~by Tomoko Yamashita
So far, only two of Tomoko Yamashita's works have been released in print in English, both in 2009 and both by Netcomics: Dining Bar Akira and Black-Winged Love. I've read and enjoyed both volumes a great deal, but it's Black-Winged Love that has really stuck with me. In fact, Black-Winged Love, originally published in Japan in 2008, is one of my favorite boys' love collections and contains some of my absolute favorite short manga. (Though, as with all collections, some of the pieces aren't as strong as others.) When the subject of the Manga Moveable Feast for August 2013 was decided to be boys' love, my mind immediately turned to Black-Winged Love. I've actually been meaning to review the volume for quite a while now. As a lesser known work from a lesser known publisher (which tends to specialize in manhwa rather than manga), I personally feel that both Yamashita and Black-Winged Love are deserving of more attention and I wanted to share my love.
Black-Winged Love collects seven unrelated short manga by Yamashita along with some fun bonus material to close the volume. The collection opens with "Drive a Nail into Love," unusual for a boys' love story in that it is told from the perspective of a gay high school student's older sister. Next is "It's My Chocolate!" which captures being the oldest sibling in a large family exceptionally well. "A Villain's Teeth" shows the relationship between the daughter of a mafia boss and his former second-in-command and explores his devotion to the both of them. In the titular "Black-Winged Love," a man's masochistic tendencies and fetishes get in the way of his feelings. Next is "Jump Across That Fire" which follows two students as they become closer in the school library over summer break. "Fool 4 U" features a problematic relationship between two long-time friends. Black-Winged Love concludes with the shortest piece, "Photogenic," in which a man doesn't quite get what he was expecting from a male escort service.
None of the stories in Black-Winged Love are tied together by plot and they are all quite different from one another, but many share similar elements. One of the recurring themes in Black-Winged Love is the importance of family--"Drive a Nail into Love," "It's My Chocolate!," and "A Villain's Teeth" in particular feature atypical families and family situations. As someone who is a queer oldest sibling, I'm especially fond of "It's My Chocolate!"--never have I come across another boy' love manga that I so personally and closely identify with. I also happen to read and enjoy Japanese literature, so I appreciate the literary references in Black-Winged Love and how characters connect (or try to connect) through books and reading. In "Jump Across That Fire," both the title and part of the story are references to Yukio Mishima's The Sound of Waves. And in "Black-Winged Love," short works by Edogawa Rampo and Kenzaburō Ōe play a small role.
So, what exactly is it about Black-Winged Love that works so well for me? I like that all of the stories are a little unusual and unexpected while still be very realistic in the portrayal of their characters and their relationships. Black-Winged Love explores hidden feelings that are often forced out into the open. The characters must first come to terms with themselves before they can attempt to come to terms with those around them. Black-Winged Love tends towards the more serious, introspective, and melancholy, but all of the stories and many of the characters exhibit a quirky, dark sense of humor as well. I like that the stories have funnier moments to balance out the morose. Not every one is treated to an ideal happy ending but some of them are. To me that makes Black-Winged Love feel more authentic. Black-Winged Love is a collection that I have read several times already and it continues to be one of my favorite volumes of short manga, boys' love or otherwise.