Manga-ka: Yuiji Aniya
Publisher: Digital Manga
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: June 2011
Synopsis: “Sweet, delicate flowers and killer animals…they spring to life on the tattooed backs of the underworld’s most infamous men. But does love have a chance to bloom in a world of sin that’s steeped in perpetual inky night? And in the midst of the crime-filled chaos, is there a passion so powerful that it can lift a soul right out if its body?”
Men of Tattoos is frustrating because of how close it comes to being great but just ends up as a mess. There are a lot of good elements: the art is pretty with a different style than your usual yaoi and the story is willing to go to some pretty dark places, fitting for a manga with a cast full of criminals. But the narrative never really comes together ultimately making this an unsatisfying read.
The story starts with two childhood friends meeting in a gay bar. Katagi grew-up to become a yakuza thug while Kubota makes a living scamming people. The two quickly get it on in the club bathroom and just as quickly decide to move in together. But is everything as lovey-dovey as it appears, or is Kubota just running another scam?
The next story follows Mutuo, a member of the yakuza Katagi belongs too. Mutuo has the bad luck to fall in love with the boss’s son, a teenage genius named Arima. With Katagi’s help Mutuo makes plans for the two of them to run away and start a new life together.
It’s awhile before we find out whether they actually make their escape or not, as the stories in this volume are all interconnected and overlap. At first I was impressed at how the short stories were connected. It was neat to see a certain character make surprise reappearance or play a bit role in someone else’s story. But near the end the manga-ka tries to do too much too fast. In order to tie everything together a lot of important scenes get rushed. For example, in regards to Mutuo and Arima’s great escape, instead of seeing it firsthand we just hear about it from Kubota. It seems really anti-climate to have it described second-hand rather than shown on the page, especially considering what an important event it is in the manga. It also makes the plot a little more complicated than it needs to be and harder to follow. If the manga-ka had drawn the story out a little bit more and fleshed out certain scenes, the book overall might have had a lot more impact.
Also, in her rush to tie everything together, the manga-ka ends up leaving a lot of loose ends flopping around. For example, it’s strongly implied that one character has sex with another in order to give the other guy HIV. This is a huge deal, but the manga ends before we can see what the fall-out is from that action. It’s frustrating that the manga starts plot threads like that but either doesn’t follow-up on them or delivers a lacklustre conclusion.
As you can figure out from the paragraph above and the whole ‘giving-your-lover-HIV-on purpose’ thing, the characters in this manga are not nice people. And to a certain extent I like that. There are lots of yaoi manga that feature yakuza, but a lot of series make them out to be cuddly criminals instead of, well, criminals. While there are some nice guys in this book (mainly Mutuo) overall the whole cast is nasty, vicious and violent. Which as I said before, I don’t mind so much and even appreciate considering that the setting is the criminal underworld. But this book just loads up on the dark and grim. There’s violent rape, gang-rape, off-screen rape, and sex where consent is questionable considering that one of the participants is doing it to pass along HIV to his boyfriend (yes, I know I’ve repeated that part three times already, but damn). I guess in the issue of fairness I should point out that the couple of sex scenes that are not morally repugnant are really well-done.
I said before that all of the stories in this book are interconnected, but that’s not entirely true. At the end is a two-part story featuring two collage students, Ahna and Haruno. Ahna is deeply in love with Haruno, but figures that he doesn’t have a chance since Haruno is a player who likes the ladies. But then one night Haruno’s ghost shows up in Ahna’s room. With the object of his affection in astral form right there in his bed, Ahna does what any character in a yaoi manga would do: he has sex with ghost-Haruno. Normal-Haruno doesn’t seem to remember anything the next day, though he does mention having strange dreams. Ahna knows he should just tell Haruno how he feels, but it’s hard with ghost-Haruno visiting him every night.
Wow, that side story seemed ridiculous when I was reading it, but summing it up for this review made me realize that it’s actually very ridiculous. The ghost sex scenes are just kind of weird (Ahna describes Haruno’s ghost body as feeling like pudding) and the characters themselves aren’t very interesting. It’s a pretty forgettable story, all in all.
Aniya’s art is unique. I don’t actually like it all that much, as I find the faces have a kind of lumpy quality that turns me off. However, it is nice to see a manga-ka who actually draws things like lips and noses in detail. She also has a great talent for character designs. Several characters age and change drastically over the course of the book and the artist does a great job showing that change while keeping the characters recognizable. Aniya’s also great at panel layouts. There’s one page where a character waits for another to get out of jail, and it’s a really beautiful but simple image that captures the waiting one’s resolve.
Men of Tattoos has a lot of flaws, but at the same time it kept my interest while reading it. All the same I would only recommend it if you have a very high tolerance for twisted and messed up characters.
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Digital copy provided by Digital Manga for review purposes