Friday, February 26, 2016

"A durable thread that ties you to a past that created you"

I've noticed a pattern in the Rosales Saga since reading the previous third installment of the series, My Brother, My Executioner. Simply put, the issues concerning national freedom and independence as well as the struggles, prejudices and prevalent corruption that have defined the relationship of Filipinos with themselves and their own countrymen ARE STILL THE SAME THINGS that are being discussed and argued to this day in my country. Now it was under a different social context but the fight is still being fought, and perhaps is currently suffering a stagnation. FSJ's Rosales Saga was written in 1973 (starting with the third book I mentioned above), and his insights and chronicles about the effects of Spanish and American colonialism in Filipino heritage and culture are impressive and beautifully rendered on page. My personal favorite installment of this saga will always be Po-On which is the first book (ironically written as the last one, chronologically speaking).

FSJ's four books so far do have common themes. They were all set in Rosales, Pangasinan in Luzon, Philippines, and the five generations of families whose relationships and crises he had tackled are all connected by the Balete tree located in the plaza of Rosales town. FSJ explored the conflicts and strife that occurred between the families of poor farmers and the oppressive mestizos who are the rich, abusing their power and control on the lands these farmers are working on. Other obvious themes deal with first cousins who fall in love with each other (third and fourth books focus on this), the subjugation and suffering of a father that impacted a son's upbringing as a progeny and his own man; both failed and successful attempts at social reform; and the breaking points both personal and national that the characters have to face and make decisions for. The Pretenders is no exception.

In fact, many would consider this to be the climactic part of the series. 

"Revolutions for a better life are never made by the rich and the intellectuals. They have everything to lose and they are not brave. Revolutions are made by small men--poor men--for they are the ones who suffer most. They care the least about status quo."

I remember when I first started reading this series two years ago. Each installment took a hold of me and ripped me in new ways I never thought I could be ripped. The precious details and tremendous moments of insights that F. Sionil Jose has imparted in each book will forever be engraved in my soul. That being said, the third book My Brother, My Executioner was somewhat alienating but mainly because of the romantic subplot concerning the lead male character and a peculiar woman which I found rather tedious because I wasn't emotionally invested enough on their characters. For The Pretenders, we get yet another romantic relationship, this time between Antonio Samson and Carmen Villa. Their marriage is a contested one, given his humble roots and her well-to background, but because there is love between, they both make it work; more so on Tony's end because he was the one who feels he has to prove something to the Villa family. This, for me, is the highlight of the novel.

Tony Samson is a free thinker at heart; educated in America and very much both cynical and hopeful that he could still contribute some changes in his homeland's politics and way of life. He used to participate in ideology and social reform discussions and writings with fellow intellectual compatriots whom he had grown estranged with the more he became a part of his wife's family. In doing so, he becomes even more entrenched in the corrupt system between the rich mestizos and the poor peasants and farmers who work for them but have also been rebelling against them for years. His marriage to the lovely Carmen has driven him right at the heart of the monster that he and other like-minded scholars had expressed the wish to bring to its knees, when he became friendly with Carmen's father Don Manuel Villa. By having a more personal connection to the man, Tony began to examine things about his own principles and his past.

"The fight for freedom must be constant. Don't forget that men can be enslaved by their own people, by their own prejudices, by their own rulers. What I am saying is that the ilustrados were not the real patriots. They wanted nothing more than equality. They didn't want freedom. It was enough that they could dine with their rulers, argue with them. But is another thing to be free. A revolution should not have to eat its own children. In fact, it is those who are in power who could very well initiate revolutions. Let us not be old-fashioned and think only of armed uprising of minorities as revolutions."

There are many discussions to be had about national icons and expressions of nationalism, some of them concerning the contrast between Jose Rizal's call for reformation and equality with the Spanish conquerors, and Andres Bonifacio's more radical revolution for the country's total independence and freedom from colonizers. The Pretenders is for me the most mediative installment of the Rosales Saga told in the perspective of a man who is torn between two worlds; the one he longed for in his heart as a freedom fighter, and the one he had to settle din since he married into its family. I like the internal struggle that Tony Samson has undergone during this novel because his transformation was poignant and challenging. Carmen Villa, his wife, was a vain, pampered and materialistic woman who unexpectedly understands Tony better than I would have given her credit for. It doesn't make her any likable for me because something about who she is and the role that she played in the story that just never sat right with me, but I certainly do believe she was well-written. I believed her characterization even if it was something I feel repelled by.

A key conflict that is highlighted for The Pretenders is Tony's dilemma between his humble roots and heritage and his new life as a privileged man in relation to him marrying rich. Suddenly he was being judged and often condemned for his choice, but it was nothing compared to his own brand of guilt because he felt as if he has more obligations to his country and ideology rather than to his own wife, and this was how his relationship with her slowly deteriorated. There is more tension and strife among the classes of the country which take place both in the local lands and in the universities of foreign lands where Tony along other scholars get caught up in. Tony acknowledged that he is indeed among the privileged ones but it doesn't make his desire to fight for his country any less noble than his poorer and uneducated counterparts in small towns, nor does it diminish his capacity to be a tool for change and prosperity for his homeland. Tony Samson can be likened to the modern Filipino still finding his place in the world. His story connects him to a past that chose him, and it's also our story.

"...because any movement that seeks to overhaul established attitudes is, I think, a revolution."

The Pretenders is a novel that tries to unmask the players who truly want to contribute something meaningful for love of country, while also revealing the hidden ones who only wish to gain an advantage that feeds their own self-interest and egos. Much like FSJ's earlier books in the series, it was superbly written with crisp prose and riveting exposition and character portraits.


Friday, February 12, 2016

DOUBLE HOUSE by Haruno Nanae

This is my second shoujo ai for the year, and it's a rather promising story that was disappointingly only three chapters long! This was published in 2008 so there is no way this can have any more chapters which is really frustrating, considering how intriguing and layered the characters and themes are for this manga. To be honest, I believe this may have been discontinued because it wasn't providing enough sexy fanservice about ladies going at it and that's just sad! This has so much potential to be a very riveting, emotionally stirring story about women and their gender roles and sexuality but I suppose the author wasn't commissioned for any more chapters. I don't want to think she has lost interest, let alone stopped writing but I can't find any more of her works online.

And this is the dilemma I am facing right now as I write this review: I'm not even sure if I can recommend it. The reason for my hesitation to recommend this has nothing to do with the writing itself. In fact, if I will purely based my reasoning on that, then Double House will get a stellar rating and rec from me! However, since this manga has only three measly chapters that are just building up to what would have been an immensely intricate storyline, then I can't encourage more readers to give it a try because it will only lead to the disappointment that this was such a short-lived piece. Still, let me talk about it.

Double House centered around two characters: Maho, a male-to-female transsexual who works as a club hostess, who rescued a young girl named Fujiko from an attempted assault one late night on her way home. They turned out to be living in the same apartment complex so Fujiko began hanging around Maho who didn't mind her company. Pretty soon, Maho finds out certain truths about Fujiko who turned out to be a runaway heiress. She left home to get away from the pressures of her wealthy family who used to control every decision she makes. Meanwhile, we also get scenes about Maho's life as a hostess with other transgendered men. The atmosphere of this manga is light and leisure with a few comedic moments, but the writing mostly contemplates certain important issues like women's roles in Japanese society, discussions on the binary exclusion of gender, and the pursuit of individual happiness free of judgment. 

