BLog: Black or White Vol. 1

BLog reviews recent boys love, yaoi and LGBTQ+ English translation manga.

Black or White Vol. 1
Story and art: Sachimo
Translation: Adrienne Beck
Publisher: SuBLime Manga
Release Date: September 14, 2021

Black or White isn’t about two guys as they trepidatiously begin to explore a blossoming relationship. It’s about a relationship with history, threatened by self-doubt and stretched between the duelling demands of fame and love.

Shin Himemiya (whose stage name is Shin Washimiya) is an emerging acting talent who is mistakenly type-cast as a villain–dark haired, intense, glaring, brusque, when he’s actually a caring, hard-working, socially awkward, inexperienced and closeted gay boy. He met his boyfriend and fellow actor Shigeru Osawa (whose stage name is Kazushige Tatebayashi), in high school, and they started secretly dating in third year. Shige is the polar opposite of Shin, easily beautiful and charming, “the prince” of the industry, ending up playing romantic leads, although in private he’s passionate, insecure about his own talent, obsessed with supporting and protecting Shin’s career who he sees as the more talented of the two… and is secretly a bit kinky…

In a subtle way, Black or White is an interesting little exploration of fame, and the perceptions that we impose on one another, be that fans towards the stars they love and hate, or between two lovers in a tenuous relationship.

The manga follows Shin closely as he takes on the role of Captain Dark in the equally extra titled Ranger Academy: Battle For the Academy–I picture Power Rangers meets Attack on Titan. He struggles with coming off as cold and rude to his fellow cast and the general public, and is always rushing home to be with his longterm partner. As a rare interview on a late-night talk show catapults him into the public spotlight, the careful little world Shin and Shige built together starts to look more and more impossible.

At the start of Black or White, Shige and Shin’s relationship begins as extremely intimate, something slightly less than sexual, but definitely more than platonic. Shin is insecure about his lack of experience, his first kiss and first sexual experience were both with Shige. Even though he wants to please his partner he doesn’t feel ready to go further.

We don’t often think of manga in terms of its realism, but as a romantic drama Black or White may be one of the more… straightforward romance stories in recent memory. As an example, one of the more endearing (and strangely sexy) scenes happens when Shin goes to his closest friend for advice. Hanazaki is a member of an idol band, his image as equally curated as any other Japanese star, but when they met at a talent agency mixer he immediately clocked Shin as gay. Wanting to go further but unsure how to get there, Hanazaki proceeds to give him the most in depth preparation guide to anal (minus douching) in the pages of manga–I’m reminded of another SuBLime title, Escape Journey, I’m always pleasantly surprised when guy-on-guy sex isn’t depicted like jumping into a pool… with nary a drop of lube in sight… *shudder*

The story is equally realistic in the depiction of Japanese celebrity culture, the uncomfortable reality of image above all, where presumed heterosexuality and heterosexism trumps even homophobia–the two don’t have to confront homophobia in their careers, their relationship is so private and insular their sexuality is never even questioned. Even the people who support Shige and Shin’s relationship know it can’t exist publicly. The two accept this without question, which is probably realistic but kind of sad and disappointing.

This realism keeps Black or White very grounded, though. Their story and feelings for each other may be intense, sometimes a little overwrought, but in the sense that they can only explore them within the confines of their own private world together it tracks. It also means the moments where we get to see Shige and Shin acting like normal humans–especially when Shin smiles–is all the more effective and adorable. It suffers from your standard BL “you’re the only one for me, I want to be with you forever” melodrama, but hey… sometimes, at least in the pages of manga, these things can be pretty… BLACK OR WHITE.

Ehh?! Ehh?!

Level of Problematic: The Academy Award for Best Depiction of Horny, Dumb Gay Boys goes to… Again, always strange to acknowledge BL manga for a good depiction of gay relationships and sex, but here we are. There’s even a decent acknowledgement of consent as, after an initial, uncomfortable experience, Shige does his best to give Shin space… maybe a little too much space… to get his butt ready for the big “A”. And again, they do that whole BL thing of being intensely invested in being together… the line that really did it for me was “bind me to you and never let go”. Like, yeah, I guess that’s romantic… but that’s a lot of pressure, Shin!

Level of Adorable: The Academy Award for Best Boy goes to… Hanazaki. He makes the briefest and midriff-iest of appearances, but I love him. Shin is a close second.

Level of Spiciness: The Academy Award for Best Depiction of Anal Sex Preparation goes to… This manga has everything: boys fooling around and getting scared about going further, boys full on boning, boys spying on one another whackin’ it, boys fingering themselves. Next level spice.

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