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Gravitation, vols. 1-5 (Maki Murakami)

This is a deeply silly series. In fact, it was inspiring me to filk (to the tune of the Beatles' "Paperback Writer"): "It's a silly story 'bout a silly band, and the writer dude doesn't understand ... ."

High school senior Shuichi Shindo, 18, has a great singing voice, delusions of song-writing ability, and a minimal talent for playing the keyboards. He and his sweet, long-suffering best friend and guitarist Hiroshi Nakano make up the pop band Bad Luck, which plays mostly at high school events. One night, he's taking a shortcut through a park when he drops the lyrics to a love song. As the paper blows away, it's picked up by a handsome foreign-looking man who reads it and tells Shuichi that it's utter drivel. Shuichi becomes obsessed with this guy, who turns out to be a popular romance novelist who goes by the nom de plume of Eiri Yuki. Although Yuki seems to despise Shuichi as well as his songwriting, he shows a remarkable tolerance for having his home invaded regularly by the lovestruck teen, and eventually they become lovers. Meanwhile, Shuichi and Hiroshi get a couple of lucky breaks, leading to a contract for Bad Luck. Soon Shuichi and Yuki are up to their necks in a series of ridiculous but fairly entertaining soap opera plots, involving rivalry among bands and singers, family obligations, revenge, and more.

The fact that this series doesn't take itself very seriously keeps me from wanted to kick it to the curb (as Shuichi keeps imagining Yuki will do to him), and every once in a while something with a bit of emotional punch happens. The "what in the world will they get up to next?" factor is strong enough that I'll keep reading it for now. The fact that Yuki is only 22 (when did he start writing, anyway?) keeps the squick factor about the relationship to a minimum.

Gravitation, vols. 1-5 (review)

I have to say that, given the silliness of most of the book, Taki's revenge plots take an awfully sinister turn. The gang rape of Shuichi and its aftermath do give the story more of an edge, but it's sort of icky that things have to go that far to get the reader (this reader, at least) emotionally invested in the story. Given the seriousness of this incident, and Hiroshi's and Yuki's reactions to it , it's sort of jarring that Taki proceeds to turn into the Wiley Coyote of the series: who needs a new villain when Taki can be scraped off the road one more time to take another crack at Shuichi? Then there's the whole issue of Yuki's past crimes ... I'm sure he'll turn out to have a good reason for what he did, but the whole subject is tossed around so lightly, and in the middle of so much other fluff, that I'm simply not worried about it.

The drawing style is rather sloppy ... this is perhaps the first manga I've seen where I find myself thinking "hmmm, you know, I could draw at least that well." It wouldn't matter except that it gets very, very hard to tell the characters apart. In particular, I keep getting Yuki mixed up with Tohma Seguchi, the producer, and the Young Lady says she gets Yuki's sister Mika (who is married to Seguchi ... did I mention that this whole thing is very incestuous? Everyone is related to or used to work with everyone else, it seems ...) mixed up with Noriko, the keyboard player that's brought in to fill out Bad Luck's roster.

Shuichi is a complete airhead, and very girly on the personality level. I suppose it's indicative of Yuki's eventual return crush on him that he puts up with Shuichi's babbling. The degree to which this boy gets flipped out by the idea of real sex strikes me as a bit silly. I have a feeling that what may be going on with me here is that this is, I think, my first encounter with the stereotypical seme/uke relationship (and I'd welcome comments about this issue). Some of the stuff I've read about the series online says that things are different in Gravitation because it's Shuichi who's actively pursuing the relationship, but to me, that's just window-dressing. He's fluffy and passive when things get physical, and does some very girly passive-aggressive stuff with Yuki. I did like it when Yuki laid out all the things he'd done for Shuichi that should have indicated how much he cares - but what's funny about is that it's the typical male/female communications issue: she (or in this case, Shuichi) wants elaborate confessions of love, verbally, wereas he (Yuki) is expressing his love by what he does, not what he says. I also can't figure out why they keep saying that Shuichi isn't really gay. I wonder if that's a mistranslation, and what is meant is that he's not just seeking out gay sex for the sake of sex.

The character I like the most is Hiroshi, who is a really good, kind person. He's secure enough with his own straight sexuality to joke around outrageously with Shuichi in public to entertain their fangirls and to discourage Shuichi without overreacting when Shuichi starts to come on to him a bit (example: the whole thing about how nice Hiroshi's hair smells when Shuichi is riding behind him on the bike). He's also really good and effective when Shuichi is attacked.

