Doesn’t take long for the reader to realize just how seriously messed-up the world created by TogaQ and Kichiku Neko (a.k.a. “Guilt/Pleasure”) is in their “mature content” yaoi manga In These Words (Digital Manga). Following a brief text piece describing a handsome young man’s kidnapping and imprisonment at the hands of a sadistic stalker, we’re shown the first of several graphic scenes featuring a bound male being taunted and sexually mistreated by a mysterious figure. When our hero Asano Katsuya wakes from what we learn is but one of many recent nightmares, we don’t know if the sordid scene we’ve just witnessed is mere imagining, a premonition or a posttraumatic flashback.
Our bespectacled protagonist is a psychiatrist who recently helped the police capture a grisly sado-sexual serial killer with 12 known victims to his name. Now said killer, Shinohara Keiji, is only willing to talk to the man who profiled him, so Asano is sent to an isolated undercover holding facility that resembles the Bates Mansion to grill Shinohara. There, interviewer and subject engage in a back-and-forth with the killer growing more grotesquely flirtatious toward the shrink. Though all twelve of his victims were sadistically abused by their captor, none were sexually assaulted. Given the opportunity, Shinohara brazenly states, he would have his way with Asano, though.
As this disturbing relationship builds, In These Words regularly flashes to its captivity scenes which steadily grow more explicit. The focus remains primarily on our two-man cast, though two other male figures—youngish cop Shibata and burly guard Iwamoto—fulfill basic horror tale secondary roles. (If you guess one of ‘em won’t make it to the end of the first volume, then you know your serial killer horror.) The book’s heavily gray-scaled art (the credits don’t clarify which of our two collaborators actually did the illustrating) gives the whole tale a fifties noir flavor, while the attention to character nuance during the interrogation scenes is particularly strong. There are no cartoonish fillips in the main story, though the book amusingly appends a series of cutesy “chibi” gag strips to the book to keep things from ending on too solidly grim a note.
Still, the book definitely is not for younger readers or anyone who might be upset by panels depicting clear digital penetration. The first volume—which features our hero holding onto a bleeding skull in an “Alas, poor Yorick” pose on its cover—ends with the promise/threat that the dreadful scenes we’ve already glimpsed will be doubled down in later books. “Guilt/Pleasure” for those who consider Titus Andronicus the entertainment equal of Hamlet.