Pretty standard fare marked by some unintended moments of hilarity.
Writer/Artist:Y ou Shiizaki / Kumiko Sasaki
Translated by: Bianca Jarvis
What They Say
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," so goes the old adage about art. And nowhere is this truer than in the relationship between Itsuki and Tokiwa. To everyone else, Itsuki is nothing more than a useless wallflower, but only Tokiwa can see that the man is actually a diamond-in-the-rough.
It all began eight years ago, when amateur painter Itsuki Hashimoto and up-and-coming sculptor Masatsugu Tokiwa became friends through their love of art. But a few years later, family circumstances forced Itsuki to cut Tokiwa out of his life. Now, Itsuki is living a confined life as the "human pet" of Yamabe-sensei, Tokiwa's former teacher.
As with all the June novels, this book feels solid. In addition to the advertisements for DMP/June publications and products, there is an author afterword. A color plate is included - a tender Tokiwa comforting a tearful Itsuki.
Kumako Sasaki's illustrations envision Tokiwa and Itsuki much like their character types. Readers will find the comfortably familiar here. The illustrations are a lot less explicit that seen in other June novels.
In general, the text is very readable with few of the spelling and grammatical errors that seemed to plague the early novel releases. There is one questionable translation issue which may not be the fault of the translator - Itsuki's injury is variously described as a leg injury and then a foot injury. In the overall scheme of things, this isn't really an important point, but I did pick it up right away when I read it.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Masatsugu Tokiwa, a successful sculptor occupying a mountain studio well away from the populace, is visited by a young man carrying a letter from Tokiwa's former teacher and mentor, Yamabe-sensei. The young man looks pale, nervous and none-too-well. Tokiwa is well-acquainted with this young man. He's a friend of former times, now an assistant secretary to Yamabe-sensei. These two men have a past relationship that had been abruptly terminated leaving hurt and anger that Tokiwa would like to think were long buried.
Yamabe-sensei wants to see Tokiwa and has sent Itsuki Hashimoto to bring Tokiwa down from his mountain. Tokiwa, for his part, wants nothing to do with either Yamabe-sensei or Itsuki and sends Itsuki away. Itsuki, sad and incompetent individual that he is, has an accident leaving the snowy mountain in the midst of a storm, and hurts his leg enough to require that he stay with Tokiwa on the mountain until he can be moved.
This forced cohabitation brings out the worst in Tokiwa. After intending to have the most minimal contact with Itsuki, just enough to provide comfort and safety, Tokiwa can't help himself when he not only "does for" Itsuki, but "does to" him. Itsuki, frightened and humiliated, does not offer any explanation that might ameliorate the abuse that Tokiwa delivers, and his injuries make it impossible to escape from it. Only when he leaves the mountain does Itsuki escape Tokiwa's mixture of tenderness and cruelty.
However, Yamabe-sensei is a man who gets what he wants and is not willing to let Tokiwa be. Yamabe's urgent need to see Tokiwa, and Tokiwa's recognition that he must confront Yamabe if he is ever to regain Itsuki, forces the meeting that Yamabe wants. Here past motivations to come to light and the reason for Itsuki's silence becomes clear. A surprising admission and bequest allows the lovers to reunite.
The plot of Gentle Cage really can't escape from feeling as if it were fanfiction. From the winter storm and Itsuki's injury to the reason Itsuki is working for Yamabe, the events are so unbelievable that the reader feels grubby from the manipulation. Shiizaki misses no chance to create one highly artificial narrative.
While the story may be contrived, there are some strong points in the characterizations. Tokiwa's feelings of attraction, anger and betrayal actually do come across as distinctive, understandable and believable. This does a lot to flesh out his character and mitigate the first impression of Tokiwa as the unfeeling seme. Unfortunately, Itsuki doesn't fare as well. While his character gets some vindication much later in the novel, his diffidence, his silence and his tears become annoying. Tolerance for Itsuki will depend on how much one likes this type of uke and it is very much a type.
Finally, the sex scenes are hampered by description that is by turns cliched and pompous. Metaphor and euphemism can often reveal new insight into the commonplace and can raise the level of discourse about a subject. Not so here. If the reader managed to get any kind of special moment out of these scenes, the resulting laughter when coming upon inappropriate turn of phrase will take one right out of it. I felt for the translator on this one. They can only work with what's on the page. And while "secret hole" might be really poetic in Japanese, the attempt to make anus sound seemingly less vulgar only makes the text read odd and somewhat archaic. I guess a visual equivalent is the mystery panel that requires a gestalt take on the contents - is it a butt or is it an elbow? Or perhaps the floating figure, which the mangaka uses to interpret orgasm rather than delivering the goods on the page. Well, either way, the text version seems to be much more offensive.
Fans of the fragile, weepy type of uke might enjoy this. This is not a character type that gets any empathy from me. And while Tokiwa is more interesting as a character, he can't overcome the fanfiction qualities of the plot and the pedestrian, sometimes laughable sex scenes.