Reviewby Casey Brienza,
Taketora is a struggling historical fiction writer who looks to be trapped in a permanent creative slump. Then Shiba, a young man sporting an unlikely pair of dog ears and a tail, claws his way out of the ground and onto Taketora's front steps! He claims to be the reincarnation of Taketora's grandfather's beloved pet dog, and he has returned to repay his one time master for his kindness. However, Taketora's grandfather died twenty years ago, so Shiba transfers his vast affections and desire to please onto Taketora…who, in spite of himself, starts desiring the pooch turned person in return. But will the two lovers ever be able to get over the past that is haunting them and live in the present?
If the combination of the man with the dog ears and tail on this boy's love (BL) manga's cover with the “imaginative” title Ruff Love is making you cringe…you have exactly the right idea! This is, no exaggeration, one of the worst—quite possibly the worst—BL titles currently on the English-language market today. And that, as anyone familiar with the genre knows all too well, is saying something.
Just in case you were wondering how veteran creator like Tamaki Kirishima (The President's Time) could compound the fact of furries with a title as embarrassing as “Ruff Love” and continue to hold her professional mangaka head high, it must be noted that this pun of questionable taste was Deux Press's unique contribution to the endeavor. The original Japanese title is the more innocuous Shiba to issho, which means “Together with Shiba.” So, needless to say, there just is not much about this standalone manga volume that is “rough”…or, for that matter, “ruff.”
Indeed, Kirishima appears to be phoning it in here, and the resultant storyline is conceited and insincere. The central conflict revolves around that tired romance novel theme: “Does he love me, or am I just a good lay?” “Does he love me, or am I just the consolation prize when he would rather be with someone he cares about more?” In this case, Taketora worries that Shiba is only interested in him because he reminds the pooch of his dearly departed grandfather. Meanwhile, Shiba worries that all he is doing is inconveniencing Taketora. Yawn. And it gets no less tiresome when the big black dog cum big, black-haired boy shows up to try to convince Shiba of the futility of finding love as a dog reborn human because of course you know who will turn out to be right in the end.
For some, the mere fact of the BL furry fetish (or should that be “doggie style”?) may be compensation enough for this volume's many, many faults, but it is undeniable that even in Kirishima's unimaginative use of furries there is a wealth of missed opportunities. The dearth of comic relief is noticeable. In fact, it's almost frightening how easily Taketora's neighbors become accustomed to the novelist's housemates—whom they assume are just cosplaying. More problematic than even that, however, is her utter failure to portray convincing dogs. This is not the BL version of Guru Guru Pon-chan; clearly, the mangaka has no clue about how dogs actually behave. She has only some vague notion that dogs are clumsy, eager to please, and inexorably attracted to the scent of food. No dog lover is going to be convinced for a single moment by the personalities of either Akatsuki or Shiba, and no reader, for that matter, of any stripe is going to believe that any of these characters are nuanced portrayals of any sort. Even Kazusa Takashima (Inu mo Arukeba), who is by no means the greatest storyteller to grace the BL manga universe, does dogs-turned-human better.
The manga's art style is, at best, an acquired taste. Kirishima draws solid, well-built male characters somewhat similar to the likes of Kazuya Minekura (Saiyuki, Wild Adapter)…but with considerably less native charisma. Her artistic strength is, perhaps unexpectedly, her ability to depict traditional Japanese domestic settings convincingly. However, it seems rather unlikely that anyone is going to buy this manga just to figure out how Taketora's house is laid out. And for whatever reason, the pages of this book are appallingly pixilated, like a dot matrix print-out, which distracts even from Ruff Love's potential for purely visual pleasures.
Even from the perspective of page count alone, this book is no bargain. The entire volume weighs in at only 160 pages, yet it is priced at $12.95 retail. This fact, coupled with its uninspired storyline and passable-at-best artwork, there is only one conclusion to be drawn: Ruff Love cannot be recommended, not even to diehard BL fans. Go digging for cartoon boners someplace—anyplace!—else.
Overall : D-
Story : D-
Art : C+
+ At only 160 pages, at least the torment of the Ruff Love reading experience is over relatively quickly.
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