Reviewby Casey Brienza, Jul 16th 2008
This standalone volume features five short stories by BL (boy's love) manga master Megumu Minami. Two of the stories, “Desire on Fire” and “Hell for a Fallen Angel,” imagine forbidden love between men on opposite sides of famous historical conflicts between British colonists and Hindus and Japanese Christians and the Shogunate, respectively. Incestuous domestic drama takes center stage in “Cantarella,” and an awkward financier gets over his fear of French people in “L'Amour: I Belong to You.” “Pleasure Dome,” the title story, features a despotic, Medieval monarch who forces his subjects into service for his own perverse pleasure. However, the noble lord oversteps his bounds when he enslaves a foreign knight who shares a complicated past with his right-hand man Olivier.
Few BL mangaka have been producing material in the genre for as long as Megumu Minami, and fewer still have such a well-developed, distinctive style. Her taste for exotic locales, historic settings, and costume drama is justifiably famous, and she uses this material to good effect. Even for a medium famous for indulging in every imaginable fantasy, Minami's work is often built upon themes characterized by an easy, freewheeling perversity. This perversity—which is emphatically not so much about shocking the eyes with sexually explicit drawings as it is shocking the mind with taboo subject matter—would be much more difficult to sustain in a more banal setting to the extremes of Pleasure Dome.
For example, “Cantarella” revolves around a handsome Japanese man named Seishu, who was most recently the paramour of a now-deceased older man. This man, as it turns out, also has two sons by different women, and both of them are also attracted to Seishu. To make matters worse, the older man's considerable wealth has been divided between his sons and Seishu equally, and only after a considerable amount of conflict do they conclude that the division was fair. Such a story would be impossible to execute within 28 pages were it located in a modern Japanese setting. The subject matter would become too lurid for BL, which is supposed to be romantic and escapist. So instead, the family is French, and everyone is clothing in vintage costume. How can it be grotesque if they're all so handsomely dressed?!
Socio-political subject matter is likewise taboo in most mainstream manga, and BL is no exception. This is unfortunate; countless love stories about people on opposite sides of some enormous political or cultural divide have a venerable pedigree—and are just as emotionally affecting today—as such works of literature as Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet.” Minami manages to get around her publisher's de facto prohibition by setting her stories in a fantasy version of the far past. Britain's history of colonialism in Asia and the Shogunate's anti-Christian policies are textbook knowledge in Japan, not lingering cultural wounds. Thus, they are safe topics to mine.
Similarly, a story like “Pleasure Dome” would be flat out impossible to imagine outside of the hierarchical social system of an absolutist monarchy, and Western characters in a Victorian setting make the fluffy romantic comedy “L'Amour: I Belong to You” more interesting than it would be otherwise. Moreover, Minami's gorgeous art, elegantly rendered costumes, and seductive characters cast a visual spell that meshes seamlessly with the plots. Expect plenty of flowing robes and tresses and rangy male bodies. Beauty is equivalent to divine truth in a Megumu Minami manga. The occasional cute, chibi character rendering, which she also does very well, appears only in one story in this volume but nevertheless constitutes a pleasant change of pace from an otherwise hothouse atmosphere of decadence.
In fact, the fetishistic detail of this manga's presentation of history and human relations distracts from what would otherwise be obvious narrative flaws. Most of the stories here feel too compressed, compromised products of a rigid page count. Plots are ordinarily supposed to have a defined beginning, middle, and end, but Minami has a penchant for breezing through the beginning as quickly as possible—or, worse still, skipping it entirely. “Cantarella” is especially bad in this respect, and though it works, its multiple characters and their multiple motivations would have worked much, much better given more room to grow. Though she always manages to tie things into a neat bow by the end, readers may find themselves paging back and forth through the book in confusion. Even so, Pleasure Dome is a pleasurable work of fiction with a flair for the astonishing that so many other examples of the BL genre lack.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B+
+ Creative use of exotic and historical settings. Distinctive, attractive art.
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