Review

by Caitlin Moore,

Yakuza Lover

GN 1

Synopsis:
Yakuza Lover GN 1
When the college student Yuri stumbles into trouble at a party, she finds an unexpected savior: Toshiomi Oya, a yakuza underboss. The chemistry between the two is immediate and powerful, but their connection is cut short when Oya is shot by a rival gang member. When the two reunite, they fall into a torrid affair. Yuri loves Oya, but can she handle a relationship with such a wealthy, dangerous man? And can Oya keep the girl he loves safe from those seeking to hurt him through her?
Review:

Yakuza Lover is smut. There's just no way around it. This is a story with the goal of providing its readers with titillating content, and everything else, like plot or character development, is secondary. While it stops just short of being outright porn, there's lots and lots of graphic sex depicted on the page. There is no other reason to read it. Those looking for something with a good story or strongly developed characters will want to look elsewhere. However, if you're in the market for lady-led erotica, Yakuza Lover just might ring your bell, even if you've felt unable to connect with other smutty josei stories that have come out in English.

The basic story of Yakuza Lover is as boilerplate as it comes for a trashy romance: good girl meets dangerous bad boy, they fall in love and have sex, she gets caught up in his risky lifestyle, they keep having sex. The plot is as thin as the paper it's printed on, as they move at lightning speed through the early stages of their relationship. Any internal obstacles are resolved almost immediately. Yuri pays lip service to not being ready to have sex with Oya yet, and then jumps into bed with him on their third meeting (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course). She gets a job as a hostess because she feels bad about him spending so much money on her, but it just happens to be at a place he owns and he finds her and has her quit immediately. They're pledging their undying devotion to each other before even halfway through the volume.

It's silly, even bordering on ridiculous. As a love story, it's sheer nonsense without a single original concept to be found, like it's more of an obligatory framing device for the sex scenes than an actual plot driven by internal logic. Things escalate with reckless abandon, then resolve just as quickly. It's not a good plot by any metric.

And you know what? I'm okay with that. I thoroughly enjoyed Yakuza Lover regardless.

There's a lot of love stories out there I enjoy; some of them I've reviewed for this very site. My itch for romance that hits just the right notes for me has been thoroughly scratched over the years, and for that I am grateful. However, without going into too much information, my taste in erotica has proven to be much more selective and harder to satisfy. For all its frivolity, Yakuza Lover appealed to me where most series with similar subject matter and audience left me feeling alienated.

It's not a flawless product, even in terms of sexiness. Nozomi Mino's art can be inconsistent, with Yuri alternating between looking beautiful and like a bug-eyed alien. There's a lot of drool and tongue-wrestling which I've never really understood the appeal of, unless I start formulating theories about one body fluid being a symbol for another and… well… there's a time and a place for that discussion, and this review probably isn't it.

The best parts of the series stem from Mino's more unconventional choices. Oya in particular doesn't fit the popular conception of what a yakuza member looks like. Instead of burly and wild, Oya is slender and pretty, with glasses and floppy hair. While the appeal of yakuza heroes tends to come from the sense of danger, he's never anything but gentle and kind on the page. He spoils Yuri and indulges her, but she could get that treatment from any one of the super-wealthy archetypes that populate romance novels; all the danger is external. Part of me suspects that Mino's choice to make him a member of the yakuza had more to do with the aesthetic appeal of the tattoos than anything else.

Oya's sweetness is lovely; while shōjo and josei have their share of gentle-natured love interests, the sexy ones tend to have more aggressive, dominant personalities. (For context, my favorite pilot in Gundam Wing was Quatre.) Although there are moments where he was a bit too possessive, overall he treats her kindly and gently. When she stops and stares at his tattoos during their first physical encounter, he's worried about pushing her boundaries and stops to confirm that she's consenting. And consent she does, fully and enthusiastically, where many of the protagonists of smutty josei would worry about being a slut, even when they rejected their paramour's advances.

In fact, Yakuza Lover does a lot of interesting, unusual things with mutuality and subjectivity. I've found most of the genre tends to focus on the woman having things done to her, often while the man grins cockily from behind her, and the pleasure she receives from it, with all the attendant facial expressions. Here, Yuri and Oya have sex together, giving and receiving from one another in equal measure. Just as much panel space is given to both their bodies as it is to Yuri's face, or either of them individually. What's more, they have fun with it. Their sex is playful and full of joy and laughter.

There's also an element to the sex scenes that I've rarely, if ever, seen in other visual media about sex: Oya's reactions. An unusual amount of panel space during the sex scenes is devoted to his own expressions of ecstasy. Yuri takes satisfaction not just from receiving sexual pleasure but also giving it, basking in her own power over someone as powerful as Oya. It's just nice to see sex treated as two people enjoying each other, rather than one person acting on another.

There's really one reason to read Yakuza Lover: seeing two pretty people fucking and doing it well. If you're someone who, like me, wants to see a particular relationship dynamic that tends to be underrepresented in erotica, it's an excellent choice. Just keep your expectations for literally everything else about it low.

Grade:
Overall : B+
Story : D
Art : B-

+ Lots and lots of sexy sex; attention paid to consent and mutuality; Oya is beautiful
Story is perfunctory at best; things move ridiculously fast; inconsistent art; tongue wrestling

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Nozomi Mino

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