I’m very picky with my boys’ love manga, particularly with the art. I also prefer more depth in my stories than just “hawt bois fuuuucking!!” (Not that I haven’t read it for that stuff–I am a weak gay boy after all.) So when given a list of BL to choose from, I was very wary of picking something that would have gratuitous amounts of emotional/physical abuse and non-consensual relationships. If you’ve read a lot of BL, you know it takes a discerning eye to figure out which ones are heavy on that stuff. I picked Border initially because the premise seemed cute and the art in the preview was better than the usual yaoi fare. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome of my almost needle-in-a-haystack choice.
Border is about a group of young men who work at a detective agency, doing incredibly secretive undercover work that the police just aren’t equipped to handle. The main character, Yamato, who is a former special forces soldier, works together with his group of found family that he met during his time in an orphanage to stop highly sensitive crimes and maybe do some private investigative work to pay the bills. What I found incredibly interesting about the group’s dynamic is that they all genuinely love and appreciate each other. Yamato, Kippei, Tamaki, and Sogo don’t have any of the usual “I hate you, so why do you get me hard?” dynamics that are found in almost every other yaoi on earth. It was quite refreshing, to be honest, and made me happy to see that, yes, a good yaoi can be pulled off without the staples of the genre. Tamaki is kind of an overzealous pervert, but it doesn’t dominate all of his interactions. And, it’s revealed because he credits Yamato with turning him around from a life of crime. He just wants to show Yamato how thankful any he is in any way he can.
Most of this first volume is taken up by an extended flashback to when Yamato was young and in the military special forces. That story surrounds his relationship with his commanding officer, Will. Usually the power imbalance in these kind of stories can be really off-putting, but the way it is handled here is genuinely so beautiful and sad that I can’t help but be sucked into it. Will died in the line of duty after being lenient with Yamato during a hostage situation. Watching Yamato learn to deal with his grief and find that honoring someone’s memory by continuing to live a loving life with those you cherish is so uplifting, despite the tragedy surrounding it.
Another thing I really enjoy about Border is that the characters are open and frank about being gay. There’s no “Ohhh I’m not gay, I just like getting boned.” Several times Yamato openly talks about being gay, and there’s never any negative connotation. Some people don’t like it when characters don’t deal with homophobia, but my stance is that a whole lot of LGBT storytelling deals with the tragedy of being gay and how it excludes you from the world, so to have one where that’s not a point of contention for the characters externally or internally is really nice.
As much as I love the story, the art is definitely up-to-snuff with the writing. There are a lot of really intense action scenes in Border, and they’re all rendered smoothly and beautifully, without any room for confusion about what’s transpiring. The characters are all distinctive and well-drawn (and frankly hot as hell–except for Keppei, he’s just precious). The art does kind of have the exaggerated yaoi proportions at times, but it’s just so pretty most of the time that I can let a few long chins slide.
I was very much taken with Border. It hit all my criteria for a BL without making me suffer through the stuff I’ve learned to grin and bear in the genre. The characters are multidimensional with rich histories and loveable interactions. The art is beautiful without losing it’s genre-specific traits and portrays the action in a fluid and easy to follow way. There’s not much sex in this first volume, which I don’t really care about that much, but it stands to be mentioned. If you want a hot and heavy read, this is not the manga for you. Overall, I’m really friggin’ excited to continue this series and see what more it has in store for me.