From Eroica with Love vol. 1
Mike Toole rates it:
Author: Aoike Yasuko
Price: $9.95 each
CMX, DC Comics’ recently launched manga imprint, have chosen some pretty strange launch titles. I think the strangest among them might be this series, From Eroica with Love. It’s a shonen ai (boys’ love; brimming with homosexual undertones and innuendo, but not actually pornographic) comic from the 1970s; it never really achieved the popularity of its similarly weird gay-themed contemporary, Pataliro, but it’s carried a cult following both inside and outside of Japan for decades. I have to admit, I can understand why– the series has a very odd charm to it.
From Eroica with Love starts off like a 70s Hanna Barbera cartoon gone completely askew, as we meet psychic teen buddies Sugar Plum (the cute girl), Leopard (the cool stuntman), and Caesar (the abiguously gay genius). At the showing of a piece of fine art, the trio have a chance meeting with the Earl Dorian Red Gloria, a man who looks an awful lot like Robert Plant. The Earl is as gay as the day is long, and makes no secret of it; he starts flirting with the timid (terrified?) Caesar immediately. Things get even more entertaining when the fine artwork is swiped by internationally renowned crook Eroica, and the Galaxy Trio start to suspect that Eroica is actually the Earl himself.
What I immediately dig about From Eroica with Love is the extremely adroit drawing talents of artist and writer Aoike Yasuko. Her artwork is fantastic– she walks the line between super-elegant Ikeda-esque portraits and gag drawings that would look at home in the New Yorker with exceptional skill. She enjoys drawing pretty, well-appointed men, but doesn’t skimp on women or background characters, and isn’t afraid to switch styles for comedic effect– this is particularly evident when we’re introduced to Tarao Bannai, an INTERPOL agent who’s sort of like a short, fat Zenigata in a loud suit. To Bannai’s eternal credit, he shadows the Trio (thinking that they might be Eroica) dressed up as Candy Candy in one scene.
The Trio are a weirdly amusing set of characters, but they’re not actually the main characters. Caesar gets a recurring role thanks to his odd relationship with the Earl (he becomes infatuated with the Earl, but never manages to see him), but the actual antagonist and romantic interest is Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach, a Hapsburg family member and NATO intel officer who resembles Anjelica Huston in her prime. Eberbach is hilarious– he treats both men and women with revulsion, turns his nose up at any form of excess (he hates sports cars, for example), and constantly threatens his bumbling subordinates with transfers to Alaska. There’s a great scene where the Earl and Eberbach meet; the Earl is wearing a sleeveless red shirt and driving a Lamborghini, while the officer is simply dressed in his uniform. Both men are reflexively repulsed by the other, but start up a goofy give-and-take relationship immediately. Eberbach suspects the Earl’s larcenous alter-ego, and is determined to thwart him; the Earl responds to this with a sneer and his trademark line of, “Whatever I want, I get.”
I suppose part of From Eroica with Love‘s weird charm can be attributed to its swinging 70s settings– even Monkey Punch’s initial Lupin III manga doesn’t seem to reflect the gaudiness of the period as authentically as this book does. I mean, just look at Manga Ron Burgundy! The most obvious talking point of Eroica is its gay content; it’s part of the odd genre of Japanese comics about gay men created for straight women. As amusing as the attraction between various characters is, it’s hard to take it seriously– the heavy gay subtext is laid on with a trowel by Yasuko. At one point, the confused Caesar lounges in bed pondering the Earl’s shamless flirting, with a book entitled “How to Deal with Unwanted Gay Advances” in his lap. Eroica is lightweight comedy that plays better as kitsch than serious romance.
That’s really From Eroica with Love‘s weakest point. It’s just bizarre and silly. It’s packed end to end with crazy plot twists (at one point, the Earl steals a piece of artwork with a black zepplin; at another, Eberbach finds hismelf forced to stick his hand up an antique male statue’s skirt in order to retrieve a piece of microfilm) and general zaniness. On the upside, Eroica looks great and is reproduced well here; it’s a fun read despite its age, and surprisingly dense and verbose. It’ll take you a good couple of hours to plow through this first volume. Overall From Eroica with Love is a bit too campy and loopy to be an absolute classic, but it’s a quirky standout of the genre that deserves a second look.
Added: Monday, January 31, 2005
Related Link: CMX