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New eBook Release: When Ai Met Yu

After being published in five parts on my own blog, it's time for this story to come to a wider audience. My first attempts at both a re...

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Reapers are a Writer's Best Friend; Part 3 - Television

Let's face it: death in all its myriad and repulsive forms is an inseparable part of life. It's the yin to the yang, the other side of the coin. Nere the twain shall meet, yet one cannot exist without the other. But the problem is that death is liable to be treated in popular media in a way that might skew its place in people's lives. Sure, there are plenty of ways in comics, movies, television, books and games that treat death with the respect and gravity it deserves, but there are just as many who treat death as an almost-trivial means of advancing the story. In this post, I'll be looking at how death is portrayed in a variety of television series.

Oh, and since we're delving into character deaths, I'll say this for the sake of formality. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Mystery stories are too numerous to name in a single article without it turning into a list, and they all have something in common; a death provides the catalyst for the story's action and central mystery. While the most noteworthy are adaptations of the most famous works of mystery writers - whether faithful to the text or replete with creative alterations - there are several original productions of note. Silent Witness focuses on the forensic side of the crime, the surreal Collision shows more of the investigatory side a massive car crash, Colombo flips things on their head by showing the entire murder before showing how the titular detective solves the crime, Person of Interest puts a science fiction twist on investigation, and NCIS mixes the crime-solving with a strong focus on personality to prevent the show from going stale. In such long-running series, it is more shocking to see characters die - more often it is the character "retiring" or "moving on" that is used to explain the actor or actress moving on to new roles. Notable deaths in long-running series include Warrick Brown from the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Kaitlyn Todd and Ziva David from NCIS, and John Reese from Person of Interest.

In Doctor Who, the very long-running television series, death is actually cheated multiple times. Due to the format of the show and the creative decisions made over the years, they solved the necessity of the lead actor moving on - have each character's "death" be a transitional phase through a pseudo-magical-scientific mechanism unique to his race. Despite the main character cheating death, many supporting characters have met their ends over the course of the story, sometimes in quite unpleasant ways - the many character deaths in series as varied as The Seeds of Death back to Tomb of the Cybermen and forward to Warrior's Gate, the tragic massacres of The Curse of Fenric and Logopolis, the basic premise of The Talons of Weng Chiang, and the unexpectedly mature narratives of Inferno and The Deadly Assassin. I could go on. The thing lacking from the series is companion deaths; the first and one of the most shocking is the death of Adric in the 1982 serial Earthshock. Take into account that this was before the near-pessimistic attitude growing into the revives series of 2005 onward, when the series was still aimed squarely at a younger audience.

Death as an artistic and stylistic expression is nearly unheard of in any non-interactive medium, at least in the sense that the death of a key character forms a recurring concept. I mean, death is final. Isn't it? Well, not in the universe of Aeon Flux. The black-haired, leather-clad, acrobat assassin has been lingering in the public imagination since the 1990s, following a successful series of animated shorts on MTV, culminating in ten half-hour episodes which moved into more conventional territory. A recurring feature of the shorts was that the titular heroine would end up dying in some way. Whether shot, garroted by a cable, killed by a lethal fall, or attacked by an inhuman monster, she met an often grisly end at each short episode's climax. This makes the series stand out from the crowd - what other universe kills its titular protagonist in every single entry? Well, barring the half-hour episodes and later movie adaptation. The movie's tie-in video game did something to rectify that, as a recurring element was each story sequence or mission ending with Aeon's death. This use of death falls within the series' bold experimental style, and helps Aeon stand out as not only one of the most enduring, but one of the clumsiest heroines in science fiction.

Now obviously there are too many television series or one-off specials in existence to count, and those listed above are a very general selection from my own limited experience. But there is a recurring theme I've seen as a writer examining stories. The episodic format of many a television series turns death into something with more impact than often possible in movies; unless it's end of series, the rest of the cast need to move on without that character. In movies, you normally have around two hours with the likelihood of another death down the line. In television, you can have as long as sensibly or even idiotically possible. Of course the quality of that death, as with all things, relies on the quality of the show. For example, character deaths in Primeval resonate far less than those in Sons of Anarchy. This is a rule that applies to all forms of storytelling, but people can be especially critical for television series.

Next week, we dive into the realm of video games. Sharing stories with other mediums, video games have the advantage of being an interactive medium. This enables games with stories of incredible complexity, in addition to turning death into a whole mechanic, and even an element of player choice narrative.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Reapers are a Writer's Best Friend; Part 2 - Movies

Let's face it: death in all its myriad and repulsive forms is an inseparable part of life. It's the yin to the yang, the other side of the coin. Nere the twain shall meet, yet one cannot exist without the other. But the problem is that death is liable to be treated in popular media in a way that might skew its place in people's lives. Sure, there are plenty of ways in comics, movies, television, books and games that treat death with the respect and gravity it deserves, but there are just as many who treat death as an almost-trivial means of advancing the story. In this post, I'll be looking at how a death can advance a story in movies.

Oh, and since we're delving into character deaths, I'll say this for the sake of formality. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Movies have a distinct disadvantage against books; they have time limits, and are based on visual elements more than description. Live-action movies also have the issue of the basic restrictions of reality on their characters. This means that many deaths in movies can come off as fairly pedestrian. Sometimes this pedestrian quality can itself be dramatic. An example is the final sequence of events of the gangster movie The Departed, a Westernised remake of the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs. The final scene is a stark contrast to the hectic massacre that precedes it. Main protagonist Colin Sullivan has been responsible for killing his former handler Costello, undercover cop Costigan, and another mole in his department. He is hailed, but he is also miserable; he has destroyed both his own life and the lives of many others. Returning to his apartment, he is faced by ex-cop Sean Digman. Without music or fanfare, preceded by only a single hollow expletive, Sullivan is shot through the head and left on the floor. This hollow ending for the movie's main protagonist is sudden and flat, but that actually makes sense within the story's context. Considering all he has been through and all he has done, such a weak ending is perfectly suited to his character.

From protagonists to antagonists, we turn to the despicable personage of Hori, who is arguably the main antagonist of The Hidden Blade. A theme throughout the movie is how the honour and traditions of the samurai are beginning to come under threat during the 1860s, the last years of the Edo period. Main protagonist Munezo Katagiri is forced to watch the life of his friend Yaichiro Hazama twisted and ruined by the corrupt Edo elite, represented by Hori. Hori is shown to be truly repulsive, showing no respect to Katagiri and trying to force him to compromise the samurai code. He then arranges Hazama's dishonourable death, lies to Hazama's wife to receive sexual favours for the promise of Hazama's survival, then all but laughs even after her suicide. Katagiri is the man who whose unbending fealty to his clan meant the killing of his fallen friend, but when faced with Hori's horrific actions, he acts as Hazama's avenging angel. Using a secret style, Katagiri punctures Hori's heart, fatally wounding him. This is a richly-deserved death; for Westerners we seen a plain old horrible man, for Japanese viewers this is a man who soils treasured samurai traditions. His death is also quite apt; destroyed by the very man he forced to influence, with a technique he could never hope to understand, on behalf of the memories of those he condemned to death.

Death is not just a singular event, but can be the thematic foundation of a story. An example of this can be found within Star Trek Generations. Death, the end of things and the meaning of one's life form a recurring theme in the movie. Main villain Soren's obsession with reaching the blissful extra-dimensional Nexus partially stems from the death of his family at the Borg's hands; Picard's brother and nephew are reported dead, leaving Picard as the last of the line; and the movie itself opens with original protagonist James Kirk apparently dying saving the Enterprise-B from the Nexus ribbon. The movie ends with Picard and Kirk ironically using the Nexus itself to foil Soren's plans, but this results in Kirk's true death. Kirk's death alone would be shocking enough to long-term fans of the series, but the movie's real strength is that it uses death and endings as a recurring theme, even if many of the deaths seen during the story are reversed. This lends the movie a far greater weight than if it had been just one death.

In books, words are used to describe nearly everything, even when illustrations help. This can result in death scenes becoming clunky if handled wrong. In the visual arts, particularly in movies, a death can be illustrated in a fraction of the time it might take a book. It can also leave a more vivid impression, as the scene is exactly that; visual. As humans, we respond better to visual inputs, we see and we assimilate through seeing. Seeing death makes it that much more real; thus seeing death in movies, in all its subtle and gory forms, makes it more real to us.

