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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, 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.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

When Ai Met Yu; Part 1 - A Country Boy

There’s nothing more embarrassing than lying in bed next to your boyfriend and realising that you’re scared stiff of doing anything. It’s horrible, like your whole soul has atrophied. I didn’t know what to do. He was staring at me, his gentle gaze and smiling face making me feel all soft and warm. I wanted to hold him, I wanted... He reached out, touched my arm.

“It’s alright, Ai. I’m here.”

And how the hell did I get here? Well, that’s quite a tale.

My name’s Airnori Uchida. When this story starts, I was 23 going on 24, just out of university, and living in a small but not uncomfortable apartment in Meguro City, Tokyo with my sister Hiroe and father Daisuke. My Mom died when Hiroe was just seven, and I’ve been someone who could take care of her when Dad stayed late at work. He’s the kind of Dad everyone should have – he may need to dash out on people, but when he’s here he shows love and takes part in what we do and is a complete killer at anything, even Shiritori.

I was a guy looking for my ikigai, and looking for a job where I wouldn’t be at risk from an ignominious karoshi incident. I guess I was a bit of a freeter – all the salaryman jobs made me feel unclean. Dad didn’t say anything. He’s like that. He’s a salaryman, but he didn’t want to tie me down to anything. Hiroe just likes anything I do, even if it’s just taking her for a trip into Shibuya or a walk in Yoyogi Park. I’ve always loved the bustle of the city, and if I have to move I’ll be really disappointed.

“Hey, onii-chan! Look at that.”

Hiroe pointed into the window of a department store. A cardboard placard there proudly displayed the release of Final Fantasy XV. My sister’s quite the gamer, I’m not so much. Prefer books.

“Yeah, quite the buzz. But you haven’t got a PS4. Sorry.”

“Yeah, it’s silly. They’re so expensive. Say, onii-chan, if you get rich in your new career, what’ll you buy me for a birthday present?”

“Not that, for a start. Get it yourself.”

“Oh, so cruel.”

She grinned in the way she always grinned at me when I was being strict. I need to be – she’d play games 24/7 if I didn’t watch her. Then she’d hate herself for missing out on whatever she’d miss and get depressed.

“Weren’t your friends gonna join us?”

“Oh yeah. Can’t think where– There they are. Itsuki! Mana!”

Itsuki and Mana were members of Hiroe’s class in high school. She’s only eighteen, in her third year, and those three have been as thick as thieves since elementary school. I was the ‘big brother’ figure who guided Hiroe into their care. They came over, Itsuki gave me the usual ribbing for distracting Hiroe, Mana talked non-stop about her new boyfriend – or maybe boyfriends, I never could tell with her – and Hiroe just giggled and nodded. That’s what she’s like; she lets people rabbit on and then rabbits herself, tuning herself to their frequency one might say. I’m not like that at all. I’m just a big clutz, and Hiroe loves me for it.

With Hiroe in safe hands, I went to my nearest ramen bar and decided to have a bowl full. Not drowning my sorrows in the traditional sense, but near enough. As I ate, I thought about my routine today. Finish here, go to the gym, perhaps go into a store and brows, the usual job search on my computer when I got back home, help with dinner, mend that hole in my shirt. Then what? I didn’t know, or maybe I didn’t want to know. My day went roughly as planned, and getting back in I found Dad home early and already cooking. Hiroe wasn’t back yet, and wouldn’t be as she was sleeping over with Mana. It was a boy’s night in.

I helped get dinner done, then we sat and I listened as Dad unburdened himself to me about some trouble at work. He did this as I’d listen and even if the finer details escaped me I could understand the basics and offer support. With dinner done, I got my laptop and began my job search. Dad might have prompted me, but he didn’t. He knew I needed to find something on my own. I’m just stubborn like that. I then did my best to mend my shirt. I’ve gotten quite good at sewing, a boon to Dad when he’s in a tight spot with clothes. That done, I decided to have an early night. At least, that’s what I told my Dad.

In my room, under my covers, I retrieved the one piece of manga I kept hidden from both my Dad and Hiroe. It was a one-shot manga I bought on a whim, and couldn’t throw away no matter how hard I tried. It was by Gai Mizuki, and I spoke to me in a way I didn’t know how to handle. I remember the teller gave me this knowing look as she put it into a plain wrapper for me. No malicious, just knowing. I’d gone in there out of curiosity, and nearly wet myself with excitement at some of the mangas I picked up. There was this weird one called Priapus, a few by some guy named Dainyu Dougumo, and even a section of stuff by Gengoroh Tagame. Mizuki’s work seemed alright, even if one manga of his I flicked through seemed like Tagame’s more twisted work.

