In the future, on a distant star lives a new society. Ruled by a computer system, named Jupiter, men are divided into classes based on their hair color. The Blondies, genetically altered by Jupiter, are the highest class and occupy the capital city of Tanagura. Those with black hair, Mongrels, are forced to live in the slums, Ceres. Iason, the leader of the Blondies, encounters Riki, a mongrel, in the streets of Ceres one night and sets out to own him.
Subtitles for the individual volumes are as follows:
1: Stranger (帰って来た男)
2: Destiny (命動)
3: Nightmare (刻印)
4: Suggestion (昏迷)
5: Darkness (長い夜)
6: Metamorphose (衝動の引き金)
Ai no Kusabi was collected in a single hardbound novel in 1990. It was then revised and expanded by Seibidou Shuppan under the Crystal imprint. Crystal's release was incomplete, discontinuing at the sixth volume as opposed to the planned eight volumes. Tokuma Shoten acquired the series and released it under the Chara imprint; their release was composed of six volumes with the first four volumes corresponding to Crystal's volumes 1-6. Chara's last two volumes are the remaining unpublished material.
The series was published in English by Digital Manga Publishing from November 19, 2003 to November 28, 2013 with 8 volumes. Volumes 1-6 correspond to Crystal edition's, and the last two volumes to Chara edition's volumes 5 and 6.
I'm not what you would call a yaoi fangirl. In fact, this is only the third yaoi fandom I've ever gotten involved in, and the only one I have really liked. Here's my opinion as someone who has seen both animes and is new to yaoi in general.
First off, I have to say that at first I was surprised at the lack of reviews of this series. It seemed rather popular as an anime as somewhat notorious in the yaoi circles from what I could tell, but there's only one other review as of now. I didn't realize why until I set off to
read the light novels on my own. These novels are nearly legendary, being as hard to find as they are. They don't seem to be published anymore and they're not really around online either. Regardless, I was perseverant enough to get my hands on copies and managed to get through the series. Well, 'get through' is a vague term to describe it. To be specific, I watched both anime adaptions and read all the books in the series in the past 24 hours. Obsessed? Perhaps.
Let's get started. The story is the main focus of this work. While it may seem to people who haven't really gotten involved in this fandom that it's just a kinky BDSM fanservice piece, it really isn't. (Trust me, I thought the same before I started it.) There is a lot of world building going on, and while there are sex scenes and fan-servicey elements (I just think all the readers like to see Riki in pain, tbh) it is mostly about power dynamics, prejudice, and the heavy weight of societal expectations. Don't be fooled, this isn't just a Romeo and Juliet fairytale. Everything about the story is twisted and disgusting, which is what makes it so appealing. Some might ship Riki and Iason, but it's also controversial in a way because of how unbalanced and abusive their relationship is. In another world, where Riki wasn't a mongrel from the slums and where Iason wasn't a Blondy of the highest rank, in a world where everyone had a free will and Iason was skin and flesh and bone instead of somewhat of a robot with humanish feeling, maybe they would have worked. Maybe they could have been together. But we'll honestly never know, because that's just how this series is. It's turbulent and fast, with every character making mistakes and having his fate sealed because of the way the world is turned upside down, imprisoning people and controlling their lives. I loved the story so much that I was considering giving it a perfect score, if not for the ending. The ending, being pretty tragic in a bitter way (not a bittersweet way) was fitting to the story, but still made me annoyed. Just personal preference.
Since this is a light novel, there wasn't very much art. I didn't like the illustrations in the first volume very much, but from then on, it only improved. By the third or fourth volume, I was honestly so enchanted by some of the art that it was impossible to flip past it, especially with how beautiful Riki is.
The characters are also a massive selling point for this series. Every characters is completely strange and unique, but also realistic and humane in their motivations. They're all making mistakes left and right, but we can't even reprimand them or hate them for it because they're still right in doing what they do. I was worried that Guy's character would be the typical jealous ex, but he turned out to be a wild card that just broke after his best friend and ex lover was 'tamed', which is all understandable. Out of context, it would be easy to hate any of these characters, but when taking into account the circumstances that surrounded their actions, it's hard to find much wrong with any of them, even Iason.
Overall, I enjoyed this a lot. Just a fair warning that the story skips around a lot and is hard to follow at times, but if you've seen either of the animes, a lot of the scenes are pretty true to the novels, so that makes it easier. Personally, I wished some of the scenes from the novel had been included in the animes, including Kirie's full transformation in a seme and Riki getting discovered as a pet by the Bison when they barge into his apart in Apatia, which is by far my favorite scene. Somehow, his friends seeing him with Iason really made me all fangirl-giddy, though I'm not exactly sure why.
I would recommend this if you: liked either of the animes, like reading books in general (this isn't a manga!!!!! remember that!!!), are willing to put a lot of effort into finding these books, like tragic endings, enjoy BDSM relationships, like pet play, like love triangles
I would NOT recommend this if you: didn't like the animes, don't want to put effort into getting your hands on these books, are big on consent, can't handle rape/violence, don't like pedophilia (many of the other pets are children 10-15, Riki is 15-16 in the beginning and 19-21 at the end, all paired with much older people, some 'immortal'), are disturbed by pet play and BDSM, like romances that are actually pure and romantic, prefer happier endings/handle handle tragic endings
Ai No Kusabi is one book I never thought I would be reading, for this is the first yaoi I have ever read. I’m glad I did, for it is a page tuner. This book series is great to read before watching the OVA, which has a lot information missing about the plot. The plot is complex, dark, and pretty twisted. The books jump from the past to the present pretty often, But I never found the plot too confusing where I didn’t know what was going on. The characters are just as complex as the story, all with different motivations, hopes, and dreams.
Riki is not your typical weak male lead, which is very refreshing. Iason is not typical either, with his dark obsession for Riki and how it affects their relationship. Katze is the man with the mysterious past. Guy is Riki's lover and Kirie the slum kid that is backstabbing everyone to get out of poverty. You will get very attached to the characters and care about what happens to each of them. The sex is very graphic, but don’t expect the whole book to be about only that, the story takes center stage in this series. The only complaint I have is the translation is not the greatest in the first couple of books. So if your looking for a good yaoi to read that has a intricate plot and interesting characters, this is your book.