Jealousy Vol. 1 Review

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Well, that “Explicit Content” label on the cover sure wasn’t lying.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a big uproar over the fact that Amazon had pulled a large amount of J-Novel Club’s and Yen Press’s titles from Kindle; there were also some Dark Horse titles affected. There was a lot of gnashing of teeth and shouting, and for good reason… but there was another title affected which I didn’t see anyone mention until I happened to look at SuBLime’s page for the manga I’m reviewing here. In the comments beneath it, one of SuBLime’s staff had left a note stating that Amazon had pulled it from the Kindle but that it was still available from other stores. Funny how this didn’t get mentioned when people were upset about things like No Game No Life – wonder why that was? Of course, part of it may be that SuBLime itself appears to be much-accustomed to this behavior on Amazon’s part – their Twitter account mentioned that it wasn’t the first time this has happened, and that Amazon has even pulled the listing for print volumes of Yarichin Bitch Club in the past. (I’ll also note that several years back Amazon de-listed all books for sale that were marked as LGBT – and later claimed it was some sort of software error. Hmm, really?)

Jealousy is the latest manga to be released in English from Scarlet Beriko, whose Jackass! previously surprised me a bit with how incredibly kinky it was (which, alright, its centered around a guy having a fetish for stocking-encased legs, I probably should’ve expected that). This time around instead of high school boys its yakuza and their deeply dysfunctional personalities and approaches to life. Uichi is a man who calls himself a bad yakuza but who is utterly unbothered by the idea of murdering a man in a bathtub for his slight against Reika, Uichi’s (probably adopted) daughter. But before that can be given much consideration, the narrative slips back in time to 1989 when Uichi met yakuza boss Akitora and caught his eye – as could be expected given that Uichi’s in bondage and his lover just shot himself in a game of Russian Roulette. What follows is Uichi’s attempt to seduce Akitora, going so far as to engineer a scheme involving would-be student drug dealers and himself in bondage, yet again. Not that Akitora’s much unwilling. Back in the present, would-be murder victim Hachi tries to worm himself into Uichi’s good graces; it appears that the shoe may be on the other foot now where Uichi is concerned.

So. This is a manga with a lot of sex. Also, if you’re used to glowing cones of light or blank bars across genitals, it may be a minor shock to find that this is totally uncensored – so there’s a lot of sex *and* there’s a lot of clearly drawn penises. And, no, not all of these sex scenes involve the sorts of men one typically sees in the yaoi which makes it across the sea. So, sure, there’s a lot of sex, but there’s a chance one may not much like a lot of it, even setting aside the disturbing nature of some of it. There’s sexual violence, although nothing is ever quite nonconsensual; Uichi would prefer in some cases probably to not have sex but he’s also ready to roll with whatever happens. Having said that, he’s willing to go with the flow seemingly because he’s simply that used to the idea of using his body as a method of payment or bartering – I wondered if we were supposed to read him as an abuse victim, but when we do learn a little bit more about his background, it seems likelier that he came from a neglectful home rather than an abusive one.

If this all sounds a bit problematic… This is a story about a lot of pretty terrible people doing a lot of terrible things, and it is deliberately so. To say its problematic seems like the wrong way of assessing it, as its not attempting to pass the obsessive behavior of its leads off as being worthy of emulation. Akitora isn’t big on killing people, but he’s completely willing to do it. Uichi’s morals are fucked up even by the standards of the yakuza (many of whom find him actively disturbing), and he’ll stop at nothing to manipulate Akitora into straying into his path. Sometimes it skates right up to the edge of what I’m willing to stomach (there’s a scene mid-volume involving a train groper and victim blaming which nearly led me to stop reading).

This is a good release from SuBLime, although I’ll admit I have yet to come across one from them that isn’t well-handled. Translator Adrienne Beck handles getting the different voices of some wildly different characters across, something I suspect is harder with a format that’s so heavily reliant on spoken dialogue.

So, was it good? I went back and forth on this question several times as I was reading it, and continued to mull it after I finished it yesterday. Ultimately, I’ve come down on the side of “yes”, but its really not for everyone. I appreciate the degree to which it is willing to depict its unhealthy dynamic, and I’m also glad to get a BL manga that’s distinctly for adults in terms of the kind of tale it is (rather than it being “for adults” because of all the sex) – I’m really, really bored of schoolboy yaoi – even if it does make for a sometimes uneasy reading experience. It reminds me of stuff like Banana Fish and other 90’s and early 00’s yakuza and yakuza-adjacent manga, so if you’re into that, you’ll likely enjoy this.

 

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