Next week, we dive into the realm of television. While sharing many similarities to the workings of movies and more frequently bound by the rules of the real world, they also have the ability to tell longer stories and a greater freedom of expression.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Reapers are a Writer's Best Friend; Part 1 - Books

Let's face it: death in all its myriad and repulsive forms is an inseparable part of life. It's the yin to the yang, the other side of the coin. Nere the twain shall meet, yet one cannot exist without the other. But the problem is that death is liable to be treated in popular media in a way that might skew its place in people's lives. Sure, there are plenty of ways in comics, movies, television, books and games that treat death with the respect and gravity it deserves, but there are just as many who treat death as an almost-trivial means of advancing the story. In this post, I'll be looking at how a death can advance a story in books.

Oh, and since we're delving into character deaths, I'll say this for the sake of formality. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

To take an example of death being a multilayered story catalyst, let's look at the death of Boromir from Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, the first volume of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. While not exactly foreshadowing, Boromir is constantly shown to be the weak link in the Fellowship, as his will is being easily suborned by the Ring's baleful influence. Events come to a head when he tried to force Frodo to hand over the Ring, an act which ultimately breaks his madness. Aragorn offers him a chance to redeem himself by protecting Merry and Pippin. Boromir is ultimately slain by orc arrows, redeeming himself by giving his life in defense of the remaining Hobbits and proving his worth despite the Ring's temptation. Boromir's fall and death serves a three-fold purpose in the narrative; it shows the full corrupting force of the Ring as Boromir is otherwise a noble and true man, it allows the character to find redemption and regain reader sympathy after being an ambiguous to antagonistic force, and symbolises the shattering of the Fellowship that has endured since Gandalf's fall and presumed death in Moria. This is an example of a potent story death, as it drives home plot points and evolves the plot beyond the initial volume, giving readers an extra hook to continue following the story.

Heroic deaths are as common as they can be in general fiction, so it's difficult to pick out any one death that fits this trope while doing a good job of it. The death I'm choosing for this next piece is from Jonathan Stroud's final original Bartemaeus novel Ptolemy's Gate. This novel is the culmination of plot threads scattered through the length of the trilogy, whose hidden main theme is the unequal relationship between magicians, their magical servants, and the people they rule through fear and ignorance. After the spirits of magicians are liberated through forcefully possessing their masters to destroy humanity, the two main protagonists - Bartimaeus and his master Nathaneal - are forced to undergo a similar merge while working cooperatively to destroy the abominations born from the rebellion. It culminates in Nathaneal breaking the powerful staff he has been using to destroy the powerful Nouda, an act that would kill both himself and Bartimaeus. Going against all their interactions up to this point, Nathaneal releases Bartimaeus before his death, sacrificing himself but freeing his servant. Through his death Nathaneal saved both London and humanity in general, but through releasing Bartimaeus he overcame the precepts of being a Magician that were drilled into his otherwise kindly self.

Death forms a core part of many of the most famous mysteries within crime fiction. Wilkie Collin's seminal The Moonstone focuses on theft far more than death despite being classed as the first true detective story, but there's no denying death is the central theme of crime and mystery novels from the Victorian era onward. Historian Lucy Worsley, in her book and television series A Very British Murder traced a line of public fascination with murder going back into the early 1800s that influenced the trend in fiction. When used in detective or mystery fiction, the murder is the focal point of the plot. Your protagonist seeks to discover the truth behind the murder whether the reason be simplistic, complicated, farcical or tragic. Everything else about the story can be seen as incidental to the central murder. Of course in some stories, such as At Bertram's Hotel, a murder only occurs fairly late in the story and is almost entirely separate from the main mystery.

The deaths of people otherwise unconnected with the flow of the story up to a certain point can seem odd and jarring, but there are several works that use it to great effect. One of the most forceful uses I've ever experienced is Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Much of this story concerns Professor Aronnax's journeys with the enigmatic Captain Nemo around the oceans, seeing its wonders and dangers while getting to know his captor/host better. But the story started with a monster attacking ships, and it would begin its conclusion with that. A mysterious ship appears that enrages Nemo, prompting him to imprison his guests and attack the ship. Aronnax becomes witness to the aftermath - the ship sinks into the abyss with all hands as Nemo watches every detail and Aronnax watches with him in stunned silence. These people and the ship has never appeared in the book to this point, but Nemo's merciless action and the sequel Aronnax observes acts as the book's emotional crescendo, and a turning point leading to the final escape and the apparent loss of Nemo's ship to the Maelstrom whirlpool.

A recurring element within novels is that individual and widespread depictions of death are frequently well-described, or at least given a substantial amount of description and dialogue. This is due to the ever more relaxed restrictions on word usage in various genres despite continued expectations of certain lengths being attached to certain genres. You could be detailed and gruesome about a single corpse, or place sweeping descriptions of widespread carnage. It's something unique to novels - the ability to tell through words, leaving a lot up to the imagination while also giving more detail than many visual media can accomplish.

Next week, we dive into the realm of movies. Functioning on similar yet differing rules, death is portrayed differently from novels, turning it into an alternately thrilling and gratuitous experience unlike any other.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Reapers are a Writer's Best Friend; Introduction

Let's face it: death in all its myriad and repulsive forms is an inseparable part of life. It's the yin to the yang, the other side of the coin. Nere the twain shall meet, yet one cannot exist without the other. But the problem is that death is liable to be treated in popular media in a way that might skew its place in people's lives. Sure, there are plenty of ways in comics, movies, television, books and games that treat death with the respect and gravity it deserves, but there are just as many who treat death as an almost-trivial means of advancing the story. This post is in the form of a basic introduction to the concept, recurring themes, and my goal with this post series.

So what makes a good death in fiction? Well, it depends on the genre, the scale and the setting, and also on how you want to tell the story. Deaths in the main cast can prove a strong catalyst for the story depending on how you lead up to them, while supporting characters carry less weight and are consequently more liable to slip into the background of importance. A villain's death or expected death - whether just or ironic or even humiliating - is an expected and consequently overused trope. Quite often it's the main protagonist dealing the blow, or failing that trying one last time to save them despite their villainy. Widespread death of a population can also form both a background and catalyst in the story - these can be caused by plague, human agency, or widespread disaster.

In a murder mystery or thriller, a death acts as the catalyst for the entire story, and can be anyone with anything as long as there's a kind of reason and logic apparent by the end of the story; it also has a realise on the type of genre featured. It can be a single isolated death driving the characters forward, or a series of murders leading them on. Everyday stories don't tent to feature death except in a natural form. In fantasy and science fiction, death can be treated rather more freely, even to the point that none of the characters die at all. It is also more likely to be highly fantastical and perhaps even clean due to the nature of the death.

The type of story the author wants to tell also affects whether death plays any part. Young children's fiction generally avoids the topic for good reason. Older children and young adult stories can more frequently involve it, but often in a stylised form. Adult fiction more often brings forward realistic and messy deaths where applicable. In general, various factors contribute to how death is introduced and handled , varying from author tastes and genre to the story's setting and tone.

Over the next few weeks, I will be creating several articles that look at particular deaths in different media, and how they impact and advance or conclude the story. My articles will concern death...

In books.
In movies.
In television.
In video games.

Finally I hope to look at how my own character deaths are created, and the lessons I've learnt over ten years of evolving my style. So until next week, please look forward to it. See you then!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Mythos - My Picks

A mythos is something a large number of fictional universes have. Some are more detailed that others, and some are so detailed that they come off as obtuse until adequately explained. In this article, I'll be looking at three chosen fictional universes with extensive background lore. One from the world of books, one from movies/TV, and one from video games.

The first mythos is one I've chosen from one of my favourite authors - that of the Bartimaeus series created by Jonathan Stroud. Spanning the original trilogy and a later prequel novel, the world of the sarcastic Djinn and his human associates and masters is incredibly detailed and expressive. Something to note about this is that it is the product of a single mind, and because of this that one mind is able to cover and control the mythos' content, but you have to admit his skill. Without any contradictions that are easily seen, he tied together a pseudo-magical alternate history where a series of Magician-ruled civilisations rise and are brought down by their own dictatorial power. Also, by telling the story from two and eventually three points of view, he offers a full vision of Britain as the magical ruling power, giving a perspective that many other similar narratives would lack. But is above all the sympathetic tone of the cast that enables a full absorption of this world Stroud created.

In both movies and television, the Star Trek universe is both massive and detailed. Beginning as a series with a tight budget and moralistic finales in the mid-1960s, the series proper has spun-off into six series, ten movies and an ever-growing mountain of additional media. Amazingly, across the series and movies at least, the series' canon and continuity has remained consistent across fifty years despite some dubious actor-based failures in alien or character portrayals. Here the reason is known and clear; a series bible that has been maintained and adhered to right up until the recent movie reboots reset the timeline. Across upwards of three generations, with only occasional drops of clangers, the continuity of race encounters, relations and discoveries has been preserved to the point of obsession. This makes Star Trek one of the most uniform speculative fictional universes in existence.

