Have you ever felt the primal need to create, to draw, to write? The aesthetic invading your thoughts, the love of beauty. An image stuck in your mind that needs to be set free.
Famous manga author Noda Ayako, whose most known work is Double, winner of the 2020 manga excellence award at the 23rd JAPAN MEDIA ARTS FESTIVAL held by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, writes her BLs under a pseudonym: Arai Niboshiko. I will focus on her 2014 work, Adana o kure, or as the original cover states, Give me a nickname, published by onBLUE comics.
It has been translated into English by Yamada Emi and is available on Futekiya. I have purchased a physical copy, but you can use any website that offers digital manga for rent or purchase. I used my digital copy purchased from Renta for all the pictures you see.
This review contains spoilers and depictions and/or discussions of sexual nature.
|Mymero enjoying the cover.|
💟 DEVOTION (or Amō and the frenzy)
As we move through the pages of this incredibly drawn volume, we are introduced to our two protagonists, Josè and Amō. As quite the opposites, Josè is a popular model with striking blue eyes and a cheerful, almost air-headed personality, while Amō is a broody and reclusive illustrator, cherishing his privacy so much so that most of his fans have no idea of who he is or what he looks like, even speculating on him being a woman or a team of artists.
The pages go by and the story reveals how our main characters are not in love, at least not in a conventional way. Thus, my interest was immediately captivated. I am very curious about depictions of love that tackle longing, unrequitedness, confusion and generally speaking, raw emotions, so this was very up my alley. Though, have no fear! This BL has a happy ending; I am not subjecting you to a tragedy. Nobody is getting hurt－ not emotionally, at least!
The two men seem to be intrinsically attracted to each other, like planets stuck in a doomed orbit, both having a hard time realising their shared feelings. Amō's eyes look at Josè's body like his life or just his sanity depended on him by just... Existing. I would call it devotion, quoting the bookbinder the volume comes with, 「ジョゼはおれの神様だった。」"Josè was my god".
|Page 22 and 23|
The suffering this odd dance brings them is palpable, as the longing showed in every carefully crafted expression makes it clear. Amō loves Josè like an artist loves their muse-- the anxious, unbearable stares keep the reader on the edge, wanting to know if he will ever manage to break apart the aesthetic of Josè from the man himself. To love Josè for who he is and not Amō's idealised version of him.
Amō, by the end of our reading, feels guilty for his obsession with Josè: as an artist myself, I know how odd it could feel to show someone you admire or love a piece where you had obsessively scribbled or painted them. Not everyone is able to deal with their person being judged, whatever that might be. In Amō's case, the dread of disappointing Josè would be too much, so he forbids the other man to enter his study. Josè has never seen a drawing of himself.
The illustrator's obsession is both hidden and in plain sight, as everyone can see Josè's smiles on buildings and magazines. Yet, Amō seems never to be satisfied. This consuming passion began when he was twelve years old, getting to know Josè as his classmate, swept away by such beauty. At the time, the young soon-to-be model sported black hair and blue eyes, something pretty peculiar (but he's "fully Japanese" cit.), which awakens in Amō his first sexual desire.
There is a beautiful scene that parallels the frustration of not understanding one's own emotions with eroticism, the artist lamenting 「もっと見たい、ジョゼのからだを」, "I want to see... His (Josè's) body, again and again.", as one of his (presumably) first sexual experiences. The frenzy he is in, describing his eyes, his face, the length of his nose and so on. This god-like being that is Josè fills his sketchbook and his mind.
It ends with adult Amō's narration: at the time he had thought that the love he felt was passionate (koi, 恋), real. The boys enter high school and go on their separate ways. The thought of him being in love with Josè warps into obsession when Amō' quickly realises he needs Josè. He craves his body, his figure, the aesthetic. Those people staring back at him on the paper are not his muse anymore, he needs the real thing.
|Pages 108 and 109|
Amō, thus, asks Josè to go live together as flatmates when they both leave their homes for university, as young adults. Here we have our first hint that Amō is actually in love (ai, 愛) with Josè: the muse is now a bleached blond, to look more like a haafu, probably to further his budding modelling career－ and Amō does not care.
He still sees him as the splendid inspiration he had always seen. After a while, their relationship becomes sexual and his mind goes on about his love for the neo-blond... He loves Josè's beauty (he keeps correcting himself) and there is no other way of being closer to his muse than being united in such an intimate act. His adoration pervades every part of his mind and, amidst the light, he sees Josè.「光の中にジョゼを見る」
Another hint is the time Josè falls down while drunk. Now, the man's face is ridden with bandages, swollen and, of course, changed. It is different. Amō still does not care.
|Pages 145 and 146|
The confession he makes is pure, deeply felt. His words fall over Josè like a gentle shower, after the man had been consumed by his longing for Amō's affection.
