Welcome to day three of the August 2011 Manga Moveable Feast, featuring Fumi Yoshinaga! Some of my favorite works of Fumi Yoshinaga (though I believe we’ve established they are all my favorites) are her historical romances and historical dramas. These include Garden Dreams, part of Truly Kindly, Lovers in the Night, Ōoku The Inner Chambers, and Gerard & Jacques. I have reviewed all of these previously, with the exception of Gerard & Jacques. In honor of the MMF, I have decided to remedy that error.
Title: Gerard & Jacques
Author: Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Tokyopop (BLU)
Volume: Volumes 1 and 2, $9.99 each
Vintage: 2000 and 2001 by Biblos in Japan, 2006 by Tokyopop (out of print)
Genre: Yaoi (mature), historical romance, French Revolution
Like Lovers in the Night, Gerard & Jacques occurs around the time of the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. Gerard first meets Jacques at a brothel he frequents. Jacques is a new addition, and the owner thinks Gerard would be the best client to break him in. Jacques is no ordinary prostitute, however. He is the son of a recently bankrupted nobleman, sold to the brothel to help pay off his father’s debts. The young Jacques is far from thrilled, but the older Gerard, a commoner who has grown wealthy by his own effort (that effort being, um, writing erotic novels), has no patience for a spoiled and pampered brat. He is not gentle in his taking of Jacques, but after it’s over, Jacques receives another surprise. Gerard buys Jacques from the brothel and sets him free, not out of kindness, but out of disdain for the nobility, wanting to make Jacques realize just how easy his life has been before, and how hard it can be to make a living that is not simply handed over because of who he is. The plan backfires slightly when Jacques shows up on Gerard’s doorstep, quite by accident, responding to a request for a new servant. Finding the situation amusing and rather intriguing, Gerard agrees to hire the boy on, and Jacques is immediately introduced to his duties by the butler, Paul. To Gerard’s great surprise, Jacques learns quickly and takes to his duties like a champ, working hard to prove to Gerard that he is not worthless and fully capable of working for his living like anyone else. He quickly discovers that the real Gerard is far from the cold man who ravaged him at the brothel, but is in fact a master who treats his servants kindly, almost like family, and allows them many perks that most aristocrats would never bestow upon their servants. When Jacques finishes his chores, he’s given a snack of sweets prepared by the excellent chef Charlotte, and allowed to peruse Gerard’s private library. It is here that Jacques discovers an amazing new world, and in the pages of social philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s books, a new perspective. To Gerard’s amazement and delight, Jacques devours Rousseau’s books one after another, and learns a great deal about the status of aristocrats and commoners, becoming more aware of his own place in society (both in the past and in his current situation) and leading to a growth of admiration for Gerard…which soon becomes love. Three years later, Jacques is a handsome and intelligent young man, and has taken on even more duties at Gerard’s house. Gerard, however, is as promiscuous as always, forcing Jacques to return to the brothel where he once worked in order to deliver an important letter to his master. The content of the letter bears news of Gerard’s wife, and we’re launched into a lengthy and detailed flashback of Gerard’s past.
When Gerard was a young man, he fell in love with an intelligent aristocratic woman named Nathalie. Unfortunately, she was also quite sexually free, and she dragged the love sick Gerard into her decadent lifestyle. This included frequent affairs with another man named Raul, who was a regular lover of Nathalie’s, creating quite a ménage à trois. Gerard, truly in love with Nathalie, convinced her to marry him, but allowed her to keep her promiscuous lifestyle. The tumultuous affair lasted for years, until the truth about Nathatlie’s lost child came out, and an enraged Gerard insisted she leave his sight forever. In the ensuing argument, Gerard’s eye was injured, and Nathatlie promptly left, never to contact Gerard again. When Gerard at last tracked down the secret child, it was too late, and the entire affair forever tainted his opinion of the aristocracy. Now, however, there is a vibrancy in Gerard’s home, a lively atmosphere bringing light into his shadowed life, and it’s all thanks to the presence of Jacques.
