Manga-ka: Sakurako Hanafubuki
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: January 2009
Synopsis: “We first met superstar actor Koji Mizuhara and rising pop idol Kyo Ayukawa in “Junior Escort,” where a passionate misunderstanding led to true love. Now, the “Sweet Slave Scandal” series continues in this second installment, “Love Code.” Despite their hectic schedules, Mizuhara and Ayukawa still manage to keep their relationship happy and lovey-dovey. The future of their careers seems bright as well. Mizuhara is about to make his Hollywood debut and Ayukawa is about to record a music CD. But Mizuhara’s dark past and some jealous people will try to break this couple apart. And, in the end, Ayukawa needs to decide which is more important—his career or Mizuhara.”
Love Code is the sequel to the yaoi manga Junior Escort and continues the story of actor Koji Mizuhara and his pop idol boyfriend Kyo Ayukawa. I wasn’t a big fan of Junior Escort. I found it dull and I wasn’t looking forward to reading the next book in the series, but I’m glad I did, as Love Code is a vast improvement. It’s still not as good as it could be, but at least now I want to keep reading the series and see what happens next.
Koji and Kyo’s relationship has always been a bit rocky, but now that an old flame of Koji’s, Saiki, is working with Kyo it’s going to get even worse. Saiki seems determined to drive a wedge between the couple, though whether it’s out of personal or professional jealousy Kyo can’t tell.
While the couple works to keep their personal life together, each of their respective careers are taking off. Koji has been offered the role in a Hollywood movie and Kyo is scheduled to record a CD as part of a pop duo. However, the president of the entertainment company Kyo and Koji works for demands a price for their success: he wants them to break-up.
New characters introduced in this volume give the series a real shot in the arm. They not only help move the plot along but also help fill in the blanks in the back story, making events in volume one that seemed strange and out of character suddenly fit. The manga also brings back a few characters who made small or token appearances in volume one and actually turns them into interesting characters, such as the company president or the paparazzi who stalked the main characters in the previous volume.
The main characters also become more fleshed out over the course of the book. In this volume it’s revealed that one of the pair has a very dark back-story. Koji’s dark past may be a bit cliché, but the explanation for how he managed to work his way up out of the gutter to the top of the modelling world is still interesting.
This volume introduces my favourite character so far in the series, Kyo’s manager Ryoko. I remember reading an article by an English language yaoi manga-ka who talked about how difficult it is to fit strong female characters into yaoi manga, as the leads have to be guys. This means that women in yaoi manga often end up being rivals in love, fag-hags or villains. Ryoko is a great character because she doesn’t fall into any of these traps. Her back-story with Koji gives her plenty of reason to hate him, but her feelings on the matter are more complex than that. Hopefully her character will be explored further in the series as I’d like to see more of her.
The second half of the book is where the story really ramps up. In it Kyo mulls over his choices: he can either have a great career, but he’d have to break-up with Koji, or he could stay with his lover but be shut out of show business. What Kyo finally decides to do took me by surprise and really shows a great deal of character development. It also puts the story in a very interesting place plot wise, making me want to take volume three off the shelf right away to see where the manga goes with it.
While I like the story and characters I’m still not crazy about the art. It’s bland, which is a cardinal sin when the series is supposed to feature a cast of charismatic pretty boys. Instead of looking like models they just look like any regular guy off the street. They don’t even wear stylish clothes, missing another point of making your characters models and pop stars.
There are times when the story isn’t clear due to the lack of backgrounds. For example, the last chapter in the book shows what Koji’s high school days were like. At one point he’s talking to another character and it seems like they’re walking around outside. Then a few pages later it’s revealed that they’re actually in a classroom. There’s no transition between the two and it just comes off as sloppy.
Also, the manga doesn’t do a good job showing the passage of time, regardless of whether it’s been a few hours or a few years. There’s one sequence near the end that skips back and forth through time. It would be a really powerful part except it was so hard to follow where the story was in the timeline. In the end the story was enough to pull me through, but I hope the layout become clearer in future volumes.
There are other yaoi manga featuring models that I would recommend before Love Code, such as His Arrogance. However, the series is shaping up to be something interesting, so hopefully future volume deliver on this volume’s promise.