Here are some interesting dialogues that Fujiko and Maho have in the first chapter of the manga. Fujiko sagely imparts her belief about the wrongness of pigeonholing people for their gender, race or social status (don't forget to read the panels from left to right):

I enjoyed the depth of insights that deceptively youthful Fujiko has discussed here, and in the presence of Maho whose sympathies lie on a less conservative route as well. Both women--one who is biologically female and one who identifies as one--form a bond because they both dislike being labeled as a fixed thing. Fujiko left her stifling old-fashioned family upbringing because she wanted to discover more about herself without having to depend on other people to tell her who she is. As the second chapter rolls around, we see Fujiko cutting her hair shorter than what was expected from a young girl her age who also happens to be very attractive. Maho points out that it's as if Fujiko is purposefully downplaying whatever sexual appeal she may have. Meanwhile, Maho as a transgender person tends to dress up since it's also a part of her night job ritual, but we see her shedding her glamorous clothing for something more casual whenever she's doing chores with Fujiko. This is when we see her in a more masculine appearance but Maho is quietly displeased if people would point it out since he identifies as a 'she'. Luckily, Fujiko believes that Maho is already a 'complete picture' and admires her for choosing not to trapped in a 'frame'.

Fujiko casually also confesses that she is in love with Maho which the latter disbelieves, dismissing Fujiko's attraction nd infatuation to her to be nothing but sisterly. Maho never really discloses if she is attracted to men or women, or perhaps neither. As a transgendered male-to-female, Maho is more concerned making a livelihood and being left alone to live her life peacefully. She accepts Fujiko into her life because she is intrigued by the young girl, and perhaps she is also a little lonely and having an open-minded youngster like Fujiko engages her into becoming more aware of her own choices. The relationship between them that was established in these three installments of the manga is already nuanced enough and I'm sorely disappointed that this is how their story ends. 

There are a lot of possible plots that could be explored here. We were only allowed to get snippets of Fujiko's family life when her fiancée, a man she was arranged to be married with, made an appearance and immediately judges the friendship between Maho and Fujiko. What I liked about Fujiko's reasons for dumping him is because of his arrogance and complete disregard of her personhood when they're together. She pointed out that he wouldn't listen to her when she shares her opinions and that's why their conversations are limited and oppressive. The fact that Fujiko would stand up for herself because she wants to be heard and respected for having her own mind is very brave, and I'm so very interested to see how she even became so wise at such a young age.

In the last installment of this manga, we were introduced to another male-to-female transgender character (named Koko) who happens to be more on the obese side physically, has problems with her self-worth that she is unable to hold onto relationships because the men tend to leave her or not reciprocate the intensity of her feelings. One day she discovered an abandoned baby in the park and decided to adopt it. Maho was against this, and so were the other colleagues, and so they asked Maho to advice Koko otherwise. Eventually, Koko saw the error of her ways after also resolving her issues about herself and how she often gives too much to people that she is left with nothing for herself. It's an uplifting story of self-love and Fujiko gets to share another grain of precious insight:

Overall, Double House was such a wasted opportunity to tackle gender and sexuality in a Japanese yuri/shoujo ai manga. It's so disheartening that writer Haruno Nanae was able to write such interesting and multi-faceted characters in such a short span of chapters, but never got to further develop and explore their problems and issues. I wanted to give this a higher rating but I have to be objective because the story is just really lacking a more definitive pay-off and conclusion. I can still recommend this but I would warn you of its disappointing brevity.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH by the Oldest Record in History

Are you mongrels ready to talk about Gilgamesh? Okay, let's talk about the king of heroes then! Embarrassingly enough, I myself only discovered Gilgamesh last year when I was teaching World History to a few of my students, and one of the lessons was about ancient civilizations. For a story that is considered to be a very old one--if not one of the oldest ever recorded in human history--The Epic of Gilgamesh sure retained a rather comfortable status of obscurity, mostly because we're more inclined to talk about the Egyptians, and the Romans and Greeks, mythology-wise. We know about Hercules, the gods and goddesses of Olympus, and Cleopatra, and cursed pharaohs and haunting mummies because they are basic Hollywood fodder--but we have yet to have anyone adapt the story of Gilgamesh on screen. And IT'S A COSMICALLY UNFAIR INJUSTICE. 

The closest thing we get in the meantime is a re-imagined version of him in the Japanese light novel and anime Fate/Zero where I absolutely fucking devoured him; excusing the fact that his appearance is racially inaccurate but hot damn, the golden-haired and ivory-skinned magnificence that is F/Z's Gilgamesh is to die for! He indisputably brought sexy back, okay? 

It's this version of the epic hero that has gotten me so intrigued, and so I decided to read the actual canon itself--by not reading it because I have other books scheduled. That's what audiobooks are for, yo! With only four tracks, each running thirty-four minutes or so, my experiences for The Epic of Gilgamesh is nothing short of magical and hilarious!

I know what you're thinking: "Oh, a classic, that's great! But it's translated from an ancient language so the prose has to be dry and droll and I don't have time to read about it because I have my Fifty Shades and my other raunchy romance novels. Who wants to read about some dead king from Mesopotamia anyway?" And you know what, you're right except for the parts about the prose being dry, and that you read Fifty Shades because if you are then yeah, you're wrong in the head. I will say though that hearing someone else read me this epic is so much more satisfying. So why should you read/listen to The Epic of Gilgamesh? Here's why:

  1. It's an adventure tale about two guys going on a journey and exercising feats of strength that would rival gods. They also have awesome chemistry. A selling point I liked is that this epic is sort of a coming-of-age story too (although Gilgamesh is probably in his mid-twenties to early thirties, I think) but considering his arrogance and grand sense of entitlement, Gilgamesh acts like some teenage boy at times, and there is a lot of room for emotional maturity and development which does happen by the nearing end of this epic, so that's nice.
  2. The depiction of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, his loyal companion, is arguably the first recorded 'bromance' in human history! Ungirdle your loins, ladies, if you're into that sort of stuff like I am. Homoerotic subtext is to be had (sometimes even hilariously at that), but I'm also okay with the simple 'guy love' aspect shared by these two because it's truly through Enkidu that Gilgamesh learned humility, heroic sacrifice, and the value of friendship.
  3. Gilgamesh's personal growth and eventual acceptance of his mortality are the central themes of this enthralling epic. No one has grown as much as Gilgamesh has after a few instances of rude awakening and losses along the way. He is a mighty, arrogant king who has finally learned how to be a good shepherd to his flock/subjects in his kingdom Uruk, as well as appreciate the simple pleasures in life. He basically coveted immortality but achieved it by letting such false ambitions go because in return, he does become immortalized through this epic.

