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"A love hotel is a place to nurture love...and love wins against all odds." Toshio Shirosaki.
High school student Yorozu Shirosaki helps his mother run the gloriously kitsch old-style love hotel Castle Mango that is the only legacy left him and his younger brother Satoru by their dead father Toshio. Studious Yorozu has his sights set on gaining a place at a top university - but hiring out rooms in the hotel to Kaleido Fish Studios, makers of 'adult' heterosexual films, brings him face-to-face with their unconventional - and unashamedly gay - young director, Togame. When Togame sacks an actor during shooting, he asks Yorozu to take his place (unaware that he's still a high school student). When Yorozu hesitates, Togame unceremoniously pulls down his trousers and comments, "I guess you're pretty average," which earns him a smart smack on the head for his cheek as the affronted Yorozu storms out. Later Yorozu learns that Togame has struck up a friendship with Satoru (they share a keen interest in soccer); his over-protective brotherly nature kicks in and he deliberately fools the director into thinking he's slept with him after a drunken night out. "If I go out with you, do you promise to leave my little brother alone?". By forcing Togame to do 'the decent thing' Yorozu believes that Togame will forget about Satoru (even though Togame has already told him in no uncertain terms that he's not into minors, he's just gay).
Of course, as little hints about Togame's past suggest, there's much more depth to the film director than Yorozu has imagined - and, besides, his own motives may be much more complicated than he realises when he starts this pretend relationship. Yorozu may look more mature than his years, but sometimes his inexperience is revealed in the way he handles the events that life throws at him. There's a beautifully drawn and written three-panel exchange late in this volume where Togame tells Yorozu, "In a lot of ways you've still got some growing up to do," and Yorozu comes straight back at him with an indignant, "I doubt it, I'm just as tall as you". We don't see his face as he says this, we see Togame's delighted reaction as he replies, "That's not what I meant". The interactions between the characters are so sensitively and tellingly portrayed by both authors that the manga repays many readings; I found myself frequently leafing back to track carefully placed clues I'd suspected might be significant earlier. And they were! All the characters are convincingly brought to life; Muku Ogura perfectly captures Togame's coldly arrogant exterior and then reveals, as Yorozu gets to know him better, a much warmer, though complex individual. And watching Yorozu is fascinating; forced to be the 'man of the house' by his father's early death, his face lights up whenever he talks about Castle Mango and his long-cherished plans to make it more profitable.
The product of a match made in graphic novel heaven, 'Castle Mango' boasts a script by Narise Konohara ('About Love' and 'Cold Fever' trilogy) and artwork by mangaka Muku Ogura ('The Secrecy of the Shivering Night'). Don't be deceived by the slightly flippant tone of the blurb; subtlety in plot and character interaction is novelist Konohara's speciality and when her words are brought to life by Muku Ogura's detailed and expressive artwork, 'Castle Mango' stands out as one of the most delightful, amusing, yet poignant manga to come from June in a long while. Ogura-sensei's drawings - while always distinctive and attractive, especially in her charming Boys Love collection 'Sensitive Garden Lover' - have developed by leaps and bounds in expressiveness and fluency; her work in 'Castle Mango' is by far the best I've seen this year in June's lists. With its 16+ rating, there's nothing graphic here to upset a sensitive reader (as long as they remember that this is published under June's Yaoi label and therefore deals with what may - or may not - be - a growing relationship between the two main male protagonists). But the story develops so naturally, enlivened with sharp and pleasing little touches of humour, that it's more a Slice of Life story than an out-and-out romance. And the ending - oh, the ending of the first volume is so exquisitely judged that I was silently begging for it not to stop at such a telling and painful moment. Volume 2 is to be published in Japan very soon; I can't wait for June to translate it to find out what happens next!
'Castle Mango' is a Boys Love manga that works on many levels; by turns funny, touching, painful and sweet, it's my top recommend of the year from June.
|Score:||9 out of 10|
|Date Published:||Wed, 25 Jul 2012|
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