Douno has been falsely convicted of molesting a woman on a train. He serves time in a group cell in prison, surrounded by inmates who are all suspicious in some way. Just as Douno's distrust of people reaches its peak, he is saved by the innocent kindness of his cellmate, Kitagawa. For Kitagawa, who is imprisoned as a murderer, this is the first time in his life that he feels the emotion of love. This complete edition encompasses the main work"In the Box" as well as "Out of the Cage" which tells their story after their release from prison.
This series by Narise Konohara has 3 major works, followed by several short stories. They go as in order as follows:
1. In The Box (Hako no Naka)
2. The Fragile Swindler
3. Out of the Cage
4. And Then...
5. Rainy Day
6. Field of Silver Grass
7. Summer Vacation
Hako no Naka is placed in a Japanese prison setting, which was interesting in itself, with highly specific rules set down even to how you're to lie on your futons to sleep (it made me curious enough to even look up some documentaries on the stuff). What struck me was how very realistic the story felt and how natural a
lot of the progression was, especially compared to other BL (Boys' Love) media I've seen. Thankfully, although Douno expresses his discomfort I didn't hear too much of him mentally arguing the whole "I'm not gay...but I like ___" tirade that I've seen other BL media do. His behaviour towards his situation and the outward response from others to his and Kitagawa's relationship was also actually pretty natural.
Out of the Cage was especially apparent in using a couple plot cliches to move its storyline along, but I suppose that there was enough foreshadowing in this that at least made it believable. Other than that there wasn't too much to break my immersion; I was impressed, considering that happens a lot when I read romance. There is sex - but it's not done too unreasonably.
The painterly cover art is gorgeous - for Hako no Naka, at least. I've seen another cover for it and one for Out of the Cage that both looked very anime-esque. Other than that there is little to no other art for this series, which personally I now see as a benefit - aside from vague descriptions of Douno and Kitagawa most of it is left to your imagination - perhaps it may be too bold in saying, but it does bring out the possibility that Douno, at least, and Kitagawa, could exist as real men.
My personal opinion of this dips down a bit with some of the characters. Kitagawa had an extraordinary childhood - but at times I was wondering if that was enough justification for his actions. His initial infatuation with the very "average" Douno and intensive pursuit - for the most part their relationship was extremely one-sided, and only the ending of the final main work and the short stories really redeem this on Douno's end. The most prominent heterosexual relationships in the story are also the most broken - aside from Douno's sister, pretty much all of the main women in this series are seen in a very negative light, which was bothersome (can't BL works have more women that are a) great characters b) aren't old/young/related with/romantically involved with the main characters and c) still play a huge part in the story?)
I may have more thoughts running in my head with this series but I truly enjoyed reading Hako no Naka and its subsequent works. There were some touching moments in this series - Douno's depression in prison, the realization of his love, the last two short stories especially, among other things -
Some minor complaints, but really, this is one of the best BLs I've read. In context of its genre I'd give it a 10, without context as a written light novel series I'd give it an 8.5 or 8.75. A definite must-read for BL lovers, proving that well-written works within this often-looked down upon genre do exist. Thank you, Nostalgia on 9th Avenue, for providing the beautiful translation.
What I really love about Hako no Naka is how realistic the story is.
When I read the summary and saw the word "prison," I was immediately reminded of Deadlock Series, Under Grand Hotel and Lucky Dog 1 and thought "Oh this could be very interesting" plus it was written by one of my fave authors, Konohara Narise-sensei.
It was far different from those titles though. But I didn't care. The story was really good and I cried alot. It feels like this could really happen in real life and that's what I love about it.
The only thing I could complain is probably... lack of art. Yeah
no illustration or whatsoever. But it didn't matter to me. I was imagining them and the scenes in my head so it's good. But of course I would like to see an illustration.
I read the parts in this order:
Main Volumes: In the Box > The Fragile Swindler > Out of the Cage
then followed by the short stories: And then... > Rainy Day > Field of Silver Grass > Summer Vacation
Personally I really like "Summer Vacation" in the short stories! I guess you'll understand me once you read them all.
This novel is full of drama (there are some funny moments too I guess) so I suggest to mentally prepare your heart. But maybe it's just me since I'm such a crybaby.
Edit as of 9/30/13
"But maybe it's just me since I'm such a crybaby. "
No scratch that. It will make you really cry. I just finished the entire "Summer Vacation" and please.. really prepare your heart. Nevertheless this is definitely worth reading! This is such a great bittersweet story! And I can finally say this is the best story of Konohara Narise-sensei so far (well for me).