It was only recently when the epic's tablets were finalized for what is widely known as its canon. You see, there have been so many translations, considering there are a handful versions of the tablets where this story was taken from. The audiobook recording I listened to has four tracks and they're easy enough to digest. The narrator sounded like a grandfather sitting by your bedside and telling you stories, and he has a firmness to his voice and diction that would keep you interested. I particularly enjoyed some offhand and colorful descriptions about the most banal things present in the narrative, and would jeer and make varied noises of approval and disgust; sometimes I'd even downright start talking over the narration when something catches my ear. So it was pretty much an interactive experience for me. Here is a succinct summary of each track:

TRACK ONE: The Bold and the Beautiful

Gilgamesh is a sexy, strong and confident king of the pristine and majestic city of Uruk. He's also two-thirds divine and one-third mortal. His mother is a goddess named Ninsun (whom he is in pretty close commune with for the first part of the tale), and his father is a priest-king with magical abilities named Lugalbanda. Fiercely loved by his people and very much favored by other Sumerian gods, Gilgamesh is basically hot shit and comes from the most privileged background you can imagine. The problem with Gilgi is that he knows he's hot shit and he's not afraid to reap the benefits of that. The story opens with pretty much how Jane Austen opens Emma--by describing the seemingly flawless qualities of the main character whom we all suppose to root for and sort of despise along the way as well. After listing down Gilgi's positive qualities, the story then continues with the bitching and moaning of his subjects in Uruk, citing that a king should be a shepherd who guides his flock but Gilgi has been slacking off. Not only is he not doing his job --he's also being a terrible douchebag.

He's the Barney Stinson of the ancient world

He essentially beats the crap out of any man who is capable of fighting him just to prove he's a badass; and then sleeps with every woman he can get his hands on. No nobleman's wife or peasant's daughter is safe. My personal favorite pastime of his is when he devirginizes brides on their honeymoon before their husbands even get a chance to lay with them. No one can say 'HELL NO' to Gilgamesh because's he's a sexy demigod king who takes and takes and takes. But the people of Uruk decided that they have had it, and complained to the gods, "Yo, you made the damn fool, now go create his equal!" And his equal was no other than a creature made of clay and he was named Enkidu. There was only one problem with his creation--he's a mindless beast who hangs around jungle animals because he believed he is one of them. To solve this problem, someone sent a harlot named Shamat who apparently can turn any beast into a man by educating him in her "womanly arts"...if you know what I mean.

Oh, you don't, actually, because Enkidu's education supposedly (and without exaggeration, if the text is to be believed) lasted for an ENTIRE WEEK. Even I did not see that coming. I love the passages where Shamat was instructed to fully immerse him in her womanly arts so he will forget his affinity with the jungle animals and recognize that he is a man who is bestowed with sexy times. Shamat the harlot was very caring too, and helped Enkidu internalize his consciousness as a human being. This fully registers when he catches wind about a proud king in Uruk who is very powerful and unbeatable. Enkidu was understandably curious and intrigued to know more about this king, and Shamat encouraged him to confront said dude since Enkidu expressed that he wanted to meet Gilgamesh because he wants to fight him--but, more than anything, he was also seeking a friend. 

And as kismet would have it, Enkidu meets Gilgamesh; Gilgamesh who was just about to enter a hut to sexy-times a virgin bride. Enkidu literally puts a foot between Gilgi and the hut he is about to enter and the deity-king was not pleased to be interrupted. Enkidu who is shacking up with a harlot (hey, it's monogamous!) and has a job as a night watchman back in the farm, obviously disapproves of how Gilgi sluts it up with other men's wives. So a fight ensued where they beat each other to a pulp. And then they kissed and became BFFs. This was a momentous meeting, according to Mommy Ninsun and she is happy to adopt Enkidu as her son. To further bro-it up with Enkidu, Gilgamesh suggests that they go the Cedar Forest to defeat and kill Humbaba, a monstrous demigod. The elders and his advisors were not happy and a collective face-palm ensued when Gilgi was undeterred and even asked for Mommy Ninsun's blessing for the journey. She gave it, and tasked Enkidu to protect her darling child at all times. The sun-god Shamash accompanies them too as some deus-ex-machina insurance or something.

And the bromance commences!

TRACK TWO: The Young and the Restless

The travel buddies spend most of their time hiking the woods and sleeping. Gilgamesh received a total of five ominous dreams which provided symbolic imagery that hint to the deadliness of Humbaba. He was legitimately scared for the first time in his life but Enkidu was chill and dismisses the dreams. He reassures his friend that if there is terror in his heart, he should get rid of it. Self-doubt will defeat him and backing out from a fight will not give him peace. So Gilgi pushes on and confronts said Humbaba who is borne of the mountain and never had parents to raise him. The gist that I got from their trash talk is basically Humbaba stressing that being a strong force of nature is all that he is and that Gilgamesh has other things going for him so he should just leave Humbaba alone. For a while Gilgamesh looked like he was going to cave but right before that, Humbaba was insulting Enkidu and claimed he will disembowel Gilgi and feed him to the birds if they don't go away. It angered Enkidu who always had this streak of self-righteousness to him, and demanded that Gilgi should kill the bastard. Gilgi obliged right after their other companion Shamash captured Humbaba so he won't escape. So they killed him, chopped down some big tree and fashioned it into a raft, and then the BFFs started to ride through the Euphrates river to get home, taking Humbaba's decapitated head with them.

Some time during the journey, Gilgamesh was cleaning himself in the river and because he is sex on a stick now naked and wet, the goddess of desire Ishtar took notice of him and offered him grand things including herself if he accepts her proposal to be her new husband. Flattered as he may be, Gilgi spurned her advances anyway and listed the reasons why he ain't tapping that fine ass (and I assume to the sound of Enkidu beat-boxing because, maaaan, he really let her down hard). He not only went into detail about  her past lovers who all met cruel fates by her hand, he also began to describe who she is as a goddess, woman and lover with this passage:

I have a feeling that mommy dearest Ninsun had warned Gilgamesh in advance not to fall for Ishtar, and she probably explained to him exactly why, hence his recital of all those on-point soul-crushing truth nuggets about said goddess of desire. In the audiobook I listened to, I preferred the translation, "You are the sandal that trips the wearer". I can't help but giggle at such a light-hearted insult. Gilgamesh's point is simply that she is too proud and vengeful to warrant his affection and loyalty, and he's got better options waiting for him (hell, he can have a pick of the virgins in his kingdom) and that also includes bromancing it up with Enkidu which he would rather do anyway. 

In case his blatant repugnance of her wasn't clear enough, this happens: right after getting rejected, Ishtar beseeches the help of her father Anu to send Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven, to avenge her. She blackmailed daddy by claiming she will cause the zombie apocalypse if he doesn't comply to her wishes (apparently she has a power to raise the undead or some shit). Anu gave in to his bratty princess of a daughter and so the Bull followed Gilgamesh and Enkidu back to Uruk where it caused a widespread devastation. To save the city before it falls into ruins, the BFFs dispose Gulganna using guy love and team work, and offer the bull's heart to Shamash, probably to show him that the duo didn't need his divine assistance to kill the damn thing. Ishtar cries like a little bitch and--to silence her--GILGAMESH THROWS ONE OF THE LEGS OF THE BULL AT HER FACE! And he does it with this killer line: "That is the closest thing you will get to me touching you!" That's right--with a bull's leg to the face!!