As I glanced over it under my bed covers, looking at it using a low-powered torch so I didn’t need to have my room or desk light on, I caught myself shuffling in time to what was going on in the panels. I snapped it shut then, and genuinely considered just tearing it up and throwing it away. But I couldn’t. I...just...couldn’t.

Yeah, you can probably tell, can’t you. I’m still not sure myself, but anyone else looking at me would jump to the conclusion in a heartbeat. I’m gay. How long have I been gay? That’s a silly question. You don’t question things like that. Any more than you ask someone how long they’ve liked girls who give you a ‘puff-puff’. But I’m not gonna get the same response from people if I say I’m gay. I mean, look at us – a culture whose proud embrace of Western ideals had pushed us forward. It’s also pushed us back. I’d never have been afraid to say this in Nobunaga’s day. Now, I don’t want to be called a ‘seme’ or an ‘uke’, or be pegged as some tragic figure or sex junkie. I’m not like that. I’m just not.

That night, I didn’t have any dreams I remember in detail, only fragments of emotion that didn’t leave me feeling well the next day. In fact, I felt bloody terrible. Dad said so and checked me. I had a fever, so he admonished me to stay inside and get well, while he headed to work using his little white face mask in case he caught it from me so he wouldn’t spread it. He also phoned Hiroe, then got me some medicine and a hot drink before regretfully heading out to work.

That day, I stayed in, wrote, did more job searching, read some of my books, watched TV, made myself lunch, and generally treated myself as recuperating. By the following day I’d recovered well enough to head out on the town. I decided to walk in Yoyogi Park and sit there relaxing near a large stand of bamboo that had been planted there. The seat I took was right next to a small Buddha statue, and as I sat and looked at the cityscape through the trees, I saw someone else looking down at the statue beside me. He glanced at me, and I felt struck by lightning.

“Yu? It’s... Is that you, Yu?”

The man blinked, stared at me, then responded. “Ai. It’s you!”

The memories came flooding back. Memories I thought I’d never seen rekindled. I should start at the beginning.

It was when I was in Waseda University; getting in was the most arduous time of my life, and going through it was one of the best. I was nineteen, little bit of a punk, still wondering whether I liked guys or not. This guy had just been transferred from Kansai. After writing his name on the board as per tradition, our homeroom teacher Sayaka-sensei introduced him to us. His name was Yusuke Ishinori, same year as me but a bit of a country boy from Kansai unused to the big city. I remember him introducing himself, with a Kansai accent thicker than butter, and I saw a couple of the guys sniggering behind their hands. I decided to treat him right.

The next few weeks were difficult for him, like they always are for a newbie with an obvious accent. I contrived to make his acquaintance, and he saw through me in ten seconds flat. Nevertheless, he shook my hand and said he’d love to have me as his ‘guide-come-bodyguard’. Never heard anyone call me anything like that before. I liked him, and got to know him. He was a honour student from a wealthy family aiming for a prestigious career in the arts. He certainly had talents, and I joined the university’s recital circle. I’d joined the sports club, and he decided to follow suit as it’s on a different day to the recital circle meetings.

After one session in the sports hall, we hit the showers and I found myself chatting with Yusuke. After a while, the talk turned to our lives. It was the first time I’d ever talked like this to anyone.

“Ever been to Kansai?” he asked.

“Never. I haven’t been outside Tokyo. Mom was from Ishikawa, but Dad’s a Tokyo man through and through.”

“It’s my first time visiting Tokyo. My family’s always stayed in the country before now. I’ve lived in places like Sansa, Nishiwaki, Kato, Kameoka. My mother works in Osaka, while my father has a country mansion just outside Kameoka.”

“Why the move to Tokyo?”

“Things changed. My parents are working abroad, and there weren’t any vacancies outside here for someone of my year and level. I only get the best from my parents.”

“You must be the apple of their eye.”

“I am. What about you?”

“Dad’s just a salaryman. But I’ve got a great little sister. She’s going through high school at the moment.”

“Your mother?”

“She’s... dead.”

“Oh. Sorry. That was horribly rude–”

“Don’t sweat. I’m not some sensitive guy. She was a good mother to me, but she’s gone now.”

“Mind me speaking frankly?”

“Shoot.”

“I’m surprise your father can afford this place. It is one of the more exclusive universities in the city. Not the most exclusive by any means.”

“He may be a salaryman, but he gets good posts and good pay. He only wanted the best for his kids. Mom wanted the best too.”

It was then that Yusuke leaned round and looked directly into my cubical, a smile splitting his face. “You know, I like you. I think we’ll get on well.”

