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Based upon Nitta Youka's BL magnum opus, Haru wo Dateita (English title: Embracing Love) this art book features her two main protagonists from that series. Sadly, the English publisher, be beautiful, went bankrupt, so the license for this series was left hanging in the air and is now out of print for English reading fans. Many art books are just that, a bunch of pretty pictures done by the artist, and may or may not be based entirely upon a single work like this one. What makes this special though, is how the mangaka handled this. Just as she did with her manga, she handles the characters as if they are real human beings, and this art book therefore follows on that premise.
Iwaki and Katou, the two former AV actors who became mainstream stars and who fell in love, have agreed to do a special feature book about themselves. It begins with a photo shoot upon a beach . Just as with photograph based fan books, it then follows the stars to intimate moments within their home such as sitting on the patio sharing fruit, to posed "candid" shots of the couple, and onward onto more posed shots that would not look out of place in a high end ad campaign for expensive cologne, though also present are some fairly steamy candidly private shots that are more than a little on the explicit side. In the midst of the making of the book, the pair holiday in the US, and their wedding is depicted, as are shots of them at work. These scenes will be of particular interest to fans as there are several "photos" dealing with their filming of the historical drama"Winter Cicadas". Indeed, their filming of this took on a life of its own, as an animé studio actually produced a real film of this, and featured the characters from the manga as the actors portraying the roles, such was the popularity of the original manga and this particular plot thread.
The book's publisher had requested that Iwaki and Katou pen letters to one another, to be included in the book for each other and for the fans, and those are shown here as well. Delightfully, they re not only depicted with the handwritten Japanese left intact upon the pictured papers, but translated beneath. A nice extra is the fact that each art book also comes with the actual letters, printed on high quality notepaper, complete with envelope. The end of the book has a nice related bit of extra for fans as well, showing the pair receiving a box of this very book and the letters. The expression on Iwaki-san's face as he reads the tender words written by his beloved is beautiful and poignant.
The art is the usual high quality one expects from this artist, and the concept makes this a lot of fun to look at. The over sized proportions of the book and high quality glossy paper make each full sized page really stand out, though the double paged spreads suffer slightly from not being able to lie the book completely flat without damaging the spine. I think a sturdy ring binding would have improved this, but it is a minor quibble. As these are supposed to be "photographs", they are fully inked in with colour, and Nitta Youka shows her skill off to great effect. The index in the back lists every image, and gives the title of the picture, as well as where it may have been seen before, and which ones were newly drawn especially for "kiss of fire". The paperback cover is quite sturdy, though comic book monochromatic , complete with those little dots, though you only see it if you remove the heavy duty glossy full colour dust jacket.
Obviously, this is going to appeal most to fans lucky enough to have read Haru wo at some point, or who have seen "Winter Cicada", but it is bound to also appeal to fans of Nitta's other works and fans of Boy's Love in general. It makes a lovely addition as a collector's item to any BL collection, and I have to say it is my single most favourite birthday gift from last year. This is available from Digital Manga Publishing, and can be found on their Akadot Retail site, as well as Amazon. It is still available, but no longer in current production, so if you want one, best grab it while you can.
A version of this review can also be seen on my blog (with pictures...safe for work!).