TRACK THREE: Dark Shadows

Uruk celebrates the victory of their king and his companion but the happy times are short-lived for Enkidu dreams of his future later that night. This is when the epic suddenly takes a rather sharp route to hurtful feels! Because of the murder of Humbaba and Gulganana, Enkidu was marked for death. He got mad about this because aftr all he was created from clay solely to be an equal to an amazing man like Gilgamesh; Enkidu was then made conscious of his humanity, and now he was only going to perish in the end by being sentenced to death? He thought it was unfair because he had learned to live, met a friend, and enjoyed what life offered--only to find out that it can all be taken away once he dies. Enraged and scared, Enkidu started cursing everything except Gilgi. Even the poor harlot Shamat received his curses. Now that was uncalled for because Shamat was a pretty cool chick, actually. She helped him transition and was patient with him all the time. Thanks to Shamash's interjection, Enkidu does eventually realize what a shithead he is for cursing the very woman who turned him into a civilized being and introduced him to Gilgamesh, so he blesses her instead. 

Afterwards, Enkidu was then plagued by more sinister dreams and for twelve days his condition just continued to deteriorate. He dreamt about being snatched by an eagle and entering the underworld he deemed as the 'house of dust' which showed him horrific images of the other trapped souls in it. He told Gilgamesh all of this in detail and his BFF started crying. Bravely, he tried to reassure Enkidu with one of the most poignant quotes from this entire epic:

“Why does your heart speak strangely? The dream was marvelous but the terror was great; we must treasure the dream whatever the terror; for the dream has shown that misery comes at last to the healthy man, the end of his life is sorrow.” 

Unfortunately, Gilgamesh never followed his own ad vice. Anyway, Gilgamesh stayed by Enkidu's bedside in those twelve agonizing days,but  the other man never got better, and the breaking point was when he started lamenting that he would not even die during a heroic battle but simply by dying out of a sickness in the heart. He was basically so overwhelmed by his looming death that he died because of that anxiety. Yes, Enkidu's body just fails and he dies. It was so traumatic for the deity-king who had never loved anyone aside from his own damn selfish self, and that person he treated as a brother, an equal, his platonic lover--is now gone forever. It also made Gilgamesh contemplate about his own mortality. After all, he is still one-third mortal, and that was when he was struck in the face just how fleeting it could be for him too. Gilgamesh LOSES HIS FUCKING SHIT LIKE YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE!!

This is how he has undergone the five stages of death:

  • DENIAL ---> "What is this darkness that holds you now?" Gilgamesh whispers as he presses a hand to Enkidu's chest but there was no heartbeat. He laments profusely, even knowing that Enkidu is really gone and cannot hear him. But he doesn't stop talking to his friend's corpse, caressing the face and weeping uncontrollably.
  • ANGER --->  Once he covered up Enkidu's corpse, he started wailing and tearing out his own hair and clothes. He made sure everyone in Uruk knew what happened and commanded his subjects to erect a statue of his friend. Gilgamesh was overcome by a mixture of emotions he hasn't felt before and he reacted very violently to them.
  • BARGAINING --->  Gilgamesh's eulogy was one of the most painful things I have ever heard! He urged every living thing in the world--from the mountains and the trees to the people who live in it; those who both knew and didn't know Enkidu--to mourn his death, to weep as Gilgamesh is doing now, because he doesn't want Enkidu to be alone--to be forgotten. He wanted his friend's death to matter to everyone and not just to him. He also stressed that Enkidu was his greatest treasure and no amount of jewels or riches in his own kingdom could match him. It was heartbreaking to see such a proud man in his most vulnerable moment.
  • DEPRESSION ---> For seven days and seven nights, Gilgamesh grieved and was inaccessible to everyone. To honor Enkidu, he started to live in the wilderness too, forsaking his crown and abandoning his riches. He finally admitted to himself that he is afraid of death. He doesn't want to die. He doesn't want to be forgotten. Utterly bereaved, still very selfish, stubborn and lonely, Gilgamesh begins a quest to secure immortality and the track ends with him traveling to meet an actual immortal who can help him achieve his desire.

I'm not going to spoil how The Epic of Gilgamesh ends and will instead leave you with this cliffhanger, urging you to pick up a copy of this when you do find the time. My final thoughts about this story are simply this: It's a truly stirring and transcendent piece of literature. It is definitely the very first story in human history that spawned all other stories since which concern man's existential crisis about life and death, and his search for eternal life because of his fear of irrelevance and endings. It's also a tale about the value of friendship, the struggles and victories of individualism, the repercussions of hubris, and the acceptance that nothing is ever permanent. 

Like most misguidedly confident heroes, Gilgamesh started out vain, conceited and privileged in this story that he thought he is the center of the universe. Upon meeting his equal, he learned to share and grow alongside this companion, and when said companion dies, his demise made Gilgamesh more self-aware of his brevity as a half-mortal being. Like any flawed creature, he tried to escape the inevitable, refused to listen to his elders, insisted on getting his way, and stopped learning and changing for the better. Eventually, he does come to terms that everything ends...but not everything is forgotten. The fact that you are reading this review of mine after I listened to an audiobook about this story which has been translated across generations is proof that immortality can be achieved through writing and history. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a testament to how stories of universal truth never fade in memory. This story is more than three thousand years old! It is worth picking up not just for posterity but because it's a real gem and I promise you won't regret it. There are tropes, archetypes and themes here that are still being spread in the landscape of our dynamic pop culture and collective consciousness as the human race. 

I will leave you with this quote that succinctly summarizes this epic: 

“Gilgamesh was called a god and a man; Enkidu was an animal and a man. This is the story of their becoming human together.”


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

TEN COUNT by Rihito Takarai

The first time I read this manga, I was reading another shounen-ai story which is more engrossing and oh-so beautiful (I'll be re-reading that series again and posting a review some time in the coming months), so I easily put this down since it's only a casual read, especially when I reached at least ten chapters or so and I found the sudden shift into the sex a bit jarring and admittedly quite offensive. This is still an ongoing work, mind you, so I'm careful not to have a very definitive opinion about the narrative just yet although I must say that this has a very promising premise and it might have been a more compelling, emotionally mature read if it was published as a josei work and not simply a yaoi material. Sadly, the intended purpose for this manga was for some sexy times to commence, and therein lies the problem because I get the sense that author Takarai-sensei must really want to expand on the inner conflict his protagonist is struggling with but since this is published as a yaoi, he had to comply to the demands of editors to put some sexy stuff already because who wants to read about believable character development dealing with a phobia anyway?

Well, as it turns out, I do. Upon my second reading this week, I think that it's worth noting that Takarai eventually got to the point in this manga where he has provided readers with a very intriguing backstory that personally made me hope that he can recitify the unpleasant situation that his two leads got caught up in because of the early (and dubiously consented) sexual scenarios that happened between them. But I'm getting ahead of myself. There is a reason why I still re-read this work and that's because I want to give my insights on the direction of the writing and the portrayal of the characters' struggles concerning his phobia. I'm not sure I can recommend it just yet, however. Hopefully the author will publish more installments and that the story would improve along the way. I actually do want it to because I am intrigued with the conflict. So here we go then.

