“ Genre: Graphic Novels / Comics / Author: Venio Tachibana / Paperback / 200 Pages / Book is published 2010-11-09 by Digital Manga Publishing „
Love Water is a one volume historical novel, set in the Japanese Meiji period about a servant who has lived in the pleasure quarters since he was born; he can't get out as long as he doesn't pay off his disappeared mother's debt. Misao's desire for freedom is buried under his strong demeanor, until a very important client comes to the brothel for the first time and captivates him with his strange kindness. Misao can't take his attention away from this man, and Masaomi seems to be taking a strange interest in him too. But Misao knows that Masaomi is there only for Ukigumo...
There's a certain undeniable charm in romances set in brothels. The forbidden love that will grant salvation to the caged bird is such an appealing concept that we can see it in countless stories. Boy's Love is not an exception to this dark version of a fairy tale, whether in modern or historical settings. The development is predictable most of the times, which is the reason I avoid these stories if I can. I felt tempted to skip this one until I found out that it was written by Tachibana Venio, an author that left me with a very good impression with her BL manga Seven Days. I thought she had an interesting way of creating delicate and light stories that manage to pull your heart-strings, mostly because of its beauty. I'm glad to see that wasn't just an impression caused by Takarai Rihitos's wonderful art; Love Water is another beautiful display of pure feelings. Despite being set in a brothel, this novel manages to exude the peculiar atmosphere that I loved from her previous work, a soft feeling, like a wind that slowly caresses your hair.
Love Water is not an amazingly clever or surprising story but it is certainly a beautiful piece of writing. Yaoi novels usually don't have much to offer aside from the explicit scenes. I mean, even when one might think that a novel format would bring some deeper/more mature stories, everything revolves around the man-to-man action time, yaoi novels are a fine form of porn. And we tend to love them even knowing their plots are stupid. Fortunately, there are some exceptions to this norm, and there is also a middle point with some nice details, which is where this novel belongs. Through a smooth narration, emotional but subtle, Love Water manages to draw you in and transport you into the pleasure quarters. It probably has a lot to do with the great translation; most of the times I can't get into the story and the absurd or shallow plots can even make me laugh.
The characters were fairly interesting, even secondary ones and that's quite a surprise. Misao was pleasant to hear most of the times, we see the story through his eyes and we can follow his feelings easily. He can be considered quite a delicate flower, with his feminine features and dancing skills. He mesmerizes men as skillfully as any courtesan, but he would never sell his body to pay his debt. He is proud and actually pretty strong. Masaomi was somehow flat, well, more like he needed some deepening, because being very aware of Misao's deep feelings makes Masaomi's motives mysterious and his actions kind of sudden.
Being a yaoi novel, there has to be some action in it, but in this case is not an excessive amount of scenes. However, the few ones that are offered to us are intense in a very subtle way with their beauty and tension. They are never very explicit, but they are unrealistically perfect. Very fit for the magic of the atmosphere. And they were all consensual, yay!
The illustrations are another nice detail; Tooko Miyagi has a very original style, a bit rough on the edges but certainly detailed and nice to the eye. Surprisingly, I prefer her black/white illustrations more than the colored ones. I still think they should have used the other one as a cover, Misao is dressed as a woman for a very short time...and that cover is confusing.
In the end this turned out to be a very pleasant read and I'm eager to see more of Tachibana Venio soon. I think her works are a nice transition from non-explicit BL and to the sexually explicit type. Besides, her stories leave you feeling happy and moved. Love Water is a truly endearing romance, recommended for all boy's love readers that are looking for light novels worth reading.
Special thanks to Digital Manga for providing the electronic copy of the book.
Misao has only ever known life behind the gate of the "tea house" where he was born. He literally has never stepped beyond the gate, though he did try a few times as a child, in a desperate attempt to experience the world beyond. Having been severely punished for those attempts, he long gave up trying to escape that way, and now concentrates on buying his way out. His mother was said to have been the number one courtesan during her time there, and his father a well to do customer who fled when he realised she was to have his child. Thanks to her, he has been gifted with a small delicate body and an outer beauty that matches his innate grace. So much so that his debt is rather large, thanks to the brothel's owner having taken a shine to him as a child, lavishing him with the same lessons in dance, tea ceremony, music, and so on that the female courtesan trainees receive. In order to pay off his debt, he not only works there as a servant, serving food to patrons, lighting the lamps in the rooms at night, and so on, but flirts lightly and dances for extra tips that he can use to pay back the owner for his investment.
