Kei x Yaku: Bound by Law Volume 1 Review

Since Rion Nakaba disappeared three years ago, agent Ichiro Kunishita of the Tokyo Metropolitan Public Security Bureau has been searching for clues as to his senpai’s whereabouts. At the time a horrific video was briefly uploaded to the internet by a ‘Mr. Joker’ showing a bound and gagged young woman who closely resembled Rion being brutalized – but it was taken down before it could be traced.

So when Ichiro is ordered to go undercover and investigate Shiro Hanabusa, a charismatic gay yakuza with a penchant for seducing male politicians, he’s far from eager to take on the mission. Shiro is a lieutenant in the Minegami Family. “Supposedly you’re more his type,” Ichiro’s superior Taguchi tells him, handing him a carrier bag filled with BL for research purposes – and which help Ichiro come up with some cheesy pickup lines around Shiro. However, after an extremely prickly and tense first encounter at a casino, Ichiro is genuinely surprised when next he goes to visit Rion’s grave to meet Shiro there. It turns out that Rion was Shiro’s sister and he’s just as determined as Ichiro to find out what has happened to her. After another heated exchange at the graveside, the two agree for Rion’s sake to work together and to fake being in a relationship (Ichiro moves in with Shiro). This means convincing Shiro’s yakuza underlings that they’re an item which leads to some embarrassing moments (for Ichiro, at any rate; Shiro seems to be amused by his discomfort).

Shiro’s secret assignations with male politicians continue, however, and the young yakuza lieutenant finds himself in a very risky situation when one of his clients turns out to have a penchant for tying up and torturing his sexual partners. Stranded in a hotel bedroom, Shiro is in very real danger as the man produces a knife…

This manga is an immediate recommend for all those who enjoy a well-told, fast-moving mystery thriller with two hot leads who seem to be complete opposites when they first meet. Kei x Yaku: Bound by Law seems to be the first of Yoshie Kaoruhara’s manga to be published in English translation (thanks to Kodansha) and on the strength of this first volume, this series is well worth reading. The mangaka has a light touch, moving the story along swiftly but with considerable skill and also very welcome touches of humour, even though there are some nail-biting and violent moments as well. Both male leads are intriguing with hints of hidden depths and you can tell that the mangaka is going to enjoy teasing us with their pretend relationship (which might just, you know, develop into a real relationship) and plenty of entertaining misunderstandings. And she definitely knows how to tease – as in the opening page of Chapter 3 when what looks like a hot and steamy moment is, well, not what you’re led to believe. There are also one-page bonus comics at the end of the chapters which are funny and cute (the chibi Ichiro and Shiro are very nicely drawn). These bonus comics also serve to dissipate some of the tension around the grim central issue: Rion’s disappearance.

As to whether this is Boys’ Love… well, the mangaka enjoys dangling that possibility in front of us with the cover art, the title and several teasing exchanges. An unexpected meeting for the two men (wearing matching sweaters) with Chika, a childhood friend of Ichiro, only serves to reinforce the confusion especially when she later texts Ichiro to say, ‘I support you, no matter who you like!’

The translation notes at the end of the volume explain meaning of the title very helpfully: ‘The title is comprised of derivations of the words keisatsu (police) and yakuza, nods to the occupations of the dual protagonists. The specific combinations of kei and yaku together also creates the word keiyaku meaning ‘contract’.’ The very capable translator for Kodansha is Leo McDonaugh and his nicely nuanced translation is well conveyed by letterer Dietrich Premier.

Kei x Yaku has already been adapted to a TV drama in Japan in 2022 and one can see why; it has all the ingredients for a tense crime drama with a difference. The manga is ongoing at ten volumes in Japan, so it’s really encouraging to see Kodansha releasing the volumes every two months (I’m very keen to read what happens next!) with Volume 2 due in July 2024.

Kei x Yaku: Bound by Law comes highly recommended; if you enjoy mystery/thriller manga told with a light but incisive touch, in which the art is skilfully used to serve the characterization and advancement of the plot, this is definitely one to try!

Read a free extract at the publisher’s site here.

Our review copy from Kodansha was provided by Diamond Book Distributors.

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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