Ogasawara Uki: Virtuoso di Amore

Welcome to the 4th installment of The Road to Yaoi-Con series. In Week 1 we looked at Ogasawara Uki’s storytelling style and in Week 2, her appreciation for the uke’s penis. In Week 3 we were introduced to Guilt | Pleasure’s man of the hour (all of the hours as far as I’m concerned), David Krause. This marks the passing of the halfway point and a return to the works of Ogasawara Uki. Thanx for joining me.

This time we are looking at a specific title, Virtuoso di Amore. It is the story of the relationship between Kenzo Shinozuka, a self proclaimed third-rate pianist and Lorenzo Carlucci, the rather eccentric Lord of the manor with which Kenzo is employed. There is a lot going on in this single volume and it feels like it. Amazingly, every subplot was worked out–though not all as gracefully as I would have liked. Along with the sex, drugs and Claire de Lune there is a maid, a wig, and a rivalry or two. There is also jealousy, a wheelchair, a frenzy or three, a cat, an axe, and more sex. Because of all this, I wasn’t quite sure whether I should take it as a near-miss on an attempt to be a somewhat serious piece or sex on a platter with some dark undertones.

The story centers around Lorenzo’s desire to restore Kenzo to his former glory, if not a better one. In his pursuit he dredges up both their bitter pasts and resumes some behaviors that are even more questionable than those that Kenzo comes to know of within his first week on the job. The two leads fall in sex almost immediately. Not physically, but Lorenzo wastes no time making mention of it. It’s a bit jarring because you don’t even understand the characters yet. Certainly, there are other titles that greet you with intercourse on the first page, but for some reason that I can’t quite make out, it all seemed rather sudden in Virtuoso. Sensei confirms this by presenting the narration: An unexpected counterattack…!! Later on we learn that they knew each other in the past (isn’t that always the way?) and have been yearning for each other’s presence–one seemingly more than the other–all the while. History usually makes way for unrequited love or at least the retrospective realization that the feelings they had were actually love. Not here. It was simply admiration mixed with a bit of jealousy and fear. The love came later. Or did it?

There were some good moments, but most of the time the story and dialogue seemed to be just a vehicle in which to arrive at those moments. I think I need to blame half my discontent on the translation; some lines were stilted and felt like they were chosen from a list of “acceptable translations of X_concept.” On the other hand, since there were so many subplots–and this would be the mangaka’s transgression–the moments seemed to butt up against each other, squeezing all the air out of the breathing room. That isn’t to say that the story didn’t flow, but it was tightly packed. And I believe Ogasawara-sensei knew that which is why she compensated in what I think is one of the funniest ways. To make sure all of the plot points were hit within her allotted page-count she let the multi-page sex sequences do double duty. There is very little of the usual, “lift your hips,” “it’s all the way in,” “you’re already like this.” Also missing in action is the standard rain of “ahs” and “nns.” Instead, we witness full-on conversations about promises, stage performances, and former lovers. Or my favorite, “That’s why I don’t want you to overdose and die.” Yes, talk dirty to me.

Just beneath the multitude of story elements is a decent story, one that I rather enjoyed and would have enjoyed more if it weren’t for all the cramming. I think Virtuoso could have benefited from a second volume. I wonder if there actually is one. There is a title listed on Ogasawara-sensei’s MU page, Jounetsu no Virtuoso. The characters on the cover look like Kenzo and Lorenzo and there’s the title, of course.  Also,Virtuoso was originally published in 2005 by one Japanese publisher and then republished by another in 2008; the same publisher release Jounestu in 2008 as well. These things lead me in the direction of believing that it is a continuation, but neither title is listed as a “Related Series” on the other’s detail page. Does anyone know? Either way, it is a decent story that given 25 to 50 more pages could have been an easy 4.0.

Core story aside, I was delighted to encounter a couple of things that made the volume as a whole more interesting to me. There were references to Debussy, my favorite classical composer, and Claire de Lune, my favorite movement in my second favorite composition of his, Suite bergamasque. My first is Nuages from Nocturnes. I ended up listening to parts of Suite bergamasque while re-reading Virtuoso; it was a great complement. Then there’s one of the most detailed “I’m obsessed with you and I’ll prove it” moments I’ve ever read; not that the stalkee was the least bit disturbed by the full recount of his life, but I guess when you’re simultaneously being driven in the wake, you have to decide which encroachment you’re going to focus on.

There’re also drugs. I think it’s interesting when writers choose to include grittier elements such as drug use or mental illness in stories that are relatively lighthearted or not really meant to be taken seriously. When there are real psychological themes present–not the fluff used as vague points of interest–though they remain interesting, such things are to be expected. But when it’s really (really) just a sexcapade in a tux, the addition seems odd and, for better or for worse, I become deeply invested in how that particular part of the story plays out. Virtuoso’s integration of the grit was by no means seamless, but it didn’t completely fail either; it just was. Finally, one thing this story has that you don’t see too much of is a non-Japanese uke. I’m not going to get into why this is interesting, but it is. There are a bunch of other things that deserve a mention, but I’ll let you discover those for yourself.

When I step back and look at the whole piece, I have to say that I like it. There are definitely some things I have to raise my eyebrow at, but all in all I enjoyed it. The works that I have read of hers that were written after Virtuoso definitely show marked improvement where her ability to deliver a cohesive and well-paced story is concerned. Also, I think she enjoys the fantasy genre more and as such her titles that fall under that seem to showcase her talents in a more accessible way. So even if Virtuoso di Amore wasn’t to your liking or what I’ve said here has turned you off a bit, don’t give up, she has more to offer. Everyone’s outlook and tastes are different and I’m sure there are readers who have nothing but praise for this volume. Don’t let my opinions hold you back.

Notes: This was originally part of a series I did leading up to YaoiCon 2012.

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