THE PLOT: A man in his thirties suffers with acute mysophobia (a fear of dirt and filth) and meets a therapist from a mental health clinic who volunteered to help him with his crippling affliction. The therapist puts him under what is known as 'exposure therapy'. To do so, the therapist had the mysophobe write down his Top 10 list of the things he is not comfortable doing and brings him the most anxiety; with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. Item 10 was left blank, and this is where the patient's trauma stems from which we will later find out more as the story progresses. 

An attraction develops between them which stemmed from said mysophobe's dependence on the therapist (also known as transference), and said therapist also begins to reciprocate the patient's feelings (also known as countertransference) because these things tend to happen in psychotheraphy. This manga examines the complexities of such a circumstance but also fails to address as of yet the serious repercussions of such an unhealthy relationship.

THE CHARACTERS: Shirotani is the mysophobe and Kurose is his therapist, a much younger man who has questionable ethics. From the very beginning, we see Shirotani has to wear gloves to counter his fear of touching dirty things, and he also obsessively washes his hands to the point that his skin is badly scarring and peeling in some place. He meets Kurose during a chance encounter, and the latter offered his services as a therapist. Things were going well for a while because Kurose seems dedicated to help Shirotani to overcome his phobia little by little, and he was patient enough to stay by his side even when Shirotani once broke down in the middle of a public transit because of a panic attack after being sneezed upon by accident. I thought Shirotani's characterization is well-written. I can sympathize with his struggle, and I'm also curious about the flashbacks from his past when he was a child which later on has a key importance as to why he developed his phobia in the first place.

On the other hand, I was already suspicious of Kurose which gradually faded when he made the wise, assertive decision to distance himself from Shirotani after he realizes that he is becoming attracted to his patient. Unfortunately, suddenly cutting ties from Shirotani (INSTEAD OF RECOMMENDING HIM TO ANOTEHR DOCTOR, HOW IRRESPONSIBLE COULD YOU BE?) was ill-advised because all the progress that Shirotani has made only regressed, and he became more withdrawn to the point where he stopped going to work. Kurose came to his aid, and finally admitted why he had to stay away from Shirotani. That pivotal scene where he wrapped a jacket around Shirotani so he can hug him was heartfelt in a way and made me forget for a while that what Kurose has done to Shirotani was already reckless, and I probably shouldn't trust him at this point. AND I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO RIGHT!

THE CONFLICT: Good-looking therapist in his late twenties and a hot mess of a man in his thirties with a crippling phobia as his deal-breaker baggage find themselves sexually attracted to each other. It's a delicious premise that would allow a more conscientious writer to explore issues concerning physical and emotional intimacy and co-dependence, all the while cautioning readers with the fall-outs and problems that could arise when a person such as Shirotani engages in a relationship that could only harm his progress and recovery, considering it's with a mental health physician who really should know better than to reciprocate his patient's feelings.

THE GOOD: Let me discuss my favorite part of this manga that was enough reason for me to re-read, review and look forward to the conclusion of its story. In a chapter that illustrated Shirotani's childhood, it was revealed that he was raised by a single father who is a high school teacher. They were close and his father was very sweet and affectionate to him. However, a student of his started lingering around the pair and it was implied that she was his lover. During a conversation at Shirotani's home, the girl asked if he wants to have a new mother, but Shirotani said he doesn't need one because he already has his dad. The girl pressed on that his dad needs someone special in his life aside from his son, and Shirotani--an innocent ten-year-old--casually remarked that he would marry his dad instead because he knows he can make his dad happy. It was a very naive comment from a child who didn't know better, but the girl--THIS HORRIBLE CUNT OF A HUMAN BEING--got angry and told Shirotani that he is a filthy boy for wanting to marry his father. Normally, someone who has a more compassionate heart would have laughed it off and just explain to the boy why the father would need to remarry. I could think of a dozen better ways to react than how that cunt did. 

Then go die in a cleansing fire for extra measure, you bitch

But that's not the worst thing that she did, and the reason why I maintain that she deserves to be called the mightiest cunt of cunts (while being stoned to death) is because of the extremes she went through in order to prove to Shirotani--again, A TEN-YEAR-OLD BOY--that she is the only one who can make the father happy. Are you guys ready to read about it? It's sickening, I tell you. But here we go: One night in his father's office, the girl had Shirotani hide in one of the lockers. When the father arrived, she started seducing him until they ended up having sex RIGHT THERE AND THEN WITH SHIROTANI STILL HIDING IN THE CLOSET. Shirotani, shockingly witnessing his own parent engaging in sexual congress, was immediately unable to process and cope because he started getting aroused too and it terrified him. To relive himself, he started masturbating for the first time because he remembered one of his classmates telling him that if his penis starts to hurt then he should rub it. After the cunt got what she wanted, the father leaves because he thought he heard some noise in one of the classrooms. Smug with her new breed of malice, the girl then addresses Shirotani in the closet, bragging that he could never have sex with his father the way she just had and therefore she should be the one that gets married to the father. When he didn't answer, she opens the closet and finds him trembling with his pants down around his ankles, crying and very much stupefied about what just happened. And her reaction. She screams at him that HE IS DISGUSTING.

How does this affect the young Shirotani? TREMENDOUSLY. He was unable to speak to his father about it, of course, and his innocent familial affection for his own parent was tainted to the point where he outright refuses to be touched by him later on. IT WAS PAINFUL AND WRONG AND ALL KINDS OF HEARTBREAKING! What happened to Shirotani was definitely A SEXUAL TRAUMA. The worst thing is that his father might have gotten married to that selfish cunt which would explain why I never really get to see the father again now that Shirotani is an adult. As horrible as this part of the story was, I thought it was an interesting facet and a meaningful backstory that explained effectively why Shirotani is both simultaneously repulsed and aroused by sex, and why he thinks sexy is a dirty, dirty act. It's really sad to see him deny himself intimacy with his own father. This scene broke my heart:

THE BAD: So now we have established that Shirotani--even now as a man in his thirties--is still traumatized by the pain and loss that cost him the relationship he used to have with his father, and has suffered a gross violation pertaining to his childhood innocence. As a result, he developed an inability to get physically close with anyone without going through torturous bouts of self-loathing and disgust. And then here comes Kurose who at first was a positive influence in his life who aimed to help him overcome his phobia. For a while, Shirotani was making some progress but then he develops attraction for his therapist which does happen but there are fail-safes that must be in place when such scenarios do happen such as being referred to another doctor. However, this is a yaoi manga so the solution was still based on the fantasy of sexual dominance and submission where Kurose--blatantly expressing his interest and desire for Shirotani--gets close to Shirotani physically in spite of the dangerous effect that could have on the man. Shirotani has sexual trauma and mental anguish and badly needs the behavorial therapy and what does Kurose do instead?

Yeah, this fucking thing

THE UGLY: He proceeds to engage in increasingly sexual scenarios with him where Shirotani explicitly verbalized so many times that he is uncomfortable of the physical intimacy that Kurose initiates. Sure, he gives in anyway because his body craves physical enjoyment but that doesn't mean he is mentally prepared for it. AND IT DOESN'T GIVE KUROSE THE RIGHT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SHIROTANI'S TRUST. The dubious consent scenarios are on high alert for this manga but much like most yaoi, this is fetishize instead of being addressed as a serious problem that definitely almost crosses that thin line between consent and rape. I am appalled that Kurose even declared at some point that he wants to degrade Shirotani by making him feel the pleasurable agony of sexual arousal and completion. I also have a problem with the softening resolve that Shirotani displays every time Kurose outright rapes him. It's like he would fight back at first but his will starts to deflate as soon as his body starts feeling good. THAT IS STILL CONSIDERED RAPE because if the person receiving the pleasure feels guilty and disgusted of himself afterwards then there is a lack of true consent in the first place.

