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February 21, 2011

Bento Bako Weekly: Truly Kindly & Lovers in the Night

It’s a Fumi Yoshinaga double feature today! Truly Kindly is a collection of short stories, while Lovers in the Night is a single volume story. Truly Kindly features a couple stories that go together with Lovers in the Night, so it’s nice to read them together as companion pieces. Neither of these books could be listed among Yoshinaga’s greatest hits, but even mediocre Yoshinaga is still great in its way and better than most.

Title: Truly Kindly
Publisher: BLU (Tokyopop)
Volume: One-shot, $9.99
Vintage: 1997 by Libre Publishing in Japan, 2007 by BLU
Genre: Romance, drama, period romance, yaoi

As I said, Truly Kindly is a collection of short stories. It’s seven chapters can be grouped together into five stories, since three of them are snippets of a whole (these are connected to Lovers in the Night). The title story is about a hot-tempered man who attempts to strangle his lover in a fit of jealousy, runs away from the scene, and ends up shacking up with a strange young man who isn’t what he appears to be.  The men in this story are scarred from their troubled pasts. One was loved too much by his mother, the other not at all. It has severely warped them, but they manage to find a few happy moments together. “A Slightly Malicious Confession” is a bit too quick and a little disjointed. Every year that Gil has been married to Abby, they invite their friends to a party on their anniversary, including Gil’s best friend Shawn, who always makes dinner for everyone. This year is a little different, for this year, the love the two men have hidden all these years refuses to be hidden any longer. It’s sweet in its way, but a tad cliche. Gil and Shawn have one night together (well, Gil forces himself on Shawn in a moment of desperation), then Gil gets married without knowing how Shawn really feels. It’s a type of story that shows up fairly often in the yaoi genre. “A Today Completely Different From Yesterday” is more amusing and far less serious, though it shares a similar impetus to the previous story. Gil got frightened when he felt Shawn and he would be heading down separate paths and he’d never see him again. The same happens here. Ouya is having the worst day of his life. He failed his college entrance exam, was mistaken for a groper on the subway, fell down the stairs, lost his wallet, his bike was stolen, it started raining, and then the rain turned to sleet. He decided he would wait out the weather at his friend Shinomiya’s house, but when he passed by, Shinomiya was kissing a girl goodbye at the front door. When he got home, his parents were gone and did not leave him any food for dinner. Then Shinomiya came over and had sex with him. The coming day has got to be better. Again, it’s a bit cliche, and in fact, Yoshinaga uses it later in Ichigenme…The First Class is Civil Law, but the boys’ confusion and misunderstanding is rather sweet. “Pandora” is probably the weakest story. It’s about a former lock picker and his lover who have sworn off their past trade in favor of legitimate work as hairpin makers. They are brought a strange box by a strange man desperate to have the box opened, but he is initially refused as the former thief worries that picking another lock will get him back into the life he has left behind. However, the artisan’s assistant, moved by the man’s story, insists they help the man. The two little twists in the story hold it up, but the characters aren’t very interesting on their own. Finally we get to the companion stories for Lovers in the Night, starting with “Chinoiserie.”  Thirty years before France’s major revolution ousted her king, a nobleman named de Fontanges is conducting an affair with a high born lady. However, this lady likes to make her lovers wait, so at each of their scheduled meetings, she sends a young male servant with a message and an excuse, and orders the servant to supply the nobleman’s pleasure instead. Fontanges gradually falls in love with the servant through their regular trysts, but once he is finally able to reach the lady, the two never see each other again. A touching, melancholy story of two men divided by their social standing. “A Butler’s Proper Place,” occurring many years later, tells the story of a young lord in love with his butler, Claude, who attempts to encourage him to wed a rich noblewoman to save him from bankruptcy. As the Revolution nears, Antoine’s options run out, but he finally discovers his butler’s true feelings. This story fits right into Lovers in the Night. The final chapter goes back to Fontanges, as he visits with an old friend (Antoine’s father). He spots a servant boy (Claude) who bears a striking resemblance to the man he once loved, who may be the only person with knowledge of his lover’s fate. A sad ending to a book filled with men with troubled and tragic pasts, misunderstanding between friends and lovers, and characters filled with Yoshinaga’s usual warmth.

Title: Lovers in the Night
Publisher: BLU (Tokyopop)
Volume: One-shot, $9.99
Vintage: 1999 by Libre Publishing in Japan, 2007 by BLU
Genre: Period romance, drama, yaoi

Lovers in the Night tells the touching and tumultuous story of young nobleman Antoine and his capable butler Claude. Rescued from a life of prostitution and employed by the rich lord of a manor house, Claude served his master’s family dutifully and expertly. The master’s wife, sickly and hysterical, was a constant source of strife in the household. The master, irritated by his wife, frequently went out at night to escape her. Their newborn child, Antoine, loathed by his mother, formed a strong attachment to Claude. When Antoine’s father died, on his deathbed, he made Claude promise to take care of his son. Having loved the man in his way, Claude took this vow very seriously. It takes some time, mostly due to Claude’s strict adherence to his role as butler, but the two finally reveal their feelings to each other. Unfortunately, with the Revolution brewing, and with Antoine bankrupt from his father’s debts, they have no time to relish in their newly confessed feelings. Claude sends Antoine off to a relative, while he stays behind to sell off the estate. When at last they are reunited, it’s still not smooth sailing for the two. A clever young lady brings out sparks of jealousy between the two men, a massive snow storm traps them inside with no food or supplies, and Antoine grows jealous over Claude’s feelings for his late father. Yet through it all, their love remains consistent. Claude remains bound to Antoine both by his duties as a butler, and by his love. During the day, they maintain their distance as master and servant, but at night, their individual status is thrown aside to allow their passionate relationship to thrive in secret. Yoshinaga does well with period pieces, and it’s easy to get a feeling of the old aristocratic culture as you read the book. Watching Claude raise Antoine, with a great amount of patience, but with just as much sarcastic insolence, is a real treat. When Antoine behaves like a child, Claude treats him like a child. He takes care of his master (both of them) to the best of his ability, and beyond. He is fiercely loyal and passionate, but he remains aware of his station and hides his feelings. As soon as his role as butler ends, he immediately makes his feelings known, finally free to do so. His excuse for hiding these feelings for so long is simply that he was Antoine’s butler. Of course, when he returns to Antoine’s side, he once again becomes his butler, but it’s almost out of habit, as the two men freely conduct their affair despite their roles. The spoiled and arrogant Antoine is a perfect counter to the cool and mature Claude. He tests the older man’s patience, and purposefully antagonizes him, hoping for a reaction, which he often gets (I’ll give you two guesses what that reaction tends to be). They work very well together, and Yoshinaga writes them clearly. A delightful read, though as a warning, it’s one of Yoshinaga’s more explicit works.

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One Comment

  1. […] (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Anna on vols. 1 and 2 of Skyblue Shore (Manga Report) Kristin on Truly Kindly and Lovers in the Night (Comic Attack) Diana Dang on vols. 1-3 of Wild@Heart (omnibus edition) (Stop, Drop, and Read) Erica […]

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