I'm curious enough about how it all works out to keep reading, even though parts of it aggravate me.

One last thought: the Young Lady loves this series, and tends to laugh aloud a great deal while reading it.

Comments

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meganbmoore
Oct. 29th, 2007 11:55 pm (UTC)
The drawing style is rather sloppy ... this is perhaps the first manga I've seen where I find myself thinking "hmmm, you know, I could draw at least that well."

This is because(as far as I know) you have been very carefully guided in your manga reading so far...
chomiji
Oct. 29th, 2007 11:58 pm (UTC)

You're probably right! But as with science fiction and fantasy, I'm unlike to read manga that were not recommended to me by somebody whose opinion I value.

So what about the other things I brought up? Is this actually the first time I've run across the classic seme/uke set-up, or have ˆ just missed it elsewhere?

meganbmoore
Oct. 30th, 2007 12:03 am (UTC)
As far as I know, yup,first time you've come across it where it was canon.

(I actually did try reading this very, very early in my manga reading days-before encountering the rabid yaoi fangirls that give me most of my annoyance w/ the genre-but didn't care much for it. IIRC, I thought both guys could use a punch in the face, but for differeing reasons.)
chomiji
Oct. 30th, 2007 01:26 am (UTC)

Well, for some reason I'm pleased to see that I'm as annoyed by the seme/uke stereotype as I thought I would be ... ! (Sort of the same way that Akira is pleased that Kyo can still pulverize him, you know?)

I repeated your comment about the punches to the Young Lady ... she grinned and said "Yeah, I know, but I still love them. Sometimes you just need a good piece of soap opera!"

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fmanalyst
Oct. 30th, 2007 12:48 am (UTC)
I'm not crazy about Gravitation, mainly because I find super genki boys to be annoying. Shuichi is even worse in the anime, making me want to yell "Sit down, be quiet, and for god's sake, grow up" at him.
chomiji
Oct. 30th, 2007 01:45 am (UTC)

Hmmm ... I would blame it all on age, or at least perceived mental age, but I have a feeling it's not that simple. People have described Yukimura as genki too, but in his case, it's only the face the he shows to the world. And I have a feeling that's part of my problem with it. Yes, the Saiyuki boys' problems are way over the top, but at least they give some reason for the guys' dysfunctional behavior.

I think that's part of the issue for me: the main sources of the problems are miscommunication, unequal expectations, and social climbing (in this case, status = popularity instead of class). Shuichi's family may be disappointed in him, but they love him. Yuki's family may be rigid in their expectations, but his encounters with them are really pretty mild as such things go, and he's no longer dependent on them, anyway. All of the threats to the protagonists' happiness are so trivial. Given the girls' reactions to Shuichi and Hiroshi's playacting, why is everyone so convinced that revelations of a gay relationship will sink Yuki's career?

This is why the whole rape scene and its aftermath were so jarring: in contrast to everything else that's been happening, here's something that could really mess up someone's life. And Shuichi more or less rolls with it, once Yuki has proved his love by stepping in. So in the end, it's as trivial as everything else.

There is a certain amusement, however, in the over-the-topness of it all. It's actually more fun when it's being totally fluffy - which is odd, because some of the serious scenes are done with a moderately effective sensitivity. I guess the mixture just doesn't work for me.

fmanalyst
Oct. 30th, 2007 02:07 am (UTC)
Yukimura is somewhat genki, but he also acts and thinks like a grown-up. It doesn't take long at all to see that he's putting on a front. Granted, it's been a long time since I read or watched Gravitation, but Shuichi ends up being rather like a bipolar, ADHD 5-year-old in all his "I want Yuki" obsessiveness. And even his depressions are excessive. And you're right, their problems aren't that serious.

I would compare Shuichi as uke to two of CLAMP's genki ukes -- Kazahaya of Legal Drug and Watanuki of XXXholic. Even though both of those guys can overemote, they do have quiet, gentle moments, and their tantrums are closer to 12 years old than five and they do have moments that show just why their semes would be attracted to them. I don't know what Yuki sees in Shuichi, while I can sort of see what Shuichi sees in Yuki.
chomiji
Oct. 30th, 2007 09:02 pm (UTC)

So Watanuki counts as an uke? Huh!   :-D   But I see what you mean about the contrast in tantrum styles. Poor Watanuki - he needs assertiveness training. (Would you recommend Legal Drug?)

