Kamikakushi Ryou Kitan
BL = Bozu Love
I had a rough start with Tojitsuki Hajime. Several of her earliest manga struck me as very bland, very forgettable. At some point, either she matured artistically or gained enough freedom to draw whatever she wants (probably a bit of both!) because her recent manga are refreshing additions to BL. Kamikakushi Ryou Kitan revolves around the supernatural occurrences and tasks undertaken by the resident monks. This isn’t your average Shinto shrine or priests. It’s an unremarkable employee dormitory, but the residents have some pretty remarkable (if somewhat random) styles that are heavily influenced by skater, street, and hip-hop cultures. There’s even some “bozu atama” or shaven heads that you’d associate with monks and/or punks! Kamikakushi Ryou Kitan is a collection of occult stories that feature these modern day monks.
While there’s a large cast of supporting characters, the focus is Tsukumo Chiaki (“Chuckie”) and the company’s new employee, Janome Hakuoumaru.
Chiaki has a cool, even temperament and is the type who is nice to everyone, yet holds no one special. Hakuoumaru is a bit dark, but also has a capricious nature. Chiaki practices purification and exorcism while Hakuoumaru comes from a family that curses and causes misfortune. The two are essentially opposites and have very different methods, which is a common theme in the stories.
Soon after moving into the dorm, Hakuoumaru attaches himself to Chiaki, claiming he loves him and that it must be fate!
While it might be the first time they’ve seen each other, it’s not their first encounter. Two years ago, Chiaki removed a curse laid by Hakuoumaru, whose right eye was (unintentionally) scarred by the rebound. The most intriguing parts of this manga explore the dynamic between the two. The relationship is somewhat overshadowed by the overall story, but we learn a lot in the final two chapters, which I’ll focus on.
Turns out, they are very distant relatives and Hakuoumaru not only wants to know more about Chiaki, but also wants to welcome him into the Minoh household. Despite having no family ties himself, Chiaki dismisses the offer. However, there’s one mother-like presence in his life: an umbrella woman spirit who diligently waits in the distance for him whenever it rains. As a child, Chiaki approached her and was spirited away for days. After being returned, Chiaki didn’t hate her. He recalls that for a few days, he experienced a maternal presence, even if he’s too smart to ever approach the spirit again. This spirit is the catalyst for change in the relationship and understanding between the two boys.
The umbrella woman is Chiaki’s distant ancestor and while her intentions sound nice, she does spirit away people. One of the other dorm guys always walks Chiaki home on rainy days as a silent show of support. When Hakuoumaru learns that the umbrella woman is not only potentially dangerous, but also that she has a connection to Chiaki and holds his interest, he’s displeased and takes action. This is a pretty big turning point and shocked me–the yandere switch is flipped and he destroys her with a box-cutter. It doesn’t end there. Once she’s gone, Chiaki doesn’t particularly say or suspect anything. Frustrated that nothing has changed, Hakuoumaru deliberately goads Chiaki with the weapon that is imprinted with the image of her violent end, declaring he exorcised her to piss him off and win his attention. Because she was special, and he was not.
I love this new dynamic between the two. Chiaki finally sees Hakuoumaru, Hakuoumaru takes direct action towards Chiaki, and I always love a good male yandere character (I need more yandere BL in my life!). Does Hakuoumaru really love or hate Chiaki, the person who scarred him for life? Are those two emotions clearly separated?
Unfortunately, the manga doesn’t progress much past this point and there’s no huge conclusion or culmination to their relationship. It feels cut-off early, which is a shame. There’s room for more, especially between the two boys. Despite that, the material is a great read. However, if you need sex in your BL, this is not the right place to look. The author amusingly assigned seme/uke roles in the afterword since it never got that far. There’s a lot of comments out there along the lines of “Hmm, it doesn’t really feel like BL, but it was awesome anyway and I want more!” and for the most part, I agree with them. I value those brief yandere moments over a whole volume of some generic, boring relationship.
This manga is a visual treat. There’s so much fun, flashy fashion that I want to show it off a bit, so here’s a brief fashion show by the boys of the Kamikakushi Dorm!
It’s just a fun book to flip through and take in all the lively art.
Along those lines, there’s one more big thing I like about this manga. Body shaming is a widespread issue and like other media, it surprises me how exclusionary manga can be, particularly within BL and general romance. There’s this hypocritical impression “Everyone is beautiful! You’re beautiful just as you are! BUT HEY, no fatties in my BL manga! Only beautiful or classically handsome men! No baldies or anything less than minimal, perfectly sculpted facial hair! And definitely no leg hair, gross! Only hairless, skinny, trim, or muscled dudes are allowed in my SEXY TIME!” Bah. I guess not everyone is beautiful then, huh? Even if someone doesn’t find it personally physically attractive, appearance alone shouldn’t invalidate merit or entertainment value. That’s one thing I love about this manga. There’s variety in appearance and it’s not some big deal that’s integral to the plot. That’s just who these guys are, no explanations needed. While I like “ugly cute” manga, it often goes out of its way to loudly announce “Hey, I’m so ugly that I’m cute. Now, love me!!” I’d love to see more varied body types and larger age ranges, especially in romance and/or BL manga. I’d like to see it in all characters, not just the “token fat kid.”
It’s rare to win me back after having such a rough start, but I’m supportive of Tojitsuki Hajime’s more recent, distinct style. I really enjoyed the supernatural adventures of the residents of the Kamikakushi Dorm! BL = bozu love! 😀