labingi: (riki)
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Rieko Yoshihara on Ai no Kusabi, Volume 7:

"From here onwards (laughter), it will be all original content…. Well, according to the schedule, it wasn't supposed to be this long. Once I started on it I couldn't stop (laughter)…" (127).

I couldn't come up with a better expression of loss of authorial distance if I tried. Honestly, as an Ai no Kusabi fan, it makes me kind of angry. Because AnK used to be a good story. For all its execrable prose and cheap porn, it justly earned its place as one of the most famous and lauded BL works of all time.


Spoilers Follow
Its power was based in its tight, trenchant tragic structure, which went something like this: Riki and Guy are a reasonably happy if impoverished couple, but Riki is ambitious and incautious. Thus, he falls afoul of Iason, who makes him a Pet (sex slave). Iason is a powerful elite, but his atypical independence leads him to offend his people's mores by having sex with his Pet, which leads to his social fall. Katze is a powerful man in the Black Market, but in reality, he is Iason's slave, and out of fear of Iason, uses his power and intelligence chiefly to help Iason ensnare Riki, among other conscience-offending activities. Guy is a sweet fellow, self-effacing and devoted, but horrified by Riki's relationship with Iason, he snaps and ends up launching an attack that kills them both.

Here we have a quadri-tragedy:
* Riki, brilliant and ambitious, is brought low by his own ambition.
* Iason, elite and exceptional, is brought low by his own elitist disregard for others.
* Katze, brilliant and cautious, is brought low by his own fear and self-protectiveness.
* Guy, kind and loving, is brought low by his own self-effacement, which eventually makes him crack.

These interweaving histories drip with irony and poignancy. Despite a relationship mainly defined by cruelty and slavery, Riki and Iason finally make peace through the act of saving the life of Guy, the structural antagonist, who is also the kindest person in the story. The tale even observed something resembling an Aristotelian unity of time: it was short enough that one could take in the full structure of rising and falling action and experience the full of the tragic impact in one go.

It was a good story. But with every introduction of more "original" material, Yoshihara has robbed it of almost everything that made it great. Despite an occasional, lingering paragraph of cogent--if bald and uncreative--character exposition, 90 percent of this volume is tripe.

The Bad
* 1001 pointless new/newish characters: Zico, Lavi, Miguel, Simon/Vince, Tomass, Oskar, Orphe, Aisha, Zac, Yunka, Thor. In a 126 page book, do you know what this means? Almost no page space for the characters who matter. We scarcely see Katze, see Guy and the Bison boys only marginally more, and even Riki and Iason get comparatively little page time.

* Riki is in trouble because the Furniture are upset with his upsetting the Pets! Three things wrong with this:

1) It undermines the concept of Furniture as disempowered, isolated slaves to assume they have this kind of community network and this kind of social power. (This really undermines Katze's backstory among other things.)

2) Likewise, if Furniture got restive, do you know what Blondies would do? Not hold a meeting to discuss the Furniture being restive and how Iason needs to do something about it. They would smack down the Furniture. Furniture are replaceable objects: check out their name.

3) You know why Iason got in trouble with Blondie society? Not because the Furniture got him in trouble. He got in trouble because he slept with his Pet. This is kind of the entire point of the story. This is the only reason you need for social suicide (just ask Oscar Wilde). And it scores over the Furniture revolt in one important respect: it has something to do with, you know, the characters.

* Riki is bothering the Pets! The problem with this is that Riki was bothering the Pets in volume 1. This plotline is over. Mimea is dead and/or gone. We don't need a retread. We don't need Riki to get Pets riled up again. All Riki needs to do now is be the guy Iason is sleeping with (see above).

* Guardian is conducting some sort of nefarious genetic experiments! This is a bad idea because Guardian is the only place in this social sphere, the only place, where people are actually not produced by genetic experiments. That's why they're called "mongrels"; it's why they're poor, third-class non-citizens. This, too, is kind of a major point of the whole story. You don't need nefarious plots to justify the existence of Guardian: the fact that they need to sequester their tiny female population in a safe space where they can devote themselves to bearing and rearing children is all you need. This is more counterproductive, page-wasting dead wood.