“Yeah, sure. The city punk and the country boy.”

“How about we have nicknames. Here, now.”

“Eh? Where’d this come from?”

“I’d like something for us to distinguish ourselves from the crowd. Like in some slice of life school anime. Hey, yes! Like Azumanga Daioh.”

I felt a little embarrassed, and blushed to the roots of my hair. “Well, we’re hardly Osaka and Kagura. And... you watch Azumanga Daioh?”

“Well of course. It’s great. Why, don’t you?”

“Well, I prefer other things.”

“Like?”

“Maybe after we’ve figured out our nicknames.”

“Fine. Let’s do it. They need to be short. One syllable.”

“Fine. I say they need to have multiple meanings. All good.”

“Find too. What’s your name again?”

“Airnori”

“And I’m Yusuke. Hmm... Got it! Ai and Yu.”

“You what?!” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

Yusuke looked hurt. “Why not?”

“But they’re girls’ names.”

“Ai’s a girl’s name, I admit. But Yu’s unisex.”

“Er.... Okay.” I must have looked deaminated at that point. “Well, I guess I’m Ai obviously. So what’s that mean...? Love, affection, indigo... Okay, I guess that’s alright. And you’re Yu. Yu is...”

“Yu has a wide abundance of meanings. I think the best ones would be tenderness, help and friend. Alright with you, Ai?”

“Yeah. Yeah it is. Yu.”

So things grew. After a few weeks, Yusuke pushed and prodded me into joining a manga circle. It wasn’t just about the latest strip or volume, but also encouraged drawing. That started me drawing. I didn’t have any professional training, but I wasn’t getting signs like my work was that of a beginner. To be honest, I even got a teacher looking at my work and thinking it was a special work-in-progress handout from a professional artist. But that’s just a little diversion. At least, for now. I don’t think I’ll ever be a mangaka.

But things turned a little sour one day. It all focused around our tough-guy sports coach, this seriously hard-riding dude called Kagami. He’d ride newbies, but he’d treat us fair if we didn’t dishonour the team. He seemed to take a liking to me, as he’d always save his best encouragement and advice for me, but after a while he seemed to cool off. Looking back, it was after I took Yusuke under my wing. I guess that’s what set the whole thing off.

Anyway, about a month after Yusuke joined the sports club – it was after a touch volleyball match – Kagami asked me to step aside with him. He looked all furtive. I followed. Why wouldn’t I? Anyway, we ended up in the closet reserved for gymnastics equipment and such, and I didn’t know what to think. When we were in there and the door closed., Kagami looked straight at me, and said in a weird way

“You’re an Onee. I want you.”

I didn’t know what to think at first. I’d heard the term, but as I said, I didn’t think of myself as gay at the time. All I knew was that Onee was what you called those people on TV who were all effeminate if they were guys and butch if they were girls.

“I don’t know what you mean, Kagami-senpai.”

“Cut the crap, Airnori-kun. I saw you looking at Ishinori-kun. He’s cute, but he’s not gonna steal you from under me.”

“Kagami-senpai, you’re scaring me.”

“I want to.” Kagami grinned at me. “I want you scared. I don’t want you running to our Sensei.”

“Kagami–”

“You know, I like it when you call me ‘Coach’.”

I had been backing away from him, and now I was pressed against the wall. Kagami was on top of me almost literally, his hands were on my shoulders and creeping up towards my neck, and his crotch pressed against mine. I felt sick, but I knew he could silence any cry in an instant. I turned away, clenched my teeth, pursed my lips. All Kagami did was chuckle.

“Playing hard to get. Makes it all the better.”

He began rubbing his crotch against mine, his hand felt up my neck to my hairline, he pressed his lips against my cheek. I wanted to scream, to bite, to punch him. But I was also enjoying the experience. It was the worst experience I’ve ever had in my entire life. It was then that the door opened.

“KAGAMI!”

The voice snapped loud and clear. Kagami pulled away from me and stared at the two figures in the doorway. It was Sayaka-sensei and Yusuke. Kagami stiffened, and I felt sweat on my brow. Under Sayaka-sensei’s stern eye, Kagami shuffled out of the room and Yusuke was left to lead me out into the changing rooms. Once there, I rushed to the toilet and was physically sick. When I’d calmed down, Yusuke explained.

“This isn’t the first time, according to Sayaka-sensei. But it’s the first time it’s ever been sexual. He’s already under suspicion of bullying students and using his authority role to escape retribution. Well he won’t escape this time.”

“What’ll happen to him?”