In television, there isn't a universe to rival Star Trek aside from Doctor Who, which initially ran from 1963 to 1989, before being resurrected as a television movie in 1996, and then revived successfully and running since 2005. One of the main explanations behind the variety and scope is that well over thirty writers have worked on the series during the course of its run. There is also the fact that - as a science fiction universe involving time-space travel - the number of ways and times events could cross is strictly limited by the laws of common sense. That also leads to a question - how the heck do they keep the canon from being riddled with contradictions? Well, it was at one point. But since the advent of the second-to-third incarnations of the Doctor, established lore has been set in place that new and returning writers follow. Writers for the revived series have taken the trend of tying everything directly back to overarching threads, but they have also respected the earlier canon. The creators of the original series managed to use the format of episodic and disconnected stories to avoid alienating potential new viewers as they could jump in at any stage. Sadly the revived series has not followed this model. While the inner workings can still be something of a mystery, but you have to admire the writers for keeping the lore consistent as far as humanly possible within the scope of over two hundred stories from

For the video game entry, the one I must choose is Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy. Created by regular Final Fantasy writer Kazushige Nojima, the mythos is mainly seen as a failure by fans of the Final Fantasy series, and from a developmental standpoint it was undermined by its own ambition, which was not compatible with the development resources and production structures of the time. Compared by developers and journalists to Classical Greek mythology, the mythos is a fairly simple tale of divine rivalry and the nature of "heart" and "soul" in humanity, all tying into a darker take on the Final Fantasy series' traditional Crystal motif. This mythos is unique in that it doesn't tie into a continuous timeline, but rather creates a shared theme of divine power enforcing its will on chosen humans. Unfortunately, despite the promise of the mythos, the developers made the cardinal mistake - by jumping between information dumps and complete mystery and the detailing of crucial elements in Japan-exclusive material, the mythos alienated players before they could appreciate its nuances.

There are more expansive universes than one article can comfortably accommodate, ranging from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, the overly extensive and retcon-filled comic series of Marvel and DC Comics. The ones I've chosen represent both my favourites and those I've had extensive experience of. Each of the ones above provided experience and inspiration for me for my own work as a writer and author. Out of all the extensive universes I've experienced, there's one thing I've learned - make it consistent, or people will roast you.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

New eBook Release: When Ai Met Yu

After being published in five parts on my own blog, it's time for this story to come to a wider audience. My first attempts at both a real world setting and a romance, it is a story set in contemporary Japan that casts a critical eye over the tropes of the country's LGBT literary and graphic novel genre.

When Ai Met Yu tells the tale of two men and their romance in a culture with a history of both tolerance and prejudice. Told from the perspectives of Ainori Uchida and Yusuke Ishinori, the two navigate life as they go through Wasada University and reunite some time later to realise their feelings for each other. Can they find happiness without compromising each other's freedoms and identity?

As of 8 June 2017, you can buy When Ai Met Yu on Amazon Kindle...

https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Ai-Met-Yu-Japanese-ebook/dp/B072PWD734/

https://www.amazon.com/When-Ai-Met-Yu-Japanese-ebook/dp/B072PWD734/

...and Kobo Store.

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/when-ai-met-yu

As might be expected of a short story, it is placed at a bargain price that puts minimal strain on the wallet. For those who buy it, they will be experiencing a romance that not only falls within the boundaries of the yaoi/bara genre, but also subverts them with its distancing from and criticism of typical tropes surrounding the nature of the romance and the imposition of male-female roles.

This is an LGBT romance for everyone, as its lessons can apply equally to heterosexual relationships. Here's hoping you enjoy this trip into my take on the Japanese LGBT romance subgenre.

In addition to this, the story has undergone further revisions and editing to increase both quality and readability. In addition, minor alterations have been made to character names with the guidance of novelist and anime reviewer Sarah Ash (WebsiteTwitter, Facebook) to make it even more authentic.

So there's only one more thing to say; read and enjoy. Arigatōgozaimashita!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Sunday, 4 June 2017

First and Third

In writing, there are two major narration styles that everyone will know about. First-person (where the story is told from a particular person's point of view) and Third-person (which tells the story from a separate perspective independent of the characters). Now that I've had the experience of writing using both forms, I've had a chance to appreciate their merits and detriments, together with some examples of the better uses I've seen of either style, and in some cases both styles.

First-person is something I've been slightly afraid of for some time due to one of its key drawbacks; omnipotent narration doesn't work, and instead you have to restrict your perspective to a single character or limited number of characters. This severely restricts or outright eliminates the ability to jump around in a story. On the other hand, first-person narrative can heighten dramatic effect, and make character revelations more resonant if you're focusing on an individual's reaction from within their very being. One of the major advantages of first-person from a purely narrative perspective is that you can keep key plot twists a secret without resorting to padding or contrived red herrings. Of course that's also possible in third-person, but it's only the most skillful writers who can successfully pull this off repeatedly. The biggest advantage is that it adds a layer of personality to a story that might otherwise be missing, as you're telling the tale from a person's point of view rather than from the clinical view of a disconnected narrator.

Some of the best examples of first-person narrative I've come across include: Jules Verne's seminal work Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, which tells of Nemo's undersea exploration from the perspective of his captive Professor Aronax; many works by H.P. Lovecraft including The Call of Cthulhu, At The Mountains of Madness, and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, who uses the technique of the unreliable narrator to unsettling effect; multiple novels by Agatha Christie including The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which uses its first-person narrative to plant one of the biggest red herrings in the history of fiction; and Hiroshi Sakurazaka's All You Need Is Kill, which makes masterful use of both multiple first-person perspectives and a non-linear narrative to tell the complex story surrounding one person's fate to be caught in an eternal cycle of conflict.

Third-person is the style I've been most used to, mainly due to its use by my many inspirational authors - and the fact that it's easier to adopt an omnipotent narrative than it is to focus on a single perspective. I have to work at first-person because third-person is the easier route. There are benefits to adopting an omnipotent view; you can cross between multiple characters on a whim, increasing the grand scale of the narrative without overly confusing the reader. The main drawback to using an omnipotent viewpoint is that personal internal vignettes by characters can seem out of place, and taking a distanced viewpoint can blunt the story's emotional edge unless you take a particular stance really invest in saying what the characters feel. It also opens up the temptation to drop too many hints into a story that first-person narrative logic wouldn't allow.

Some of the best examples of the third-person I've encountered include Frank Herbert's sprawling magnum opus Dune; Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth, which adopts a more focused approach by following no more than two characters; Roger Zelazny's Jack of Shadows, which adopts a unique style which reads more like a classical oral legend than contemporary science-fantasy; the Earthsea novels, which alternately adopt an overarching and intimate style to create a flowing and rich narrative across five books; and A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke, which portrays the multiple perspectives surrounding the disastrous final voyage of the lunar tourist cruiser Selene.

There are also a few stories where first- and third-person narratives are used interchangeably for dramatic effect. This style is quite rare compared to its two parent styles, which makes it all the more impressive when this blending of styles is pulled off successfully. I can only thing of two I've encountered to date. One is found in some of the works of Christie such as The A.B.C. Murders, which uses this dual narrative style to create tension and lead the reader down the garden path. The best example I've seen to date is Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus series (The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye, Ptolemy's Gate, The Ring of Solomon); Stroud alternates brilliantly between the snarky first-person style of the titular djinn, a sweeping third-person narrative surrounding the djinn's master Nathaniel, and a more focused narrative around central heroine Kitty Jones.

In an interesting side note, the different narrative forms have transitioned differently into different story-telling media. In films, the most prevalent style equates to the omnipotent third-person narrative, as it flicks between characters and time periods at the smallest provocation. In television there's a balance between first- and third-person, mainly due to the wider allowance in run times and content than is often available in mainstream film. In radio, there is again a mixture of perspectives, with first-person being favoured for things such as mystery stories whether original or adapted, and third-person being reserved for grander or more complicated narratives. Video games still focus to a large degree on the equivalent of first-person narratives

I don't see the need for any personal preference. Instead, you should follow the style you feel is best for your story in the moment. What styles do you prefer?

Sunday, 21 May 2017

When Ai Met Yu - Notes and Acknowledgements

Now that I've published all entries in my story When Ai Met Yu, I'd like to show readers the notes I made on various aspects of LGBT life in Japan, both in relation to real life and popular fiction on the subject.

