This is the start of a gritty cop drama, and I like it!
Writer/Artist:Saki Aido / Chiharu Noro
Translated by:Translation by Design
What They Say
Shiba is a detective in the fifth anti-organized crime division of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, a.k.a. "Anti-Gang 5" specializing in handgun seizures. Shiba's secret weapon is "S" ("spy"), an informant who plays a key role in Shiba's information gathering. Shiba is training an informant who has been officially accepted into Shinjuku's Matsukura Group within the Budoha crime syndicate. One day, Shiba awakes to an anonymous phone call. "Watch out for your S." A tale of two men whose lust, pride and loneliness collide!
Packaging for this book is standard for June's novel line, but it's probably the first to really catch my eye. The front cover works well with its mix of the sultry and dangerous; it fits with the story just right. The back cover is also treated to a color image, with straight black and white above it – a grand improvement from the clashing pastels of past titles. The blurb has improved somewhat too. Gone is the lengthy and incomprehensible summary, this one is much more to the point. It's a good teaser to the story, though still not a wholly accurate portrayal of the contents. Also included inside are several illustration plates by Chihari Nara – some of them quite explicit for a book not shrinkwrapped.
The first thing I noticed when reading this book was its improved readability. It is far better than earlier novels by June, though still occasionally tripped up by overly-long descriptions and cumbersome phrases. In particular, the very popular use of "the other man" when a simple pronoun would suffice - I'm not sure why the editorial staff is so attached to using this line. Also still waiting for the day when I see no typos, mistakes or mishandled pronouns in these books, but the improvement here is, at least, encouraging.
Contents:(please note the following may contain spoilers)
There is a covert subsection of the metropolitan police called the Counter Organized Crime division whose detectives work undercover to gather information on arms trafficking – a rising threat to Japan's security. Their work is most easily accomplished by developing a relationship with a spy, or "S," from within the criminal organizations. This is a delicate task and demands much personal sacrifice on the part of the police agents. Misaki Shiiba, a man on his own personal crusade to rid Japan of gun crime, is one such detective. He has spent the better part of two years under an assumed identity and working with an S named Andou with whom he has cultivated a special relationship.
The relationship between agent and S is a complicated one, often filled with danger and requiring absolute trust and loyalty. Although recognized for exceptional work, Shiiba is young, and his overwhelming desire to root out evil allows him to overlook when Andou gets in too deep. When the unthinkable happens, Shiiba finds himself in need of a new S – the likeliest candidate being Keigo Munechika, the last man he can imagine having this sort of relationship with.
Munechika, for his part, is both reputable businessman and half-brother to the head of the Matsukura Group criminal organization. Munechika is every bit the type to be a high-ranking member of such an organization and his relations with Shiiba become a battle of will and pride. Shiiba is mortified to find Munechika knows him quite well - even those things that Shiiba tries to lie to himself about – still, he's resolved to do whatever necessary to ensure the cessation of deadly gun crimes.
Other BL novels might stop with the scenario above and call it a day with lots of angst and sadistic sex. But the story here goes well beyond the complicated set up and relations between Shiiba and his two spies. While investigating Andou's final tip involving a shady Chinese businessman named Ying Fa Lin, Shiiba discovers a mysterious - and very large - arms trafficking ring. It's not long before Shiiba realizes how far over his head he's gotten in, and just how badly he'll need Munechika's help to get out. And it seems their work together is only just beginning.
When thinking about this review I had the hardest time likening this book to another, until I realized that S has a sort of Finder series vibe to it. This is, of course, considerably high praise in my book. Full of illicit doings by police agents and yakuza spies, dirty sex, Chinese mafia, intrigue and danger – it's all here. But beyond just having the ingredients for what could be a good story, there actually is one. A good amount of set-up and characterization lends to something more robust than what we've previously seen on these shores as far as BL novels go. The beginning is a bit bogged down in police history and org charts, plus all the philosophizing about the delicacy of S work, but the extent to which mentality and environment are explained is refreshing knowing that there are several volumes to come. To build a series on shallowness just wouldn't carry it through to the end.
A lot of care goes into characterizing Shiiba especially – from his difficult past to his compromised morals on the job to his conflicted feelings about the people in his life. But rather than make these trials an excuse for a simple angtsy lead, we see one who is challenged to act on his convictions and learn from his mistakes. We also see toward the end that there is more, perhaps much more, to Munechika and his motivations. The reader is occasionally asked to overlook a slightly lazy explanation or take certain things for granted, but it's not hard to let the flow of the story override any disbelief.
S is not a perfect piece of literature, but it has a real story and a meatier plot than what we've been offered thus far. I'm glad I read through a wave of fluffier titles first because this is the taste I'd rather leave behind to savor.