And it will continue to become a systematic abuse in the later chapters

Shirotani is not a normal person who can be held completely responsible for his decisions especially when he is at the mercy of the one person who should take a moral obligation to respect his boundaries and help him get better. Shirotani is vulnerable and damaged goods and Kurose is an absolute prick to have sex with him nilly-willy. And to do it as his therapist! It would have been less...evil if he gave up his professional relationship with Shirotani and just be some asshole who is taking advantage of someone else than be a care specialist and do this kind of things to said patient. Honestly, this has yet to be tackled in the story and that is why I have hopes that Shirotani will assert his agency and seek out help (probably from his boss and co-worker Mikami who are both genuinely concerned about him) because Kurose is not at all the person he should associate himself with regardless whether or not he is attracted to him, and especially then. I'M NOT EVEN GOING TO TALK ABOUT KUROSE PROCLAIMING HE LOVES SHIROTANI BECAUSE CLEARLY THIS IS NOT HOW YOU SHOW THAT YOU LOVE SOMEONE!

Just a normal heart-to-heart between a victim and his rapist


Monday, February 1, 2016

FEBRUARY List of Readables


Full disclosure: Slowly yet surely, I'm now reading most of CLAMP's manga since I've been an avid fan of their works in anime (Magic Knight Rayearth, Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits and Kobato), not failing to mention that my all-time favorite manga (and certainly one that is close to my heart and soul) is probably the frustratingly tragic and punishingly intricate series xxxHoLic. I'm also finally completing my readings for Tsubasa Chronicle on the side because this is supposedly CLAMP's magnus opei and with its flexible narrative concerning alternate worlds, many characters from CLAMP's other works have made appearances in every volume--and the most unforgettable of them is probably Seishirou who was first introduced as Syaoran's mentor from childhood who then stole one of Sakura's memory feathers so he can use it to find a certain pair of vampire twins. In any case, I was curious about him so I asked some friends in fandom who can help me find more about this character and I was then directed to this manga--and experience the pairing of Seishirou and Subaru which caused the very devastation that left a permanent mark on CLAMP's subsequent shounen-ai inclinations in other pairings like my personal favorite Doumeki and Watanuki of xxxHoLic

SeiSub (their fandom-agreed portmanteau) also makes a final appearance in X/1999, an apocalyptic urban fantasy manga that essentially broke apart every SS shipper's heart due to that confrontation between the said men which concluded their very unhealthy yet intense and powerful connection/non-relationship. I was spoiled early on before I even started reading this manga, and I was glad I was because I most definitely need all kinds of preparation to endure what is to come once I do start reading X/1999. Look, I'm a Charles/Erik (Professor X/Magneto) fanatic so intricately depressing pairings between stubborn yet admirable men are my cup of tea already, so I know I am more than equipped to handle Seishirou and Subaru's own sadomasochistic tango, but I never could have anticipated the level in which their own music plays. It's so unbelievably hurtful because on one hand, this is a 'non-relationship' (Oh, CLAMP is the motherfucker of such pairings, trust me) that is ill-advised and unhealthy and yet on the other hand it's also rendered so consummate and beautifully broken that it's unavoidable not to wish that circumstances were different for these two. 

I will make this review as spoiler-free as possible for anyone interested in picking it up but I would also like to touch upon its selling points which make it worth reading enough to follow through with the indirect sequel X/1999 once a reader becomes invested in SeiSub as characters and a pairing. I will indicate where the spoilers are though which I must warn all of you NOT TO READ if you really want to pick up this manga. If not--and you are curious of the situation and why I'm nearly frothing in the mouth about it--then do read through. I'll be discussing HOW THE STORY ENDS for SeiSub in the spoilers because it is a necessary evil, for the sake of any pedantic completist attitude that I have.


WHAT IS TOKYO BABYLON: This is a story about a sixteen-year-old onmyoji (Ying Yang Master) named Subaru Sumeragi who is thirteenth in the line of his clan. He investigates supernatural cases while also balancing school work. He has an outgoing and fashionable twin sister named Hokuto who also happens to actively ship him (I shit you not) with a kind and handsome veterinarian named Seishirou Sakurazuka who is gosh-darned smitten with said sixteen-year-old even though Seishirou is nine years his senior. As Subaru unravels the underlying pain and suffering in Tokyo where hauntings are more symbolic than simply paranormal, he also has to deal with Seishirou's affections which he does not necessarily discourage, as well as uncover a repressed memory from childhood concerning a mysterious stranger which turns out to be a key event that will change his life from then on.


WHO ARE THE CHARACTERS: The aforementioned three characters themselves have enough personality to keep readers interested and there is fluff and sweetness shared among them in the beginning volumes--that was until we reach the inevitable despair and heartbreak by the later installments which will shock readers because it's almost a dissonance to what was established in their dynamics. However, there are some clues regarding to Seishirou's apparently questionable persona where he would swoop in during moments when Subaru is in danger and would cast a spell to render him unconscious so he can deal with the case of the week using his own methods that are not as, shall we say, compassionate as Subaru's. Basically, readers will pretty much take the hint that they should NOT TRUST SEISHIROU.

Individually speaking: Hokuto at first would strike readers as someone who is shallow and bubbly and sort of aggressive and controlling because she always picks Subaru's outfit to match with her sense of fashion, and would keep pushing her brother to hook up with the twenty-five year old hot vet who is lurking around the twins very suspiciously. It's creepy yet also endearing because Hokuto cares deeply about Subaru that she overcompensates for his sake. More intuitive and courageous, Hokuto feels protective about Subaru even though she is worried that he rarely comes out of his shell that he barely has any real friendships and relationships outside his calling as an onmyoji. She acts as the big sister in their siblingship, and her constant fawning over a possible romantic relationship between her brother and Seishirou stemmed from an insecurity that she will one day lose Subaru to their family's occupation; that one day he will find no comfort or consolation being in her company and leave her. Matchmaking him with Seishirou has her believing it would anchor Subaru to a normal life because her brother is honestly living a life rife with extraordinary moments that normalcy is not something readily available to him. What she fears the most is that she may be right after all.

Meanwhile, Subaru as the main protagonist is just goddamn adorbs. At first I found him a little naive and innocent but this was actually an unsettling contrast to the kind of second life he lives as a dutiful exorcist at the ripe age of sixteen. He is filled with kindness and brimming with compassion, yes, but he also has very strong convictions that are somewhat surprising because I initially mistook his seeming naivety as a fixed thing when he is clearly more mature than he lets on, considering the kind of vices and cruelty that he is exposed to daily, and that is bound to mess up someone to a degree. We only see this later on when he uncovered his memory from childhood. 

