WARNING: THIS IS A RUNNING COMMENTARY; SPOILERS HO!
I decided to finally read Maeda Sakae and Takamure Tamotsu’s Jazz after having it for too long. This is not exactly a play by play, but there are spoilers, so be warned.
Jazz is a four-volume series about a pushover doctor, Narusawa, and his mentally unstable younger boyfriend, Naoki. Of course that is not what the synopsis reads, but this is what I get from the first 20 or so pages. I don’t think I’m going to like this series, which is why I put it off for years after getting it, and I can’t even commit to reading the whole thing, but I’m going to try. So I’m going to jump right in.
Naoki’s mother is a piece of work. Even if she doesn’t turn out to be the catalyst for Naoki’s orientation (supposing that there will be some backstory for the characters, it’s four volumes, so I hope there’s something), I still won’t like her. I’m not even 20 pages in and I can see this. She’ll probably end up being perpetually hysterical and or selfish and conniving.
Narusawa protested Naoki’s molestation, but looking at him, he didn’t seemed to be convinced of his own words. He only said it once and, unfortunately, in BL, particularly a story that’ 10 years old, saying it once is akin to not saying it all And though he doesn’t seem to want to admit it, he liked having sex with Naoki, but Naoki drugged him, so it’s still rape. I was going to drop the series, but I wanted to see what happened the next time they met. I thought, if there was a reasonable amount of resistance, that the story might be somewhat redeemed. I got what I asked for, I suppose. However, I felt like I was being bribed when Narusawa qualified his next meeting with Naoki by stating that because Naoki’s the kind of person who would drug someone, he couldn’t be sure about what Naoki would do if he didn’t come when Naoki invited him. Will I survive 4 volumes of this?
Knowing that Naoki understands everything–understands that he raped Narusawa, understands that it’s ridiculous to expect him to return his feelings, and understands why Narusawa agreed to met with him–but continues to abuse Narusawa, makes me dislike him even more than I would your average bratty seme.
So volume 1 ends with their relationship being clearly mutual and the setting moves from Japan to America. I’m not comforted by that at all. Naoki is twisted; he’s dangerous and even if Narusawa wants to be with him, he’ll only be seen as a possession, something to be controlled.
The mother didn’t appear for the rest of the volume. It would be strange, but it’s possible she may never appear again. I don’t think I’d mind.
I’m still in the mood to complain, so I’ll continue on to volume 2.
One down, three to go. Let’s see how far I can get. On with it.
Even though Naoki’s friend alluded to it in volume one, at this point in the story, I don’t think it was intended for their age gap to be emphasized, however, the only way I can get past the beginning of this volume is simply to believe that Naoki is painfully young and it shows. I’m not going to get too deep into it here, but the demands younger lovers (regardless of their roles in bed) often put on the older ones has always bothered me and soured many stories for me. Their lack of common sense is astounding.
Anyway… during their first encounter, Narusawa asked Naoki’s mother to calm down because she was making the situation more grave than it needed to be. However, when the new couple talked about Christmas, Naoki showed that he is his mother’s son and turned on the hysterics. I wanted Narusawa to say the same thing this time around. I didn’t wait for it because I knew it wasn’t going to happen, but why didn’t it happen? It’s not out of character for him to say it, so why? I suppose it’s because having a strong willed uke going up against an overbearing seme isn’t very BL. These days there’s more variety for BL relationship dynamics, but unfortunately, this boilerplate remains.
Sometimes it seems as if the story is on a timer; as soon as I question something, a scene that passes for an answer appears.
We saw a bit of it in volume one, and again Narusawa’s concept of self and self-worth make an appearance, but the story doesn’t seem ready to get into the specifics at this point. This part rolls right into another issue. What is it with Narusawa and obnoxious people? His colleague, Michael, is as overbearing as Naoki’s mother, but with friendlier intentions (so far as I can see). It’s just one thing after another. I should have expected it, but I guess I was too bothered by everything else. It’s one of my favorite character realizations: “now that I think about it, I don’t know anything about so-and-so,” or something to that effect. Why?! Why is that? I don’t understand. Narusawa knew Naoki enough as a patient to accept a dinner invitation (that seemed, by story standards, completely innocent) and offered him a gift for passing his exams. They were in a complicated relationship for a year and then the relationship became relatively mutual and, at this point, they’ve been living together in the U.S. for more than 3 months. How do you not know anything? OK, so not every relationship has the “we talked about the moon and the stars and everything until 3AM” conversation early on, but come on! I knew my co-workers better than that in a third of the time these guys have known each other, even the people I didn’t like! Then, I realized I, the reader, don’t know anything about Narusawa and I’m already in the middle of the second volume. Just as I was thinking this–as I said, a timer–we get a few more pieces about Narusawa’s past. Moving on.