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On LGBT history in Japan: Unlike many other nations on Earth, Japan has no native religious taboo against same-sex relationships or transgender people, as its dominant Shinto faith is based around nature spirits and shamanism. Open gay relationships were an accepted part of Japanese samurai and Buddhist monastic society, and were similar to pederasty in Classical Greece. Women had less social freedom than men for a large part of Japanese history and consequently lesbian relationships were difficult if not impossible. Following the Meiji Restoration and the importation of Western ideas, prejudices against same-sex relationships and transgender people emerged. With the information age and the proliferation of BL and yuri – despite their frequently-skewed perspective on the realities of LGBT romance – general acceptance is appearing in the mainstream for LGBT communities.

On same-sex expression in Japan: Due to the nature of Japanese culture, the type of expression that might be expected from a Westerner is almost non-existent outside of popular media as such individualistic statements make that person seem out of place. Japan’s focus on community over individuals generally makes statements of sexual identity far rarer and more low-key than in accepting Western countries. Without that overt expression, there is a focus on people over aspects such as sexuality in most cases, so acceptance is more widespread except when there are social or corporate pressures. A major pressure to this day is the focus on continuing the family line, which leads to social discrimination against LGBT people from peers and loved ones alike.

On same-sex couples in Japan: As of 2017, several cities extend or are planning to extend same-sex partnerships many of the same rights as married couples, but there is nothing in law to enforce this. Same-sex marriage as understood in many Western countries is currently illegal in Japan, as Article 24 in Japan’s Constitution defines marriage as being between two people of the opposite sex. A common route adopted by same-sex couples is through the koseki, the governing body for family life in Japan, with a process similar to adoption taking place and one partner giving up their surname as a wife must do in Japanese heterosexual marriage. Informal marriages and instances of people living together also occur, and Japan has recognised marriage between a Japanese national and a foreigner in a country where same-sex marriage is legal. Popular support in Japan for equal marriage and partnership rights for LGBT people grows by the year, and several Japanese government officials have spoken publicly about pushing to legally recognise same-sex marriage.

On the pornographic manga owned by Airnori: As stated in Article 175 of Japan’s Penal Code, the sale and distribution of uncensored sexually explicit media is prohibited. Sexual elements are allowed only within very strict guidelines. The two most notable elements are that male genitalia should not be shown in detail – which still exists today – and that no pubic hair be shown – this part having been repealed during the 1990s. These resulted in various types of censorship ranging from lines and panels to pixelation depending on the medium. An active pornography market through specialist stores does exist in Japan, covering all media and being most widely recognised by Westerners through gei-comi or bara along with the BL and yuri genres. To avoid prosecution for infringing Article 175, Japanese pornography continues to incorporate elements of censorship in their work. Despite the production of illegal explicit pornography, the enforcement of Article 175 and prosecution of offenders is still rather spotty. While such media have brought LGBT people to a wider audience, they are acknowledged to present skewed or dramatic versions of real-life events, negatively affecting public perception of same-sex relationships.

----

My acknowledgements go to the YouTube couple Rachel & June, particularly their video "Being LGBT (Gay) in Japan【同性愛者(日本)】日英字幕", which partially inspired the whole project.

In addition, I would like to include an acknowledgement to the intriguing work of Takeshi Matsu, a bara artist whose work has less pure erotica and more emotional depth than many other bara writers (you must absolutely be over 18 to see anything but the briefest and safest glimpses of his work, trust me).

Also, my gratitude must go to multiple authors both Japanese and Western, in addition to the encouragement of fellow author and Japan lover Sarah Ash, when creating this project.

If these notes have given you any interest, then please check out this article, which contains links to all four parts of When Ai Met Yu, an LGBT romance set in contemporary Japan.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

When Ai Met Yu; Part 4 - Family Matters

Airnori Uchida is a freeter trying to begin his working life in Tokyo - he is also gay, and struggles with understanding where reality and fantasy must separate. By chance, he meets up with an old friend from university in Yoyogi Park. A country boy from Kansai, Airnori and Yusuke Ishinori become firm friends, and Yusuke even saves Airnori from his gym teacher’s perverted attentions.

The two agree that Airnori will go on  a three-week visit to Yusuke's home in Kansai. Meeting Yusuke's family, Airnori learns that Yusuke is also gay, and unlike Airnori has complete confidence in his identity. The two revealed their feelings for each other, and one night the two make love. Though nervous, Airnori is guided by Yusuke, and learns the true feeling of love.

As Airnori becomes certain of his sense of self and Yusuke confirms his love for him, the two decide to take the next step. Yusuke - longing to see Airnori again - decides to make a visit to Tokyo. Meeting Airnori's family, Yusuke becomes more and more certain that they should be together. Airnori asks the question in both their hearts - “Do you think we could spend more time together?”

Read Part 1; A Country Boy here, Part 2 - Kansai Reservations here, and Part 3 - Tokyo Resolution here.

----

The question surprised me a little. “It depends. I mean, if it’s just visits like this, then I don’t know. We’ve both got our own careers to think of. But besides that, if we’re really gonna make a go of this, I want us to understand one thing. I don’t want this to be some whirlwind romance. If there’s anything here, I’d like to know whether it’s substantial or not. I know I’m sounding like some BioWare character, but sometimes they hit the nail on the head.”

“Guess they do. Well....” Airnori shuffled a little closer. “I’d like it to be more than just brief visits. I want this to have... a permanence.”

The two of us were within inches of each other now. I bent close and kissed him, then we were in each other’s arms. It felt right and proper, and be damned with anyone else’s opinion. Ten minutes later, we were just lying still in each other’s arms, taking comfort from our mutual presence. Suddenly Airnori spoke.

“I’ll tell my family tomorrow.”

“You.... Eh? This is sudden.”

“I don’t want to hide it from them. I want them to know. I’ll be finding happiness with someone I love. Who cares whether they’re a girl or a guy.”

I smiled. “That’s the Ai I know.”

We spent some little time like that, lying together, comfortable with each other’s company, a true expression of love.

The next day I didn’t see Airnori at all. I didn’t want to speculate what was happening, but all the same that night I had unsettling dreams. I think I’d been watching too much IS-related news last thing before bed or something, because those dreams were pretty disturbing. The next day, I went to Yoyogi Park for a walk, and saw Airnori sitting by himself on the bench where we had met by chance nearly two months before. He was depressed, drooping so that his fine frame looked as if someone had bent it. I approached, concerned.

“Ai?”

Airnori looked at me, and I was shocked to see tears in his eyes. I sat down and put an arm round his shoulders at once. Almost at once, Airnori buried his head in my shoulder and his back heaved with silent sobbing. I didn’t know what to do, but I felt suddenly afraid of being seen. Whether gay or not, these kinds of displays are not for the public walks of a Tokyo park. I steered Airnori into a quiet corner I remembered within a stand of bamboo, and we found a leaf-covered seat waiting for us. Once there, I gently asked what was wrong. Airnori had to force the words through his sobbing.

“I... I went home. I decided yesterday was a good time. When Dad and Hiroe were there, I decided to tell them. I told them in the best way I could. I told them I wanted to spend my life with you, that I loved you. They didn’t say anything for a few seconds, then Hiroe nodded and grinned like she always does. She’d always support her big brother. But Dad just stayed quiet. He did nod eventually, and said... Oh God, he said he understood. Yu, I don’t know what to do!”

He was on the point of bawling for a moment. I embraced him, knowing what he feared. The displeasure of a father is one of the last things wanted in Japan for whatever reason. Being gay would only make things worse if the wrong messages were displayed. I didn’t know how to handle it. It was all like some weird dream. I would have gone with him had I been more confident in my ability to win over any resistance there might be. But I also had faith that the family of Airnori would be as open and casual as he was. That was the impression I’d received from my visit there when I first reunited with Airnori. Was I wrong?

That night, I insisted that Airnori stay in my room. I gave some reason to the hotel staff and Airnori was installed in my room. It wasn’t quite the done thing, but I didn’t care. He needed a friendly face. Before we left, he told me he had just gone out first thing that day and hadn’t eaten a thing since yesterday. I took him to the nearest ramen bar and prayed he wouldn’t start crying into the ramen in full view of all the customers. Thankfully he controlled himself admirably, and I made a point of steering him away from any alcoholic drinks – the last thing a depressed or upset person needs is an expensive depressant.

It was the next day that I received a text. I didn’t tell Airnori who it was from. I said it was an old friend, and that he should get together with one of his local friends. He did, and after I’d seen him safely into the care of Ryuji – a man I remembered from university – I went to Airnori’s family apartment. There, I was met by Daisuke Uchida. He said his daughter was out, and wanted to talk about Airnori. The way he said ‘talk’ made me dread the exchange. Once we were both seated on opposite sides of the Uchida family kotatsu, with a cup of tea in front of me, Uchida-san spoke directly to me.

“I’ve heard a lot about you, Ishinori-san. You’re a close friend of Airnori. In fact, yesterday he told me you were his lover.”