My favorite moment from Subaru has to be in volume 4 where he stood up against a school teacher/cult leader who advises her followers to accomplish things using the power of prayer (which does not work when said follower in question is being brutally bullied). Subaru definitely shows his maturity when he claimed: "No one can understand someone else's pain. You can never pretend to know what they are going through, or imagine their suffering. You cannot save anyone." This was a revelatory moment about his character because he is not deluded at all by idealism and school-boy heroics. Subaru knows what he is getting into and he acknowledges that there are limitations to what he can do for other people. I find it such an admirable quality that he would not judge, condemn or pretend to understand someone's experiences with the simple acknowledgement that everyone is different and perhaps no one will ever truly understand anyone. This will serve as his unraveling later on.

And then there is Seishirou Sakurazuka. How do I even begin to describe the hot, hot, HOT and complex Seishirou Sakurazuka? You know what, I won't. I'll discuss about him in the spoiler-y parts instead and let your imagination run wild in this portion of the review instead.


WHAT ARE THE WEAKNESSES OF THE MANGA: With a monster of the week scenario, this manga is composed of a set of stories where Subaru solves mysteries and exorcises evil spirits. I'm going to be perfectly honest with you: I didn't think there was anything special to this manga until the last two volumes which is finally centered on the conflict between SeiSub (and their stupid and heartbreaking 'Bet') and the revelation of Seishirou's real identity plus betrayal. I will maintain that as I read through the first three volumes, Tokyo Babylon struck me as an unrefined nineties version of xxxHoLic, since both deal with social pathologies metaphorically represented by a supernatural element. That being said, their difference is that Tokyo Babylon tends to be uneven in tonality, shifting from light-hearted shounen-ai material to disturbing paranormal cases that relate to the metropolitan lifestyle of Tokyo and its harmful effects. Meanwhile, xxxHoLic has a more consistent narrative, perfectly mixing the horrific and mundane seamlessly into characterizations and dialogue. But I digress. The best way I can summarize its weak points is that it tends to be a slow burn during the first two or three volumes. The cases are interesting themselves but sometimes feel too drawn out and uncomfortably dark. There are notable ones that really appeal to me, however, mostly because they serve to reveal facets about Subaru and Seishirou respectively. It's deceptively cheesy sometimes but if you keep reading long enough, the pay-off regarding SeiSub will be worth it.


WHAT ARE THE STRENGTHS: Tokyo Babylon does have its merits, though. For one thing, like most CLAMP works, it gets better with each installment. From something completely formulaic where we get a series of unrelated cases, the manga finally divulges from that into something more character-driven, providing us with important backstories for Subaru and Seishirou. This happens somewhere between the fifth volume and continues to get exciting by the sixth and seventh. These two characters, after all, are the heart and guts of Tokyo Babylon. As I've mentioned, there are shounen-ai elements. CLAMP operates on a pansexual level where characters in their works tend to fall in love with one another regardless of age and gender. With TB, there is a small acknowledgment, however, that Subaru is feeling self-conscious about the affection Seishirou shows simply because they are both males which Seishirou casually and deliberately brushes off (and hilariously at that, I may add). Hokuto doesn't mind trying to matchmake them although she did threaten Seishirou one time that if he hurts her brother, she will kill him. So when you pick up this manga, expect some shounen-ai moments sprinkled between pages for comic relief, which are still mild compared to anything else. What was so interesting about this pairing was that there is more to Seichirou's constant pining over Subaru (something...dark), and Subaru's very late realization that he has feelings for Seishirou himself has to be one of the most badly-timed epiphany ever with the most shockingly disheartening consequences!


WHY YOU MUST READ: This is an indirect prequel to the more compelling manga X/1999 where Seishirou and Subaru reprise their roles once more. When X/1999 started, nine years have already passed since Tokyo Babylon, and a Subaru in his mid-twenties has found himself on the opposing side against Seichirou. The mythos for X/1999 is interesting so I think my recommendation for Tokyo Babylon is closely tied to the sequel that it spawns later on, and this manga is simply a required reading if you want to get into X/1999 afterwards. As for its own series, TB has interesting cases of the paranormal and insights regarding the cosmopolitan side of Tokyo which include its vices, indulgences and corruption. Last but not the least, the selling point is SeiSub as characters and as a 'non-relationship' because TB reveals the history they have with one another whereas X/1999 is its inevitably painful conclusion.


TURNING POINT: Tokyo Babylon explores a rather complicated 'love story' between its protagonist and antagonist where there is a romantic angle that somewhat drives the main conflict. We never really get to see how the Sumeragi twins met Seishirou who was masquerading as a veterinarian but he easily injects himself into their lives, most probably by faking a romantic interest on Subaru which made him seem harmless and even cute. I don't know how in the world does a twenty-five year old man get away with trying to court a sixteen-year-old boy but maybe it helps that he is hot, and that the twin sister approves, and that Subaru is pretty much allowing it because he can't take it seriously? The blatant infatuation is creepy at first especially when readers become privy to the fact that Seishirou has disguised himself as a kind animal doctor to accomplish an endgame that reveals itself in the last volume, so his so-called courtship has a nasty tinge of deception to it. 

For some context, here is how Hokuto describes Subaru as a person: 

"He's always had this bad habit of making other people's emotions his own. When they're sad. Subaru's sad. When they suffer, Subaru suffers, too. He's not trying to be a saint. That's just how he is. But because of his job as an onmyouji... He's seen so many people's bad sides, and experienced so many unpleasant things... and he's never been able to get used to it. I'm sure that Subaru remembers all the emotions of every person he's ever dealt with. Even if they themselves forget, Subaru never will. He carries them with him. He can't let them go."

This is a noteworthy characterization. Subaru, as it turns out, does not own up to his emotions because he has experienced so much residual feelings of other people that his own emotions tend to be hidden to him. Now, keeping that in mind, when a breaking point happens for SeiSub in which Seishirou places himself in physical danger when he gets stabbed in the eye to protect Subaru from an attack, this was also the beginning of the sudden shift in their dynamics.

It was a delicate situation because this is when Subaru's feelings began to express themselves unconsciously. Hokuto was there to put him back together and ease his guilt because of what Seishirou has done for his sake. Ultimately Subaru only learned about the truth of how he feels about Seishirou when he conversed with a blind man. This blind man was someone he helped before, and they got to talk about Seishirou after a while and it was in that scene that the blind man pointed out that he can hear the love in Subaru's voice when he talks about Seishirou. Subaru was shocked and as he walked away to go visit Seishirou in his room at the hospital, we get this inner monologue.

"I was afraid... you would hate me. That's right... I was... afraid Seishirou-san would hate me. I've met many people in my life. And I've had many happy moments and sad times. But I never thought about... what I wanted them to do, or how I wanted them to feel about me. It's impossible to control another person's feelings. But in the end, if someone hates me or I cause them trouble... I have no one to blame but myself. I may be useless, and there isn't much to like about me... but still, I... That day, as I was banging on Seishirou's operating room door... I was crying... because I was afraid. I was so afraid that he would hate me... and that I might never see him again. I--"

This was so...heartbreaking in so many levels. Take note of how Subaru admitted that he never even thought about how people could feel about him because, as mentioned before, he doesn't believe people can understand one another fully and know their pain and suffering so Subaru, as a result, has never bothered to get emotionally close with someone and aspire for someone to feel something special for him. He reasoned that another person's feelings are out of his control anyway which is true in itself. But now Subaru realized that for the first time in his life he wants something for himself--someone--and it was a terrifying realization. It has made him suddenly vulnerable and exposed, so aware that with such a desire comes the possibility of rejection and pain. But Subaru soldiers on after tearfully admitting that he is in love with Seishirou and so opens the door--only to come face-to-face with the real Seishirou: a man who belongs to the infamous Sakurazukamori assassin clan--and he is determined to win the 'bet' and kill Subaru. And so begins their abusive tango.

