Reviewby Casey Brienza, Sep 9th 2009
Where Has Love Gone?
Motoi Takayama prefers to keep his homosexuality secret from his coworkers at the pharmaceutical company, but he has trouble keeping himself from going openly gah-gah over rising sales and marketing star Ryouichi Ishikawa. Ishikawa, though, is a heterosexual playboy, and Takayama figures he is oogling in vain. Then a chance meeting after hours in the alley behind a gay bar sparks an unexpected an unexpected flame between the two men, and before he knows it, Takayama has become Ishikawa's best friend “with benefits.” Unfortunately, such a relationship, though seemingly natural to Ishikawa, troubles Takayama, and before he knows it, he is falling head over heels in love. Is this workplace romance destined to be a casual fling, or will it eventually mean happily ever after for the two businessmen?
Some boy's love (BL) manga is good because it takes the genre in new directions. Other examples take you exactly in the direction you expect to go—but do a heckuva good job getting you there. And then there is BL like the standalone volume Where Has Love Gone? by Ryoku Tsunoda. Let's put it this way: It is never, ever a good sign when the mangaka herself admits that she “kinda failed at this series.” How do you dispute her own good judgment?
Okay, at least it's nice to see a “real” gay protagonist in a BL manga that otherwise evinces near total lack of distinctiveness and ambition. No waffling straight guy who just “happens” to get swept up into the animal magnetism of some oversexed coworker here, thank goodness. That's half the battle, and Takayama, a young and attractive gay man, seems reasonably believable—he keeps his private life away from the workplace and hangs out at gay bars turning tricks in the evenings afterward.
The plot as it progresses, though, wastes every last bit of goodwill that Tsunoda has banked with her portrayal of Takayama. Because next thing you know, Takayama has fallen head over heels and straight into the borderline abusive playboy Ishikawa's well-formed arms. Ishikawa, it seems, is insatiable, and they are soon enjoying each others' company whenever and wherever they have a private moment. While insisting, of course, that he is Not Gay Just Really Digs Takayama. Naturally. Statements of this sort—appearing not only once but on more than one occasion throughout the various chapters of Where Has Love Gone?—have become one of the most common clichés of bad BL manga, and depending upon your point of view, quickly become tiresome at best or outright offensive at worst.
The rest of the story is a hodgepodge of equally irritating clichés. Takayama wants out from whatever perverse relationship he's gotten himself into because Ishikawa will never love him, but because Takayama is gay, that means that he will inevitably fall in love with Ishikawa. (Huh? Wait, how does that work…?) Meanwhile, Ishikawa is refusing to let Takayama walk out on him—guess why. Then comes the “jealous, possessive seme” subplot. Yawn. It would not be so bad if Tsunoda were halfway decent at executing these worn out tropes. But she isn't.
And unfortunately, not even her artwork is going to redeem her in the eyes of any even remotely generous-spirited readers. Although Ishikawa, Takayama, and company are reasonably attractive, they are ordinary salarymen, and her character designs are just about as depressingly ordinary. Layouts, backgrounds, and use of screen tone are all likewise just as mediocre. There is nothing at all to distinguish her work visually from any three dozen other random mangaka who have subjected themselves to the grind of commercial BL manga production.
The only high point to this book, if we remember that in contexts such as these “high point” is really more like “modest hillock,” is the bonus standalone story titled, “March Revolution.” About two longtime childhood friends who are now graduating from high school and going to college in different cities, it shows them coming to terms with the fact that they have both been secretly in love with each other for years. There is none of the sexualized coercion of questionable taste or the “I'm not gay; I just love you!” claptrap of the “Where Has Love Gone?” main storyline; all you get to see in the course of twenty four brief pages is two good hearted young people who realize that their bliss has been right in front of them all along. This yomikiri is the only place where you actually believe the emotional content; too bad the rest of Where Has Love Gone? couldn't be more like it.
All in all, this is not the worst BL manga to have been thrown onto the American market, not by a long shot. But it certainly is not the best either—not even close. Juné gave it a good try with a decent translation/adaptation and image reproduction (even though DMP dustjackets appear to have gone the way of the woolly mammoth), but you would be much better saving your $12.95 for something slightly more worthy.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ One of the bonus stories is good in a modest, charming fashion.
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