“I can’t deny it, Uchida-san. I love him, he loves me. It’s because of him that I’m here at all.”

“I understand. I thought I hadn’t left a good impression.”

“That’s his impression.”

“I’m sorry if I caused him grief. If Akane were still alive, she would’ve made that exchange go a lot smoother.”

“Akame?”

“My late wife.”

“I see.”

“If you would, I wish to tell you a story.” Uchida-san’s eyes closed. “Many years ago, this young and foolish man without any family or title fell in love with another woman – he was so besotted with her that he dreamt of her every night and wanted to see her every day. Her family didn’t want her to marry someone like him, someone from a low family. Her family were important, had connections, wanted a bright future for her. As the law was on her side, she defied her parents and ran away with the young man. They set up home in Tokyo and led a happy life for many years. One of the things they agreed upon was that they would never restrict their children as her parents had tried to do. The woman’s name was Akane Kato, and the man’s was Daisuke Uchida.”

I understood what Uchida-san was saying. I picked up the cup in front of me, took a slight sip of its dark and rich contents. My next words came stiffly.

“So you do not object?”

“To be honest,” Uchida-san suddenly smiled. “the main reason I didn’t react that strongly was because I’ve known for so long, and it was a relief that he finally accepted it and found someone he loved.”

I almost dropped the cup. “Eh?!”

“I’ve known since he was a high schooler.” Uchida-san’s tone relaxed. “I’ve known he held strong attachments to men, and I was more than willing to accept him. I heard that one my great-aunts loved another woman, but that was before woman had the freedoms they have now, and even today it’s difficult. You’re lucky being men.”

“Trust me, I wish it wasn’t so.”

“I don’t approve of the imbalance any more than you do. But listen – if your family is happy with you, I’ll not prevent you two from getting together. I’ll support you if you need it, and you’ll always be welcome on my home. To be honest, I’d imagined having a son-in-law like you. Just didn’t entirely expect it to be Airnori bringing you to my door.”

I chuckled. “Not the standard scenario, I agree.”

“There is one thing I can’t help with.” said Uchida-san, suddenly grave. “And I think you know what that is.”

“I know.” I said. “We can’t marry.”

“I wish you could, believe me. But if you need help with the koseki formalities if that’s the route you choose, I’ve got a good grasp of law. I can also help look up places to live where you and Airnori wouldn’t be short-changed by the civil law.”

“Thank you, Uchi–... No, not now. Given the circumstances, I think I can say this now. Thank you, Father. For everything.”

I bowed my head. It was the first time I’d ever bowed to anyone outside my teachers and immediate family. But then, wasn’t Uchida-san part of my family now? As I left, Uchida-san asked me if I could bring his son home so they could talk face to face. I said yes, and he shook my hand warmly. He may appear like a stone pillar, but he’s a kind man in so many ways.

When I was shown out, I almost ran back to that bench in Yoyogi Park where I guessed Airnori would have gone. I saw him there, and saw that he was still looking depressed. I told him everything about my meeting with his father. For a second, he didn’t seem to believe me, then I grabbed his hand and all but pulled him home. I knocked on the door, and as it opened I pushed Airnori forward a little. Father and son stood face for face for a little while, then I left. But before I was completely out of view, I glanced back and saw something. Uchida-san put his arm around Airnori’s shoulders and guided him inside. I smiled. It would be alright.

It was another day or two before I saw Airnori again, and he was over the moon, almost dancing into my hotel room and telling me everything about his conversation with Uchida-san. Things had gone better than even I expected, and when Hiroe came home, she was ecstatic too, and pledged that she would help in any way possible. As if we really needed help, it’s not like we would be dependants just because we went outside social norms. As we sat on the bed and talked, Airnori finally forwarded Uchida-san’s most pertinent question.

“He wants to know, and so do I, whether we’ll be using the koseki or not.”

I’d thought about it since that day. The koseki would make things simpler, but I felt like it would be a betrayal of some kind either of me or Airnori. I didn’t want that for either of us. After all, there were places in Japan that didn’t have to have two men bound by the ritual of the koseki.

“I.... don’t think we’ll be needing it.”

“Yeah.” Airnori grinned. “That’s what he said you’d say.”

He hugged me, and I felt relieved. It felt like a dream coming true, with everything falling into place. That night, he didn’t go home. He had told his family he might not be back that night. That night, on that bed, we made love. Oh, how we made love. I didn’t expect anything like it. I’ve already said that being in bed with a man is exhilarating, but in that moment we weren’t men or women, just two people in the throws of love.

The following morning, I woke up and wondered if that entire episode and everything before had been just a dream. It was more than likely. But I felt a hand reach into my hair, turned my head, then bent close and kissed Airnori. He had shared my fear, but we each spoke at once.

“It wasn’t a dream.”

When I did eventually go home to Kansai, I didn’t anticipate any resistance towards my match. And there wasn’t. Not from my Sensei, not from my family. It was wonderful, and my sisters desperately wanted to meet Airnori’s sister Hiroe. Over the next week, we arranged a meeting. Airnori and his family would come down to Kansai for a week’s stay, and we would arrange a party where the two families could meet up properly. That week came faster than I could have imagined, and when it happened, it was a properly enthusiastic party. The families greeted each other, talked, pondered the future of us two.

Airnori and me spent time getting to know those who would be our new siblings-in-law. I’ve got to say I loved Hiroe, and Airnori told me he still enjoyed my sisters’ conversation and humour. In general, it was wonderful. I also got a chance to talk with my Sensei, and it was then that some concrete details emerged. Apparently one of my Sensei’s closer comrades said there was a well-paid vacancy at their art company in Iga in Mie Prefecture. It was a dream-come-true. And I remembered something I’d read a few years before about Iga recognising same-sex couples and granting them some of the same rights as normal married couples.

“You would be happy there, yes.” said Sensei, as if she had only just thought of it herself. “I wish you good luck in your profession. And your love life.”

It felt right: it was still within my country comfort zone, it was within easy reach of Tokyo and Kyoto, and it was a friendly city. I thanked my Sensei, and all she did was nod as if my answer had been a foregone conclusion. I’m now wondering whether she wangled the position for me in advance. I’ve never found out.

Airnori and me moved into our new home three months later, when my apprenticeship was complete. It was difficult at first, adjusting to a life so far from either of our homes. But we had each other, and we knew what we wanted. During that time, Airnori actually did something I’d suggested; he went back to his mangaka dream. He got writing, and decided to create something realistic. He said it was based on us.

“Don’t write everything in.” I said. “They wouldn’t publish outside of bara.”

We both laughed at that. It was a fun joke.

I think... the last thing I want to record here is this. Three months after we had fully settled in, Airnori had done us a good dinner after I’d come back from a difficult day at work. Our company had been contracted to do the majority of artwork and designs for a major multimedia project, and I’d been lumbered with the task of creating supporting and minor character designs while one of the more senior artists handled the main cast. That night, Airnori didn’t pressure me at all, nor did I pressure him. We both just felt like it. As the moon shone above, I lay in Airnori’s arms, fondling his hair, and bent close to him.

“Just know. Whatever happens. Everything was worth it.”

“Yeah.”

“I love you, Ai.”

“I love you too, Yu.”

We kissed. And the night passed well. Like so many days and nights to come.


Airnori Uchida published his first one-shot manga a year after moving to Iga with Yusuke. It was taken up by Shonen Jump, who later commissioned a full forty-chapter manga based on the one-shot’s premise. His real-world-set shonen manga, ‘The Flower of Kansai’, was praised for its emotional sensitivity and won numerous awards, kickstarting Uchida’s prolific mangaka career.

Yusuke Ishinori gained notoriety on the multimedia project for his character designs and environmental artwork. He was soon asked to design the main characters of a new project, and would become a senior artist in the company. He went on to earn international acclaim and lucrative commissions for his artwork, and would even collaborate with notable mangaka and artists of the day.

While the exact details haven’t been released for private reasons, it is known and commonly attested that Airnori and Yusuke live together happily in Iga.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

When Ai Met Yu; Part 3 - Tokyo Resolution

Airnori Uchida is a freeter trying to begin his working life in Tokyo - he is also gay, and struggles with understanding where reality and fantasy must separate. By chance, he meets up with an old friend from university in Yoyogi Park. A country boy from Kansai, Airnori and Yusuke Ishinori become firm friends, and Yusuke even saves Airnori from his gym teacher’s perverted attentions.

The two agree that Airnori will go on  a three-week visit to Yusuke's home in Kansai. Meeting Yusuke's family, Airnori learns that Yusuke is also gay, and unlike Airnori has complete confidence in his identity. The two revealed their feelings for each other, and one night the two make love. Though nervous, Airnori is guided by Yusuke, and learns the true feeling of love.

