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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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12/28/2007 Archived Entry: "Yaoi novel: Ai no Kusabi"

Ai no Kusabi
By Rieko Yoshihara
Published by the Juné Imprint of Digital Manga, Inc

Review by Ryes

What fan of yaoi doesn't know of Rieko Yoshihara's Ai no Kusabi? The tragic love story of Riki and Iason, set in a futuristic world where relationships involving love never last, captured the interest of many fans. Ai no Kusabi presents a futuristic society with a complicated caste system and takes an in-depth look at look at the issue of class distinctions. Having learned all this by watching the anime adaptation, I was eager and excited to read this novel. When I received this first volume, I was disappointed at the length (only 140 pages). However, as I began reading, I was relieved the book was so short.

The book starts off with a man (Man) torturing another man (Captive) with an aphrodisiac for having an affair with a woman who is already chosen as a breeding mate to another. It's clear from the first few pages that the "Captive" and the woman, whose name is revealed as Mimea, are slaves. Although nothing is revealed of them other than that they are "colleagues," the fact that their lives and their partners are being determined by other people clues the reader in on their circumstances. We also learn that the Captive has charisma and is different from other colleagues of theirs. References are made to his being "raised among the dregs" and having an uncivilized tongue. At the end of the chapter, the Man confirms the readers' suspicions by calling the Captive his "pet." The first chapter is very powerful in that it manages to convey a lot of information without saying as much.

After that, there is a jump in time and the reader is introduced to present day Ceres. Ceres is a section of Midas, a city located next to the metropolis of Tanagura. Ceres makes up the slums of Midas. There are two rival gangs hoping to take control, Jeeks and Maddox. However, the citizens of Ceres aren't sure they want either of them in charge. They remember the days when Bison ruled the slums, but with the departure of Bison's leader Riki, the successful gang fell apart. Riki has now been missing for three years.

Just as suddenly as he left, Riki returns. However, everyone sees that he is different from the charismatic Riki of the past. His old gang members worry about him, but Kirie, a tagalong, doesn't see what's so special about Riki. Because of that, he grates on Riki's nerves with his constant jabs at everything Riki says. Kirie itches for action and is unsatisfied with how inactive the current Bison is. In contrast, Riki doesn't seem to want to move forward with anything. Instead, Riki is certain that Kirie is a version of himself when he was younger. I disagree with Riki here. Kirie seems to seek action to prove himself to others. The only reason he sticks with Bison is because of the name Bison made for itself at the height of its success. Riki couldn't care less about how others view him. When he was the gang leader years ago, he concerned himself with what other people wanted. He didn't take on the position to make a name for himself.

This first volume is mostly an introduction to the setting of the Ai no Kusabi series and Riki's history. The first half of the book describes the conditions of the slums in Ceres. It explains how the occupants of Ceres are a disgrace to Midas. They are even referred to as "mongrels." The second half of the book describes Midas and its neighboring metropolis Tanagura. Midas and Tanagura are ruled by a supercomputer called Jupiter. Jupiter escaped the control of its human creators and established its own society based on the idea that only those with knowledge and how to use it should be in power. It set up a hierarchy of bioengineered humans and natural humans, with ranks designated by hair color. The bioengineered perfect humans at the top of the hierarchy are called Blondies. Natural-born humans occupy a very low rung and even lower are "mongrels," those who live in the slums of Ceres. As a result of this system, a common entertainment among high-ranking officials is to take on "pets," human pleasure slaves. Pet auctions are a social event and no one, including natural-born humans who are being sold as pets, sees how this might be wrong. Slavery exists in this strange futuristic society; it's unnerving to see human morals undergo a regression. A theme of the novel is the degrading morals of those living in Midas and Tanagura and the Commonwealth that at first disapproved of what was happening in Tanagura, but eventually came to accept it because the pet business proved to be lucrative.

The narrative is third person omniscient and Yoshihara makes that work very well. Every character's thoughts are accessible, so it's easier to understand the motivations behind their feelings and actions. It doesn't mean the characters become likeable. Some of them are very irritating, but the description of the characters allow the readers to feel strongly about them, whether it's like or dislike.

The contents of Stranger are intense and thought-provoking. The thing I criticize is the delivery, which made reading Stranger a chore rather than an enjoyment. What's most annoying about it was that it was nauseatingly repetitive, especially the part about how Riki has changed since he left three years ago. That must've been mentioned about nine hundred times. Probably not, but it certainly feels like it. There are also repetitions regarding the descriptions of the slums and how the occupants feel. The rest of the book is different from the first chapter in that every bit of information is spoon fed to the reader (more than once). The readers are given no chance to come to their own conclusions. Instead, all the conclusions are already made and the author makes double, triple, quadruple sure that the readers understand what she's trying to say. Stranger can be condensed to less than half its size and still lose none of the meanings and the impact on the reader. The repetitions aside, the way the novel is set up is also very confusing. It starts off with an event that happened sometime in the past three years, then jumps to the present, then reminisces about sometime earlier than three years ago, then returns to the present, then a few hours ago, then back to the present, and so on. It's enough to make a reader woozy. The prose also becomes difficult after a while. The novel swims in metaphors and similes. At no point does it tone itself down. The metaphors and similes go past the point of lending richness to the story, and instead, it feels oversaturated. I admire Kelly Quine, the translator, for being able to deliver excellent translations for a difficult novel. Every sentence was clear—definitely gives the reader the chance to appreciate Yoshihara's skills with the use of diverse literary devices.

The adaptation was great, as expected of Juné. The book was a nice size, small and fits into a coat pocket. The translation was smooth and professional, very little typos. The only thing I found strange was the placement of the illustrations, which didn't correspond with the events on the page facing the illustrations. Although the novel has a few problems, its rich settings and the details make it worth buying. I didn't enjoy Stranger as much as I thought I would, but I won't pass judgment on the series as a whole yet because this book is only an introduction to a plot that I know is deep and complicated. Although there's not a lot of plot movement in Stranger, readers can still immerse themselves in the futuristic world Rieko Yoshihara has created for us.

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