“Honestly, I wish there was just one person who actually loved me…I’m so tired of being lonely.” Manabu Natsume
Zippo Natsuki is another new mangaka in June’s Boys’ Love list, gifted with a fresh and attractive drawing style. But where are the wolves in Wolf Magic? It’s not 100% clear, even from the mangaka’s explanatory words in ‘Wolf Magic Extra’, as to the significance of the title. (Lone wolf, maybe? Not a predatory one, for sure.) Equally confusing is the fact that the first (and charming) story ‘The Water of Love for the Withered Flower’ is about the ‘Yakuza Florist’, Sousuke Hanasaki, a guy with a sweet, shy, unassuming nature but the menacing mien of a gangster. “I really, really hate how I look on the outside.” He’s not depicted on the front cover, so I wasted some time trying to find out if the first story was going to introduce the two young men pictured there. It doesn’t. There’s no connection. So just enjoy the three chapters about scary-faced Sousuke and the radiantly cheery Hata Hiramatsu who adores him and does anything and everything he can to break down Sousuke’s resistance.
The stand-out story in this collection is ‘Magic for a Wolf’, the first story about Manabu Nagase, and even though the second half of the book continues his story in ‘Wolf Magic’ (set a few years later) it doesn’t quite match up to the original one-shot (and it still doesn’t contain any wolves, although you could argue it does feature an alien…) We first meet Nagase at high school, chatting familiarly with Yurika, a friend who’s a girl, not a girlfriend. We learn from their conversation that Nagase is popular with the girls, but then the mangaka reveals what Nagase’s really thinking whilst showing us his day-to-day interactions with the other students: a game of football; hanging out; eating lunch… And it’s Yurika’s boyfriend, Masaya Ido, that Nagase has fallen for. At first Ido misreads the situation, believing Nagase is planning to steal Yurika from him – but Nagase tells him, “I always wanted a boyfriend like you, Ido.” Be careful what you wish for, Nagase…
‘Wolf Magic’ begins a few years later, where Nagase, now at university, meets Higuchi, a fellow student at a drinking party. Higuchi loses his wallet and ends up staying the night with Nagase. Such a common scenario in BL! But no, nothing happens between them. Except that Higuchi’s blunt and straightforward manner and apparent lack of interest sets Nagase thinking about his own chaotic love life, filled with emotionally unsatisfying one-night stands whilst secretly he still desperately yearns to find true love. The two start to hang out together as friends, with Nagase fascinated (in spite of himself) by Higuchi. As for Higuchi…well, in spite of his awkward social skills, it may be that he is far more insightful than Nagase realizes.
This, the title story, is so understated – not necessarily a bad thing! – that it’s something of a disappointment after the intensity of ‘Magic for a Wolf’. This is partly because the mangaka has set herself a challenging task in making us believe that socially awkward, ‘different’ and expressionless Higuchi (“He’s the same toward everyone.” “He doesn’t lie.”) could really be ‘The One’ for Nagase. But it’s a story with many layers that repays several readings. And she’s good at conveying feelings by depicting changes in facial expressions and body language (or lack of them, in the case of Higuchi). The ending is sweet but just a little underwhelming.
If you like your BL sweepingly dramatic, romantic and/or angst-laden, then you might find Wolf Magic a little too quiet for your tastes. But if you prefer the subtle narratives and well-observed, believable characters to be found in the stories of Venio Tachibana (Seven Days) or Narise Konohara (Castle Mango) then you’ll definitely want to give this a try.