Read Part 1; A Country Boy here, and Part 2; Kansai Reservations here.

----

Being in bed with a man is an exhilarating experience, especially when it’s someone you’ve had a crush on since university. Airnori was in front of me, one leg wrapped round my buttocks and all but devouring my neck with kisses. I was giving him my all and caressing him with my lips and hands in every place I could sensibly reach in my position.

“God, this is great.” I heard him mutter.

“Yeah. It’s great. Is it what you expected?”

“You kidding? Of course not. Oh Yu.”

“Ai.”

Yeah, I think you get the picture. A few weeks before, I’d met up with a guy I hadn’t seen since university, Airnori Uchida. Me? I’m Yusuke Ishinori. He was the same guy I said I’d stay in touch with when my father’s cancer came out of the blue. I’d managed to find him again, and he’d agreed to stay with me in Kansai. My sister revealed that I was gay, just like him. That night, I decided to make the first move, to help him. He was obviously a bag of nerves. I didn’t want to force him to do anything, but I also wanted... Well, we didn’t need to force anything. I did need to help him. He had the weirdest notions about needing to adopt a seme-uke dynamic when we need not do anything of the kind.

It was the fourth day after he’d learnt about me and I’d decided to help him out, and we’d decided to have another go together. The first time had been more than successful after a rough start, and I noticed later that it had broken Airnori out of his shell a little. He’d chucked away that weird manga of his at long last. I didn’t know why he’d bought it, only that he didn’t need it any more. The next day he was laughing, decided to go for a long run, and then we spent time with my sisters again. He played with my youngest, and I had a chance to talk with Hana.

“You knew?”

She nodded. “I knew. I didn’t know what to tell him exactly when you first told me about him. But when I saw him, I knew he was alright. I hope things work out.”

“So to I. You know,” I scratched my head. “I never thought it would turn out like this for me. He’s weird and brash and so shy, but I really like him.”

“He’s your other. Your opposite. He’s the part of you that you’ve been missing. Talking of missing, aren’t you supposed to be meeting your Sensei today?”

“Crap! Apologise to Ai for me.”

“Ai? Oh, Airnori. Sure.”

My Sensei was indeed waiting for me as I rushed down the street towards her house, and she had reserved one of her cooler expressions for me. She knew full well about my sexuality, and she didn’t give a damn. She only cared about fostering my artistic talents. She was the one who discovered me after university, and even as she now helped me complete a sketch I had been working on, she didn’t say a word about why I had been late. It wasn’t until the very end, when I had completed my work and she was giving me tea that she spoke.

“I heard your friend Airnori came to visit.”

“Yes, Sensei.”

“Was he the reason you were late?”

“Partly that, Sensei.”

A long silence developed. My Sensei chose her words very carefully when they meant anything, and they always did.

“I wish you happiness. But do not let it impact your studies in anything but a positive way. Art may depict sadness, but it only thrives when the artist is happy. Paint when you are sad, and the work is less than pitiful.”

“I understand, Sensei. I won’t be unhappy. You’ve ensured that.”

“I didn’t teach you the skills of art for you to turn them into a crutch if your heart is broken. Such folly worse than painting with a saddened heart.”

“I understand, Sensei.”

“Do you? I must question that for your own good. Can you, from the depths of your heart, say that you love this man?”

“I can, Sensei.”

“Then tell him full to his face. Tell him that you wish to spend the rest of your life with him, whatever the future may hold. And if he refuses, that is his decision, not yours, so do not carry the guilt. If he cannot see you as anything but a physical shell, he is not worthy of you.”

“Thank you, Sensei.”

“Now, once tea is finished, I will give you the rest of the day off. But do not think I will go easy on you every day.”

“I will not. Thank you, Sensei.”

This was quite the occasion. It wasn’t every day that my Sensei let me go with only half a day’s tutelage done, let alone on a day when I’d been late. I had to come back tomorrow an hour early to make up for it, but I still didn’t regret her decision or mine. I was able to get home and tell Airnori all about her. He looked concerned that she was a bit of a hard ass, but I assuaged his fears. She’s strict when she needs to be for my own good, but she isn’t heartless. I said that the rest of the day was ours, and asked whether we could go up to the hill again. I was surprised that he agreed, and when we were at the top of the hill, we found a bench and sat down.

“No tanuki today.” he said, smiling.

“No. Say, Ai, I want to tell you something.”

“Sure.”

“It’s actually why I asked for this walk.”

“So what’s on your mind?”

I had to brace myself slightly. “My Sensei said something to me today. She asked me ‘Can you, from the depths of your heart, say that you love this man?’. I said I could, and then she said I should tell this man to his face that I love him, and that ‘if he refuses, that is his decision, not yours, so do not carry the guilt’. And said that if he didn’t see me for more than my body, it was his fault.”

I glanced at Airnori, who responded in an irritated way. “Your teacher really is a hard ass. You sure she isn’t a yokai waiting to eat you?”

“I admit she gives that impression sometimes, but she only has my best interests at heart. Though she’d never admit it fully to my face.”

“So do you?”

“Do I?”

“Love this man?”

“Yes, deeply.”

“Then tell him.”

I looked directly at him. “Airnori Uchida, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, come what may. What’s your answer?”

Airnori remained quiet for some little time, then suddenly he embraced and kissed me. I was startled, but I didn’t resist. He then leaned next to my ear.

“I love you too, Yusuke Ishinori. Don’t you ever forget it. I don’t care if it’s forever or just for this trip, I’m gonna enjoy it. You’re the guy I like. Dammit, Yu, I’m getting hard just thinking about it.”

“I’m not sure whether sounding like that manga of yours is a good thing or not.”

“Hmm? Oh, sorry. It slipped out. But I am–”

“I don’t doubt it, but there’s no need to spell it out for me. Anyway, I can feel it.”

“I know. It’s like–”

“I mean literally feel it.”

“Eh?!”

“It’s prodding my leg.”

“Oh, sorry.” Airnori shuffled away, turning beetroot red. “So sorry. I didn’t– Well, I wouldn’t– Urg, this is embarrassing.”

“Tell me about it.” I began laughing. “But at least you didn’t tell me to go find a kappa or something.”

“You’re utterly impossible. Come here.”

Airnori tried to kiss me again, and I dodged slightly so his lips struck my neck. I then kissed him, and we ended up playfully tumbling on top of each other on the bench. We didn’t ‘get it on’ or anything like that, but we did kiss each other until our lips went numb and our hands explored all that decency permitted. We didn’t realise until Airnori glanced up that a young courting couple – a man and woman this time – had walked up and had been staring at us for perhaps the past minute. We must have looked like protagonists plucked from the pages of a BL light novel.

I don’t know what we should have done, but we just burst into a fit of giggling and ran past the two as if we’d been caught vandalising. They probably followed us with their gaze, but all I could focus on was Airnori – his hand in mine, his eyes fixed on me – as we ran back towards town. When we reached the bottom of the hill, we stopped to catch our breath, then Airnori spoke.

“Hey, when the holiday’s over, we’re really gonna keep in touch, right? Maybe you can come and stay in Tokyo for a while.”

“Sure. By the way, you don’t have to act on it, but I really think you should make a crack at being a mangaka. Alongside your other stuff.”

“You’re sure?”

“You’ve got talent. And I know you can tell a good yarn. Go for it.”

Airnori laughed gently. “You’re alright, Yu.”

“I should hope so, after what we’ve just done.”

We laughed again and made our way back home, talking happily. The evening passed in a flurry of talk and laughter, like a dream. That night, we arranged our beds so we could sleep together. It was enough just to be side by side that night, eventually sliding into each other’s arms and dropping to sleep. That night was bliss, and the dreams I had stay with me to this day. They were good dreams.

The rest of his stay there went like a breeze, and in between spending time with him, being with my family, and attending my Sensei’s lessons, I didn’t have a lot of free time. But then, I didn’t need it. Spending time with Airnori was my free time, and it was wonderful. I was so sad when it came time for him to go home. I stayed on the platform until his train was out of sight, and when I got home at the end of the day, I felt hollow. It was then that I knew I needed him in my life. I needed him so badly. It was like a disease, but one that filled me with energy and hope rather than draining me of both.

“You’ll see him again.” my sisters said. “Guaranteed.”

I really wanted to believe them. I did believe them.

It was another month before I got the message from Airnori I really wanted to see in my email inbox. It was an invitation to visit Tokyo for as long as I liked. I decided three weeks was enough time, and having received permission from my Sensei, I booked a hotel suit in Meguro City where Airnori lived, not too far from his own home, and travelled down there with two suitcases and a strong wish to hug Airnori when I got there. I got my wish, thought I had to be somewhat delayed due to circumstances beyond my control.