Who the heck calls someone to thank them, starts spewing nonsense, and then hangs up before the person even says a word? I was so mad at this part; I knew what was going to happen next.
Some people never change. In a fit of jealousy, Naoki rapes Narusawa again. That whole scene exhausted me , so I’m skirting it a bit. However, I need to rewind before I talk about the scene that follows. The title of the series is Jazz. In the middle of volume 1, Naoki visited Narusawa’s crappy apartment and learned that he likes Jazz when he sees an Ornette Coleman CD on his shelf. Narusawa basically says, “yeah, I like Jazz, but it’s not like I’m an expert.” You get the idea that he could also like Classic American Rock and Klezmer just the same; it’s an interest like any other. So this detail that Narusawa himself downplays leads to the second title connection, a cologne called Jazz.
Narusawa receives the cologne as a miserversary gift from Naoki and wears it to the point that it becomes his scent; this is all before they were mutual. Now, back to the present. Narusawa is troubled over what to get Naoki for Christmas and his behavior appears suspicious to his boyfriend. That starts a conversation about lying and cheating which somehow leads to a conversation about his scent. Narusawa thinks back to when he first received it and wore it and called them “happy times.” What happy times? When has Narusawa been happy in the whole story so far? Even if he has what he wants, which is a mosaic of conflicting emotions, motives, and expectations, he’s still troubled by it all.
Shortly after this is the rape and forgiveness; Narusawa is entitled to do it, but as you can guess, the reasons are tied to his view of himself and the lack of recognition he has for his own worth. Then he wakes up in New Orleans. The third title connection. So now I ask, “are you serious?” Naoki made reservations for their Christmas holiday without consulting with Narusawa. The guy is a practicing doctor who just took up a new position in a new hospital in a new country! Honestly, even if he has free time, to assume that he’ll be available is both dismissive and naive. Then Naoki says that Narusawa’s going to go even if he has to drag him there. Yes! That’s the way to show you care! And of all things, to New Orleans. If you don’t know, New Orleans is considered by most as the birthplace of Jazz. At first you may think, “oh, so thoughtful,” but no, it really isn’t. It’s like when people find out you like something and then, all of a sudden, you’ve got this growing collection of useless knick knacks for something that isn’t even your favorite thing. You wouldn’t mind a few and it’s nice that they were thinking of you, but it’s weird when people define others by a single interest. Also, as with anything, you have preferences. I like frogs and turtles and I received a few that are really great, but don’t think I’m going to gladly accept live ones that I have to take care of. No. Some things can be taken too far. Granted, New Orleans would be an awesome experience, and I’m sure Narusawa is going to eat it up, but it’s a big thing, don’t just assume.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m writing this as I read, so I’m sure I’m much more hype than I would be if I wrote about it after I finished. Forgive me.
As I thought, it turns out that Narusawa’s always wanted to go. Of course, but the foundation for this path that the story has taken is made of sand. His interest may have been established, but there was no actual development.
In a crisis of conscience, Naoki regrets his actions up to this point and then Narusawa, feeling as if he’ll be abandoned, grows a spine and the whole scene is just ridiculous. But fear not, Naoki quickly returns to his selfishness and says “I could never… let you go…!”
About 20 pages of nonsense later, they’ve returned to Japan and the age gap and their social standing rear their ugly heads. Naoki flies off the handle and the Narusawa who addressed his mother that first time shows himself. I was close to cheering. So sad. Naoki calms down enough to see the situation for what it is, but the whole thing is glossed over. Next, Naoki has to have an appendectomy and that takes us to the hospital where we meet Drs. Mizushima and Takino. I assume they’re going to be up to something and I’m curious, so even though I was almost positive this would be the last one, I’m going to go ahead and continue on to volume 3.
… I think the mother is going to return.