Reading Nakamura Asumiko's work has definitely been a wonderful experience. I encountered Copernicus no Kokyuu first and I found myself totally mesmerized by her unique way of story-telling! I don't think I've read a manga that explore themes of gender, sexuality, rape and abuse so vividly with a dark, deep and mysterious tone to it. It's definitely one that I do keep re-reading from time to time and it always gets me.
It’s a rather morose tale about a person named ‘J’ – yes, that’s the whole name – who supposedly looks like Marilyn Monroe and, apparently, likes to spend time singing dressing up as a woman. The manga presents his life in a rather matter-of-fact way; that is, there’s no great point or goal. You’re really just learning about the times and struggle of J.
In that aspect, the manga does well. Initially, J comes off as this sort of ‘doll’ that seem to live mostly for attention without any real thoughts. Roughly ¼ through the manga, though, things changes
and we slowly delve into his personality and thoughts. I speak on this because this, to me, is probably the strongest point of the manga.
J feels like a real person at times. At points, you think you begin to understand him and how he works, then he does something incomprehensible. However, it’s the kind of ‘incomprehensible’ that seems like you’re getting a look under the surface of what you normally see when you look at him. That is that even though J really does come off as a complex character on the surface, there’s still an underlayer that’s still yet more of the ‘real J’.
And that, in particular, is why I believe character development is the strongest point of the manga. The author succeeds in making J look human because real people are genuinely that complex. Furthermore, although I specifically spoke of J, the author really paid much attention to nearly everyone in the manga. All the characters (save for the very side ones) feel complex.
In regards to the other aspects, I also compliment the pacing. It’s a relatively short manga but, even then, the pacing is brisk but not abrupt. You’re experiencing things at a good pace and it helps the story pick up and remaining interesting.
Are there any flaws? Arguable. Personally, I found some of the scenes in this manga to be very ‘over the top’ breaking the immersion. This next complaint is also a classic and contentious one – the ending. That is, I thought the ending didn’t fit and flow well with the rest of the manga and, actually, the chapters leading up to it were a bit disappointing too.
Still, those two could easily be ignored in favor of an otherwise good read. On the whole, I think J no Subete is a pretty good manga.
What CAN'T I say about this manga? (This will be a bit of a scattered review) It takes the reader literally everywhere, from Marilyn Manroe to some very dark places that at times can be very difficult to read for many. The characters in this manga are aplenty (for a Nakamura manga); it starts off taking place at the school from "Barairo no Hoho no Koro" which is a lighter story than "J" . I find that this manga, "Copernicus no Kokyuu" and "Double Mints" are some of Nakamura-san's darkest, purely because there is graphic rape scenes and many deaths. I would say that this
stands at her darkest because J is underage at the the point where he is abused and it is NOT for everyone. Though, this is a major point to start the story, ultimately we watch a character try to rise above his past in an obscure way. The artwork is breathtaking, One wonders how Nakamura-san can make such incredibly perfect lines and in her art books she does show the reader what tools she uses to create her manga. J dressed in drag is quite a beautiful thing, and the more intimate scenes are poised and incredibly emotional in many lights. If you are a typical reader of psychological, drama, yaoi, bl, mature, this is a read for you, and in my opinion it is brilliant in a "Clockwork Orange" kind of way.
The reason I love this work is the reason I love most of Nakarmua Asumiko's dark works over her fluff works (not to say I don't like them, but her dark works are just more satisfying for me as a reader), she does not laugh off a serious situation. In BL it's common to gloss over or make funny an issue that should be taken with more severity. For instance in J no Subete, J is a cross dresser and perhaps Trans. He isn't a cross-dresser because he is envious of woman, he isn't a cross-dresser because he needs to be comedic
relief in the series, it's because this is the form in which he can express himself best and may relate to the issue of being trans here (it is mentions in the manga but in a lot more caustic tone by the people around J). As for the incestuous relationship between J and his father, she is perhaps addressing the carefree tone of incest in BL (like Papa to Kiss in the Dark). It is not always something to gloss over; it is sometimes a severe crime on a child who does not realize the seriousness of the situation. I say that the child dose not acknowledge because in J no Subete, we as the reader are supposed to know that the situation is far from loving, but J in the first volume dose not view it in such light. In volume 2 J seems to acknowledge the situation in a different light, how ever.
I do believe she is taking these approaches with purpose because of other BL points she's made in her dark works, like in Double Mint. Double Mint has the kind of BL trope of one partner continually chasing the other regardless of how badly they're treated. But instead of laughing off the situation at the end where the two have finally gotten a hold of being together and one of the two still exhibit spurts of aggression, we have an example where the manga itself acknowledges the dysfunctional of the relationship and although the two characters do end up together, as the audience, we are aware of the dissatisfaction and abuse. We are aware of the serious repercussions of this relationship.
With all of this said, manga is something that is, for some, a way to enjoy a suspension of disbelief that is kinder then reality. Confronting these issues with such a serious tone maybe off putting and conflict with what some likes in manga and are seeking. I enjoy the confrontation and the respect that Nakamura Asumiko brings to these tropes and to the genre in general, but to each there own.