As when I’d passed through the many toll areas, I saw Airnori waiting for me at the bottom of an escalator. Next to him was a young girl about a head shorter than him, and when we met, he introduced her as his sister Hiroe. I greeted her, and she was telling me in a bubbly way how thrilled she was to finally meet me.

“I’ve been so wanting to see you! Onii-chan’s told me loads of stuff. I never expected you to be so... normal.”

Airnori went red. “Onee-chan, no need to–”

“It’s alright.” I said, grinning. “I don’t mind.”

It seemed Airnori had really been telling Hiroe about me for some time. We spent a little time together in Shibuya as a threesome, and I suddenly felt reassured – if his sister was this alive, Airnori could loosen up and be an even greater source of joy in my life. I asked Airnori whether he would like to visit my apartment, and he agreed. Hiroe had another date to keep, so it was just a matter of checking in, making sure I could receive visitors, then having Airnori help me with my luggage. When we were inside and the room door was closed, we each dropped the cases and embraced.

“It’s been way too long.” Airnori’s voice was unexpectedly soft. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you to.” my embrace was perhaps even stronger than his own. “I didn’t want to stay away for so long. I’ve only got my Sensei’s grace like this because I worked extra hard and got ahead on my work.”

“Yeah. Feels like it.”

Airnori was feeling my hips and buttocks. Not wanting this to degrade into that creepy scene from Urusei Yatsura, I suitably but gently chastised him with a gentle pinch for being so forward before I’d even unpacked. He gave me a day to settle in, then we were off around Tokyo.

I hadn’t been really around Tokyo in a long time, except when Airnori led me round in our university days. He took us to a few of our old haunts, then on to new places he had found in the intervening time. It was wonderful being with him, like my entire world had returned back to that blissful time in our youth, when all the world lay before us. It was great to just let our hair down, let ourselves be ourselves in each other’s company, and reminisce about the old days. Airnori went home for the first few nights, then I reminded him that I could have visitors.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I ended up having Airnori as a visitor that evening. Standing in the doorway, sliding in alongside me as I opened it, I felt like I was doing something erotic. I closed the door quickly.

“How’s things?”

“Can’t complain.” Airnori almost immediately flopped on the bed. “Father’s out on a job, Hiroe’s got someone having a sleepover. Your invitation couldn’t have been better timed.”

“Thanks.” I grinned. “So... you’ve noticed it’s a double bed...”

Airnori glanced, and saw he had indeed lain on one half of a double bed. I walked round and flopped next to him, then we gazed at each other. I smiled softly, he returned it, I felt our hands interlocking. It was wonderful.

“So how’s Tokyo since you were here as a student?”

“It’s different. I’ve grown so used to Kansai.”

“I didn’t notice anything. Oh yeah, I tell a lie. That cool family-run ramen bar we used to hang at closed when the family head died. Apparently he was the financial brains, and they didn’t want new management, so they closed.”

“That’s sad. That was good ramen.”

“Hey, there’s a good curry place. Not as good as my curry.”

“You can cook?”

“Sure.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that while you were visiting?”

“Didn’t seem to matter.”

“Well tell me next time. Getting all the meals done... It’s not easy being a host, you know.”

“I know. Don’t get angry. Your face goes all crinkly when you’re angry.”

“I thought you liked my face crinkly. It didn’t stop you interrupting me in the middle of studies. I think I lost a couple of points from my final exams because of you.”

“Oh thanks.”

I reached out and felt Airnori’s thigh. It was delightfully full, but didn’t stray into that weird ‘fat’ class so many seem to think gay men prefer. It was unusual to be lying together like this, but also oddly relaxing. Finally, We each turned on our sides, facing each other.

“Do you think we could spend more time together?” asked Airnori.


Next week, Airnori and Yusuke find the courage to commit to their love, but will both their families accept this unconventional romance? Next week, the grand finale; Part 4 - Family Matters.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

When Ai Met Yu; Part 2 - Kansai Reservations

Airnori Uchida is a freeter trying to begin his working life in Tokyo - he is also gay, and struggles with understanding where reality and fantasy must separate. By chance, he meets up with an old friend from university in Yoyogi Park. A country boy from Kansai, Airnori and Yusuke Ishinori become firm friends, and Yusuke even saves Airnori from his gym teacher’s perverted attentions.

Read Part 1; A Country Boy here.

----

That – regardless of my being rescued by Yusuke and Sayaka-sensei’s intervention – was one of the worst days of my life, but it showed Yusuke as a true friend. When I asked him why he’d been so willing to help Sayaka-sensei, his reply surprised me.

“You were the first one to show me kindness. I wasn’t going to let some pervert break that goodness in you.”

Both of us stayed with the Sports Club. Neither of us were gonna quit because some pervert coach was using it for his own ends. If we did quit, it would be a kind of victory for him. We weren’t gonna give him the satisfaction of knowing he’d frightened us off ‘his path’. I got elected coach one time, and I ended up guiding the school volleyball team to victory against both another class and another university in succession. Yusuke kept up a respectable presence and record, but his heart was set on the arts.

There was this one time we went to each other’s rooms. When Yusuke visited my house, Hiroe took to him at once and Dad was more than friendly. Later said he liked the look of him, and complemented me on my choice of friends. My room was a little bit of a tip in those days, but I managed to keep it from overflowing everywhere. Yusuke’s room was the model of neatness, something I later strove to emulate in my post-grad days staying at home. Things bumbled along well enough, and we were firm friends, calling each other ‘Ai’ and ‘Yu’ almost all the time. We both graduated successfully, and we promised to keep in touch. But neither of is kept that promise. I was busy, he was busy. At least, that’s what I thought. And it had been like that for around six months.

But that day in the park, we sat and talked. The reason he hasn’t gotten in touch was that his father had been taken ill. Liver cancer. It’d been caught early by a doctor overseas, and they’d come home so his father could live comfortably in a familiar environment while undergoing treatment. Yusuke had taken time out of his life to help the rest of his family; his mother and sisters. Things had improved, and apparently he’d come to find me again. I didn’t have such a noble excuse. I’d just been caught up in searching for a job and lost track of time. He asked whether I’d pursued my mangaka promise; all I could tell him was that I still drew but didn’t pursue anything seriously. He understood.

Finally, he invited me to have dinner at his apartment. He would only be in Tokyo for a few more days. I agreed, phoned home to make sure no-one would be worrying about me, then helped him get supplies. His apartment was neat and tidy to a fault, and as we ate, we told each other about how things had gone. To be honest, I thought there’d be some weird coolness. But there wasn’t. We flowed back into our chatty habits, and talked about everything from the latest shopping trends to our family lives. Yusuke was grinning like his old self again in no time, and so was I come to think of it. Finally, as we finished desert, Yusuke asked a question he later said had been lingering on his lips since he recognised me on the bench.

“Ai, would you like to stay in Kansai for a while? Maybe a few weeks? I’ve got my own house down there now, and there’s more than enough room.”

“Me? Stay with you in Kansai?” Since it was Yu asking me, I didn’t need to think long. “I’d love to!”

“Good, that’s settled. We’ll coordinate between us, and your family’ll have one less mouth to feed.”

“Ha! That’s the Yu I remember.”

“And you’re still the Ai I remember. Cool threads.” he prodded my jacket.

“This? Hey, it’s an off-the-peg thing I got at sale. Dated by jetset standards.”

“I like it. Makes you look sexy.”

I blushed so deeply that Yusuke burst out laughing. Suffice to say I really regretted not keeping in touch, and I was more than looking forward to some time with Yusuke in Kansai. Everything was arranged within the week, and a fortnight later I was taking a series of trains down to Kansai for a holiday which would last around three weeks.

Yusuke met me at Kameoka’s main station and we drove off in his own little car. In Tokyo, things are so crowded that cars are impractical – I have a bicycle or walk. But he said that a car could be managed in Kameoka. His home was a two-bedroom house set among fields with a view of both the town and the surrounding hills. It was more than pleasant, with all modcoms, and he was the perfect host. I insisted I contributed to the housework, an offer he accepted with a slight stiffness. I guess he expected me to be a classical guest and let him wait on me hand and foot. At least, that’s what I think, but I’m not that up on historical traditions.

It was a few days into my stay that I first met Yusuke’s sisters. He had three – one older and two younger, with the youngest still being in elementary school. His older sister was married to one of the local farm managers, and so had been on-hand to help Yusuke’s father through his illness. I was invited to visit, and I really enjoyed talking with everyone. Yusuke acted as host, and his mother was a dear. I particularly liked talking with the youngest, who was eagerly anticipating moving from elementary to junior high school.