* Raoul is a "madman" (80): a throwaway line but indicative of the overarching problem. Raoul is Iason's foil. He is the socially normative Blondie to Iason's madman. If they're both mad, there's no one through whom we can calibrate Blondie behavior--unless you invent new characters, like Orphe, which, again, just adds dead wood--because, know what?, you already have Raoul.

* Guy defies Iason's expectations (102)! What a fantastic way to undermine Iason's underestimation of Guy, the hubris of which leads directly to Iason's death.

Major errors in plotting aside, there's the usual contingent of silly statements that should have been caught in editing, though I think there are fewer of these than previously. Here's a sample:

* "One random encounter had changed everything…. [B]ut it certainly couldn't be called a random occurrence (104). ??? So it's an encounter but not an occurrence? (I guess this could be translation.)

* "The population of Ceres was 99 percent male" (112). Yes, this is including Guardian. Leaving aside that I'm fairly sure an earlier volume said 90 percent, I am curious: does the average woman bear 100 children or is the population in terminal freefall?

* Apparently outside of Iason's twisted abode, Furniture giving Pets blowjobs is unheard of (119). Except it's not (87). (Yes, this is "secret," but it's still not "unheard of": it happens.)

* So way back in the first fourth of the story or so, Katze told Riki that Furniture came from Guardian. This volume recollects that (86), but that doesn't stop Riki from being the center of a scandal when he finds out this scandalous fact again.

The Good
Okay. There are some things I liked in this volume.

* Kirie is apparently mind-wiped and gone. Glory be! It took long enough.

* As per the original story, Iason and Riki's relationship is beginning to thaw. Iason is starting to show some real signs of concern for Riki's psychological well being and is willing to risk greater scandal to allow him some limited freedom (a job in the underworld). Iason and Katze have rather a nice conversation about it, which is both touching and appropriately cautious and reserved.

* Nice bit of exposition on Guy's mental state (18). It's dead on in summing up his main problem of trying too hard to be nice for fear he'll "lash out" if he doesn't and just losing everything anyway, which, of course, does not reinforce niceness.

* Nice bit of exposition on Riki's mental state (117): pretty well sums up the way Iason fucked him up and why he wasn't able to go back to a normative life when he returned to the slums.

* Miguel: nice portrait of the spoiled, childlike, selfish pettiness of a normative Pet.

The Indifferent
* The sex is porny and repetitive, pretty much what one can always expect from AnK. At least, it's not retconned.

* The writing style is still bad but less painfully bad than in some of the earlier volumes, which brings us to…

Translation
Volume 7 introduces a new translator, Jun Kayama, who is considerably more competent than Kelly Quine. Grammatical errors are almost completely gone, and the dialogue actually has some nice English flow, both in its more and less formal discourses.

One thing, however, bothers me, and that's changing vocabulary mid-series.

* "The Guardians" should be "Guardian" (a place).
* "Slumdog" should be "mongrel."

Indeed, whatever the Japanese may be, the previous terms offer preferable connotations. In the earlier, more reasonable AnK, Guardian is not a place typified by super-powerful, domineering "Guardians"; it's the place where young mongrels are raised by overworked women. (This change, admittedly, may be more Yoshihara's than Kayama's.) Likewise, "slumdog" just means "a dog from the slums," whereas "mongrel" suggests "not purebred," a mutt made of randomly mixed, non-eugenic DNA: exactly the point.

In the main, this volume was a waste of my time. Unlike the earlier, more awkwardly written volumes, it wasn't even funny. Speaking of the new and pointless plot point of Guardian's machinations, Yoshihara writes, "This changes everything--right?" (127). Right. Her updated edition has taken an excellent narrative and changed everything.
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