When our local comic book shop recently began divesting itself of its manga stock, I started availing myself of the opportunity to explore some of the older series on the shelves (Battle Vixens, Comic Party, the Samurai Champloo manga) as well as catch up on some series that I'd let fall by the wayside (picked up five volumes of GTO, f'rinstance). One of these series, Sanami Matoh's Fake (Tokyopop), was of a genre of manga that I'd regularly heard about but hadn't yet read: shōnen-ai manga, whose main plot focuses on the growing attraction between its two male leads. It appears to be a popular storyline for girl readers, and Matoh's series, which was first published in Japan in 1994, has had a successful seven volume run. Tokyopop's translated version of the series debuted in 2003, and at present all seven volumes appear to be available in the U.S. Additionally, a new "second season" of the series has reportedly debuted this spring in a Japanese magazine called Hug, though it's probably too soon to tell if this second batch of Fakes will make it to these shores.
In any event, I picked up a copy of the first book in the series to see what all the to-do was about. The series centers on two young and dreamy NYC cops, Randy (a.k.a. Ryo) Mclean & Dee Layter (is English adapter Stuart Hazleton to blame for the puns in these names?), who work out of the 27th Precinct. Ryo is the newbie, a blond-haired androgynously pretty recruit who immediately attracts the attention of a female desk sergeant when he comes in to report for work. (First full shot we get of his face, the background of the gritty precinct is suddenly filled with flowers.) He's partnered with Dee, who we first see getting chewed out by the outrageously large-mouthed precinct Chief for what we presume are the usual Rule Bending Cop violations of procedure. Just yer typical NYC cop shop, in other words.
First case our duo gets assigned concerns a murdered mule named Dick Goldman, who was running dope for a local drug kingpin named Richard Feldman (when I initially read this chapter, I had to go back to verify that the editor hadn't made a slip-up – what's the idea of giving two characters names that are so close to each other?) Dead Guy Goldman has a son named Bikky, a roller-skating bi-racial street kid whose unruly blond hair pokes out from under his cap, making him look like a would-be Thompson Twin. Bikky is pugnacious and prone to sudden outbursts of temper — a younger version of Dee, in a lot of ways — but Ryo breaks through the kid's barriers by being his nice guy empathetic self. Though Dee protests ("he's still a kid out of the 'hood!"), the rookie detective decides to take Bikky in. Ryo doesn't know, of course, that the young kid is in possession of his dad's drugs – and, since no one seems to think of searching the little spud when they have him at the precinct, he's a target for Still Living Guy Feldman.
When Bikky and Dee get kidnapped in the park by Feldman's henchmen, it's up to Ryo to save them both – which he improbably manages to do by sneaking onto Feldman's estate, planting a bomb(!) in the attic and then phoning the police with an anonymous city-wide bomb threat. (And this is the cautious member of the team?) Pretty ludicrous even by the standards of yer average brain-dead buddy cop actioner, but, then, most of Fake's Older Teen readership hasn't come to this series looking for a serious police procedural.
The prime focus in Fake, of course, is on the developing attraction 'tween Dee and Ryo: which is teasingly protracted throughout the first book (and presumably prolonged even further for the next five volumes, at least). First indication that our two police lads will be exchanging lots of yearning looks comes when Dee, with zero concern for the niceties of personal space, goes nose-to-nose with Ryo and asks if he has "some Japanese" in him ("Your eyes are pitch black," he explains.) Turns out Ryo is half-Japanese — it's a multi-culti city, right? — but the main thing we take from the scene is the rabbity expression on Ryo's face when his new partner Stands So Close to Him. Is Dee coming onto him or not? Well, there's that later moment in the same chapter when the tough cop "jokingly" asks his new partner if he'll "still love" him — not to mention the kiss he plants on Ryo's lips once they've safely concluded the Feldman Case — but what's a little smooch among co-workers?
It's not a question that Ryo wants to spend much time pondering, anyway. "I'd better stop obsessing about his sexual orientation," we see him thinking at one point. "If I focus too much on him, I'm going to have to admit some stuff about myself." What stuff is that? we're supposed to wonder. Perhaps Ryo's not really half-Japanese?
The two cops continued this back and forth throughout most of the first volume: Ryo kisses Dee a second time to throw off a gang of pursuing thugs; Ryo ponders Dee's long eyelashes; Dee watches Ryo sleeping; Ryo feels a flash of jealousy when yet a third 27th Precinct detective pops up and kisses Dee. If much of this behavior seems more 'tween-aged than adult, perhaps we're meant to take it as a reflection of our two closeted leads' relative immaturity in the realm of Boy Love. Still, the whole shmear can't help coming across more than a little unintentionally campy.
Matoh's art, unsurprisingly, is at its best contemplating its attractive leads (including Bikky and a second street-wise teengirl named Carol who mainly seems to've been pulled into the storyline to reassure us that the little sprat will grow up straight) in languid repose or contemplation. (Matoh's action scenes are serviceable, if by and large unexceptional.) Perhaps the most jarring art moments for me came from the artist's reliance on massive cartoon shout mouths during some of the more deliberately comic scenes: whenever she used this approach with Bikky, the results wound up resembling cartoon black-face. Not the look, I suspect, she was actually going for.
After three long acts of the Dee & Ryo Delayed Gratification Show, the first book concludes with a short act centering on Bikky & Carol at Youth Camp. It's a fairly silly sequence and doesn't add a bit to the shōnen-ai storyline, but we do get to see gallant Bikky kiss the girl after he's rescued her from a bear. Sure, it’s a distraction from the series' main plot – but after watching the adults kiss-and-back-off three (or is it four?) times in this book, it's kind of a relief to see a kiss that's just a kiss…