Manga-ka: Yugi Yamada
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: April 2010
Synopsis: “Little Tatsuhiko says to Itaru, “…when I grow up, I want to become a politician and change the law so two men can get married. Will you marry me then?” Ten years later, his family members are notified that Tatsuhiko left a note and disappeared from his prestigious academy. His family servant is asked to find him, only to discover that time changes people and learns things aren’t the way it used to be…”
When was the last time you read a yaoi manga and couldn’t predict what would happen next? Or read a yaoi that had characters who were actual people and not just stock roles? I was surprised by how much Dry Heat caught me off-guard – a yaoi manga that actually puts the plot first and the smut second.
The story starts off with a flashback to simpler times: Itaru is a high school student who spends most of his time looking after Tatsuhiko (Itaru’s family has worked for Tatsuhiko’s family for generations). Tatsuhiko really likes the older boy, even saying that he’ll marry Itaru when he grows up. Ten years later, the two have drifted apart. Tatsuhiko is off at a fancy boarding school and Itaru is busy with work. When Tatushiko runs away, Itaru is tasked with tracking him down. Itaru goes to Seiichi, a private detective who is also Tatsuhiko’s cousin. Seiichi gets a lead, and soon Itaru is chasing the wayward high school student down the streets of Toyko. But when he finally corners him, Itaru finds that Tatsuhiko isn’t the cute, innocent little boy Itaru remembers.
Tatsuhiko has actually been working for Seiichi and staying with friends: a brother and a sister named Shinji and Yukie. The relationships between the small cast of characters are complicated and fluid: Does Shinji like Itaru, or is he just teasing him to get under Tatsuhiko’s skin? Does Tatsuhiko have a thing going on with working girl, Yukie? And where does Seiichi fit into all of this? It’s easy to sympathize with Itaru as he tries to not only sort out his own feelings, but everyone else’s too.
Because the plot is the manga’s strong point, I don’t really want to say too much about it since a lot of the enjoyment comes from its twists and turns. The plot works in part to the strong characters as well – they don’t always do the right thing, but at least you can kind of see where they’re coming from. Shinji in particular does some twisted stuff, however as the plot unfolds you can understand how he came to be so messed-up. There are some unanswered question, but they’re less plot holes and more like puzzles that you can figure out from the information revealed in the plot. For example, it’s never stated clearly how Yukie ended up working as a prostitute, but once you know her family situation it makes sense. It’s an enjoyable manga because it doesn’t spoon feed you everything and knows how to pace its revelations.
The art in Dry Heat is nice and understated, plus a little more gritty than your average yaoi manga (but seeing as the average yaoi manga practically sparkles, that’s still not saying much). The characters are all good looking, but nobody is spell-blindingly beautiful. The layouts are really smooth. I especially like how the manga-ka incorporates flashbacks in with the regular narrative. She does a good job of contrasting the past with the present, giving those scenes even more of an impact.
For all the talk about plot and characters though, the manga does earn its 18+ rating with the sex scenes, though even these are part of the plot and all impact the story. The only part about the plot that kind of rubs me the wrong way is the age difference between Itaru and Tatsuhiko. In the main part of the story Tatsuhiko is 18 and also the more aggressive one, but that’s not where I have a problem. It’s the constant flashbacks of kiddy-Tatushiro stealing kisses from Itaru. But at least in these sequences it’s clear that Itrau doesn’t return young Tatsuhiko’s affections. That’s not quite the case for another couple in the series. There’s a young man, Hiroshige, who worked for Shinji’s family when he was a child, and it’s suggested that he’s had feelings for Shinji ever since Shinji was a child. It could go either way, but personally Hiroshige just comes off tooo creepy for it to be innocent. Then again, maybe that’s exactly what the manga-ka was going for.
I enjoyed Dry Heat and would recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a yaoi with an actual substantial story.