Back in the present, Jacques is surprised to be visited by a servant from his mother’s household. His mother has recently married the Marquis du Blayac, and they want to adopt Jacques into the Blayac family. However, Jacques receives quite a shock when he visits the Blayac manor – a portrait of the Marquis in his youth looks stunningly similar to his own appearance. Gerard, having assumed that Jacques would wish to return to his former lifestyle, is stunned when Jacques asks to stay on as a servant. When Jacques reveals the conclusion he has come to after visiting the Blayac manner, that his once loving father must have abandoned him upon learning the truth and falling into debt, Gerard wraps his arms around the crying young man and showers him with words of love (and some kisses and wandering hands). And then promptly, drunkenly passes out. A dismayed and confused Jacques begins acting extremely flustered every time Gerard comes near him. He begins having erotic dreams and starts avoiding Gerard all together. When he can stand it no longer, he goes to Gerard’s bed one night, innocently demanding “Is this love?” of the man. The next morning, Gerard, who is confused about his own feelings as well, tells Jacques to forget the previous night and insists that the young man is simply confused because Gerard was his first sexual experience. He then escapes to a political gathering, where he crosses paths again with Raul. The French Revolution is practically hours from beginning, but Gerard ignores the talks of King Louis’s tactics and instead approaches Raul on a matter concerning their past by inquiring about Nathalie’s fate. Raul isn’t particularly inclined to humor him, however, an in fact he has drugged the other man’s wine, intending to rape him. A defiant Gerard still attempts to get answers out of Raul, whose mocking responses eventually force Gerard to realize that he is no longer in love with Nathalie, but with Jacques. When Jacques goes out to pick up his master the following morning, he is met by a bitter Raul who does not bother to mince any words as he airs out the dirty laundry and criticizes Gerard in front of him. Jacques stands up for his master, but that only angers Raul who then makes a move on Jacques, knowing it’s another way to strike back at Gerard. Though he is nearly swayed by Raul’s words, he cringes at the touch of another man other than Gerard, but is quickly rescued by a furious Gerard. Back at home, a weak Gerard has Jacques help him wrap up his current erotic novel, but as they are finishing for the night, Paris erupts into flames – the Revolution has begun. Five years later, Louis and Marie Antoinette are dead, and the Reign of Terror leaves the citizens of France living in daily fear for their lives. Gerard’s publisher suddenly arrives and informs him and Jacques that the next erotic novel in Gerard’s popular series must be postponed, because the Public Safety Commission’s attention has been drawn to it. Gerard soon realizes that both his and Jacques’s lives are in danger, and he insists that Jacques leave immediately. Of course, Jacques refuses to leave without his master and love, so they both don disguises and escape as quickly as they are able, with guards following closely behind. They race for the border together, but Robespierre’s soldiers are catching up, and even though they are disguised, the pair is not exactly inconspicuous and draw some attention on their journey. Gerard does what he can to convince Jacques to go on ahead to safety, but of course, Jacques will have none of it, and the two resign to end their lives together. However, they’re in for quite the surprise.
If one were to present a case against Tokyopop’s past quality control, Gerard & Jacques would win the argument all on its own. The first volume (at least my printing of it) is a colossal disaster. Whether it’s the fault of the printer or of Tokyopop, I do not know. It’s hard to believe from either side. The most plausible conclusion I can come to is that there was a huge error on the printer’s part, but that it was too late to fix it before the book shipped, or that no one bothered to check it and it was shipped without anyone knowing what a mess it turned out to be. The second half of volume 1 is virtually unreadable, a mess of disordered pages. From page 89 until the end of the book, the pages are ridiculously out of order, making for a complicated read as the story is already jumping back and forth between past and present. I don’t know how the book managed to be shipped in this state, and I’ve never come across another volume of manga printed this poorly. Add in a rather poor (text) editing job in both volumes, and it’s almost just plain unpleasant to read. Fortunately, being Yoshinaga, even such a disaster can’t ruin the story. If you can plod through it, it’s brilliant and incredibly moving, though if you’re lucky enough to have a version that isn’t in the state mine is, it will certainly be easier to enjoy.
But enough about that. Gerard & Jacques is a wonderful story. It’s filled with eloquent but erotic sex scenes, as only Yoshinaga can draw them. It’s a period piece, so it’s illustrated with lovely costumes, wigs and all. Yoshinaga’s work tends to have a noticeable lack of backgrounds, and this one is no different, but the setting of the story remains very clear throughout. There is no doubt where and when the hairstyles and costumes fit into history; Yoshinaga has done her research. The Revolution is both irrelevant to the story and highly relevant, taking places nearly as an unnoticeable background element, yet still having an obvious effect on the lives of the characters. The sensibilities of the time have certainly formed the core of who Gerard is, and eventually transform Jacques from a spoiled noble brat into more of a gentleman than he ever would have been as an aristocrat. The best part of Gerard & Jacques, in my opinion, is watching the relationship between Gerard and Jacques slowly evolve over time. Due to his past experiences with aristocrats, Gerard is quite harsh on Jacques when they first meet, tearing down his ideologies coldly, and humiliating him by taking the only thing he has left to him – his body. Yet unlike Nathalie and Raul, Jacques changes. He puts forth remarkable effort, and eventually discards his aristocratic ties all together. And as Jacques changes, Gerard’s attitude toward him changes. Eventually, a dark part of Gerard that could not forgive Nathalie or even himself, a part of Gerard that wished to kill the wife he hated and cared little for his own life, was dissolved by the light that Jacques brought into his life, and by the love that healed his broken heart. Gerard was able to forgive Nathalie as well as himself, and even Raul, because Jacques had come along and brought him happiness once more, and taught him what it was to love again. His presence filled up the gaping hole in Gerard’s heart, for while his first love ended in disaster and he was not able to save the life of the daughter that suffered at the hands of aristocrats, he was able to watch over Jacques and help him grow, and become someone’s family again. Everything Gerard had lost returned to him through Jacques. Similarly, everything Jacques lost was replaced by Gerard. Gerard saved him in many ways, nurturing him like a father, and then loving him as a lover. This series also has one of my favorite endings. It’s a series of silent panels featuring the faces of Gerard’s life. Simple, beautiful, and it speaks volumes. It’s such an incredibly sweet story. It’s quite a shame that it’s now out of print.
And now, your Manga Moveable Feast updates from around the web!
Sadly, I did not receive any links yesterday before I went to bed, which admittedly was a bit early as I was not feeling my best. So all I have for you today is a link back to yesterday’s feature post: The Many Faces of Fumi Yoshinaga. I hope some of you remedy this and post much more this week!
And again, here is the MMF archive page.