Spotlight: Yamashita Tomoko
So I was planning a spotlight on Matsumoto Miecohouse next, and I also have Kumota Haruko and Uchida Tsuchi reviews I’m working on, but I was reading another blog post earlier about BL recommendations—BL manga that ~breaks the mold~ and all that pretentious crap—and I didn’t see Yamashita Tomoko on there even once?? What the hell. In my opinion she’s right along with Est Em as the queen of truly amazing BL.
Though she also does shoujo and josei. And seinen.
For a relatively new mangaka (her first published book was in 2007) she has caught on quite quickly—two of Yamashita Tomoko’s tankoubon, have already been licensed and released (her two earliest, Kuimonodokoro and Koi no Kokoro) by NetComics, and four of her other works have been picked up by scanlation groups. The lovely Storm in Heaven scanlated Illumination to completion, Nakama has released one chapter of Bara no Hitomi, Moon in a Box has released two chapters of Koi no Hanashi, and a couple chapters of Touch Me Again were released by Kurogane. The ones I’ve linked in her tankoubon list above do not include her non-BL josei tankoubon Love, Hate, Love nor do they include the works she currently has running in magazines and anthologies. She’s a busy, busy woman.
However, it’s oddly rare for me to see her name mentioned when people bring up the subject of BL mangaka who don’t follow the stereotypes. Est Em always gets her fair credit, but the mangaka who has stood beside her for a majority of her career, Yamashita Tomoko, has somehow been overshadowed.
Which, to me, is absolutely insane.
Yamashita Tomoko has an art style I’d barely call ‘beautiful’. Her lines are a bit scratchy, her figures a bit scrawny, and everyone looks so damn plain. I’ve seen people complain that her characters always look tired and depressed and old, and I can understand that I suppose. But it fits with the type of manga she writes so very perfectly. The tired eyes, the furrowed brows, the sarcastic grins—all of her characters fit into this world where people understand life actually kind of sucks. Her BL world isn’t full of sparkles and clandestine romances, but instead full of gay men who’re afraid to love, the unsure men who love them, and the women in their lives that don’t know what they can do to help.
But that’s what makes them so great. The men are scrawny and pathetic and half the time they don’t know what they want to do with their lives. They fall in love, they fall out of love, they move on. As adults they’re passionate but also afraid of getting hurt. They’re probably some of the most realistic characters I’ve ever seen. Not to mention Yamashita Tomoko writes female characters. Seriously! Females! And they’re not just some random plot device to get in the way. Some of her stories are even from a female perspective, i.e. the first chapter of Koi no Kokoro, which is about an older sister who’s watching her gay brother struggle with falling for his best friend.
Her stories are beyond brilliant. Even her first tankoubon, Kuimonodokoro Akira, was quite powerful. She knows how to show the struggles of human relationships more than probably any other mangaka I’ve ever seen. My favorite story from her, Love or Something from the Illumination tankoubon, is seriously just about two men sitting and talking about one of their relationships and how he may or may not be in love with the friend sitting beside him right then. The dialogue between them is just so real and oddly sweet without being sugar-coated. I can’t stress enough how powerful she somehow makes simple things like that feel.
She doesn’t do fanservice very much. Without looking back at her tankoubon I can only recall three or four sex scenes, none of which were particularly hot or smutty or long. Her men are awkward, and so their sex is rather awkward as well. However, it’s generally quite loving in a weird way. Entire chapters and stories will go by without the two main characters even so much as touching. Most of the power in her stories comes from the emotion in dialogue, so sexual intimacy is often not that necessary beyond simple things like holding hands.
In closing, I can only say please please please do not overlook Yamashita Tomoko. She may not be one of the artists I fangirl on a daily basis, but when I’m being unbiased I can honestly say she has to be one of the best BL mangaka out there today—her art is original and interesting, her stories are very often moving and relatable and so very charming, and the world she creates isn’t exactly sparkly but her characters are always grudgingly hopeful and strong and move on with their lives even in the worst of times. Even if you can’t read her manga as something to get off to, and even if it isn’t your normal BL that’s filled with endless romance and sweet nothings, her stories are subtle and read almost like a real written short story. She knows how to deliver, so I think she deserves at least a chance or two or three.