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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wounding Words: Yun Kouga's Platonic Manga

This review is updated and revised from one that appeared in LA Alternative, Feb. 24-Mar. 2, 2006 edition.

Welcome to the world of an abused, mentally disturbed and sexually confused 12-year-old boy where, for starters, virgins have cat ears and tails. He battles "fighter units" whose words are literally deady weapons capable of wounding. Almost against his will, he's drawn to one young man who is both a protector and a seducer. That's the rabbit hole Loveless falls into, descending into the gaps between fantasy and realism, pure and tainted love, sci-fi action and yaoi-like male-male relationships.

TokyoPop started publishing the Yun Kouga manga series Loveless in America in 2006, and described it as part mystery and part psychological thriller with a little shonen-ai (yaoi or male-male elements) mixed in. "Its very tame but very suggestive," said a TokyoPop spokesperson at the time. That said, those who find a suggestive relationship between a 12-year-old boy and a Byronic man disturbing are advised to avoid Loveless.

"Kouga is a magician of the first order and has crafted an entire series around the concept that thoughts are energy and words are spells," wrote Christine Boylan in the first TokyoPop volume's epilogue.

A very popular and long-established Japanese manga artist, Kouga shows a new level of maturity in her art and storytelling here--Loveless is clearly superior to her earlier Earthian, although American fans of that anime (and manga) will recognize many similarities, especially in her lead characters. It's easy to see how the little black angel in Earthian is a predecessor to the troubled but innocent cat-eared Ritsuka, the lead character in Loveless. Likewise the innocent's protector, the vengeful cynical white angel, in Earthian is much like Ritsuka's mysterious older friend Soubi in Loveless.

In Earthian the characters struggled fairly explcitly with a forbidden homosexual relationship. In Loveless the struggle is more an internal one, as 12-year-old Ritsuka attempts to discover how much of his world exists beyond the words that define it. His brother was murdered, he says, but the details he gives us are bizarre and obscure and may not be connected to reality. Likewise Soubi could possibly be seen as an imaginary friend, as he variously is presented as godlike and just an art student. His offer of love and his attempts at a very different kind of seduction, much more complicated than an erotic one, however, are part of the reality of the Loveless universe.

Recently Mark Miner has offered an interpretation of Loveless based on Plato's Phaedrus, noting how Soubi and Ritsuka resemble a Platonic relationship, and how their "spell battles" of words with other "fighter units" make for a graphic version of Platonic debate. Throughout the series various couples try and fail to break Soubi and Ritsuka apart. It's part of an education befitting an "army of lovers," a Platonic ideal that was actually realized by the "300" of historical legend--and inspiration for the recent popular graphic novel and movie 300.

With the demise of TokyoPop, Loveless is stalled at eight volumes in America. According to Wikipedia, ten volumes have been published in Japan, with five more planned before the story finally concludes. Given the popularity of Kouga and the anime version (which is available in the US), it's likely another manga publisher may revive the series. That publisher, however, will probably have to start over from vol. 1. American fans will have to wait a long time to learn the ultimate fate of Ritsuka and Soubi.

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