts in this four-volume work. There’s Keisuke, the bakery’s cranky owner, who was kidnapped by a cake-loving fanatic when he was a child (don’t ask—somehow it makes sense in the context of the manga); Ono, the pastry chef, former high school classmate of Keisuke, and “gay of demonic charm” (even straight men are helpless in his presence); Eiji, a cheerful young boxer who becomes Ono’s apprentice; and Chikage, a simple-minded but sweet friend of Keisuke who never, ever takes off his sunglasses.

Most of the series charts the ups and downs of Keisuke and Ono’s friendship, a friendship freighted with some serious baggage: on the last day of high school, Keisuke rudely rejected Ono’s advances, nearly breaking his spirit in the process. Yoshinaga enlivens her narrative with numerous subplots, some humorous–Chikage develops the hots for Ono–some serious–Ono must decide whether to reconcile with an abusive ex-boyfriend–and some downright delicious. Though there’s a lot of shop talk about the merits of various ingredients and the virtues of French pastries, Antique Bakery is, at heart, a slice-of-life drama about friendship. (I’d say, “male bonding,” but there isn’t much in Antique Bakery, and what little there is… well, it’s tame, even by daytime television standards.) If you’ve been wondering why so many reviewers have been singing Yoshinaga’s praises, why not start your survey with this delightful series?

–Katherine Dacey

Don’t Say Anything More, Darling (DMP)

The title is shouted at the end of the first chapter: “Don’t Say It! Don’t Say Anything More!” This bizarre short story anthology goes from fun and pleasant to weird and morbid at exactly page 72.

In the first fun short story (and my favorite), a 29-year-old “parasite single” doctor must come to terms with his feelings for his starving artist gay best friend from high school. Meanwhile, the doctor’s parents attempt to arrange a marriage. It’s cute and fun, with some sexy sex scenes.

The second story, “My Eternal Sweetheart” starts off fun: a rich orphan with a severe immune problem is confined to his mansion. Fortunately, he lives in an android-rich future, where his brother designs sexaroids to keep the lonely teen company. It’s pretty imaginative, although more than a little weird, but the story goes horribly wrong at page 72 when the boy starts killing the sexaroids! Brace yourself for a serious “WTF” twist ending.

The remaining shorts get weirder and more depressing: In “One May Day” a widower professor takes a second wife, but after one terribly faux pas they break up. In “Fairyland” a youth counselor thinks he’s the last person on earth until he meets the bullied teen who wished (successfully) for everyone in the world to die. In “Pianist,” a former pro piano player (who happens to be homosexual) considers suicide.

The story about the pianist has me really worried about the rules of yaoi. A younger man is about to sleep with the pianist when he suddenly freaks out:

“If you want to be the bottom at your age, then find yourself another old geezer like you, man! But if you’re still thinking, ‘Oh I wanna be held in the arms of a pretty young boy,’ then – I suggest you PAY for one.”

Does this imply the prettier, younger partner is always the uke? Do only ukes get cuddled? I think everyone needs cuddling sometimes!

I can see some patterns coming up in Yoshinaga’s work. “My Eternal Sweetheart” features the same 3-year age gap as Gerard and Jacques, as well as a fantasy premise. “One May Day” reminded me a bit of Garden Dreams.

I loaned this volume to a friend, and she concluded the shorter Yoshinaga’s works, the weirder they are. I really, really enjoyed the title story, “Don’t Say Anything More, Darling,” and I wish it were an entire series. Everything else in the book is downright unsettling. Nevertheless, Yoshinaga is a more accomplished storyteller here than in Solfege or Garden Dreams.

–Erin F.

Flower of Life (DMP)

Flower_of_Comic.png

I had a hard time getting into Antique Bakery and took a break between volumes two and three, but with Flower of Life I read each new volume immediately and with fannish rigor. I keep recommending it to people, including guys, but I have a hard time convincing them there’s no yaoi involved. Two of the characters are otaku, so as with Genshiken, I’m showing favoritism towards otaku-centric titles. I can’t explain what the title means, except as a reference to the protagonist, who struggled with cancer but enters high school healthy and filled with the enthusiasm of youth… This is a title about happiness.

–Erin F.

