Ok, now back to the gay stuff.
Melting Lover is a collection of yaoi short stories by Bukuro Yamada that was released in English last autumn as one of the inaugural titles for Fakku’s KUMA imprint (which is billed as being LGBT+ but only seems to be yaoi/BL right now), but to which I am only getting now as it previously was only available through the publisher website. I was a little intrigued when I read about this, but not so much so that I was willing to sign up for yet another website/app! So, I was happy enough to spring for it when it arrived on Bookwalker Global last week… and it was absolutely the better of the two KUMA titles I bought. (It was also published in print this spring.)
Given Fakku’s reputation, I’ll admit to having been surprised at the fact that, by yaoi, standards, these stories really aren’t all that explicit. Yep, there’s sex! But that is the case with the bulk of BL we’ve gotten released in English in the past fifteen years, so if the draw is potentially that, well, its Fakku, so there must be a lot of very explicit sex… this may be of some disappointment. Instead, what more clearly marked this collection as “adult” to me were the larger circumstances of the stories and of the questionable nature of several of the protagonists. (Given the sheer volume of rapist-to-lover as a character arc in BL, this may bear some additional clarification on my part. Rapist-to-lover as a plot is in truth a remarkably facile conceit, as it of necessity flattens the moral dimension of consent – “it’s not rape because he loves him even though the rapist never bothers to consider the impact of his violence on his victim nor does the story ask how what the ramifications of that violence are for a developing relationship” is not a mature attitude.) In the title-story, one of the protagonists is a man stalking his ex-senpai and having sex with a shapeshifter who he’s made into the ex-senpai’s doppelganger. Another piece features an android who keeps having sex with his pet human, the latter a man who has an intellectual capacity seemingly in line with that of a dog. Both of these raise some significant ethical questions! The author doesn’t give clear answers to those questions, but the lack of a clear answe is itself indicative that we aren’t supposed to simply think “well, they’re in love, so it’s okay”.
As a story, the strongest of the set is a two-parter from mid-way through, The Circus After Midnight, which concerns an orphan who is taken in by a circus and who falls in love with the animal trainer, a young man who is himself some variant of wereanimal. There is a fair bit of sexual abuse which develops in this story, as one of the characters is far less benevolent than he presents himself, which itself makes it difficult for the animal trainer to provide support to the orphan when the latter reveals the abuse he is suffering. There’s a lot in this story about abuse, about believing victims, and being able to forgive oneself, as well as about what counts as sexual consent. The leads cause each other pain through their own shortcomings, but are able to overcome their weaknesses and truly be there for each other. My only complaint is that I wish the story was a little bit longer, as while what’s here is good, it would’ve been nice to see a bit more of these two as a loving couple after they’ve escaped the nightmare of their situation.
All the stories in the collection have fantastical elements to some degree, with The Circus After Midnight as the one that goes lightest on it. Although Noisy Jungle, the one involving the android and his pet, is maybe better described as sci-fi, as it takes place in a future in which androids are the dominant being on the planet while humans have at some point declined in intellectual capability, thus their status as pets.* It’s an intriguing setting even if I remain uneasy about the story itself.
As a release, it’s a good one, but the fact that KUMA doesn’t specifically identify who did what makes it difficult to give appropriate credit where it is due. I would prefer a listing of staff that delineated people’s actual roles/titles, lumping them all together seems a bit odd considering where the rest of the industry is on this aspect. So, well – whoever did the translation, the adaptation, the lettering… these are all handled pretty well! This is a wholly professional release.
Taken altogether, I enjoyed Melting Lover as a collection, although I think some of the aspects will not to be everyone’s taste. I’d certainly like to read some more from author Yamada, so hopefully this does well enough for KUMA to merit further licenses (there’s another story collection, and a one-shot which appeared in Futabasha’s BL anthology comic marginal&h).
* This aspect reminded me of Katharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night, of all things, although that novel is a far, far harsher depiction of a future society and one that does not have any robots. If you’re into alternate history dystopia, it may be up your alley – published in 1937, it’s about a world hundreds of years in the future in which the Third Reich never went away and in which women have been reduced to livestock. Not a cheery read, Burdekin wrote it as someone who was frustrated with the failure of her own society to truly grasp the stark misogyny of Nazi ideology. It’s a really good novel. Just, well, don’t expect there to be an upbeat ending, its not that kind of dystopic fiction.