Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GN 1 & 2
Seventy-five-year-old Yuki Ichinoi was widowed a few years ago and mostly spends her time teaching calligraphy to children and doing crosswords. She's a little lonely, but figures that at her age, that's to be expected. Then one day she stops into a local bookstore to find that the cookbook section and the manga section have been moved around, and a manga volume catches her eye. Deciding to give it a try, she discovers that it's BL – homoerotic romance. When high school girl Urara works up her courage to talk to Yuki about her new reading habit, the two strike up a friendship, each finding the validation and companionship that they were missing in this charming slice-of-life story.
There is, for no good reason, stigma attached to the enjoyment of certain genres. That goes for any form of reading material (and other types of entertainment, but for the purposes of this review, we'll stick with books), and while in some cases we can trace it to a specific movement or moment in history – for example, comics were stigmatized during the 1950s, which can be attributed to the publication of Seduction of the Innocent by Dr. Frederic Wertham – at others it can feel fairly random. In the case of BL, homophobia is the most likely cause, although sexually explicit works of all stripes often face the same set of criticisms. Whatever the case, however, the denigration of certain types of stories and the people who read them has been around for a long time, and it's rarely, if ever, a good thing.
That's one of the charms of Kaori Tsurutani's BL Metamorphosis, albeit one of the more surface-level pieces. The story follows the friendship between high school student Urara and septuagenarian Yuki, which begins when Yuki picks up a volume of BL manga at the bookstore simply because she likes the art. She either doesn't notice or doesn't care that people are acting a bit strangely when she buys it, and while she's mildly surprised to note that the story is a romance between two boys, she's frankly more upset when the book ends on a cliffhanger, because now she's invested and needs to know what happens next. When she goes back to the bookstore to get the next couple volumes, she ends up having to order book three, and this time Urara works up the courage to talk to her. Eventually the two begin meeting outside of the bookshop, with Urara lending Yuki more series and both of them enjoying their discussions. In volume two, they go to a Comiket-like event together, something Urara never had the courage to do by herself.
While this is absolutely a sweet story of intergenerational friendship, what's almost more striking is the way the two women treat their enjoyment of BL manga. Yuki sees absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that she likes it and happily reads volumes in public. Urara, meanwhile, keeps her collection in a box behind her bookcases in her bedroom and even goes so far as to hide books under her blanket if her mother comes in. She's fascinated, and perhaps a little envious, that Yuki isn't compelled to do the same, something that we see to a lesser degree when Yuki's adult daughter comes to visit and is shocked to see BL manga neatly placed next to the TV. She can't even bring herself to ask her mother about the books, but it feels as if they are one of several factors that prompt her to ask if her mother plans to stay in the house “until the end,” taking the books and adding them to the moderate decrepitude of the structure and coming up with “maybe Mom isn't safe here on her own.” Outside of the home, people are almost comically shocked to see Yuki buying BL or attending the doujin event, especially when she can discuss the stories with others, negating the possibility that she's just being a good granny and taking her granddaughter around.
This is, to put it mildly, something that Urara has not seen modeled by other adults in her life. She remarks to herself in volume two that she's felt like she's standing still while everyone else is growing up (most exemplified by her male childhood friend having a girlfriend), and part of that feeling is due to the fact that she doesn't share the same interests as her peers. That means that she feels ostracized simply by virtue of what she enjoys because she finds it hard to make friends with others, and because she's alone in her interests, she thinks that maybe there's something shameful about them. Yuki's wholehearted embrace of a new hobby is beginning to show her that this is all in her head, and while in these first two volumes no one gives Yuki any flak, the introduction of her daughter seems to imply that someone might in the future – and Yuki is already in the position to shrug that particular criticism off. Discovering BL shook her out of her routine, as did interacting with Urara as equals rather than as mother/child or teacher/student, and that's something Yuki needed – and something Urara does, too, although she's only just beginning to realize it.
What this means for these two volumes is that the BL is the catalyst rather than the purpose of the story. While there are some scenes that are taken from the books Yuki and Urara are reading, they function more to give us the idea of what the characters are talking about and to set up foil figures for the two women than as actual BL snippets. In reading and discussing the in-world manga, the two main characters are able to give us and each other glimpses of their interior lives and the way that they see the story offers hints as to how they approach their own lives. But there's also a more lighthearted aspect that their reading offers, such as Yuki's excitement when she discovers the monthly magazine their favorite creator publishes in or when she lightly reams that creator out for drawing too slowly at the doujin event. (She figures she'll have to live to be 90 or 95 so that she can finish the series in another good scene.)
While BL Metamorphosis has many highlights, ultimately what's most enjoyable about these volumes is the way that two people of disparate ages come together because of something they both love. Yuki finds new joy in shaking up her routine, Urara starts to learn that maybe she doesn't have to be ashamed of what she likes, and two lonely people find each other. Age, actress Billie Burke once said, is of no importance unless you are a cheese. That holds true for your flavor of reading materials, too, and if there's no shame in preferring cheddar over Havarti, then there's none in reading BL over straight romance. And if you can find someone to share that with, so much the better.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B-
+ Lovely story of friendship and liking what you like.
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