Yeah, I also have a tough time seeing what Yuki sees in him. He's just not that cute as far as looks go (although he may be meant to be much more attractive than he appears in the manga - this is another place where the drawing style works against the story), and the personality is just appalling. If Yuki had wanted someone he'd have to bring up, his little fiancee would have done just fine.

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smillaraaq
Nov. 4th, 2007 12:02 pm (UTC)
So, having finally dipped into the Gravitation stack, I can finally join in on the actual review stuff!

Re: the annoying hyper genki-ness of Shuichi and comparisons to Saiyuki -- is it just me, or is there a bit of a Goku/Sanzo vibe with Shuichi and Yuki? You've got the hyper, perky, totally-dedicated-for-no-obvious-logical-reason younger one, and the cold, aloof, rude, mistrustful, but underneath it all does care older one.

...which is perhaps part of why their relationship is leaving me fairly cold so far, as the 393 dynamic doesn't do all that much for me either.
chomiji
Nov. 6th, 2007 02:12 am (UTC)

Hmmm ... yeah, and the ages are even more or less right. (OK, Yuki is 22 to Sanzo's 23, but - close enough.)

(And calling this guy Yuki is going to kill me - to me, Yuki is always Sanada Yukimura from SDK ... ! I guess it's no worse than guys named Alex in the Young Lady's class ... after all, there's a Yuki in Fruits Basket, too.)

I have a feeling it's meant to be the gay version of the "ditzy starlet and professor"-pairiing from various classic movies, but it's not quite playing out that way. For one thing, Eiri doesn't have a really brainy vibe to me. I've known tough-acting brains, but still, there was usually something, well, brainier about them.

Shortly after she started reading Saiyuki, ipperne actually dug up a pic of Eiri in glasses where he looked to be a doing a moderately successful imitation of Sanzo in his newspaper-reading specs.

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artillie
Oct. 30th, 2007 01:06 am (UTC)
I remember watching some of the Gravitation anime, just so I could say that I saw it. I ended up ranting a lot about it, but I'm sort of glad I watched it instead of reading the manga, because at least I could tell people apart. Maybe it was the hair colours--I don't know.

I can't see Shuichi ever having sex.

Only thing good about this series: K. I remember liking Suguru, too. All the secondary characters made me happy.
chomiji
Oct. 30th, 2007 01:50 am (UTC)

Yeah, K is fun. And besides that, his hairstyle makes him easy to tell apart from other people!

I keep wanting to hear about Hiroshi's social life instead. (And man is it tempting to think in slash terms ... I mean, Hiroshi knows how to handle Shuichi much better than Yuki does. But you're right about Shuichi, and I think Hiroshi deserves a partner who could go for it with gusto!)

smillaraaq
Nov. 4th, 2007 12:09 pm (UTC)
I am deeply, deeply amused to see how much you are focusing on Hiro, because so far he's my favorite of the lot, and I keep rooting for the boring leads to just go off and neck in a corner somewhere so we can see more of him. He's sweet and funny and easy-going and loyal...and I must confess, predictably enough, that the hair doesn't hurt. ;)

In particular, I keep getting Yuki mixed up with Tohma Seguchi, the producer,

See, now, that one's easy enough -- Yuki has much, much narrower eyes; Tohma has big round sparkly eyes like Shuichi. Also Tohma smiles frequently, while Yuki often has a more Sanzo-like blank face or outright scowl.

(I haven't yet seen the second of the female characters mentioned as confusable, so no opinions there so far.)
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rachelmanija
Oct. 30th, 2007 03:14 am (UTC)
I basically agree with you about the series; I enjoyed it when I first read it, early in my manga-reading career, but it's fluffy, and the non-fluffy bits are jarring.

The "I'm not gay" thing is probably not a translation error, but a very common trope. It means, gay men are men who are sexually attracted to men in general; I am not usually attracted to men, but I am really attracted to you, who happen to be a man; therefore, I'm not gay.

