Hino Garasu “Fetish”
It seems like this book arrived in the mail forever ago and I’m just getting around to properly reading it now, even though it has only been around a month and a half since it was released and in my hands for much less time. I was very excited about Hino Garasu’s Fetish tankoubon when it was announced, since it contains the first two stories that I ever read by her: Beautiful Days and Photograph, both of which were scanlated and released by the group Blissful Sin. That was the first time I (and many others?) heard of Hino Garasu so it was a bit disappointing when those stories weren’t in her first book. But yay, they’re both in this book and this book is also fabulous (if you don’t recall, I also reviewed her first tankoubon Seinen wa Ai wo Kou here) and now that I’ve finally read the first three stories I can do a proper write-up.
Aside from the connected stories Beautiful Days and Photograph, this book contains three other chapters that are three seperate stories respectively. Fetish, the title story, is about a young man named Tsukasa who seems to be aroused by his classmate Oomi’s hair—perhaps the scent, the feel, the appearance—and thus starts having dreams and fantasies of raping him. He’s terrified by these dreams and thus doesn’t know what to do when Oomi confesses to him. Does he chase Oomi away and keep him from getting hurt, or does he accept Oomi’s affection and chance taking his obsession with him too far and leaving the beautiful boy abused?
The second story, One My Star, is perhaps a bit distressing. Okumura and Hiroi were childhood friends, but after the boys at school pick out Hiroi to mock due to their assumption that he’s gay Okumura starts pulling away from him and even joining in with the taunting to avoid getting targeted himself. Even though they were such good friends, his sexual attraction to Hiroi is too much of a risk and he can’t let anyone find out—especially not Hiroi, who seems to have started sleeping around with other men and appears unaffected by his classmates’ taunts. The third story is a prison setting. In Torawarebito Murase has given up on looking forward to being alive in prison until a gorgeous new inmate shows up for him to play with. But the more he gets attached to Inmate #86, the more his past starts lining up with the present. Finally, the last two chapters are about Reo and Shinri who are stuck in a dysfunctional relationship with poor communication and too much pride. Reo is sick of Shinri’s selfish, destructive ways—it seems like all Shinri cares about is his work and using Reo’s body whenever he sees fit. But perhaps Shinri really does love Reo; he’s just terrible at expressing it.
As much as I was excited about this book for the last two chapters, I think in the end my two favorite stories were the first two. I found them to be oddly powerful, the second one in particular. I always think it’s interesting to find BL manga that addresses actual homophobia and what it’s like to be a high school student who has been perceived to be gay and thus targeted. Of course, Hino Garasu handled it in a vaguely erotic way which is obviously somewhat unrealistic. But the fact that she tried to not make it look like unicorns and smiley faces and rainbows is still a step outside the general spectrum of BL cliches and I applaud her for that.
The first story I liked because there was a very sexual vibe throughout. It was interesting and kind of creepy how Tsukasa started having those fantasies of violating Oomi—an obsessive need to make Oomi his. But I liked how it was nonetheless balanced with Tsukasa honestly feeling bad and confused about those fantasies and really not wanting to hurt Oomi. I thought the end, where it looked like Tsukasa was going to attack Oomi and cut all his hair off but then ended up embracing him and ‘admitting’ his feelings for Oomi (‘admitting’ because technically he just admitted that he’s attracted to Oomi’s hair) was a really nice touch—it made it seem like Tsukasa finally understood why he had those dark fantasies. It wasn’t that he wanted to hurt Oomi but more that he wanted to possess him and was attracted to him and the idea had just entered his adolescent mind in the wrong way. He didn’t have to hurt Oomi to get what he wanted, but to just embrace him and accept his feelings.
Admittedly I found the third story a little dramatic for my tastes but nonetheless enjoyable.
With this book I feel like Hino Garasu’s interest in the darker side of emotions of love has really been cemented. I remember thinking that the stories in Seinen wa Ai wo Kou were already quite dark, but after having that book followed up by these stories I really think Hino Garasu has a penchant for the depressing. While many of the stories don’t necessarily end badly (aside from perhaps Torawarebito) they always finish with this upsetting, unresolved feeling. Fetish ends with Tsukasa embracing Oomi but still being too afraid to admit he’s in love with him. One My Star ends with Okumura and Hiroi making love but with all the baggage of the pain Hiroi has felt from being mentally abused by his classmates—including Okumura—and also with Okumura’s fear that comes with the fact that he has been open with his feelings and thus must deal with the consequences. Torawarebito ends with Taira getting taken away on a stretcher, etc. etc. You see my point, right? And anyone who has read Photograph already knows that it ends with their relationship still being dysfunctional—now it’s just a bit more obsessive. You never really get that shiny, awesome pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when reading this book. Every story comes with a fair share of emotional baggage to sit on your shoulders for a few more hours after you’ve finished.
But having said that, even though I’m the type of person who does not necessarily like dark, dramatic stories (I am too emotional for them to be enjoyable, honestly), I found this book to be very powerful. The stories were dark and never ended in a way that made the world seem like a great place, but that in itself made the stories very memorable. And to say they’re dark does not mean that they were not hopeful in their own way; in the first chapter Tsukasa was able to embrace the feelings he was afraid of; in story two Okumura and Hiroi were able to admit their feelings to each other and thus have a support system to make it through; in Torawarebito Murase decides that he wants to put more effort into living again and find Taira and really protect him; in the final stories they were able to air their dissatisfaction and can hopefully move on from there.
So this book does have its fair share of dark emotions and depressing scenarios, but to me that only makes it more real to life. The good generally has to come with the bad, and the “bad” is often not just a tiny relationship problem or having to get used to the feeling of anal sex. And that’s kind of what Hino Garasu brings to the table—the grittier side of what the BL genre has to offer. It’s not all puppies and fields of flowers but it’s still a very interesting, thought-provoking viewpoint that I think everyone should try out at least a little.