“The policy for bullying is more than strict here. They don’t want another Otsu City on their hands. Even if he isn’t prosecuted, he’ll never have a position of authority again.”

“Prosecuted?”

“Didn’t you know? What’s he’s done... It’s covered by law these days. If they can make it stick, he’ll do time. If you’re willing to testify...”

“But is that enough?”

“Nothing’s ever enough.”

Well I did testify. Me and about ten other boys and girls in the school. And that bastard was given time for indecent assault and property damage – the latter was some vandalised bicycles. I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it without Yusuke, and afterwards I was given a week’s sick leave as I was mentally exhausted. I later heard it was Sayaka-sensei who’d been gathering the evidence against Kagami and roped Yusuke in to keep an eye on me. She’d been worried he was ‘sizing me up’ as Yusuke called it.

“It was nothing.” that was all he would say, aside from this. “I guess I was a ‘Yu’ for you after all.”


Next week, Airnori and Yusuke decide to spend time together as friends in Kansai in Yusuke's idyllic country home. What secrets of the heart shall be exposed? Next week: Part 2 - Kansai Reservations.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Short story - When Ai Met Yu

Hello readers and followers. This post is about something more than interesting, something I've been planning for some time. This project is 'When Ai Met Yu', a short story which will be released in four parts over the coming weeks. Designed as a deconstruction of the yaoi, BL (boy's love) and bara genres of Japan, it details a gay romance within the modern world of media-influenced preconceptions and societal stigmas dating back to the Meiji Restoration.

Set in modern-day Japan, the story is told from the perspectives of Airnori Uchida and Yusuke Ishinori, two young men facing a future in the modern world of Japan. First meeting and becoming firm friends at Waseda University, they meet up again and Airnori is invited to Yusuke's home in Kansai. But each holds an unexpected secret: both are gay, although Airnori is the more uncomfortable about it, and both are in love with each other. Faced with a culture that often alternately ignores, stereotypes and fetishises gay men, can 'Ai' and 'Yu'  - having realised their love - find happiness together?

Links to the story shall be posted below.

Airnori's Narrative:
Part 1 - A Country Boy
Part 2 - Kansai Reservations

Yusuke's Narrative:
Part 3 - Tokyo Resolution
Part 4 - Family Matters

If you enjoy the concepts and ultimately the stories, please support this blog by sharing this post and showing this to your friends and followers. This story aims to challenge the gay stereotypes we've come to expect and perhaps even enjoy in Japanese media, and show the freedoms and constrictions gay men face in Japan. As to lesbians... that's another story.

When it comes, share and enjoy!

Out as of May 21, my notes and acknowledgements concerning this project.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Fritz Lang's Metropolis - Impressions from a Live Performance

On March 16, I was visiting family in Bristol, and as a treat I was taken to see a special event at the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival. It was a screening of the classic silence science fiction film Metropolis, complete with a new electronic/orchestral score by Andy Sheppard. I didn't know it until I was in my seat and the MC started talking to the audience, but this was a unique performance - not only would it not be repeated again, but it was the debut of the to-date most complete cut of German filmmaker Fritz Lang's seminal work - with newly restored and incorporated footage, bringing it to within a few minutes of its original 1927 runtime. Full pre-release details here, and a critic's review of the performance here.

Having now experienced this landmark title, I can see why it both awes today and puzzled in its own time. It tells a surprisingly modern story of societal divides between the working class and the pampered elite, with the recurring sci-fi theme of the evils of industrialism being well-used here. But given the time it was made in, as the post-war Weimar Republic was beginning to fail and the Nazi Party was gaining political strength, it's easy to see why it didn't resonate with audiences - its clear anti-Nazi propaganda also can't have won it any favours in Germany at the time. The story resonates very strongly even today - particularly if you appreciate the subtle references to German folklore and legend within its characters - and even though some aspects display a deep naivete of how the world works, it still sends a strong message about interaction between workers and elite. Also it seems to have predicted the trend of sprinkling Biblical references ad nauseum, which this film thankfully can carry off with a grin rather than a grimace.

The performances are what you'd expect of a late 1920s silent film, but that also means there's a lot of emotional punch behind these scenes. The silent film tradition has reached its peak with this film, as has what was then current in German Expressionism. Artistically the film is a triumph, with impressive special effects for its time and art deco set design that does its era proud. The sheer scale of the sets and setpieces will awe you if you're accustomed to the pocket sets of comedy shorts from the time. But it also shows how the film is now a victim of its own influence - what was shocking and unnerving in 1927 is more or less commonplace today both in sci-fi and multiple other genres. Metropolis is still unique and a treasure, and it's a miracle that it's survived all this time, but its DNA can be seen in hundreds if not thousands of later films.

