Author: You Shiizaki
Manga-ka: Kumiko Sasaki
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: July 2008
Synopsis: “Amateur painter Itsuki Hashimoto and up-and-coming sculptor Masatsugu Tokiwa became friends through their love for art. But a few years later, family circumstances force Itsuki to cut Tokiwa off of his life. Now, Itsuki is living a confined life as the “human pet” of Yamabe-sensei, Tokiwa’s former teacher. Can Tokiwa help Itsuki break free of his cage?”
It has to be noted, at least by me as a writer of m/m romance from a western perspective, that had this book fallen into any romance category other than yaoi, there’s a good chance it might never have been published. Tokiwa’s ‘seduction’ of Itsuki is not gentle, and really, non-consensual. At least not at first, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. Knowing the genre, I’m well aware this is a common trope, but I have reservations about it nonetheless. Lots of people who love the genre aren’t really bothered by it. Still, as far as the execution of the much-used plot device goes, in this book it is at least rather well done.
Itsuki Hashinoto never expected his life to turn out the way it did, with him no more than a lovely, captive doll to Master sculptor Yamabi-sensei, But his choices were few, and Yamabi made him an offer he could not refuse. It meant giving up his friendship, and budding relationship with Masatsugu Tokiwa however – and that is something he never quite gets over. When the opportunity arises to reunite with Tokiwa, he’s terrified his former friend won’t want anything to do with him. What ensues is a difficult reunion that Itsuki isn’t sure either one of them is ready for.
Itsuki’s experiences and personality won’t let him accept Tokiwa’s advances, nor let him see what Tokiwa is hiding behind his brutal demands on Itsuki’s body. He’s so far buried under his own feelings of indifference and stoicism and all this just to get through his days as an untouchable, perfected bit of art to his current owner. It’s impossible for Itsuki to admit his own feelings, let alone recognize them in Tokiwa. It’s hard to see him accept what he thinks is indifference, and even hate, from the man he won’t admit he loves, but he can’t believe there’s anything else there.
As for Tokiwa, it would have been nice to see what was going on inside his head as he’s mercilessly demanding Itsuki take his advances. In the end, we see what he’s thinking, and if, in the real world, his methods are at the very least suspect, his heart is arguably in the right place. He wants to open Itsuki up to feeling again, and just doesn’t know any other way to get through to him. The one-sided, uke-based way so many of these stories are written doesn’t give the reader that insight until after the fact, and that makes Itsuki’s struggles hard to watch, and Tokiwa’s treatment of him hard to understand.
But as tenderness grows between them, it becomes clear Tokiwa is very much in love with Itsuki, even if he never says so and Itsuki can’t see it. When this becomes clear, it was then I waited and hoped they would make amends and come together. It’s curious to me how the writer managed to make not just Itsuki forgive such brutal treatment, but how she managed to get the reader to forgive Tokiwa, too, and want him to succeed in wooing Itsuki back.
The catalyst for keeping Itsuki and Tokiwa together in the first place is a bit contrived to me at first. It seems to be so out of character for Itsuki, a young businessman sent on an unpleasant errand, to linger when he’s been turned away. There’s just a bit too much coincidence for me to swallow. In the end, though, it’s a heart-warming read and I enjoyed the journey.
I love the cover art on this book. It’s just gorgeous, and that, plus the inside colour palette, capture the mood of the entire story perfectly. The colour palette really shows Itsuki’s pain and Tokiwa’s tenderness, which in the story won out in the end, plus mysteriously managed to capture my heart. The black and white illustrations captured mood and expression nicely as well.
I also liked the extra at the end that gives us a glimpse into Tokiwa’s heart. That was a special treat that just reinforces the fact that whatever mistakes he made getting it across, he really does love and cherish Itsuki. If his impatience caused him to push too hard, his eventual patience in letting Itsuki go were worth the rewards – this both from his lover, and from the readers who, in the end, can’t hate him for not being perfect.
As far as the translation, I’ll confess I’ve not read a lot of Japanese-translated yaoi so I’m unsure if the issues I noticed with passive voice are a function of direct, literal translation from Japanese or a function a translator who is inexperienced in writing English prose. It’s a style issue that distances the reader from the characters and makes for clunky prose. I have no idea in which language the problem originates, but it did somewhat hinder my enjoyment of the book for the shear awkwardness of some passages. It didn’t affect the story line, just the delivery.
Overall be aware that Caged Slave is true to yaoi-type – though fans will likely appreciate it, they shouldn’t expect realism where it isn’t meant to be.