Reviewby Casey Brienza,
A tiny force of Monastic Knights defending Gerun Fortress has been soundly defeated by the Ottoman Turks. In order to protect the lives of those under command, Prince Leonard de Limbourg offers his life over to the enemy leader, the “beardless” General Jamal Jan. Jamal agrees to the bargain but takes Leonard's virginity rather than his life. He then makes the knight his slave and takes him back home. Though at first Leonard tries to resist his predicament, he soon becomes attached to the handsome Jamal. But meanwhile, the Sultan and the rest of the members of the Palace are thoroughly scandalized by Jamal's behavior and levy a severe punishment upon him. Leonard is likewise given a choice—but will he decide to stay by Jamal's side or not?
Uki Ogasawara (Chronicle of the Divine Sword) is a rare bird in the boys love (BL) universe: a mangaka with both exquisitely detailed art and a quirky sense of humor. In this she is very similar to Ayano Yamane, and like Yamane's Crimson Spell, Black Sun, her third work to be published in English, is a seamless blend of historical fiction, comedy, and beautiful boys bonking.
Black Sun's single long storyline, set in a liberally interpreted Dark Ages, opens with the Christian-controlled Gerun Fortress, which is about to be overrun by so-called “infidels.” This brings together the main couple of the piece, the Prince Leonard and the Ottoman General Jamal. From there, the story progresses smoothly through a number of scenarios back East, most of them involving either Leonard's frustrations with life as Jamal's sex slave or tension between Jamal and his cohort of ex-suitors (including one particularly memorable piece of long-haired eye candy named Isaac).
The burgeoning relationship between the two unlikely lovers culminates, not with the happy end readers have come to expect from the BL genre, but rather with quite an ambitious subplot involving Jamal being brought before his liege the Sultan and made to answer for his “selfish” behavior during the war. As the volume comes to an end, he is shown publicly humiliated and forcibly separated from Leonard. Leonard, for his part, must deal with an unpleasant reunion with a knightly mentor from his past who has nothing but disgust for him now. It is, in short, a cliffhanger. In fact, if there is a serious downside at all to the contents of this volume, it is that Black Sun is the first installment of an ongoing series, and American publisher 801 Media does not acknowledge this anywhere. Those who buy this shrink wrapped book expecting a nice, cathartic romantic finish are going to find their desires unpleasantly deferred to a later date, not to mention a greater expenditure of money.
Still, Black Sun seems worth it. Ogasawara writes her characters with an unusual degree of subtlety. Jamal is not just your usual domineering seme, nor is Leonard just another limp-wristed uke. Jamal may be a proud general of a great empire, for example, but his also the descendant of a conquered (dark skinned, possibly South Asian) people who is secretly afraid to sleep alone. Leonard seeks acceptance and approval from others and struggles with divided loyalties. Even though the genre requires the mangaka to see to it that these characters spend a lot of time in each others' arms, she makes the effort to spend a decent amount of time rattling around in effective narrative fashion in their heads. She also goes where few BL mangaka dare to go: She tells a chapter from the point of view of a pet, in this case an adorable—and comically arrogant—palace panther. That one in particular is not to be missed.
And of course, the artwork is gorgeous. Richly screen toned panels bursting at the seams with exotic costumes, architecture, and detail, this manga is a visual smorgasbord of decadent visuals. Layouts, even those involving swordfights and other *ahem* non-nocturnal action sequences, are uniformly excellent by any standards, let alone BL. Angles are likewise good, and her lean, muscular men look anatomically correct—if of rather fantastic proportions—from most directions. The art alone, never mind the story, will surely sell numerous readers on Black Sun.
The 801 Media edition of Black Sun has been published in the same B6 trim size as the original Japanese tankoubon and is co-branded with Japanese publisher Taiyoh Tosho. However, unlike earlier BL manga from this imprint of Digital Manga Publishing, it was printed in Canada and lacks, in a disappointing reduction of bookish bling, a dust jacket. Fortunately, Leona Wong's translation is pleasant, picture quality remains excellent, and the full color pinup has been beautifully reproduced. Still, at $15.95 suggested retail, the manga is a bit pricey. Despite being a reasonably solid package all around, there is only a selected subset of BL devotees likely to want to coughing up the dough.
Overall : B+
Story : B-
Art : A
+ Some of the best artwork in the business from a mangaka who knows how to laugh.
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