Fumi Yoshinaga is justly celebrated for her longer manga, such as Antique Bakery and Flower of Life; Truly Kindly is a collection of her BL short stories, including two that tie in to the full-length manga Lovers in the Night.
The collection kicks off with the odd and disturbing title story, in which a kept man gets into a serious fight with his “keeper” and runs away, only to encounter a strange young man who offers him a cookie from a jar and then invites him back to a palatial house. The off-kilter nature of the relationship that develops is a signal that we are not in standard BL territory, and sure enough, there are twists and revelations that turn the story into something more like a thriller than a romance.
The rest of the stories in the collection are less unnerving and more conventional, but none of them are predictable, and all of them are a cut above the norm. Yoshinaga is one of the greats — not just in the BL genre but in the whole field of manga. Her delicately gorgeous art, intensely human characters, smoothly assured storytelling, and ever-present ironic wit combine to create work that is truly special. In longer forms, her skills at characterisation and plotting are given more room to blossom, but each of the seven small helpings in Truly Kindly holds more to delight the reader than many volume-length manga.
That’s not to say that they’re flawless. Issues around consent are highly common in the BL genre, with rape or other non-consensual sexual acts frequently being fetishized or portrayed as justified or unproblematic. This is a problem less often encountered with the more thoughtful manga artists, which is why I find it disappointing to find the “it doesn’t count as rape if he loves you” trope turning up in two of the stories in Truly Kindly. I was hoping for better; I was expecting better. It may simply be the case that in the short span of a twenty-page story, there isn’t room to bring matters to a head any other way, but I can’t help but feel that an artist of Yoshinaga’s calibre could do it, if she cared to, and so the resort to rape comes across as clichéd as well as objectionable.
All the same, Yoshinaga’s so good at what she does that she’s marvellous even when she’s not at her best. With the caveat that some of the stories in this collection are rather darker than her full-length manga, I would recommend Truly Kindly to Yoshinaga fans. As an introduction to Yoshinaga’s work, it’s not really ideal since it’s not all that typical, but it’s still very good work, and so if you’ve never read any manga by Fumi Yoshinaga, this is not a bad place to start.