Nude Model and Other Stories Review

Tsubasa Yamaguchi is best known for Blue Period, her ongoing, award-winning manga series which explores what it means to train to become an artist. Seen through the eyes of Yatora Yaguchi who, after a coup de foudre moment in high school on discovering a painting by an older (female) student, finds his life’s focus and sets out to pursue his studies at Tokyo University School of Art. Natsume, the central character of Nude Model, the first of the three short stories in this collection, is also in high school and plans to study art – but there the similarity with outgoing Yatora ends. Natsume is aloof, reclusive, self-contained and single-minded. This makes her a prime target for bullying, especially by a rowdy group of boys in her class, one of whom, ‘Nikochin’ Momose, just can’t leave her alone. When he notices that she’s using pornography to draw nudes, he offers to model for her. She accepts. What she doesn’t know is that his friends have put him under pressure as he owes them money; he has to have sex with her in three days or he gets a cigarette burn on the hand. As she draws him, they talk – a little, at first, and then she begins to tell him things about herself. Two days pass, and then the third day arrives and Nikochin is more than desperate. Will he seduce her and evade the punishment? She’s seen him naked – has she been swayed by his charm and good looks? Suppose he tries to force himself on her…?

I wanted a recording I couldn’t get from porno mags…

The second story in the collection Girl introduces us to Yada, another high-school boy, a little on the slight and immature side compared to the rest of his class who – in a moment of boredom – decides to record himself moaning ‘like a girl’. The recording… somehow… is heard by some of his friends and then spreads around the school. Yada claims it’s from his dad’s porn to hide his embarrassment… until one of his classmates, Momoi, recognizes the voice. Meanwhile, Yada is conflicted as other boys in his class comment lewdly about another classmate, Asahina, who is very well endowed and rumoured to be having sex with the PE teacher Mr Senoh – and Himeno who’s rumoured to be going out with Momoi, the class stud. Yada protests loudly (and crudely) that he doesn’t want anything to do with either of them – perhaps a little too loudly. Because from then on, things swiftly go to some dark and terrifying places.

The final story in the collection Kamiya is a two-part contemporary vampire tale and introduces us to a young doctor, Sachi Tanaka, working at a private clinic because she has a phobia of blood – a major handicap in her chosen profession. Kamiya is a host and hostess club in Kajirocho and Sato, a patient, tells her that all the staff are vampires, ‘and I hear you pay half your bill in blood!’ A month later, Sato is found dead in the street, all blood drained from her body, but Sachi’s boss says that she was stabbed and it’s nothing to do with vampires. “It’s the humans you need to watch out for.”

Out on errands for the clinic, Sachi finds herself – due to a misunderstanding – invited in to Kamiya and talking to one of the hosts, Johan, a very beautiful young man. But just as things turn extremely intimate and strange, his client – also named Tanaka – arrives. Sachi leaves – but she can’t forget Johan and, it seems, Johan feels the same; he also turns out to be one of the clinic’s clients. Before too long, she’s back at Kamiya and, to her surprise, Johan is there – but in female form. “People with vampirism can transform into any creature they’ve previously fed on,” she’s told by the club’s manager. “So our wonderful staff can become whomever their clients wish.” Sachi is amazed – and utterly bewitched by Johan. Perhaps they can cure her of her blood phobia? Perhaps this new relationship will bring about a magical transformation in her life and her career as a doctor…

Blue Period is probably one of my top ten manga to have been published in the last decade. Mangaka Tsubasa Yamaguchi combines some fascinating and original insights into art and the struggles of artists to learn their craft with her portrayals of her cast of young hopefuls, bringing it all to life in her own unique and distinctive graphic style. But this is the first volume of her work that is not in any way related to Blue Period and with its 18+ rating, it shows a very different side to her output; all three stories are dark, twisted, sensuous, even erotic at times, each one delivering some striking images (as to be expected!). In the mangaka’s afterword, Yamaguchi-sensei compares reading a short story collection to ‘listening to an album by your favourite artist and finding that you like some of the album tracks better than the singles.’ She goes on to say, ‘Revisiting these stories now, I can point to a few clunky moments here and there but I also know I gave it my all at the time and couldn’t recreate them now if I tried.’ The ‘clunky moments’ are however more apparent to the self-disparaging author than the reader and these stories repay several readings are they’re filled with many telling little details that throw light on what happens early on. They also show that the mangaka is skilled not just in long form but has a talent for creating an unforgettable short story with a wicked twist in the tail.

Nude Model and Other Stories is a Vertical Book published by Kodansha, so it’s mass-market sized, unlike Blue Period which is trade paperback. The reduction in size doesn’t hurt the mangaka’s art, although – as these are dark stories in which significant events take place in the dark – in some places, it’s a little hard to discern exactly what’s going on, especially in vampire tale Kamiya. However, it could be argued that this adds to the mystery and sinister atmosphere. The translation (excellently done) is by Yuki Tejima with clear and helpful lettering from Lys Blakeslee.

If you’re a Blue Period fan, this volume is a must-buy; if you’re unfamiliar with Tsubasa Yamaguchi’s work but are looking for a collection of adult-themed, distinctively drawn, and well-told stories with a sprinkling of sensuous horror, then this is also highly recommended.

Read a free preview of Chapter 1 on Kodansha’s website here.

Our review copy from Kodansha (Vertical) was supplied by Turnaround Publisher Services.

9 / 10


Sarah's been writing about her love of manga and anime since Whenever - and first started watching via Le Club Dorothée in France...

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