Manga-ka: Akira Honma
Rating: Mature (18+)
Released: April 2007
Synopsis: “Yamato works for his father’s company, is subordinate to his older sister’s fiancé, Sakaguchi-san, and harbours a secret affection for him. That day before his sister’s wedding, Yamato privately confesses his feelings to Sakaguchi. The answer he receives is surprisingly and unexpected, but at this last hour, can Yamato face the consequences of having his wish fulfilled…?” Extra Story: Stairway to Heaven
The story begins with Yamato, a talented artist with little self-esteem. He is crushed by the words his father spoke to him of the uselessness of art. Leaving his sketchbook to the hands of some stranger in the rain, Yamato attempts to move on. Six months later, he’s an employee in his father’s company. It’s here he meets, seemingly for the first time, the older Sakaguchi, his boss and soon to be brother-in-law. Unfortunately for the already emotionally troubled Yamato, it was love at first sight.
As an artist, Yamato was drawn to the beauty of Sakaguchi’s hands and the kindness of his smile and the strange feeling of déjà vu he has while looking at him. Unfortunately Sakaguchi is engaged to his sister, so Yamato’s feelings must be hidden away along with his artistic ability. Eventually feelings are exposed and Yamato discovers that the person who holds his sketchbook may not be as much of a stranger as he thought.
The art is simple and the characters fairly bland in design so it’s this drama that really hooks the readers. This story’s full focus is the interaction between characters and their personal reflections on them. We are drawn into Yamato’s life and thoughts with the intention of feeling what he feels. From Yamato’s distress at being told his art was useless, to his burdened shoulders when he falls in love with his sister’s fiancée, we are given inside looks at his depression and fears. With subtle twists and changes, there’s just enough surprises here to keep you interested and you’ll be keeping your fingers crossed that every character gets their happily ever after.
However at the end of this story comes the real treat. Though the title story in this book, ‘Last Portrait’ just barely takes up a third of the book. Making up the rest is a one-shot titled, ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
‘Stairway to Heaven’ follows the meeting of Narumi, FBI member who is assigned by request to Keith Corbun, an ex-FBI agent now scheduled for death row. With only a week to live, Keith is asked to help on one last case to avoid catastrophe, with bombs threatening locations across America. As Narumi and Keith become closer, it becomes Narumi’s personal mission to discover the truth behind the accusations against Keith and save him from being put to death.
This tale is a well-blended combination of FBI procedure and human drama as personalities conflict and tensions rise. Readers will follow Narumi and Keith in their investigations anxiously, awaiting the dramatic climax, ending a bumpy and emotional road.
The art is as it was, solid and easy to follow. You can decipher the roles of each character through their mannerisms and interactions, not from stereotypical uke/seme attributes of appearance. The story takes you from office desks to back-alley bars and screen tones are used well in portraying the different settings. The only downside in the art also comes from its consistency, where readers will find that Yamato, from the first story, is nearly identical to Narumi. Readers must be careful to make note of the little End symbol tucked away in the corner of the last page of ‘Last Portrait’ or run the risk of believing they’ve merely turned to another chapter of the same story. The coloured image on the back of the book is from this story.
In the end, some readers may be disappointed if they really enjoyed ‘Last Portrait’, finding it doesn’t last half as long as the thickness of the book implies. However, both stories combined make for an enjoyable read, as long as you catch the transition when it happens.