When he was a child, Subaru stumbles upon one of Seishirou's assassination assignments. This fateful meeting happened under the sakura tree. The Sakurazukamori's method of killing requires them to bury their victims under an evil, ancient Sakura tree and that they must kill any witness in sight. It was indeed peculiar then for Seishirou to spare Subaru's life with this ominous promise:

"If you and I should ever meet again... let us live together for one year. My heart is the direct inverse of yours. You are kind, and pure, and honest. And I'm sure that is how you will continue to grow up. Your heart will remain pure. So, if we should ever meet again... I will try my hardest to learn to love you. Just for one year. And after that year... if I can consider you "special"... you will have won and I will not kill you. But if I decide... that I cannot consider you special to me... if I cannot distinguish between you and that corpse... then... I will kill you. And so today... I will let you go."

After injecting himself in the twins' lives, Seishirou played a convincing role of the starry-eyed suitor to Subaru, only to eventually reveal that his intention was to test the possibility he could develop feelings for the younger man. The betrayal only deepened when SEISHIROU MURDERS SUBARU'S SISTER HOKUTO. That should have been how it ended, right there as Seishirou carries Hokuto's lifeless body away from a devastated Subaru who was powerless to prevent it. Subaru should have hated him and never forgave him. He never did forgive Seishirou for ripping away the one person Subaru cares about, but this crime was not enough to make Subaru STOP LOVING SEISHIROU. In fact, loving Seishirou has caused Subaru to question everything he knew about himself to the point where he becomes just as pathologically obsessed with the prospect of winning the bet. 

In Subaru's fragile mind, this was the first time he ever loved someone aside from his sister, and since it's Subaru he believes he could never love anyone as intensely again. The trouble is Seishirou is a heartless sociopathic killer who deceived him and destroyed a part of himself Subaru will never get to restore. So, instead of moving on, Subaru decided to walk an extra mile and offer himself TO BE KILLED BY SEICHIROU. The logic behind this shitfuckery is that if Seichirou is incapable of loving him back then at least he can be a WORTHY KILL for the older man. It's the stupidest idea ever but also the most hurtful sentiment I have ever read in fiction. Desperate to mean something more to Seichirou than just some boy he played mind games with, Subaru aspired to die by Seichirou's hand because he essentially has nothing AND NO ONE ELSE to live for--not when his twin sister is dead and the love of his life turned out to be a worthless piece of shit who murdered said sister.

Why would people ship it, you ask? That answer is in the events that followed for the manga, X/1999.


HOW IT ENDS: We have established that Subaru is irrevocably in love with Seishirou and that if he can't be loved back by said man, then he would rather be killed by said man because at least in death, he becomes significant to Seishirou. It's gruesomely irrational so I have no way of justifying this mindset of his, okay? Nine years later, Subaru puts this plan in place all the while in the backdrop of an apocalyptic battle for the survival of Earth hanging in the balance.

SeiSub's small personal drama in the midst of such a major catastrophic event still feels very significant because one thing that CLAMP is so good at is creating characters with such strong connections with each other AND THEN PROCEED TO DESTROY THE FUCK OUT OF IT. Sakura and Syaoran are the soulmates of the Clampverse but they never really get to be together for good when Tsubasa ends. Kurogane and Fai--yet another non-relationship coded with shounen-ai--are more or less semi-canon already but they never really DTR-ed even if it's so obvious that the feelings they share is more than platonic. Meanwhile, only Cardcaptor Sakura's Touya and Yukito are outed as a gay couple in a fulfilling relationship, and all the other ones (such as my OTP Doumeki and Watanuki from xxxHoLic) are open to debated interpretation and ship tease.

Shipping CLAMP couples is very much like playing an extended game of 'Why are you hitting yourself?' with the writers

The second pairing to be spelled out as romantic in context is SeiSub but theirs ends up in shambles. In a climactic event, Seishirou and Subaru fight to the death. I won't discuss the actual details of the fight but what I will say is that SEISHIROU DIES BY SUBARU'S HAND which was not how Subaru intended. But as it turns out, Hokuto, his late sister, cast a spell that will prevent Seichirou from killing Subaru. If Seichirou tries to kill him via a chest blow, the attack will bounce back and kill Seichirou instead. So Subaru sits there with his hand lodged inside Seichirou's chest, close to where his heart is, and as Seichirou bleeds to death, Subaru has this fucking speech that was too much:

“I tried to kill you, inside my heart; to erase your existence there. But I couldn’t do it. Even if I meant no more than a grain of sand to you. Even if you felt no more for me than a twig you’d snap under foot. I thought . . . I wanted to be killed by you. So that my heart would at least be free.” 

That wasn't even the worst part...the part was SEISHIROU'S LAST WORDS:

"Subaru-kun...I hope you much I..."

And yes, CLAMP intentionally NEVER REVEALED WHAT HE SAID TO SUBARU. Instead, Subaru was the only one who heard it and with tears in his eyes, he only remarked, "I never thought that you could say those words to me," as he clutches Seishirou's lifeless body close right there as the world was supposed to end around them. It's been debated for a long time that Seishirou's last words are a confession of his real feelings after all; that he did LOSE THE BET BECAUSE HE DID FALL IN LOVE WITH SUBARU. 

What else could it be? What else would have reduced Subaru into a mess of regrets and later on into a catatonic state after hearing the very words he longed to hear from the only man he had ever loved, but never dreamed he would receive, and only when it was very much too late?

This theory was reinforced by the fact that when you kill a Sakurazukamori assassin, you will have to take his or her place and become one yourself. Seichirou has murdered his own mother because it was a necessary stepping stone into suceeding her. During her last breaths, Seichirou's mother told him that there is no greater death than to die by the hand of your beloved. Also, Seishirou knows about the spell Hokuto cast upon Subaru. This means that when Seishirou attacked Subaru, he knew it will bounce back and Subaru would be the one who kills him. THAT MEANS HE WAS MERELY MIRRORING THE DEATH OF HIS MOTHER. Seishirou's death was meaningful because it was committed by his beloved (Subaru). That's how fucked up Seishirou is; his ultimate expression of love is his death. So even if we never get to confirm if he did confess his love for Subaru during his last moments, we have this interesting parallel with his mother that can reinforce the idea that yes, GODDAMMIT YES, Seishirou was in love with Subaru and all he can offer to him is his death. 

And--tragically--Subaru did become a Sakurazukamori in his stead which is all kinds of misery because Subaru is now branded a killer who belongs to the rival clan. And you know what, HE SEEMED HAPPY ABOUT IT. To Subaru, becoming a Sakurazukamori sustains him with a connection to the late Seishirou even if meant giving up his magnanimous vocation as a onmyoji. See, I told you it's fucked up.