Stolen Heart Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, October 05, 2007
Release Date: Sunday, September 30, 2007
Writer/Artist:Maki Kanamaru/Yukine Honami
Translated by:Issei Shimizu
What They Say
Life is good as the son of an aristocrat. All the money and free time offers everything one could want - elegant accommodations, fine clothing, sumptuous food and drink, smashing parties, and as many sexual partners as you can count. But for one particular upper crust snob, priorities are about to change. When a forthright and noble thief comes a-calling, he leaves behind an air of mystery that's too hard to resist. What is the sly rogue's connection to the fate of the crown? And what does any of it have to do with inspecting the elite-born son's bottoms? Could it be he's truly the thief of hearts, who wears a mask to hide his desires?
Yukine Honami stumbles a bit here, but fans should be able appreciate her efforts to reach ouside of her usual form.
The cover displays the handsome thief as a background figure with the profligate young noble dead center. The volume is the standard DMP/June trim size - 8.5 x 6.1 inches and has the standard book cover seen on all DMP volumes. Print quality is good and the typeface provides a comfortable, unobtrusive read. There is a four page author afterword from Yukine Honami (Maki Kanamaru makes her remarks in preface to all the stories) and the usual adverts for DMP/June works.
Yukine Honami most often works in collaboration with another mangaka and when she is in sync with the material, she produces exemplary works notable for their well-realized emotional themes (Desire, Rin #1). Stolen Heart wants to be a comedy of mores and manners and Honami's talent for subtle rendering really isn't required with this type of material. The spare page design that so enhanced the mood of her more reflective works is replaced by a more complex layout that reads dynamically, but the overall effect is sometimes reduced by the abrupt changes in narrative. (Some panels seem hastily inserted.) In Honami's previous works in English, the minimalist background that she provided served the emotional quality of the stories well. The backgrounds for Stolen Heart, which takes place in an early 19th century European type setting, are insufficiently detailed to provide a sense of place. Overall, the artwork is up to her usual standard, and we do get some pleasant surprises when she steps outside of her niche, but the result is less than harmonious.
Sfx are translated and placed unobtrusively in the panel. Honorifics are maintained in all stories where they exist. The dialog reads well, but occasionally suffers from an attention-grabbing inappropriate use of words, and some dialog that is meant to be funny, is just plain creepy.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A beautiful but arrogant and debauched young nobleman attends yet another of the Duke's parties (no girls allowed!), where promises of sexual favors abound. The latest talk is of the thief, who steals from aristocratic houses only to return the goods the following day. The young noble spies an intriguing masked man at the party and inquires as to his identity. With only the response that the man is "some relative of the Duke's", he follows him, wondering if this was the man who had drugged and raped him, then told him he was lousy in bed - and fat to boot!
The young noble's pursuit of this mystery man leads to numerous sexual trysts with him and others, but the question for the young noble still remains - who is this man and why is he using stealth and the cover of thievery to access the bedrooms of noble young men?
There are three shorter stories which round out the volume. The first, "Be Nice", is an off-shoot of "Stolen Heart", and directly concerns the reasons for the thief's mission. "People Are What They Seem" is a school story of attraction and romance, although what the title has to do with the story is a mystery. Pleasant enough, but it doesn't seem to have a point. The third story, "Kiss Scandal", takes place in the United States, and is the story of a Congressman and the aide who is his lover. This is the most satisfying story and Honami's adult males are attractive and seductive.
Things are not good when the back cover blurb gives away major story points.
"Stolen Heart" introduces itself with a complex story, but either fails to develop plot elements after introduction or provides no foreshadowing whatsoever when they are revealed, which is why there may have been a need to give so much away in the blurb. The narrative flow is just decent and I really wished that this group of stories were longer to better introduce the plot elements. This work feels rushed and inadequately fleshed out. A poorly told story can often be saved by its principals, and both the young noble and the thief are characterized well-enough to override some of the failings.
While the stories may not be representative of Honami's best work, they do illustrate the approaches she takes to a variety of sexual situations. Her more graphic couplings show a deliberation in the details she provides, and the elements chosen are isolated and placed to enhance the sensuality of the scene as a whole. Whether it be a soft caress, a sexual position or a bit of foreplay, it is never revealed in a shocking or vulgar manner. The most intimate moment of climax is shown in delicately depicted close up. The use of the facial close-up engages the reader as does the mid-range depiction of sexual activity the reader is invited to meaningfully interpret. This is in contrast to how she presents non-consensual situations, especially those involving her problematic "younger" characters.
The short story, "Be Nice", presents just such a situation. This story is about a story, which the thief recounts to the young noble. In it, the master of the house loans out his young servant to his fellow nobles. This isn't strictly non-consentual, for the young servant is grateful to his master and is willing to do his bidding, but one gets the feeling he'd rather be polishing the silver. The scene depicted is only a few panels, with figures shown in mid-range focal point. None of the characters, including the young servant, are given well defined facial features. As such, all faces are blank and expressionless. The activity presented in the panels is no more than a loose embrace, the rest vague and unspecified. One knows that something is going on, but one isn't exactly sure what it is.
The overall effect is that of a neutral visual statement which functions as part of the narrative. It does not invite the reader to participate or empathize with what is being depicted. This is a visual statement of an action, nothing more. The particular action described in these panels of "Be Nice" is important for a revelation later in the story, but the action on its own is a narrative point only and is not presented to titillate. If Honami wanted the reader to interpret the scene differently, she would have drawn it that way, as the more sexually graphic scenes in Stolen Heart prove.
For those concerned about the appearance of non-consensual sex on these pages, the only other bit of non-con is relayed and not depicted. The young noble explains that he has been drugged and raped by a mysterious stranger. This is never seen and the reader would never know unless told.
While Stolen Heart isn't Yukine Honami's best or most characteristic work - that I would reserve for "Desire" - it does show a range from her that we hadn't seen before. Her work here might not always be successful, but it's always interesting, especially when she allows the readers to see so much of her process of creation.
Mania Grade: B-
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translatin Rating: B+
Age Rating: 18 & Up
Released By: Digital Manga Publishing
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Stolen Heart