Fumi Yoshinaga’s geek-centric comedy focuses on a group of teens who invite their new classmate to join the manga club. Not much actually happens in Flower of Life; most chapters consist of passionate conversations between club members about—what else?—manga. Yoshinaga has a wonderful time poking fun at otakudom (including her usual bailiwick, boy’s love) while respecting the intensity and sincerity of her characters’ feelings. The result is both moving and laugh-out-loud funny. You’ve never seen a cultural festival storyline quite like the one in volume two… trust me on this one.

–Katherine Dacey

Garden Dreams (DMP)

Garden Dreams is an odd, unsatisfying collection of stories about a handsome musician who, courtesy of the Crusades, finds himself living in a foreign country with a kind but handsome nobleman who’s several decades his senior. Most of the book is devoted to a rather convoluted story in which the nobleman’s tragic past is revealed; like Gerard (of Gerard and Jacques fame), the baron has an unhappy marriage in his past that has predisposed him to prefer male companionship.

Anyone hoping for a good helping of smut will be sorely disappointed by Garden Dreams, as Yoshinaga never turns up the heat beyond a mild simmer—there’s far more explicit homoeroticism in, say, Tokyo Babylon or To Terra. Readers who favor Yoshinaga’s engaging talkfests over her boudoir tales will also be disappointed in Garden Dreams, as the characters never rise beyond the level of type; their conversations are rather banal and uninteresting, as is the unnecessarily twisty story that the nobleman relates. The artwork, like the plot and characters, doesn’t make much of an impression. Yoshinaga does little to situate her story in a specific time or place, save for a few concessions to period costume and instruments. (She earns a solid A in organology from this musicologist in training.) The sameness of her character designs is especially evident in the characters’ profiles and jawlines; the men and women would be interchangeable if not for their costumes.

It’s true that second- or third-rate Yoshinaga is still better than the majority of licensed manga on bookstore shelves, but when compared with her best work, Garden Dreams seems average at best.

–Katherine Dacey

Gerard and Jacques (BLU Manga)

Gerard and Jacques is a two-volume yaoi romance set in France just prior to the French Revolution. Jacques is sold into prostitution at age sixteen by his aristocrat parents. Gerard is a commoner who has made it big selling romance novels; he is Jacques’ first and only client at the whorehouse. The next day, by coincidence, Jacques is hired as a servant in Gerard’s mansion. Their formerly intimate relationship turns platonic until volume two, which is set three years later.

I was mislead by the Overlooked Manga Festival and assumed Gerard and Jacques was all sex scenes interrupted by political and economic lectures. Instead, the two books more closely follow the format of Moon and Sandals: volume one is mostly plot and volume two has more sex. However, the opening sex scene in volume one is surprisingly graphic, I mean, a sixteen-year-old is sodomized in the first twenty pages! I started the book on the subway, but opted to read the rest of the series at home!

The plot unfolds in four major sections. In the first quarter Jacques learns how to be a servant, leaving behind his aristocratic life. In the second quarter, we are given a jumble of flashbacks to Gerard’s past—he hates aristocrats and sleeps exclusively with young boys because his ex-wife was a huge aristocratic jerk. In the third quarter, Jacques’s pent-up sexual desire causes him to blow up in cartoon-y explosions until he learns to masturbate. The fourth quarter follows Gerard and Jacques as they struggle to survive the Reign of Terror.

The art is as accomplished as Antique Bakery. Gerard’s design is particularly dashing, with his eye-patch and scar. Characters’ costumes are detailed and work quite well. Backgrounds are a bit lacking, especially in volume one. Pre-revolution era France as a setting calls for lush post-Rococo interiors, but we’re lucky if Yoshinaga draws a decent fireplace.

A story set in this time period in France ought to be rife with scandalous sex, but Yoshinaga is no Marquis De Sade. More scandalous than Gerard’s deviant sex life is the attitude of his ex-wife toward her child. True love is valued more deeply in the story than deviant sex. The villainous members of the aristocracy appear incapable of love, and are given due punishment.

Although the plot structure is uneven, overall I was amused by the series. It lacks the personal moments of Flower of Life or Moon and Sandals in favor of fantasy-history. Gerard and Jacques is more compelling and coherent than Garden Dreams or Don’t Say Anything More Darling. I recommend it for its high amusement factor as well as the explicit sex.

–Erin F.

