I have a new favorite superhero song: "Cartoon Heroes," by Aqua, the Europop group best known for the resounding anthem "Barbie Girl." They're sort of relentlessly peppy yet creepy. I now listen to "Cartoon Heroes" on my iPod a minimum of six times a day. In my mind it's the personal theme song of Sandy, a character who hasn't appeared in Smithson yet--actually, she has, but she won't be a major player for a while. It's driving me crazy, waiting to get to all these upcoming plot developments...
Well, enough of that. It's time for another installment of Overlooked Manga Festival!
First, the results of last week's White-Knuckle Manga Bake-Off: Antique Bakery's Christmas buche defeated Yakitate Japan's edible curry bowl by the narrowest of margins. No one voted for Iron Wok Jan's blood-egg pigeon pie, because that shit is freaky. Antique Bakery for the win. HIGH-FIVE!
Sorry, I'm seeing the Borat movie tonight.
Anyway, as tastily as Fumi Yoshinaga draws the creamy cakes in Antique Bakery, I have to wonder if readers were voting for the delicious pastry, or the equally delectable men serving it. I'm told the kids these days are into the yaoi, and the hula hoops and the big pants and the 23 skidoo, hot cha cha. Just last week, my local weekly paper ran a cover story on Yaoi-Con and the whole guy-on-guy manga culture. It looks like the phenomenon is growing big enough to seep into the mainstream media and start freaking out parents, which is very exciting. Jason Thompson's soul-searching analysis remains the definitive LJ essay on yaoi/shonen-ai, so I won't go into too much detail here. Suffice to say that, like any red-blooded nerd girl, I like it when men make out.
As Jason notes in his essay, straight-up yaoi tends to be kind of flimsy and repetitive. After all, it is porn, basically. But there are many excellent shonen-ai romances that offer a little less sex and a little more depth, and some of them are even available in official English translation. Antique Bakery is, let's face it, the best one; it only narrowly missed making my Greatest Manga Ever list a few weeks back. But Antique Bakery is way too popular for an Overlooked Manga Festival, and besides, you've already read it, right? Now you're hungry for more light, witty, yet smokin' hot drama featuring many, many outlandishly attractive men who just need a little nudge to realize that they totally want to get it on with each other. Am I right?
Tokyopop has selected some fine, fine manga for its BLU imprint, devoted to manga with strong "boys' love" themes. Are you enjoying Yun Kouga's hit manga Loveless? Perhaps you will also like her early manga Earthian, available in a beautiful BLU edition with lots of color plates and stuff. But I'm not talking about Earthian this week. I'm talking about Shout Out Loud, the brilliantly pandering yet undeniably affecting story of forbidden love in the world of voice acting.
Yes, voice acting. In a stroke of unfathomable genius, Shout Out Loud presents its readers, presumed to be nerdy-ass fangirls, with a world in which the voice actors whose work they enjoy look like this behind the mic:
...rather than this:
(That's Ryo Horikawa, a.k.a. Vegeta in Dragonball Z. Sorry for holding you up as an example of non-bishonen vocal talent, Mr. Horikawa.)
Our handsome protagonists are Shino, a boyish voice actor, and Nakaya, his rebellious teenage son. As the story opens, Nakaya has just located his long-lost dad, and we're all desperately hoping that this won't be one of those manga that goes for the incest angle. Fortunately, it isn't. Instead, Shino gets hit on by a series of improbably stunning voice actors, and Nakaya copes with coming of age as a troubled Kurt Cobain lookalike with a dad who keeps landing in compromising positions with men. Shino doesn't get involved with women because he wants to remain spiritually faithful to his first love, Nakaya's mother, which, in manga, is a surprisingly common motive for smoking cock. It happens with the transvestite dad in Ouran Host Club, too.
Interestingly, although Shout Out Loud takes place in one of those yaoi universes where all male characters are Default Mode Gay, it does touch lightly upon real-world issues of sex, sexuality, and homophobia, although "lightly" is very much the key word here. Nakaya is not, for example, totally thrilled to discover that his father works not only on children's anime series (which, adorably, Nakaya loves), but on the type of drama CD that dare not speak its name:
Shino, fortunately, comes to enjoy yaoi voice work just fine. Really, how could he not?
Meanwhile, Nakaya works out his teenage frustrations through hockey, providing a sports subplot.
Manly sports action: that's a nice heterosexual counterpoint to all the gay actors in love, right? Wait, let's check back in the locker room after the game...
Oh, yes. Hurt/comfort. THANK YOU, MANGA.
Like Antique Bakery, Shout Out Loud is much more about the relationships than the sex. In fact, the first two volumes include nary a sex scene, and only a few sequences that get particularly hot 'n heavy. Mostly, it's about the characters, and their problems, and how a narrow majority of those problems involve being hot men who want to lick one another's tender crevices.
Warm humor, human drama, and men periodically making out. What more do you want from a manga? Shout Out Loud, I salute you.