As to the performance I saw, it was mind-blowing mainly because of its music. The brass dominated the industrial scenes and pushed the raw cruelty of the workers' condition; low-key brass and electronica set the mood for the villainous scenes; brass and percussion backed the exciting scenes such as the workers' revolt; and some neat saxophone work punctuated the purity and hope main heroine Maria expresses throughout the film. Some of the themes repeated a little too much for my liking, but it still made a positive impression in its depiction of an urban metropolis run wild.

It's only now, more than two weeks later, that I can look back and fully appreciate the grandeur and bravery of the film, and how its score captured those feelings while putting their own unique twist on what it should be. As the MC said, there have been many different scores for Metropolis following Gotfriedd Huppertz's original, but I think this one should be considered the definitive score for the film after Huppertz's - not just because it was the most complete version, but because it did the film justice in a unique way, blending modern tones with the film's message to create a unique blend that, in my and several other attendees opinions, proved worthy of a standing ovation.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Review - Dune by Frank Herbert

As this is my first review, it won't be as smooth and polished as other reviews. Also, as with any review, this is my own personal opinion and not reflective of any other person's opinion of the novel.

For this, my first review, I must write a preface. When reading books, I have a problem. I have a very specific form of dyslexia which makes reading certain type fonts difficult. Combine that with my farsightedness, and you get a recipe for not being able to read a lot of classic science fiction and fantasy novels as they're typically reprinted in their old and difficult font. This means I've typically had to find alternative means of experiencing stories, from audio readings to dramatizations. But the edition of Dune I read that inspired me to write this review, published in 2006 by Hodder and Stoughton, has a very friendly font, and so I was able to experience one of the best novels in the genre.

Comparisons are made to other works such as The Lord of the Rings, but this does the original work an injustice. Without spoiling too much of the overall plot, Dune presents a universe where humanity has a feudal system where great Houses control planets, owing loyalty to a single Emperor who controls the CHOAM megacorporation, who in turn secretly allies with the Guilds that control interplanetary trade and the Bene Gesserit sisterhood who control the interbreeding of Houses. House Atreides, whom the Emperor deems a threat, are forced to take possession of Arrakis, a desert planet that is both highly inhospitable and the only source of the Spice drug "Melange", which imbues prolonged life and increased mental abilities. Atreides is caught in a dangerous game between the Emperor, and his allies the ruthlessly ambitious Harkonnens. Main protagonist Paul is the heir to the Atreides dukedom, and the unintended offspring of a Bene Gesserit scheme to create a powerful "human" dubbed the Kwisatz Haderach. As Atreides falls victim to the Emperor and Harkkonen schemes, Paul is forced to confront his future role and the means he must use to reclaim his title as Duke and the allegiance of Arrakis' native Freman.

That may sound like a massive spoiler, but trust me it hardly scratches the surface of the political and dynastic scheming that pervades Dune's adventure, which is told from multiple perspectives over a span of many years. Paul himself is a sympathetic protagonist not because of his rising to the challenge, but because of the uncertainly with which he faces choices that could plunge the empire into bloody war. All the characters have something to like about them, aside from the Harkonnens which are a wonderful lesson for authors in painting as both villains despicable and multilayered. The scene painting is also well-crafted, being both conservative and loquacious where needed. The general pace is just fast enough to pull you along, but not so fast that the sensation of a good story or crucial developments are lost in the rush. The story also demonstrates an excellently thought-out fictional universe and terminology that lends the entire narrative presence. There is the major cliffhanger at the end that makes you realise Herbert left it open to sequels. It can work on its own, but it's certainly better for you to seek out and read suitable editions of its two sequels Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.

As to the edition I read, I have to say that it's not without faults. Several times reading through it I saw typing errors such as missing quote symbols or strange word choices that didn't make sense in the context of the sentence. There are also a few places where the ink printing wasn't as good as it should have been and the writing either faded a little or all but disappeared. But aside from that, it's a good edition and more than comprehensive when it comes to appendices and an index for keywords used in the story. As to reading time, I read through it in about a week with some determination, but I know a fast reader could probably scan through it within a single day.

So, after all that, how would I rate this story overall?

Story; 10/10 - One of the best science fiction epics it's been my pleasure of experiencing.
Characters; 10/10 - A wonderful cast carries the story without being crushed or crushing it.
Prose; 9/10 - Aside from some odd typos, some of the best prose I've ever read.
Edition; 8/10 - Not the best edition technically, but a great means for me to read it.

Overall; 9/10 - A mustread for anyone who loves science fiction, or just good writing.