Shinobu Kokoro Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, December 01, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, November 01, 2005
What They Say
The Ninja: A stealth fighter expertly trained in ancient Japanese martial arts. With his fiery combination of sheer force, considerable guile and devastating proficiency, no man can resist his skill! Follow the sizzling sessions with a young, innocent ninja-in-training as his master teaches him the secret methods of the clan...with a little hands-on instruction! Meanwhile, two experienced shinobi take their relationship to new heights when a tragic separation leaves one of them caught between a rock and hard place. Filled with over-the-top "action," boys in tight uniforms, lots of sexy no jutsu, and one very lascivious snow spirit, this romantic fantasy collection is one part passion, one part affection, and all heart.
Everyone loves a ninja -- even other ninjas!
BLU uses the original cover age of Subaru brandishing a sword while being held by Yuuzuki, which is beautiful in its soft, neutral colors. A nice matte cover stock is used as well and the title is placed vertically down the right side, reflecting the original design nicely. The rectangular BLU logo seems a bit large, but its odd lower left corner placement at least moves it (mostly) out of sight. (Or perhaps, it's just that the gorgeous guys on the cover provide enough distraction?) Color plates are not included, although the first is reproduced on the back cover. A postscript by Matsumoto on each of the stores is included at the end, along with some character artwork and ads for the first wave of BLU titles.
Matsumoto is probably most known for her character designs and illustrations for the popular Kyo Kara Moah novels, anime and manga, and her style is easily recognizable here. The proportions can be a bit long and the characters (especially the ukes) tend to be rather thin, but I love her faces. Matsumoto manages to convey a great deal of expressiveness in faces otherwise simple in design, and there are some lovely close-ups to be found here. While I prefer the look of her grown men, the younger boys can be pretty cute in their awkwardness, too. The action, while not generously detailed, still manages to be very sensual and explicit. Backgrounds and layouts are pretty standard fare, as is BLU's reproduction quality.
SFX and action words are consistently translated only when inside text bubbles. Those found in the panels are occasionally subtitled, but as to which words are afforded the translation I could discern no pattern (though it seemed to be mainly action words). I'd really like to see BLU commit to a decision either way rather than randomly pick and choose, as it appears they've done here, although a translation would certainly enhance my experience. Aside from the SFX, the translation read well and was free from typos or other noticeable errors. Honorifics are thankfully intact. Of note, there are no translation or editorial credits listed in the volume.
Contents:(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This volume includes stories of three couples, each given 2 chapters.
In the first story a young ninja-in-training named Subaru is given his first mission, one in which he must seduce a (male) target. In order to succeed at this task he will need special training on the matter from the ninja clan master, Yuuzuki. Under Yuuzuki's skilled tutelage Subaru realizes quickly that his feelings for his master run much deeper than respect. By the time Subaru completes his training, Yuuzuki realizes he loves Subaru as well and can't bear to see him in the arms of another man. Yuuzuki intercepts Subaru and confesses his love before he can accomplish his mission. With their mutual feelings resolved, they are free to take their relationship to the next level. Following this is a funny story in which Subaru, on a mission in town, mistakes a high school boy for a member of a rival ninja clan. To impress Yuuzuki he accosts the boy and steals his uniform. Naturally Yuuzuki must then properly school young Subaru on his mistake.
The second story is about Hiiragi and Asagi, two full-fledged ninjas from the same clan, and how they hook up. Asagi, normally the leader of a three-man cell, is fretting over being a man short for their latest mission. His hunky subordinate Hiiragi is just fine with the situation however, as he is not only totally loyal to his leader, he’s also totally in love with him. Asagi believes that, as ninja, they cannot allow their hearts to be clouded by such a thing as love and he doesn’t accept Hiiragi’s feelings. They are attacked during their mission and Hiiragi sacrifices himself to save Asagi. When faced with the possibility of losing his friend, Asagi realizes he’s been fooling himself all along, trying to act like he doesn’t care. In the end Asagi manages to find Hiiragi -- miraculously unharmed -- and they consummate their love. Afterwards is a fun (but altogether too short) chapter wherein Hiiragi proves he’ll take any orders his leader Asagi gives him.
The third story is a cute romance between a high school boy Futaba and a snow spirit Miyuki. One snowy day on his way home from his grandfather’s house, Futaba has an accident and is injured in the woods. A gorgeous snow spirit named Miyuki rescues him, but in order to save Futaba from the freezing temperatures, Miyuki must merge with him, thus turning Futaba into a snow spirit as well. Unhappy over the development at first, Futaba begins to have feelings for Miyuki after he learns that not only has Miyuki has always loved him and watched over him, he must also endure punishment for having saved him. Unfortunately, should they engage in relations again, Futaba would return to his human self and would be forced to leave Miyuki's side. Desire gets the better of them both, but not before Futaba promises to visit Miyuki afterwards. What follows for them is an amusing little bit about how they try to maintain their relationship despite being separated--and that summertime heat sure proves a pesky problem for a snow spirit!
A one-page gag comic set back in the ninja village rounds out the volume.
The stories in this book move quickly and as such there isn’t much time to develop the complexities of plot or foster love for the characters, but for what they do achieve, they do so pretty well. (Really I think Matsumoto just wanted to draw cute boy-lovin' bishies in ninja uniforms - and Naruto fans should notice some familiar things!). Surprisingly my favorite pair/story was the one with the weakest plot and the least amount of pages: Hiiragi & Asagi. I much preferred their more complimentary ages and their smoldering sexual tension. (I’d add that Hiiragi is also quite stunning.) The other two couples have a much larger (perceived) age gap, and Yuuzuki’s taste for essentially molesting young boys didn’t sit too well with me. His comment about a flock of schoolboys being a pleasant image was funny at first, but kind of disturbing once I thought about it in context.
As far as characters go, I’m quite easily drawn to Matsumoto's semes. They have a very commanding presence on the page, and I love when their expressions soften -something in those knowing eyes and generous mouths just makes me lose myself. The ukes tend to be a little too acquiescing (and young by comparison) for my tastes, but every now and again they humbly steal the moment - Futaba was really cute in that last chapter!
BLU’s initial wave of titles arrives with fan-favorite choices, providing a good sample of the styles typically found in the Boys-Love market. I think in choosing this particular book for their first short story collection, BLU was banking on the rampant popularity of ninjas among the fans these days and the name recognition for Matsumoto. Likely, it was a safe bet -- while the short nature of these stories does make this book rather light on plot, it has a nice blend of cuteness, humor, and eroticism. And who doesn't love ninjas?!
Mania Grade: B+
Art Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: B+
Age Rating: 18 & Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Orientation: Right to Left