"I love you. If you become bones... Even then, you'd be beautiful."
💟 AESTHETIC (or Josè and the longing)
On the other side of the coin, we find our model, seemingly the usual happy-go-lucky type of character. However, we quickly understand how his main driving force is longing for something, longing for someone. For Amō's love, craving his affection, both romantic and sexual in nature.
I have to admit, my scale skews in favour of Amō's character, but that does not mean Josè's is poorly handled, on the contrary! He loves Amō, Josè has realised it already, but that is why he keeps pushing his feelings, repeating "I love you" every chance he gets.
We are immediately aware of their different approach to the relationship in the introductory chapter, showing a feverish Amō drawing his man's body, as Josè rests against the study door, stroking himself to relieve the frustration of being isolated. Amō courting a specific aesthetic of Josè, while the model is drunk, alone and naked on the bare floor.
|Pages 33 and 34|
At the beginning of their shared life in the same flat, they get separate rooms. However, Josè wants to push Amō's boundaries to understand what his breaking point might be, the moment he would finally be true to his feelings. So, one night, he brings home a man for a one-night-stand, almost breaking into the artist's bedroom.
Josè wants Amō to watch him have sex with that stranger, to force the artist to see him as a human, to instigate some kind of jealousy. Yet, his plan fails. Amō retreats from his bedroom to the kitchen, just wondering for a brief moment about his feelings. Why that man had felt like a nuisance? The train of thoughts ends with a simple "I was just captivated by his beauty".
Josè is shadowed by... His own self. Constantly battling the idea the illustrator has of him, to the point of asking, pleading Amō to love him back. 「おれのこと好きになってよ・・・・」
|Pages 128 and 129|
Josè's emotions come crashing down when, as I mentioned in the previous segment, he gets physically hurt. His face, to him, is unrecognisable. It will heal for sure, but Josè is terrified.
Terrified of how Amō will now look at him, terrified that his love will whither down, seeing how the beauty, the aesthetic has now faded from his features (even though it is just temporary). Pages upon pages of pauses, with Josè's eyes slowly losing their light. The realisation that both his career as a model and his precarious love life could be on the brink of failing him.
All these feelings of longing, fear, unrequitedness have their climax when Josè lashes out to Amō for the very first time, throwing his phone in the air and hitting Amō's head. "How can I go out with a face like this?!"
|Pages 141 and 142|
The last thing Josè wants is to witness how Amō sees him. The doubt on how the man had been depicting his body on paper for so many years.
I should focus on the book's art style for a moment, which was the first thing that shined through. The cover art is masterfully painted and Josè's blue eyes will immediately draw you in with the question "Who is this twink?".
There are no doubts about it: Noda draws her bodies a little scrawny, like figures that pose as Greek statues. Usually, that is not something I look for in art, though she still kept my attention with her fresh, weightless lines.
Noda has a specific way of drawing faces, of which I love the tension and elegance, especially when she portrays eyes. They are, indeed, a window to the soul. Some of her panels convey horror or apathy just by focusing on the eyes, which, to me, is mastery.
As a comic artist myself, I have to say that the panelling and flow of the story are clear and for the most part, they will keep you moving further, flipping page after page. Some of those pages are just beautiful to look at, as the pace suddenly halts to focus on something that is being said or needs to be the reader's focus, sometimes they help to keep up the momentum.
I also mentioned horror earlier, because some of her panelling, lines and expression gave me a distinct feeling of terror, which is always welcome in a story.
I do not consider myself an avid BL reader. Sadly, I am extremely picky. I enjoy stories that lean more on the human psyche or are "realistic" to a certain extent.
The bookbinder disappoints me, as it does a disservice to the manga; it points out silly things like who is the top or the bottom as if, in such a story, we were supposed to care about that. The sex scenes are there for a reason and do not feel like mindless pandering for naked bodies, which also surprised me, seeing how Josè (the uke or bottom) is the one that takes the initiative most times. The odd couple even seems to have genuine fun while having sex. That was refreshing to see.
My experience with Noda goes back to 2016, when I bought her BL manga Kagakubu no megane, published by EDGE COMIX. It had the same poise of narration but with a juvenile and unripe romance between two middle schoolers, about fourteen years of age.
I was afraid of approaching the book, as I had seen how sometimes the bodies of young boys get so violently sexualised in some BLs that it usually makes me queasy. However, Noda manages to show us a wholesome story without making the protagonists' sexuality feel weird or fetishistic, but just a part of growing up and adolescence.
She does it again with Adana o kure, blessing us with a peculiar story of artistic frenzy and longing. I am thankful for having bought the book.
Is it good? Yes.
Should you read it? Yes, if you can.
Do I recommend it? Yes.
My score is 80 out of 100, as it feels still a little smudged and could be better fleshed out, but it is a must to have in your collection.