Manga-ka: Ruri Fujikawa
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: June 2009
Synopsis: “Hibiki serves as the personal bodyguard of Wu Xiong Wang – an outgoing entrepreneur, whose influential Hong Kong family has conducted business in Japan for many years. Having grown up together as children, the two have a bond that goes beyond the trappings of master and servant. Hibiki has dedicated his life to keeping Wu Xiong safe, and remains vigilant against any threat a man in his position might face. When it appears Wu Xiong is to be named the new head of his family’s corporation, the danger becomes even more evident as rivals conspire against him. Will the rise in alert cause Hibiki to see the truth behind his employer’s playful advances? Or does the responsibility he feels for Wu Xiong’s safety outweigh his own personal happiness?”
A collection of multiple stories, Ruri Fujikawa puts together an assortment of stereotypical short chapters that follow a number of different couples. Inevitably the stories are built solely around getting the two couples to sleep together and the sex scenes prove the literal climax of each portion. Sadly it feels evident that the artist hopes these scenes, and the shallow self-indulgent romances before them, will serve as compensation for the lacking substance of both plot and character.
The initial story, and the book’s namesake, proved to have the most in the way of plot. Hibiki is bodyguard to Wu Xiong Wang, a childhood friend and heir to a powerful proverbial throne. The story plays on the irony that the bodyguard quickly becomes the guarded. While it offers up the most dramatic moment in the book, it was so predictably executed that it was hard to find compelling, especially with so little development of the characters before hand. Is it too much to ask for a little character depth? Though I realize this quick-to-do format is an expected treat for many yaoi fans, it seems I’ve long outgrown this kind of formulated pandering.
Following the first story are several others, slightly shorter and equally unfulfilling stories, all of which deal with characters of different status in their careers. This includes a doctor and student, head chef and cook and a manager and the model he represents. Of them all, I did enjoy one that starred a college student and his professor. The rugged gruffness of the teacher in combination with the enthusiastic younger man worked amusingly well in contrast to one another. Unfortunately even this story wasn’t safe from overuse of the book’s noticeably overused plot directions. Fevers, runaway ‘grooms’ and held off confessions serve to make each story feel like a retelling simply adorned with a different coat of paint.
Ruro Fujikawa’s art style is the book’s strongest feature. Characters are rendered with masculine features and expressive faces, full of men adorned in enough lab coats, suits and chef jackets to keep most uniform lovers appeased. The cover really caught my eye the moment I saw it with lush, contrasting colours that really make it pop. Steamy sex scenes littered across each story will also be undoubtedly well received by those who seek 801Media’s catalogue of books for just such a thing.
Still, a book weak on plot, and even weaker on character, leaves On Bended Knee dangling from a thread, a thread that will snap in the hands of any but the most forgiving of readers. The art style is the only real saving grace but its effectiveness is dependant purely on personal preference. This collection of one-shot stories might appeal to newcomers of the genre, readers who’ve yet to tire of the same old boys’ love affairs, but to those seeking anything unique or in-depth, you certainly won’t find it here. An easily forgettable read, On Bended Knee is just as well avoided altogether.