I think it's supposed to be romantic, like proof that they're really meant for each other. It's a trope I could live without.

chomiji
Oct. 30th, 2007 09:10 pm (UTC)

Arrrgh, silliness about the gay attitudes ... in real world terms, it's more like "I didn't realize I was gay until I finally saw someone of the same sex who really floated my boat." Oh well ... it's not like these things are written with a gay audience in mind. But it would be nice, IMO, if there were some fluffy, funny manga with gay romantic situations that could actually be appreciated by both straight female and gay male teens ... . Maybe there are, and I just haven't hit them.

(I tend to see all these things through the lens of my friendship with a gay guy who didn't even begin to be comfortable with himself until halfway through college ... I always find myself thinking, "What would this have looked like to T. his first year at school?" It spoils a lot of fluff for me, but ... eh, it's worth it.)

rachelmanija
Oct. 30th, 2007 11:56 pm (UTC)
No, there's actually a fair bit of manga in which either characters identify as gay rather than as men who have sex with men. You might try Antique Bakery or Takumi-Kun (which I did the English adaptation for, by the way.)

I do think the definition of "gay" differs from country to country and even from culture to culture, which is why HIV-prevention groups explicitly differentiate between "gay" and "men who have sex with men but don't identify as gay." Sometimes it means they're closeted, but sometimes I think it's different cultures having different ideas about sexual identity.
chomiji
Nov. 1st, 2007 12:34 am (UTC)

Oooh, lovely, more recommendations! (BTW, I actually got the first several vols. of Monster a while back, and did like them pretty well ... I need to get back to them, and re-read and blog them.)

Good point on the definition of "gay." Yes, I know that in many cases (in both modern and historical cultures), for instance, taking the seme-type role is not a big deal, particularly if the guy also goes with women, but acting as uke/bottom is totally shameful. (An issue that I toss around in my own SDK Theater of the Mind, with reference to Yukimura ... like the leader of a clan in exile on a barren mountain doesn't have enough to worry about already ... .)

smillaraaq
Oct. 31st, 2007 02:31 am (UTC)
I'm generally very annoyed by the rigid het-stereotypes-in-yaoi-drag seme/uke roles set in stone and "but I'm not gay!" tropes, which is probably why a lot of yaoi/shounen-ai titles don't work for me and the ones that I do fall for tend to be a little more off-kilter. I quite like Sanami Matoh's Fake, for instance, where the seme is quite cheerfully, openly bisexual, and the uke, despite having some stereotypical traits, isn't a helpless weepy girly sort who has to be protected and rescued all the time -- they're both cops, and while uke Ryo seems to be the more reserved, proper sort to wild-cannon seme Dee, he's actually got a very scary, violent streak when sufficiently pushed. (Their dynamic reminds me a little bit of Gojyo/Hakkai, actually.) Or there's Yasuko Aoike's From Eroica With Love, which is, well, just plain CRACK, and sometimes described as seme x seme; the title character is a flamboyantly, openly gay art thief (modelled after Robert Plant!), who generally seems to be a rather aggressive seme with a taste for ethereally pretty younger men...until he meets the aggressively manly (and seemingly sex-phobic towards expressions of interest from both men and women) NATO officer Klaus von dem Eberbach. That series has been going on for THIRTY YEARS of spy-and-caper-movie comic hijinks mixed with one-sided flirting and constant innuendo, with no resolution to the UST anywhere in sight.
chomiji
Nov. 1st, 2007 12:36 am (UTC)

Hmmmm .... yes, I've leafed through Fake at the store, back when I was a little more timid about buying manga.

(BTW - and this is not quite apropos of nothing ... the unresolved UST made me think of it - are you a fan of Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles?)

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sanada
Oct. 30th, 2007 03:14 am (UTC)
*laugh* As far as I'm concerned, the manga of Gravitation is just an intro for the author's very porny line of "Gravitation Remix" doujinshi. The story's kind of shallow and the art is kind of rough in the beginning (it gets better), but I read it for the humor. And the smut. Oh my god, the smut. (The mangaka was actually a guest at Otakon - she was hilarious. Her house is stocked with porn and an arsenal of model weapons.) Have you gotten to crazy gun-toting American K yet? He's my favorite. Hehe, I figured you'd like Hiro... but Hiro, straight?. Nobody in Gravitation is straight... In the Remixes (the canonicity of which is debatable, but if you think too hard about Gravitation canon, you'll give yourself a headache...), the author pairs him up with K, his brother Yuuji, and Shuuichi... all in the same volume, I think... o__O;;