Ichigenme: The First Class is Civil Law (801 Media)

One of the things that distinguishes Fumi Yoshinaga’s work from that of other yaoi artists is her love of dialogue. In works like Antique Bakery and Flower of Life, she reminds us that conversation can be an aphrodisiac, especially when two people are analyzing a favorite book or confessing a mutually-shared passion for art, cooking, or manga, forging a connection and establishing the roles they’ll play (dominant or submissive) in the subsequent relationship. True to form, the sexiest scenes in Ichigenme: The First Class Is Civil law are, in fact, conversations between law professors and their students. We feel the erotic charge of more experienced scholars engaging their protégés in intense debates over legal procedure and philosophy, even when the topics themselves are rather dry.

Unfortunately, this kind of intensity doesn’t carry over to the other scenes of this two-volume series. Yes, there’s plenty of bedroom action as the carefree Tohdou helps his uptight, closeted classmate Tamiya explore his sexuality, while Tohdou’s brother—also gay—seduces a semi-closeted member of the law school’s faculty, but it’s all rather formulaic and vaguely drawn to avoid running afoul of obscenity rules. Yoshinaga is enough of a storyteller to make these scenes an integral part of Tamiya’s self-discovery process, rather than simple exercises in titillation, but the story still wants for more dramatic tension; all that talking, while interesting and maybe even sexy, never really leads anywhere.

–Katherine Dacey

Lovers in the Night and Truly, Kindly (BLU Manga)

Though I’m an enthusiastic champion of The Antique Bakery, and Flower of Life, I’m less excited about Fumi Yoshinaga’s straight-up yaoi. Gerard and Jacques, for example, struck me as an ungainly hybrid of not-very-sexy sex scenes and speeches cribbed from Rosseau for Dummies, while Ichigenme: The First Class Is Civil Law seemed like a poor girl’s Paper Chase. The overlapping Lovers in the Night and Truly, Kindly fall somewhere in between Antique Bakery and Ichingenme on the steaminess scale, but suffer from many of the same problems found in Yoshinaga’s more explicit titles.

Truly, Kindly is an is an anthology of seven stories, from a coming-out tale set in present-day Seattle to a going-straight (as in abandoning a criminal past… ahem) story set in Meiji-era Japan, while the stories in Lovers in the Night focus on two characters introduced in the final chapter of Truly, Kindly. (A butler with an eye patch and a young nobleman who likes to pout… are you beginning to see a pattern here?) Despite the diverse array of historical backdrops and storylines, Truly, Kindly induces déjà vu with its recycled character designs, clumsy socio-political lectures masquerading as conversation, and the “I didn’t realize how much I liked you until you forced yourself on me!” epiphanies that her uke characters experience. The last three stories—all of which take place in the years leading up to the French Revolution—exhibit another of Yoshinaga’s shortcomings: her inability to integrate tidbits on Versailles and Voltaire into a narrative without stopping it dead in its tracks. Though utterly forgettable, Lovers in the Night earns higher marks than Truly, Kindly for emphasizing steamy encounters between beautiful men in period costume over long-winded political discussions.

Still, there’s something endearing about Yoshinaga’s insistence on creating characters with real emotional lives and realistically handsome faces in a genre known primarily for its man-on-man action—it’s as if someone forgot to tell her she was writing porn, for pete’s sake.

–Reviewed by Katherine Dacey

The Moon and Sandals (DMP)

Fumi Yoshinaga is the darling of the manga blogging world. Jason Thompson likes her, Shaenon Garrity likes her, and even Katherine, who doesn’t read much yaoi, likes her. So how does The Moon and Sandals compare with her other work: is it better than Antique Bakery? Not really. Is it as charming as The Flower of Life? Not exactly. Is there a lot of explicit gay sex? Why, yes there is!

There are five major characters. Kobayashi is a high school kid who falls for his world history teacher, a young man named Mr. Ida. Out of a naive bravery, Kobayashi goes to Mr. Ida’s house to make a move on him, only to be interrupted by Hashizume, Ida’s lover, who announces that he has quit his job to come live with Ida. Kobayashi runs out of the house, embarrassed. On the rebound, Kobayashi starts to fall for Toyo Narumi, a blonde boy nicknamed “Giant”. Giant hasn’t come to grips with being gay just yet. To complicate matters further, Giant’s little sister Naru has a crush on Kobayashi.

