43. Doukyuusei by Nakamura Asumiko.
I got my DVD of Doukyuusei last week. To be honest, I didn’t want to get the DVD. I mean, yes, I wanted to watch the film. I was miserable that I missed the film when I had the chance to see it. But the DVD, I thought, it can wait another day. Like, maybe, when the PhD is over. I’m at that point in my Nakamura Asumiko fan life that I can wait a few months before buying her next release. I mean there was a time where I can wait years before I get a book so, I know that this can wait. But somehow, the Doukyuusei DVD kept on popping up on my Amazon suggestions.
And then it dawned on me that I might have a use for the DVD, so I eventually preordered it. When it arrived, I felt a slight tickle under my skin. I didn’t think I’d be so excited about it until I placed the DVD on my shelf beside my Doukyuusei manga. Suddenly, years of my BL life just flooded over me. I realised that had it not been for Nakamura Asumiko, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.
Now, that sounds like a big claim. At best, Nakamura Asumiko changed my life as a BL reader. When I first crossed her work, I was at that point in my fujoshi life where I hardly found any BL story interesting. I had my BL staples which kept my interested. I had the works of Yoshinaga Fumi and Yamashita Tomoko. And maybe Sakurai Shushushu. But prior to Nakamura Asumiko, I certainly felt the stagnancy in BL manga. Everything was outrageous. There was a time when everyone looked like Yamane Ayano’s boys. There were pockets of humor but they were not engaging. It was like eating garlic bread in a restaurant. It was mindblowing at first and then after some while it just tasted like every other garlic bread. When I first encountered Nakamura Asumiko, it was like being faced with slices of freshly baked bread with a small dish filled with olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, and a sliver of garlic. It was almost the same thing but it was different altogether.
Doukyuusei was the same old BL trope of two different boys with two different personalities falling in love. Kusakabe’s a rebel and Saijou was the good boy. Still is a good boy. They were an unlikely couple and Asumiko managed to write a likely love story with such subtleness and warmth. Looking back, I was blown away by the title. I love it for all its gangly limbs and deep eyes. Asumiko also drew them with such peace which was refreshing against so much drama I read in BL at that time. No one had to die out of love. No one had to get kidnapped. No one had to be anything else that they were not. It was the most vanilla BL story that I have read in years and yet it was enjoyable. A subtle sweetness that comfortably lingers in my mouth.
And I guess I was not alone in this experience. Doukyuusei became crazy popular. Asumiko went on to write for other magazines. She also had that awesome exhibit (and another one specifically for Doukyuusei). She’s been featured in many BL compendiums. Critics also featured her works with much delight and for the last few years, Asumiko and her works have been the poster child of BL’s “new wave.” I think it’s safe to say that many folks felt the same thing I felt when reading Doukyuusei and Asumiko Nakamura’s works. She was a breath of fresh air for boys love.
The fact that Doukyuusei continues to be celebrated is telling of its relevance in BL. Some say that it showed BL as a form of art. Others think that it paid homage to early shounen’ai works and made it relevant and contemporary. Some even find it quite real. I think it showed the best qualities of the genre at a time when everyone needed a reminder why BL was amazing. For that, I am grateful. For that, I have a special place for Doukyuusei in my heart.
BL’s Best Practices
As I watched the DVD, I continued to believe how this title still shows BL’s best practices. Why can’t all the amazing BL stories be animated as beautifully like this? I’ve seen some of the best BL stories in live action and to be honest, no handsome actor can save crappy acting. Let’s be honest, not all handsome young actors make good actors. Even the animated BL we’ve seen to this day hardly has the same care given in this series. Is it because those recent titles are part of a media mix machine while this — Doukyuusei — is considered art?
Should we treat Doukyuusei better because critics consider it art? Just as importantly, is everything else out there just crap so we should stop caring except for these select few?
Questions like this make me feel uneasy simply because I know there is no right answer. I don’t think Nakamura Shungiku cared less for her work compared to Nakamura Asumiko. I am certain that one hour of Doukyuusei should not be compared to 24 episodes of Junjou Romantica. But such questions certainly raises the eternal question of high art vs. low art and I am firm believer that there is merit in all art forms, high or low.
Yes, Doukyuusei was beautifully done. The animation was as comfortable as reading the comic. It is bright. Warm. Shining. Refreshing. For fans of Umino Chico’s Honey and Clover, this might just be your cup of tea. The direction was mostly due to the intentions of its director who wanted to capture the manga’s atmosphere in this movie. Perhaps it was easier because the comic was like a great storyboard they could work with. Maybe the story itself was just good to begin with. Maybe they managed to do so well because the movie just lasted an hour. Seriously, have we ever paid for a movie that lasted an hour?
There’s a part of me that believes Doukyuusei was spoiled because many believe that a work like this is art. You can feel it in the movie and even the packaging of the DVD. The Limited Edition DVD comes with the soundtrack (which is amazing) and a drama CD (which is cute). It also comes with a small artbook which shows the animation process of the title. The packaging’s embossed with Nakamura Asumiko’s illustrations that you can say you’ve physically touched her work.
So much care and thought went into this work. And while I think that should be celebrated, there’s a part of me that screams, “Why can’t all these amazing BL works be treated in the same manner!?!” While I sat back in awe of this amazing title, I can’t help but feel bittersweet. To recognise this title as exceptional means acknowledging the failures of the genre and maybe the industry. But I suppose that’s good in a way. Not all things are perfect but when we strive for perfection, beautiful things emerge.