One day a carriage pulls up, and it is evident that a new customer has come to call. Seeing who has escorted the young man, it is also apparent that the new customer is a very important man. Masaomi Towa is the handsome and wealthy heir to a corporation and a newcomer to the rules of the pleasure district. He has come to call upon one courtesan in particular, Ukigumo, who is the brothel's beautiful head courtesan. Confused as to why she would not speak to him during their first encounter, and obviously unsure of what is happening, Misao takes it upon himself to go visit the man in his room on the sly. Not to sell his body, for Misao refuses to whore himself out. No, he goes to explain the protocols that the Pleasure District employs. It is a time honoured system filled with ritual, and Masaomi is grateful to Misao for helping him out in this regard. Giving him a tip for his trouble, Misao finds himself troubled. Masaomi is a generous, sincere man who is all too likely to be taken advantage of in the Pleasure District.
Each visit to the brothel in order to fulfil the ritual by which he can gain Ukigumo's place in his room and in his bed leads to encounters with the attendant staff, which includes Misao. Misao becomes more and more troubled, for the sincere Masaomi has captured his heart, and it is not something that he is free to give. Nor does he have Masaomi's, as he obviously is smitten with Ukigumo or else he would not have come to the Pleasure Quarter to seek her out specifically. When Towa unexpectedly reaches his hands out to Misao for one brief moment in time, Misao's cynical heart yearns to break free of his narrow world once more. But will the reality of the pleasure quarter and his indentured status keep him imprisoned? And what about Ukigumo, the one for whom Towa comes to claim, apparently wishing to buy her free in order to claim her as his own?
Set in Osaka during the Meiji era (October 1868 to July 1912 , or roughly equivalent to late Victorian to early Edwardian era), the societal hierarchies and rigid nature of traditional Japan meeting that of a Westernised modern Japanese was wonderfully evocative. Towa is every inch a modern gentleman of that age. He wears western clothes, stays in a Western style hotel, eats Western style food, and is visibly pained by the rigid system he encounters in the Pleasure Quarters,ways that beneath the graceful seeming exterior with the beautiful dancing, soul stirring musical performances, and elegant food service hides the sordid reality that the women and children of the brothels endure every day of their lives, until they either die or buy their way free.
The brothel, its inhabitants and regular patrons provide a stark contrast: the courtesans' backbitng as they jostle for favoured positions, the innocence all too quickly lost of the young maids who serve the courtesans before becoming one themselves once old enough, the male servants bound by indenture, and customers who keep hoping for a bit of even more illicit pleasure if they can bribe an employee to allow them the indulgence. In this setting, those who are somehow pure of heart shine forth, and it is because of this that Misao and Ukigumo make such an excellent rivalling pair. She is as beautiful as Misao, or perhaps more so, and an actual female. She is not just beautiful on the outside, and accomplished, but has an inner grace as well. Never cruel to her maids or the servants, Misao is in awe of her, and knows his place is far beneath her. Because it is she who has attracted Masaomi Towa's eye, Misao knows he has nary a chance against her. But things are not always what they seem, especially in the pleasure district. Just as the brothels sell beautiful lies of love, sometimes they also hide other truths. Truths which can wipe away all doubt. That is, if the truth is actually told.
I really love stories set in in this period, with descriptions of the old buildings and towns, the formal social ceremony stood upon for certain types of gatherings, and let's not forget the beauty of getting to see those fabulous hair styles and formal kimonos. The translation effort was wonderfully done, with the language flowing almost lyrically so that this bygone era appeared in the mind's eye almost unbidden. Venio Tachibana's words paint a beautiful portrait not just of a bygone Japan, but the deep emotions and insecurities of those caught in this time of change, when Japan moved from the feudalistic shogunate government model and began modernisation, rising as a world power. It is also somehow timelessly evocative, almost as if set in amber. Tooko Miyagi's signature delicate art work elegantly graces several of the pages and the cover, and are truly a delight to behold. One illustration depicts Misao dancing with a fan and it is unbelievably beautiful. The lines are so fluid that the scene is brought to vivid life.
Despite being set in a brothel, there is not a lot of sex within the pages. Misao is a servant, not a whore, so his contact with the courtesans once they enter a customer's bedroom is practically nil, save for lighting the lamps after dusk. There IS some sex, but that scene is one of tender poignancy that is rendered as elegantly as the trappings of the Pleasure Quarter itself. Likewise, there is no real violence inside, so the 16+ rating is justified. Those who prefer a gently romantic piece, Boy's Love or otherwise, will adore this piece.