The Moon and Sandals gets a higher score from me for dealing with gay issues in a refreshing, realistic way. Hashizume must adopt Ida as his brother so landlords will rent to them. Kobayashi is not sure how to perform gay sex and buys a book from Ni-chome (Tokyo’s gay district) so he can do it with his boyfriend. Giant hurt a boy he liked in junior high just to prove to his classmates that he wasn’t gay. Characters discuss coming out to their coworkers and families. Even when Yoshinaga’s characters are standing outdoors dramatically in a typhoon and sustaining blood-drawing injuries while confessing their love, there is a certain honesty to her characterizations. Moments that would be melodramatic elsewhere are somehow believable here.

I only have a few hesitations about The Moon and Sandals. Ida and Hashizume get un-officially married before they have sex, but after they’ve been living together for months. It seems unrealistic in a yaoi title with realistic elements. Darker-haired characters fall for lighter haired characters as per strict yaoi genre conventions. Yoshinaga’s character designs are all similar. That said, if you like Fumi Yoshinaga, or yaoi, or both, I think you’ll like The Moon and Sandals.

–Erin F.

Solfege (DMP)

In this one-shot boy’s love romance, Kugayama, an elementary school music teacher, falls for Tanaka. Tanaka is a junior high student whom Kugayama is tutoring get into a music-focused high school. “Solfege” as defined in the book, is the study of music, specifically transcribing music by ear and singing. Tanaka begins showing signs of delinquency, skipping school and skipping music lessons. Due to a turbulent home life, Tanaka relies more and more on Kugayama for emotional support. Even after getting in to his music high school of choice, Tanaka comes to Kugayama for a place to stay when his nightclub hostess mother has men spend the night. Tanaka lives with Kugayama for a year while his mother is hospitalized.

The story focuses on Kugayama as he takes advantage of Tanaka’s desperation and neediness. Kugayama knows his relationship with Tanaka is morally wrong. However, as the become live-in lovers, the elementary school choir improves, and Kugayama realizes his quality of life has gone up with love.

The backgrounds are sketchy to the point of being non-existent at times. Flipping back through the book again I can almost forgive the white backgrounds for Yoshinaga’s expressive linework. The character designs are typical of Yoshinaga’s work; A light-haired teacher takes advantage of a naive tall brunette – it’s always a naive tall brunette. I was particularly enamored of Tsumoir’s hair (the only girl character) early in the book, but at the end she’s got a ridiculous perm.

Instead of dwelling on the forbidden-ness of the relationship, Yoshinaga sketches interpersonal moments in a very long term on-again off-again relationship. The jumps in time over eight years are a bit overwhelming, if not unbelievable. The story begins in an ordinary place – Tanaka is not a particularly talented singer, Kugayama is not an extraordinary teacher. Things take a turn for the fantastic as Tanaka becomes a famous singer in Italy and Kugayama is violently attacked by an ex-lover. Fortunately (or perhaps ridiculously) Yoshinaga does not seem capable of writing a truly tragic ending.

Compared to other Yoshinaga books, the characters in Solfege eat fewer delicious foods (there is one hotpot scene). It’s missing the humor of Flower of Dreams and it’s not as bizarre as Garden Dreams and not as sexy as The Moon and Sandals. Nevertheless, Solfege is an amusing one-shot. It’s a very middle-of-the-road work for Yoshinaga, but a very satisfying read compared to other BL one-shots.

–Erin F.

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4 Responses to "Your Definitive Guide to Fumi Yoshinaga"

1 | Isaac Hale

March 16th, 2008 at 4:58 pm

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Nice summary! I adore Fumi Yoshinaga! “Flower of Life” is also one of my favorite manga! Keep it up you guys!

2 | Katherine Dacey

March 17th, 2008 at 7:19 pm

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Thanks, Isaac! Flower of Life actually made me laugh out loud. The cultural festival scene was just too much.

3 | Khursten

April 7th, 2008 at 9:09 pm

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OMG! A true guide for Yoshinaga fumi’s works! Totally directing friends here. :3

Great job girls! :)

You know what’s funny is how a fellow fujoshi friend of mine doesn’t like Fumi. She says her art’s like chicken scratch ;A; I beg to disagree though. ;_;

4 | Katherine Dacey

April 9th, 2008 at 6:41 am

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Chicken scratches?! I’ve sometimes that that Yoshinaga’s style was a little limited, but I vastly prefer it to most of the BL that’s been licensed in the US. A girl could cut herself on some of those chins they’re so pointy!