“Me, Hitomi and Ryuu... We were each reaching out our hands, but in different directions, and so we kept missing each other; never quite managing to touch, never quite managing to connect.” - Taira Hikaru
This is essentially what Hydra is about – the frustration, heartache and helplessness that ensue when one's love just won't reach another's heart. But it's so much more than just a tale of the painful reality of being in love – the relatable characters and great story combine to make this a truly engaging read. In spite of how emotionally charged this manga is, it never once veers into the melodramatic territory, and this is down to Miyamoto Kano's wonderful knack for giving her works a striking edge of realism.
Hydra describes the journey of three friends as they struggle and come to terms with their growing and changing feelings for one another over several years. It begins when Ryuu transfers to Hitomi's school. Fascinated by Ryuu's full-scale dragon tattoo, Hitomi befriends Ryuu and the two immediately form a bond that's almost ineffable. In time, Hitomi begins to wonder if it's the tattoo that interests him or the one bearing it, but before a deeper relationship between them manages to transpire, Hikaru enters into their lives. His appearance is intriguing in that he's both a catalyst and a hindrance to the furthering of Hitomi and Ryuu's relationship. While such love triangles are hardly original, rarely is it ever so engaging or told so beautifully.
The characters are the life of Hydra. Well-developed and three-dimensional in a way that's rarely found in the cliché-happy BL genre, it's almost impossible not to identify with them. Without meaning to sound trite, all three characters come across as very human – they're not without their flaws, they are conflicted by their own choices, they don't always understand themselves – and they're completely relatable. The raw emotions displayed by the characters made it difficult for me to remain as a passive bystander, instead it engulfed me deeper into the story.
Those unfamiliar with Miyamoto's style may be put off by her distinctive art at first, but it's easy to get used to. It certainly illustrates the characters' feelings really well. I think one exceptional aspect of her art deserves mention, the expressive eyes that manage to convey emotion with subtlety and beauty.
The various doujinshi associated with Hydra, while not essential for understanding the series, definitely adds a lot of depth to the story and characters. We get to peer into Hitomi's mind that he doesn't quite understand himself in Blue Film First; Heavenly lets us relive an event from Hikaru's point of view; Kiss gives us a glimpse of Ryuu's past; in Hello Again, there's a juicy revelation. As such, these extras are arguably not extras at all, but rather indispensable to the series.
And while I keep emphasizing how emotional this manga is, it does have a lot of lighthearted moments and it most certainly is NOT a soap opera. There's nothing cheesy about the lines or character, and the love triangle does not resolve itself by the employment of some ridiculous deus ex machina.
Overall, Hydra is an absolutely riveting manga that's never contrived. The way each character comes to terms with his feelings is done wonderfully. Similarly, their relationships unfold and reach a resolution in a natural and believable manner. It certainly left me feeling like I'd just read something really special.
- Written for the Miyamoto Kano Society -