Be Beautiful: Anime and Manga
Distributed by Central Park Media
Reviewed by Jon Minners
Before there was Brokeback Mountain there was Be Beautiful. Central Park Media was doing it first, breaking the mold and releasing stories focusing on an alternative type of love to the mainstream audience through its Be Beautiful line of anime and manga, which can be viewed at www.bebeautifulmanga.com.
The type of work is called Yaoi. According to Wikipedia, the word Yaoi was originally used to refer to fan manga (such as doujinshi) that focused on homosexual relationships between male characters. Going into that genre has proven very successful for Central Park Media, as Be Beautiful has become America’s leader in the Yaoi manga graphic novels, and now anime, which is interestingly enough aimed at college age and older female readers, not gay audiences.
Apparently, women like guy on guy action as much as guys like the artistic nature of two women in full embrace. This could be seen from the fact that shows like Queer as Folk and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy seem to be more successful with women audiences and why men everywhere, except me (oh the joys of being single at the moment) were dragged to see Brokeback Mountain. Go figure.
But this is entertainment, and as such, it must be reviewed by G-POP. We received two such titles from the Be Beautiful line, one a manga, and the other an anime. Both aimed at showing the world a culture that is actually not much different from a heterosexual world. Both succeeded.
Last month, Be Beautiful released Embracing Love: Book 3, the climactic episode to the series’ first story arc. The story focuses on two actors, Iwaki and Katou, who go from being rivals to being lovers. It is a love that is resisted at first, but finally accepted, leading to a 10 day sex romp that was unfortunately depicted rather graphically well from an artistic standpoint, that I must admit, led me to skip some pages.
Created by the acclaimed artist Youka Nitta, the story’s third chapter, introduces the lead character’s family, who until now, have been conspicuously absent from the cast. However, chances are that this family reunion will not be a happy one.
“The characters that Ms. Nitta has created for Embracing Love are so well defined that it’s only natural that we meet their families and that the skeletons in their closets are finally revealed,” said Masumi Homma O’Donnell, publisher of Be Beautiful.
This is where this story shines. I had a hard time dealing with the sexual subject matter, but when it came to the relationship aspect, the story really hit some interesting topics of discussion, such as what it is like to be gay, but not fully accept that homosexuality; how to deal with homosexuality when you are the center of attention as it pertains to the media, and what it is like when you come out of the closet and must confront a family that has shunned everything you have become. This was what made this story rather interesting; well written and full of heart. Nitta really does a good job with the subject matter and it is easy to see why audiences have fully embraced this title.
Aimed at audiences 18 and up, this romance/drama is a little pricey at $15.99 when most manga are $9.99, but at 208 pages, it may be worth it if you are a girl and like this sort of stuff.
The story focuses on Ranmaru and Kei. The two share a very strong and passionate relationship built on years of trust, sacrifice and love. But when the mysterious son of a Yakuza boss begins to pursue Ranmaru’s affection, tempers flare, and hidden emotions rise to the surface…especially when the stranger turns out to be Kei’s own half-brother! Will Ranmaru and Kei’s love survive, or will the emotional conflict finally come to a head.
This anime was actually kind of fun to watch. There was not much graphic sex, so I was able to focus on the story, which really was not much different from girl meets boy…girl falls for boy anime that I am used to watching. The title actually didn’t really focus on the gay relationship at all, except for one episode when Kei’s half-brother things that Ranmaru is cheating on Kei with another…gasp…woman. The two follow him in what turns out to be a humorous little story.
There are a lot of funny moments in the DVD, but there is also some action. With Kei being the son of a Yakuza boss, himself, he is the target of rivals, resulting in an injury to Ranmaru, an injury that forces him out of kendo competition and becomes the catalyst for the emergence of Kei’s half brother and the story that unfolds. We get a battle with a sword, some fist fights and I am sure as the series goes on, there will be a lot more action involved.
There is also a lot of warmth in the story, as a “unfulfilled love triangle” unfolds while Kei tries to reconnect with the brother he never really wanted in the first place, and vice versa. That is the driving point of this series. I don’t care for hentai of any kind. I don’t like porn anime so I usually fast forward through the sex scenes and focus on the story. Hentai doesn’t really have a story and that is what sets apart the Be Beautiful collection, because it is truly about the romance and the plot, which along with good animation sets Kizuna apart from the pack.
The DVD comes packed with a creator interview, director’s commentary, Q&A session at Japan Society with the series creator, previews and English and Japanese with English subtitles. The shows are each 30 minutes in length and the romance/drama is for those ages 16 and up, containing scenes of violence, nudity and mild sexual situations that may not be suitable to those who find such content objectionable. Parental discretion is advised for those that choose to buy this DVD. And should you buy this DVD? Well, girls, anime is not about guns, violence and big robots anymore. Be Beautiful is for you. Enjoy.