Does my love for the pretty book and manga covers make me a superficial person? Well, that’s too bad because that’s the way I am. Today’s pick was love at first sight; I had no idea who the artist was or what was the story about but I had to get it. He was staring at me so intensely from the shelf, what was I gonna do, walk away?!
Author & Artist: Taratsumi John
Release Year: 2015
Status: Completed, 1 volume.
Licensed? (Y/N): No.
Unknown is a collection of 6 stories that explore different types of uncharted territories in one’s relationship with the other. Be it not knowing what you’re getting yourself into, the uncertainty your future holds, or a side of the other that you discover, Unknown works around this theme from various angles. The stories are stand-alone, so I’ll shortly summarize each one.
- Unknown — Famous photographer Franz, meets a young man in a gay bar and makes him his model. (TW: scars, mild violence)
- Robot — A scientist and his robot that is almost human, but is defective as he can’t feel pain.
- I Like You, I Love You — A love triangle between two friends and a university mate, where one comes into terms with his identity through the courage of the other. (TW: contains homophobic language)
- Square Ice Cream — A high school boy who’s into crossdressing and craving for acceptance, puts his trust in the wrong person. (TW: contains rape)
- Shape of Pleasure — A high school boy has a senpai whom he thinks is cool, later on he finds out an AV that the same senpai is starring in. In an S&M gear with piercings and tattoos, no less.
- Make Haste Slowly — A now-married-dad sees his ex-boyfriend on TV whom he’s fallen out of after their break up in university.
The thing with collections is that short-form is harder to pull off in the sense that an artist has time and space to establish the characters and their relationship or the events. This may lead to a reader liking certain stories and not so much the others. It also holds the danger of cramming too much development in a short span. Or if there’s an overarching theme, the connection between the stories might work for the artist but not for the reader. One remarkable example I can give to a collection done right is Kumota Haruko’s Bara no Mori ni Ita Koro. Well, Kumota’s talent in story-telling is no surprise.
To me, this collection partly suffered from the imbalance I mentioned above. “Unknown” felt too broad of a theme that you could write about anything and everything and it would make the story related to the rest. I apologize for making it about different titles from the one I’m reviewing, but hear me out. Although the rest of Taratsumi’s works still haven’t made it to the English market, Alcohol Communication is licensed. Upon reading that, I understood that Unknown was indeed an early work. It shows great promise, both in terms of the story and art, and what’s needed was a bit more experimenting. While I’m at it, I recommend Alcohol Communication as well. It’s one of the sweetest, most down-to-earth stories I’ve come across in a while.
My favorite story in the collection was Make Haste Slowly, followed by Robot and I Like You, I Love You. In Make Haste Slowly, Yomi and Eijiro are in their 3rd year in university, studying in architecture and film departments respectively. When Yomi gets rather negative feedback on his entry for a competition, but Eijiro’s entry is accepted and then he wins the prize, Yomi starts feeling resentment because he can’t wholeheartedly congratulate his boyfriend. He continues to fail in contests, in the meantime, Eijiro receives an invitation to join his shoot from a well-known director and quits school all of a sudden, Yomi takes his frustration on Eijiro, says a lot of hurtful things and they break up.
Yomi finds a job as a designer afterward, gets married, and has a family. One night in a drunken state he emails Eijiro, and right when he has given up on receiving a reply because it’s been 3 months, Eijiro’s mail arrives, saying he wants to meet Yomi. What’s remarkable about this story is, firstly it’s very relatable (as we’ve also seen from Sk8 Infinity this season) it’s sometimes tough being sincerely happy for others when you’re constantly struggling yourself or anxious. Secondly, women are frequently used as a plot tool in BL where they are only a bitchy obstacle, or marriage is used as an ‘unhappy cage’ however, Yomi’s family is so happy and his wife is such a cool person. One thing I dearly love in BL is bi/pan men and Yomi is one! There certainly is a rise in their presence and I hope to see more in the future!
Overall, Unknown is a good title to get acquainted with Taratsumi’s art style and storytelling, but it’s also important to keep in mind that they have other works where they’ve improved themself. I wouldn’t call it a ‘dark BL’ since the stories are short and only some darker elements are used. The artist also has josei works that look amazingly pretty, I wish to get my hands on them in the future as well. I mean, look at that gorgeous cover!
Hope you enjoyed this review as well, looks like I have only a handful of letters left. It’s not like FBI will tear down my door and seize me, make me forcibly stop reviewing BL but somehow I get sentimental that it’s coming to an end. I wish you a nice weekend and see you next week!
Header source from the artist’s Pixiv.