Look at the title to Duo Brand’s one-volume manga, Isle of Forbidden Love (Blu Manga), and you might get the impression that the book is a man love version of The Blue Lagoon. You’d be wrong, though, as the book’s story set-up proves far more intriguing than its generic yaoi romance. The “forbidden love” of the title turns out not to be the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name, but, rather, the attraction between men from two very different cultures.
Young Aki is a jittemochi (a commoner with the authority to make arrests) on the very out-of-time Isle of Edo; bespectacled Kuga is a cop from the modern city of Tokyo. The two meet over a murder that occurs during an island festival. The killing is unlike any that Aki has seen before: the victim died from a single small hole in his chest. Kuga, who uses strange terms like “Internet,” “cellular phone,” and “computer” knows what’s up, of course, but he’s not allowed to pass this info to the Edo islander. Though it’s never made quite clear whether Kuga has been time traveling or if the people of Edo have decided to act as if the 20th century never took place, it’s clear that the ways of the modern world are alien to Aki.
This intriguing set-up — can Kuga help Aki find the killer without revealing all he knows? — takes a quick back seat to the developing attraction between the two men. Duo Brand (a pseudonym for yaoi manga creators Haruka Akatsuki and Nobuyoshi Watanabe) are clearly more at home working the tropes of boyish romance than they are a cross-cultural murder mystery. When we learn the culprit’s identity, the answer provokes little more than a shoulder shrug. Even the story’s Lovers Between Two Worlds storyline isn’t developed as much as it could be: when Kuga ultimately brings Aki to his Tokyo, we’re only given a few quick nods to how strange he finds the city (it smells different, he says at one point) — and then the story skips four years to show us a fully acculturated Aki.
For yaoi lovers looking for a manga that delivers lots of panels of loverly boys languidly stretching or sending yearning dare-I-or-don’t-I? glances toward the object of their attraction, the “mature”- rated Isle of Forbidden Love delivers the goods. (Duo Brand’s art is at its most expressive during the book’s close-to-explicit lovemaking scenes.) Those who’d like a slightly meatier story to go along with all the manly/tender looks, however, are advised to look elsewhere. Kairi Shimotsuki’s over-the-top Blu Manga two-volume, Madness, perhaps.