I was fully prepared to HATE Yuki and the whole Yuki/Shuuichi pairing because Yuki was a real bastard in the anime and he had a lot less emotional depth. I actually rather enjoyed him in the manga, even if I did want to slap him around a bit and tell him to GET OVER IT. Shuuichi is... obnoxious, but he brings a lot of heart and manic humor to the series so I can look past the fact that he's basically a girl. And for a mainstream series, Gravitation really pushes some boundaries!
chomiji
Oct. 30th, 2007 09:22 pm (UTC)

Well, the author is pretending Hiro's straight! I'm playing with her card deck right now ... heh, so maybe the doujinshi are why ipperne has so much fun with this (and that reminds me that I never got you to look at my un-smutty Saiyuyki doujinshi last time you were down). Yes, K. is fun. And he's easier to tell apart form the other characters ...   XD  

I guess being a best-selling author with legions of fan girls at 22 would tend to give a guy an attitude ... I can just see him coming on with typical male introvert abruptness in early interviews and having the interviewers characterize him as "brooding" and "wistful" and other positive things, so he'd start getting into it a little too much. In fact, taken in that light, Shuichi's influence begins to look almost positive ... .

Yes, there is a kind of emotional honesty to it - that may be why I don't feel like dropping it completely. Except for Taki, who really is just a cartoon (duh - well, of course) villain - if he had a mustache, he'd twirl it ... .

ipperne
Oct. 31st, 2007 09:03 pm (UTC)
...blah.

You know, after reading all the comments I'm kinda distracted. *goes back to read actual entry*
(btw; I am having much fun with remixes, yes^^)

An important thing to remember about Gravitation is that if it didn't have all the sillyness, the story wouldn't be able to cover so many taboos without disgusting most people. Eiri is actually a very tragic person, and almost everyone who loves (or only pretend to maybe) him, ends up hurting him in one way or another. And along comes Shuichi, not even caring about the fact that they are both men, but just loving him for who he is. Not that I will ever understand that, because I don't really like Eiri that much.

Thoma Seguchi is a big fat fake, and it does take a few more vols. for him to realize(well, sorta realize) that he isn't helping anyone by acting the way he does. Fujisaki (a prime example af the whole "everyone is related to someone one way or another"-deal)is a lot like Thoma, don't you think?

That drawing style will improve, but I think that already in the first vol. the general artwork is kinda just there, but all the frames with some emotional something are very well done, and I think it helps drawing attention to the main story, and makes readers forget the silliness for a second. The improvement mentioned above will be around vol. 7 or 8 I think. But especially in the sequel Gravitation EX there's a big difference.

A final note; K claims to be straight
chomiji
Nov. 1st, 2007 07:55 pm (UTC)

>> An important thing to remember about Gravitation is that if it didn't have all the sillyness, the story wouldn't be able to cover so many taboos without disgusting most people.<<

Hmm, interesting point, and matches what sanada was saying. It also reminds me of how gay characters were first portrayed on U.S. TV, as asexual, idiosyncratic clowns, because that way they weren't threatening. But they paved the way for portrayals with slightly more depth.

Re Eiri - did you see what I was saying about him to sanada, above? He's still pretty young, and his personality has been helped by fame at an early age.

ipperne
Nov. 1st, 2007 08:23 pm (UTC)
It's a point people usually forget about. But for a story that covers murderer, underage abuse, rape, violence, homosexuality, transsexuality, conspiracy, a high amount of bad morality, and so on it needs to have a rather large amout of odd things.

Heh, that description reminds me of Will & Grace, funny, but... very clowny.

Now, I can't remember when exactly it happens in the series, but do you know what happened to Eiri in New York when he was a child? It's impressive htat he can handle the fame actually. Well, handle it that well, because he's not handeling it that well after all...
chomiji
Nov. 2nd, 2007 06:34 pm (UTC)

No, I don't think I've heard about Eiri in New York. Given that I have to be out for more surgery, I'll see about getting some more of these. Anyway, the Young Lady would like to read them too!

Yeah, I'm not sure what I think about their treatment of the rape. Except that I love Hiro's reactions ... on the other hand, the fact that Eiri thought first of revenge rather than checking on how Shuichi was doing rather bothers me. It's very classic stereotypical male: "That other guy touched my special stuff and now he's going to pay for it."

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