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 the kind of story that leaves you feeling there really is no such thing as the good guy. While the lack of a stereotypical happy ending gives the stories a sense of realism, they also make the entire experience a rather pessimistic one.
The stories in Men of Tattoos are self-contained, at least a first. Each story has overlapping characters but it isn’t until the end that everything starts to connect. The chapters are also matched in their yakuza theme. These aren’t your usual romanticized gang members though. Some of the men in this story are violent and crass, putting aside snappy suits and careful politics for abusing family members and raping club hosts. The characters that show the most admirable morale or emotional traits are those the story tramples the hardest.
In a twist that suits the book’s often depressing tone, it’s a recurring police officer who, in pursuit of bringing these yakuza to jail, sinks to levels lower than the yakuza he’s after. It’s a surprise in itself when he pulls out of the badge the first time but every time after makes him more and more a deplorable individual, even if his actions are in the name of social justice. It feels a little unnerving to have him walk away with what could be considered the closest to a happy ending especially when those who yearned for one the most lay either tied to tubes in a hospital bed or ten feet under ground.
Fortunately Men of Tattoos is more than just a series of unfortunate events. The author does a good job really making you feel every emotion – be it a happy ‘welcome home!’ or a gut-punching betrayal. Even when I felt a pit in my stomach about a gross surprise and surprising brutality, I was still compelled to keep reading and completely engrossed.
Spoiling the strong writing a bit however are some really open-ended aspects to the stories that felt forgotten more so than intentionally ambiguous. At one point it seems like a character is trying to give his lover HIV in a bout of revenge. Granted it’s one not without some very compelling reasons readers can understand, even if the act itself is deplorable, but it’s never actually addressed if this was the case. Or maybe it was? There’s a really brief flashback scene that makes me wonder if the ‘victim’ knew what was being done and accepted it as a suitable justice, or maybe I was reading into it too much in attempts to find some kind of personal closure in the twisted tragedy.
Following the string of yakuza stories is a weird little two-part extra that I couldn’t quite decide if I found interesting or just too weird to truly appreciate. A young man is troubled by feelings for his friend but one night gets a chance to sleep with him when his friend’s astral form appears before him wanton, gooey and ready to go. What follows are several similar incidences and days of the two dancing around the subject in person – were these events really happening? Thos story is also home to one of the oddest form of a hand-job you’ll ever see.
Earning it’s 18+ rating, there’s plenty of sex scenes scattered throughout the book. The bonus story in the end contains most of it, using advantage of the bizarre plot line to make for some extra messy romps in bed. Yuiji Aniya’s artwork can also be referred to as messy overall – it’s a style that matches the story irrefutably but it’s not as polished as works readers may be more accustomed to reading. It’s got no shortage of good expression work though so all the angst and doubt oozes off each page.
Men of Tattoos feels worthwhile for offering up an experience you don’t find in most boys’ love series available in English. At the same time, it also makes it clear why that’s the case. This kind of subject matter won’t be for everyone and even the engaging character drama – which is really handled well within the short time constraints- is made unnerving by the tone of the stories themselves, excluding the last chapter. If you’ve no qualms with reading a work made most compelling through the anguish of others, then this one-shot could very well be your cup of tea. It’s as rough around the edges as the characters within but still makes for a memorable enough experience if nothing else.
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Digital copy provided by Digital Manga for review purposes