Kou Yoneda’s Twittering Birds Never Fly manga offers a unique look at the relationship between a masochistic yakuza boss and his stoic bodyguard. In a world where dark deals and violence reign, can they find solace in each other or is their relationship just another twisted liaison between two lonely men?
Depraved souls, trapped by their own desires…
- Art and Story: Kou Yoneda
- Released: 31 July 2014 (5 Volumes – ongoing)
- Imprint: Digital Manga Publishing
- Pages: 200
Yashiro is a young attractive yakuza with a not-so-secret perversion: he’s a sex addict and a masochist, who gets off on rough meaningless sex. With such particular tastes, love really didn’t factor in for Yashiro, until he met his new bodyguard, Chikara Doumeki, a quiet man with his fair share of secrets. What starts as a curious attraction between a depraved boss and his obedient subordinate, quickly becomes a passionate affair between two men that desperately wish to fly.
I have been a long time fan of Kou Yoneda and her works. Her stories are known for their complex characters and thought-provoking subject matter. I had the bar set pretty high for volume one of Twittering Birds Never Fly and I was not disappointed. I’ve read many yakuza-themed BL titles before, each full of one cliche after another, but Yoneda puts her own spin on the premise and the result is delicious. With every turn of the page, Yoneda pulls you deeper into the depraved world or Yashiro and the yakuza, a place where men are free to pursue their deepest desires.
The first volume is comprised of three stories (‘Don’t Stay Gold’, ‘Twittering Birds Never Fly’, and ‘Though They Drift, They Do Not Sink, But Nor Do They Sing’), but the majority of the volume is dedicated to the second story, Twittering Birds Never Fly. While the narrative of each story is for the most part self contained, they all share the same setting and cast of characters so they do have some relevance to the main story.
The first story, Don’t Stay Gold, focuses on the relationship between a doctor friend of Yashiro’s, Kageyama, and a volatile young street thug in debt to the yakuza. Kageyama takes in the younger man, and the pair become romantically involved, thanks in part to some meddling on Yashiro’s part. It’s a cute story and a nice, relatively lighthearted, introduction to the volume. The side couple was well developed, and despite the short amount of time they spend with one another, I really enjoyed their relationship. Since they are both acquainted with Yashiro, I really hope we get to see more of them in future volumes.
The rest of the volume is all about the main couple, Yashiro and Doumeki, and believe me when I say the first story does nothing to prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster that is Twittering Birds Never Fly. Yoneda has a talent for creating interesting, albeit flawed characters, and Twittering Birds is no different. Each of the main leads is dealing with their fair share of inner demons and of course this wouldn’t be a party without a few troubled pasts. Warning: this manga is not for the faint of heart. It deals with some pretty dark themes, which some folks may or may not find triggering, namely Yashiro’s approach to sex.
When we meet Yashiro, he is still licking his wounds after his friend and the object of his unrequited crush, Kageyama, finds a lover (see Don’t Stay Gold). Enter Doumeki, a new recruit suffering from a case of unexplained erectile dysfunction (ED). Yashiro is immediately captivated by the seemingly indifferent young man and the two embark on a rather complicated relationship. Yashiro wastes no time getting into Doumeki’s pants, with a spontaneous blowjob despite his policy of never laying a hand on his subordinates. They have several other encounters throughout the volume, but Doumeki never seems adverse to their liaisons, in fact, he is oddly accepting of each encounter. He just silently accepts everything Yashiro has to offer with little or no comment, save remarking how beautiful Yashiro is. It’s a rather strange relationship, but not an uncomfortable one. There is something intimate about the way both men accept one another so wholly. Doumeki accepts Yashiro’s sexual perversions without judgement, while Yashiro is unbothered by Doumeki’s impotency.
I’m torn on how I feel about Yoneda’s portrayal of Yashiro. On one hand I find Yashiro’s frank acceptance of himself and his activities refreshing, since most authors would attempt to use the character as a lesson against deviant lifestyles. But, on the other side, I’m a little disappointed that Yoneda perpetuates the idea that ‘deviant’ sexual tastes are usually the result of some form of past abuse or trauma. Don’t get me wrong, my issue isn’t with the way the topic was handled, Yoneda did a great job with that. Yashiro’s years of sexual abuse at the hands of his step-father isn’t sugar-coated or romanticized in any way. He is open about his abuse in a way that I haven’t seen done in a BL manga in a long time, and while it isn’t the most sensitive portrayal of an abuse victim, it does help drive home just how tragic Yashiro’s life really is beneath all of his pomp and swagger.
In comparison, Doumeki’s past trauma, while not what you’d normally see in a BL manga, is equally tragic. While Yashiro turns to self-destructive behaviors to help cope with his trauma, Doumeki seems almost normal by comparison, a point several characters make throughout the volume. He’s just too composed, a fact Yashiro uses to his advantage on a number of occasions, pushing Doumeki’s buttons just to get a rise out of him, with mixed results. The relationship between Doumeki and Yashiro is messy and while I’m not opposed to their sexual encounters, I am not sure how health their relationship really is in the long run. I cheated a bit and read through the second volume and I must say, this is only the beginning of what promises to be a pretty tumultuous relationship between two truly damaged individuals.
Themes and Trivia
Yakuza (Gay Gangsters): The Yakuza are the main Japanese criminal organization. Despite their criminal activities, the group has often been featured in various media over the years, including BL. There is just something sexy about dangerous men getting down and dirty between the sheets *eyebrow wiggle* . Some popular titles that feature homosexual yakuza members are Kazuma Kodaka’s Kizuna and Yamane Ayano’s Finder series.
Masochism: Yashiro is a self-proclaimed masochist who derives pleasure from being dominated by his sexual partners. While his is an extreme case, masochism involves a consensual aspect of BDSM and sadomasochism in which individuals participate in inflicting or receiving pain in order to derive sexual pleasure from it.
Dark Past/ Tragic Backstory: Oh, boy, does this manga have it in spades! Both Doumeki and Yashiro have been the victims of trauma. Yashiro was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of his step-father for years. It was only after his body matured in high school that the abuse stopped. But, by that point, Yashiro had developed masochistic tendencies. Doumeki on the other hand witnessed his father molesting his foster sister and beat the guy bloody, earning him a stint in prison.
Twittering Birds is one of those ‘must read’ BL titles and not for the reasons you may be thinking. It’s just a great story. Everything, from the characters to the premise, is a one-of-a-kind experience that die-hard BL fans and casual fans alike should not miss. This is not the first BL title to feature gay gangsters and it probably won’t be the last, but Kou Yoneda manages to put a fresh spin on an overused premise and it works!
- Thoughtful portrayal of Yashiro’s and Doumeki’s pasts, especially where sexual abuse is concerned.
- I love Kou Yoneda’s art style, it is simply beautiful and so clean.
- Well written characters that never feel one-dimensional.
- Unclear dialogue flow, sometimes it’s hard to know which speech bubbles correspond with which character (a Kou Yoneda trademark).
- Yashiro’s sex addiction is the result of his past sexual abuse, this is me nitpicking, but it almost seems like a cop out.