Although she has had a long and eminently respectable career publishing josei manga both comic and dramatic under a different pen name, it was Saika Kunieda’s more recent work in the boy’s love (BL) genre that has garnered the greatest popular acclaim on the world stage. The two volume series Future Lovers, drawn in a typical, modest josei style akin to that of Chica Umino or Satosumi Takaguchi, is the first of her works to be licensed for release in the United States. Hopefully, it will not be the last; this is one of the best BL titles to have been released thus far in English --- period --- and it is one of only a handful that will sustain the interest of a readership not strictly composed of BL fans.
Why? Because this sensitive yet occasionally silly tale feels very real. As, for that matter, does the nuanced characterization of adults. The fact that it preaches a modest but clear-eyed message of tolerance and self-acceptance helps too. Those sorts of messages never get stale, and only a few other BL mangaka, namely Fumi Yoshinaga and Yugi Yamada, bother to write them regularly. Anyway, the story begins with schoolteacher Kento Kumagaya, who, as his name implies, is a gentle bear of a man living with his aging grandparents. Kento has just been dumped violently by Yukie, the woman he had hoped to marry and start a family with. Witness to his debacle is Akira Kazuki, a handsome gay man who knows exactly where Kento went wrong in his proposal. Kento, for his part, decides to get drunk and, to his chagrin, ends up having the one-night stand of his life in a love hotel with Akira.
Things just aren’t that simple, though, in real life or in Kunieda’s brand of BL. Turns out that Akira is a new teacher at Kento’s school, and a burgeoning relationship between them develops. As the two men gradually come to terms with their respective weaknesses and insecurities, they are both revealed as complex characters whose hearts are no less vulnerable for being gay. By the end of the first volume, they conclude that if they are to be together, it must be forever, for good, and for the whole world to see. Otherwise, they would rather have no relationship at all. The second volume features a series of vignettes about the couple as they progress through their lives together.
This is quite the challenge to homophobia generally and to Kento specifically, a man who wants to live the American Dream in collectivist Japan. Yet love ultimately conquers all --- even societal taboo --- and the couple copes with the many frustrations at work and at home that accompany being out of the closet in a world that does not always automatically approve of their life choices. Future Lovers also includes a bonus story featuring an emotionally intense, albeit incestuous, relationship between brothers.
It must be noted that the original title of the first volume of this series is Mirai no Kioku, which translates as “Memory of the Future.” Because the mangaka eventually penned an unplanned sequel originally titled Kaze no Yukue, or “The Way the Wind Blows,” the title was changed to something more generic and given a “volumes one and two” designation for U.S. release. In any case, the poetic if superficially paradoxical title phrase of the first installment in particular actually refers to a poignant narrative device. At one point, Kento has a dream of the future wherein he and Akira grow old together. Every real relationship has its ups and its downs, of course, yet he realizes in that moment that the downs do not matter. He wants to spend the rest of his life with Akira. He wants to die with Akira at his bedside, holding his hand. Okay, so maybe it’s not quite the American Dream per se, but it is a beautiful dream nonetheless --- one that should kindle a warm feeling for any reader, male or female, with the barest ounce of romance in their souls. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Casey Brienza on September 29, 2008
Future Lovers Vol. 1