Though its cover (two bruised and dreamy-eyed boys caressing each other) and packaging give the impression that Suzuki Tanaka’s Love Hurts (BluManga/Tokyopop) is a typical yaoi title, the four-stories inside prove less about boy love and more about minute quirky character studies.
In “Unforgivable,” the book’s dark opener, for instance, we come in on a male couple with one of the duo lying dead on the floor, the second weeping with blood on his shirt. What happened? We’re never shown for certain, but when a young friend of the dead man appears for some money that he’s owed, we’re given enough flashbacks depicting the stresses and strains on the relationship to get a pretty good idea. The second tale, “Two in Love,” follows the young friend Koharu from the first story and provides a glimpse of his relationship with an older teacher, one that’s colored by domestic violence and uncertainty. Clearly, we’re led to think, this book’s title is meant to be taken thematically.
But, then the writer/artist zigs with her third piece, “Fate of a Crime Fighter’s Love,” which focuses on a 22-year-old “subpar businessman” who doubles as a superhero. More explicitly comical, the piece parodies superhero conventions as it presents a somewhat more typical yaoi romance: our hero comes from a village where all the inhabitants have superpowers, and when a boyhood friend arrives in the city, the two bicker and compete before inevitably embracing. A much more lighthearted piece, though even this offering has its share of dysfunctional romance with a subplot featuring a young girl swindled by a scummy boyfriend.
After showing us this, though, Tanaka abandons male romance altogether in the book’s final piece, “Kanaka’s Story,” which concerns a young schoolgirl who believes that aliens want to abduct her. The piece manages to be both amusing and disturbing since we’re never fully certain if the girl is imaginative or diagnosable — or both.
Through it all, Tanaka’s pen work is crisp and cleanly expressive. While the comparison may seem odd for a manga being billed as a “comedy/romance” on its back cover, I found more of an affinity to modern literary comics by the likes of the Hernandez brothers (especially in its slippery blend of the mundane and the fantastic) in Love Hurts than I did in most of Tokyopop’s usual yaoi material. Those who come to this book for a bit of titillation will probably be disappointed. Those looking for more enigmatic and evocative fare may find this odd little collection up their alley.