We all went for a walk later, and I ended up walking with Yusuke’s second youngest sister Hana, a shy girl still in senior high. We were approaching a natural river, and Yusuke was jokingly telling his youngest to watch out for skulking kappa, when Hana spoke to me.

“It’s nice to meet you at last, Airnori-san. Yusuke-chan’s told me so much about you. You’re a real friend.”

“Thanks. I try.”

“It’s good to see him connect with someone at last. In high school he was always such a loner. Even during his university time here, he kept to himself.”

“Really? I’d expect a girlfriend at least.”

The sister stiffened slightly. She seemed embarrassed. I rushed to reassure her.
“I’m sorry if–”

“It’s fine. I was just a shock. I can tell you as you’re his friend. It’s not a big deal for us. He’s not into girls.”

“Not into... You mean he’s gay.” I tried not to sound judgemental, as what right had I for that kind of attitude.

“Hmm. He’s known since high school, and told us at once. Dad was shocked for a while, but we’ve all adjusted now, and we love him as much and more. He didn’t get close to anyone as he wanted security in his life before opening himself up to.... Well, back then, things were still uncertain for LGBT people. It’s different now, but he’s still nervous at times. He’s completely assured as to who he is and who he can love. You know, for a weird moment once, I thought he had a crush on you, the way he talked about you.”

My stomach twisted. I looked directly at Yusuke, who was talking to his two sisters while his mother looked on as any loving mother would. But the man kneeling next to his little sister had changed in my eyes. I didn’t know what to think. I knew I’d felt close to him, but I’d always assumed he liked the girls. He certainly didn’t have trouble interacting with or charming them at Wasada. All my preconceptions of what gay men would and should be had been hit by a sledgehammer. This guy was only a little slimmer than me, a normal-looking man with an average voice and a manner to fit what the uninitiated might see in him. Neither of us were chubby tough guys or bishonen beauties. We were just guys.

That evening, I opened my Mizuki manga and stared into it. It looked so hollow now, like watching a photograph of yourself before you’d worked off the excess fat. I looked at this one scene where.... God, I felt sick, so sick I almost tore it up. Kagami came back into my mind, and I scrunched the manga in my hands. It was then that the door opened and Yusuke was standing there. I was shocked, and quickly stuffed the manga under my pillow.

“Yeah Yu? Is something up?”

“I wondered why you’re up so late.”

“Late? Is it late?”

“Ai, it’s past midnight.”

“Oh right. Yeah. Listen, Yu, can we take a walk tomorrow. Somewhere we won’t be disturbed.”

“Sure.” Yusuke looked puzzled. “There’s this nice country walk. I’d take my little sister along it. I tell her there’s tanuki hiding round there.”

I laughed and bade him goodnight. Then I lay down on my pillow and tried to get to sleep. I didn’t sleep well that night.

The following day, we went for that walk. It really was a deserted path, and we were soon on the top of a hill looking out over the valley. It was breathtaking, but I was too distracted to notice the view that much. Yusuke saw this too.

“Ai, please tell me what’s wrong.”

It took all my courage to say it. “Yu, are you really gay?”

I didn’t know what I expected – indigence, surprise, a cold silence. Instead Yusuke shrugged and smiled.

“Yeah. Next question?”

“That’s it?!” I just exploded. “You’re gay, Yu! Gay!”

“So what? It’s not a big deal.”

“How the hell is it not a big deal!?”

“Ai, it’s the 21st century. If I want drama over my sexuality, I’ll go to America.”

“It’s... That’s...” I shuffled uncomfortably. “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way. You see, I’m gay too.”

“Oh.” Yusuke smiled. “Finally admitted it?”

“What–!”

“I knew for a while. You’re so confident around everyone, but I could see you getting a little uncomfortable around some of the guys in class. Not like other people might be uncomfortable. It was like you wanted to say something, or were just embarrassed. Then there was Kagami.”

“That sick bastard.”

“Yeah. I think he targeted you because... Well, that’s the past. But if I needed any proof before today, it’s that manga you had. I’ve known some men who just looked at those things out of curiosity, but it’s mostly something more than that.”

“You saw it?”

“Yes. Stuffing things under pillows may work at home, but I’m not so easily fooled. An artist’s eye can identify many art styles, and bara has its own touch in... certain places. I’m only surprised you read that stuff. It’s hardly realistic.”

“It’s all I’ve got. That or those bishonen pretty boys who look like stick figures. Or those ‘Onee’ on TV who walk and talk like girls. Tell me, do I look like a girl to you?!”

“You shouldn’t judge yourself by their lights. I never did.”

“How the hell are you so confident?”

“I’m me. That’s all there is. Who I choose to love doesn’t have anything to do with the essential Yusuke Ishinori. Any more than it should affect what makes up Airnori Uchida.”
We both stood in awkward silence for a while, then Yusuke grinned. “Come on. There’s this wonderful view you’ve just got to see.”

The walk passed on, and I almost forgot for a while. But back in Yusuke’s home, I felt suddenly unnerved. What the hell was I thinking? This guy was way out of my league, and who was I to him? Some guy from university whom he’d helped out of a tough scrape. I couldn’t help thinking what Hana had said about him was exaggerated in some way. Sitting in the living room, looking out at the garden, I didn’t hear the door open behind me. I didn’t notice anything until a pair of arms were gently wrapped round my torso.

“Hmm? What...?” I saw who it was. “Yu? What the hell.”

“Shh. It’s alright.” his voice was soothing. “I know what you must be feeling. Tell me, did Hana tell you?”

“Y–yeah.”

“She never exaggerates. I.... Back in university, I liked you, Ai. A lot. In fact... Yes, I’ll say it. Since then, it’s become something far more. I think it’s become something quite deep.”

“I...” I was speechless for a few minutes, then found my hands interlinking with his without thought. “I guess I really liked you too, Yu. A lot. I didn’t really think of myself as gay before I left university. I thought it was just that the girls weren’t my type. But the only ones I’d ever liked were guys. And it became more obvious when I was out and looking for work.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t push to become a mangaka.”

“I’d rather a steady job.”

“You’ve got talent, Ai. Don’t waste it.”

“Hey, aren’t you changing the subject?”

“Perhaps. Listen, Ai, I don’t want to force anything.”

I nodded, and without thinking I took his hand and kissed it gently. The rest of the day passed in awkward silence, and I went for a run before dinner. Once bedtime came, I went to my room and just sat there for some time. I didn’t know what to do. It was as 11PM approached that the door slid open and Yusuke came in. He was in his bedtime kimono, and knelt in front of me.

“Ai, I know what I said earlier, but...”

“I know. So what’s your preference? Seme or uke?”

“Neither.”

“Eh? I... But.... Oh God.”

I clutched my head. Weird visions of what I’d seen in all those mangas flashed through my mind – seme, uke, mouth, rear, hand... It felt like the cacophony of some twisted death metal musician.

“I.... I don’t know how.” my voice was shuddering. “I don’t know.”

Yusuke’s response was to open the door, pull in a double blanket and mattress and spread it around us. He then slipped in under the quilt beside me, reached under my pillow, grabbed my manga and threw it into a corner. We sat there for a little while, and all I could do was repeat myself.

“I don’t know how. Don’t know.”

“I don’t either.” said Yusuke. “How about we find out together?”

Yusuke reached across, pulled me gently towards him, kissed my cheek. I pulled him to me and kissed him hard on the lips. He didn’t go limp or sink into my arms as I thought he would, but held his ground and gave as good as he got. I didn’t know what to do, so I just shuffled around before letting go and lying down. I was shaking my head, and Yusuke later told me there were tears in my eyes. I don’t know why I would’ve been crying then.

And that’s where my narrative began. The two of us lying side by side, me scared stiff of doing anything. Yusuke reached for my chest, then for my cheek, caressing it with such tenderness.

“It’s alright, Ai. I’m here.” he then added with a sly smile. “But I don’t do anything major without condoms.”

I laughed. It was a good response. And as I’d brought a packet of them in my luggage, the mood was unbroken. That night.... I don’t think I could adequately describe it. It was like the manga, and yet its own thing. Neither of us were seme or uke, I didn’t end up pinned to anything and forced to submit, nor did I force Yusuke to do anything. It flowed naturally, as if it were meant to be.

The next day, I found a bin on the outskirts of town, checked to see no-one was watching, then brought my Mizuki manga from its shopping bag, tore in two at the spine and pushed the pieces as deep as they would go into the bin. No more pretend. No more fantasy.

“Just us two now. Right, Yu?”


Next week, we switch to Yusuke’s point of view. As Airnori’s sojourn comes to an end, Yusuke realised that they need each other, and decides to visit Tokyo to find out for sure. Next week; Part 3 - Tokyo Resolution.