I have found a unicorn: a Juné yaoi novel that contains no rape. It doesn't even have anyone thinking about raping someone. Unfortunately, the book wasn't very good. There were some aspects I really liked, but the way they were written (or translated?) just didn't work for me.
This book was about Biwa, a Japanese screenwriter who has lived in America for most of his life, and Yamato, a famous Japanese actor. Biwa's production team is working on a detective show, and the director wants Yamato to play the lead. Biwa originally believed he made it onto the production team on the basis of his scriptwriting skills, so he's disappointed to learn that he might have been added to the team primarily because he knows Japanese and could act as Yamato's babysitter. Although the two of them don't exactly start off on the right foot, it's not long before they become friends.
When I first started reading this, I thought I was dealing with a complete clunker. Morimoto introduced 8-year-old Biwa and then sped through the next 18 years of his life in just a few pages before stopping at Biwa's first day as part of the production team. I was glad things slowed down after that. The book's earlier scenes are among its best. I enjoyed it when a frustrated and insulted Biwa ripped into Yamato for saying that getting on any TV series, whether American or Japanese, was easy. And I was happy when Yamato turned out to be friendlier, humbler, and more dedicated to his work than he at first appeared to be.
I was a little worried that Biwa's early demonstration that he possessed a spine meant that Yamato would be super-dominant and super-aggressive once they inevitably had sex. Thankfully, Biwa and Yamato's relationship remained light, playful, and a little sweet throughout the entire book. The closest Yamato came to being aggressive was unexpectedly kissing Biwa. Yamato turned the whole thing into a joke or cultural misunderstanding (“[Kissing] is like shaking hands over here, right?” (88)), and Biwa accepted that explanation even though Yamato continued to test the boundaries of their relationship as the story progressed.
Biwa and Yamato were an okay couple, and I really did like those early scenes, but the book suffered from two big problems. One, there wasn't much of a plot, and two, Morimoto's attempts at banter (or Quine's translation of that banter) tended to fall flat. One of these things alone might been okay, but both of them together resulted in a story that plodded along before it finally thunked to a halt.
Most of the book focused on the planning and creation of the detective show's pilot episode. There were long passages describing how American TV shows are created and how they differ from Japanese TV. Morimoto did a bit of authorial hand-waving with the scriptwriting and filming portions and made no attempt to sugarcoat the show's chances of success. I actually think the story might have been better if Morimoto had thrown realism completely out the window and turned the show into Biwa's big screenwriting break and Yamato big Hollywood acting break.
Strangely enough, Morimoto decided to abandon realism near the end of the book and have Yamato and Biwa agree to work together on a project that, as far as I could see, had less than zero chance of success. Since neither Yamato nor Biwa were supposed to be stupid or overly idealistic, I felt like I'd wandered into some sort of Like a Love Comedy alternate universe.
There were times when the banter between Yamato and Biwa was nice, but for some reason their dialogue didn't consistently work for me. Parts of it felt a little too formal, and the topics of their conversations tended to bore me to tears after a few pages. I can remember them talking about American sitcoms and the hugeness of American food portions, and that's about it. By the way, the food portions conversation was at a fancy restaurant, which bugged me, because I'd figure that the portions at a place like that would actually be quite small.
Hmm, what else? I suppose I should say something about the book's one sex scene. It was...pretty bad. Like I said, there was no rape, so it wasn't that. It read a bit like a heterosexual penis-in-vagina sex scene – no lube of any kind, an emphasis on “there will be pain the first time, but after that it'll be fine,” and occasional details that I was pretty sure wouldn't apply to male anatomy.
This wasn't the worst thing I've ever read, and it didn't leave me feeling angry, but there were a lot of aspects of it that could have used improvement. It's too bad, because Yamato and Biwa really were a nice couple, and I wanted to like their story more than I did.
One color illustration, 10 black-and-white illustrations, and an afterword written by the author. Narumi's art style wasn't to my tastes, and the scenes chosen (mostly kissing, sex, or post-sex) were a bit odd, considering that the story wasn't actually all that steamy. Maybe an attempt to compensate for that?
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Gravitation (manga) by Maki Murakami; Gravitation (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another entertainment business m/m romance story might want to try this series out. Shuichi is kind of annoying, and Eiri Yuki is a cold jerk throughout a good chunk of the series, but it still manages to be a lot of fun. The anime has a better, more stream-lined story, but the manga has a few good scenes that didn't make it into the anime (be prepared for a lot of craziness, though). I've written about the first volume of the manga.
- Starstruck (e-book) by Ashleigh Raine - Those who'd like another Hollywood romance and a more in-depth look at what it's like on the set of a TV show might want to try this book. I've written about it.
- Notting Hill (live action movie) - A bookshop owner and a famous Hollywood actress meet and begin to fall in love, but it's not an easy, quick, fairy tale romance. This movie came to mind when I tried to imagine the life Biwa and Yamato might have had if they'd opted to make a go of it in Japan instead.
- Skip Beat! (manga) by Yoshiki Nakamura; Skip Beat! (anime TV series) - Another show biz romance. It takes place in Japan, is m/f, and features some very over-the-top humor. It's a lot of fun. I've written about the anime and several volumes of the manga.