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Take two totally gorgeous guys, sprinkle them with supernatural mojo and put them in a book about vampires and a human who loves them and what do you get? No, not THAT book! These guys may only prefer to only come out in twilight, but from the very first page, you know this is no teen fantasy romance. It is Boy's Love, and a pretty hardcore one at that as the very first page opens to a one page prologue depicting a young man on all fours, receiving. You know this is not going to be ordinary smut however, when his thoughts are "this is not the colour of the liquid I want..." Yikes, what have I gotten myself into?
Porn? Well, no, unless you are shy enough to think that ANY depiction of nudity or sex automatically equals porn. This is not gratuitous sex by any means, so it slides off my porn radar. It is depicted yes, but it is rather hard NOT to, this being a graphic novel. You see, the young man in question is human, and at THAT age. His name is Ace and he is indulging in some mutual release with his classmate and dorm room-mate Rand. Rand who jokingly pretends to believe Ace that his adopted older brothers are vampires and says to say Hi to them, while Ace tells him that he too will become a vampire now that he has graduated and is an adult. Everyone at the school likes Ace, but think he is a bit weird in one respect.
He has an absolute fixation on the subject of vampires, and insists that his famous novelist older brother King Clayton, and other older brother J, are both vampires. They walk in the sun, admittedly always wearing coats and gloves no matter the season, and sunglasses even in dim, wet weather, and usually appear only in afternoon and the evening, but then so do other working adults. In fact, the only thing unusual about them that they can see is that J is half Chinese, but as he too is an adopted brother like Ace, it is nothing truly noteworthy. It is also not that noteworthy that the parents seem to be dead, and that Ace was raised by his older brothers and sent to this school, as many other students are in similar positions. So just why does Ace have this almost manic fantasy?
Well, it just might be because they ARE vampires, and that the reason he knows this is because he caught them feeding off one another doing a lovemaking session by accident as a child. And he just might be fixated on turning into a vampire and joining his brothers because Ace is human and J found that he could not keep his fangs to himself any more, forming a blood bond so that the he could always feel where the human he had grown to care for was. You got it, Ace loves his brothers, hero worshipping King as he has always done and lusting after J now in ways that would make Renfield blush. But having sent Ace away to a boarding school to protect him from their blood lust, do King and J really intend to turn Ace? They seem to treasure his humanity and its ephemeral existence, looking at the raising of him as atonement for having taken his parents from him as a very young child.
Indeed, King is a commanding presence, befitting of his name, and he is the sire of J, whom he rescued from death after an ordeal at Alcatraz in 1955. J was a mere 18 years old, while King was much older though time has also stopped for him. Eternity is a long and merciless thing to look at alone, needing an anchor, and so King chose a companion. Sharing his love, J provides him with a centre so that he can maintain his essence and reason for living, his pathos, which is shared during the mutual feeding process. Pathos is a an apt term, for it is filled with the emotions of tenderness, arousal, passion, and sorrow felt by the giver and now experienced by the receiver. This is how vampires experience physical love; unable to engage in normal sexual relations any longer, only their fangs can penetrate another and the Pathos shared during a bloodied deep kiss. Without this focus, a vampire has nothing to root him in the sea of time, and either drifts or decides to die.
Ace doesn't comprehend this. All he knows is that his brothers are immortal, and he wishes to join them so that the love he felt as a child and later by tasting the forbidden Pathos is never lost to him. He wishes to share his love with them both. But being a child in so many ways, he has yet to comprehend relationship dynamics and therefore to account that brothers to him they may be, but not to each other and what the implications are in full for that. But will they turn him anyway as he desires, or do as they originally intended, having him live out his lifespan as a mortal being while they leave him behind? Obsessions can be a frightening thing, filled with their own angst and pathos. Will the trio escape unscathed or is their relationship completely doomed?
When I saw the mangaka was Mika Sadahiro, I prepared myself. Probably best known to fans of the genre of the creator of the hard core prison romance, Under Grand Hotel, I knew her reputation for graphic depictions of sex and violence, often at the same time. The action is not the driving force here though; it is the characters' emotional and psychological development which propels the story forward, leading where it does in a natural progression that doesn't feel forced or clichéd at all, despite covering ancient ground as it were with some traditional vampire lore. One develops an empathy for the tragic romantic love King feels for J as well as the parental like love tinged with regret he feels for Ace. J is a bit harder to like at first. He is brash, and one cannot help but feel that perhaps his love for King is bound by the Pathos he feeds upon. Barely 18 when he was turned, he never experienced the love of family or a mortal lover before fate brought him before King during his dying moments. He is as impetuous and naïve in many of the same ways Ace is, but arrogant enough to not not realise it the way King does. Ace is a likeable, confused kid going through puberty with an extra burden, knowing his family are of the undead, being separated from them by distance, time, and species, and haunted by the taste of the Pathos.
Their emotions come across clearly not only through her well chosen prose, which has been carefully translated with skill, but also through her evocative use of body language. Her characters don't just stand about, glaring or having tears run down their faces; they move, twist and contort in realistic ways, with suitable expressions beautifully etched onto their faces. The drape and line of the clothing is astounding, with a real eye for classic fashion that ties the eternal nature of the two men to the modern era with flair. Far from sylph like, the well defined and toned male bodies ooze a sensuality not unfamiliar to fans of modern vampire fiction, and the beautifully manly faces mark a departure from the usual pretty boy imagery. Forget Twilight, this is more Interview if Lestat and Louis had been a couple and the child Claudia a boy left human to grow into puberty. The roiling emotions, blatant sensuality, and freely flowing blood make this much more than just another vampire romance story. It is ultimately a tale of the human condition, where passion meets pathos.
***I would like to thank Digital Manga Publishing for providing me with this review copy, and to point out that this is available as a standard paperback manga as well as in an online electronic format via the publisher's Emanga site and as a Kindle edition via Amazon.com. ***
~~~ I'd also like to dedicate this review to co-guide Malu, who rather tongue in cheek asked me that given my reviews for Boy's Love titles and vampires, if there were any gay vampires. ~~~~