by Katsura and Yuramei
Genre: yaoi, angst, drama
Authors: Katsura, Yuramei
Cover art: Yuramei
First published: January 2014
ISBN-10: 1495342816 / ISBN-13: 978-1495342813
Fate is a fickle thing, fortune a double edged sword.
"Being born into wealth and privilege may be the dream of most, but a fat, friendless child with no company but his books will find that money brings no real comfort. I was such a child and came quickly to the conclusion that to endure the mundane is not compulsory when one can retreat to one's thoughts and live the life of a samurai. I chose my own path. An existence of honour and adventure which I shared with my beloved fellow warrior, Hyung. Even I, at times, thought him to be a figment of my imagination, so when he appeared as a flesh and blood man in the offices of the Yakuza organisation, the Tatakai-gumi, my world was turned upside down."
Kanno Sakamoto is a renaissance man. Homosexual, archer, swordsman, gardener, chef, pianist, gangster and fantasist — here he tells his own story. A dark, often humorous and sometimes challenging tale of love, lust and murder which is not for the faint of heart.
If I begin with the phrase, I was born, I am perhaps not only robbing the line from another book, but stating the obvious. Of course I was born or I would not be here to tell this tale.
So born I was, to my parents, whom I'm told waited many years for my arrival. From the day they married they'd desired to have a son. Many unsuitable foetuses later, out I popped, with a curled fist and a scream which shocked the labour ward into silence.
Frankly, I doubt this account. Not concerning the unsuitable foetuses, but that I screamed. It's not in my nature. Since this is my story, I will tell it how I see it happening. So I slid from my mother's uterus with dignified determination—and a sly glance at the doctor to see if he was doing his job correctly. My mother required stitches. The man was clearly incompetent.
Like many sons, I state without shame that I loved my mother. She did, after all, give me life. The cuckoo spit which shot forth from my father's penis is hardly comparable to the nine months I spent using up my mother's blood supply. I'm not a sentimental soul but when I think of her sacrifice, I'm genuinely touched. She lost not only her petite figure over me, but most probably the anatomical tightness which men seem to find so attractive in women. I have a large head—but still very much in proportion with the rest of my body. Squeezing that out of any orifice could have been no easy task.
She was mannerly enough never to bring up the subject, but that didn't stop me dwelling on my guilt. It has often occurred to me that the human race would have died out if it had been the responsibility of men to give birth to the offspring and be left dribbling uncontrollably and lamenting their lack of urinary control.
I won’t gloss over my childhood, but neither will I leave you bereft of at least some detail of my upbringing. Although my mother exhibited what I would cautiously call love, this was not the case with my father. In a word, he was a brute. A loud and terrifying man. Unapproachable and prone to acts of violence, both on me and on my mother. Barely a day went by when one or both of us didn’t fall victim to his ready fist. From the outside, I’m sure it appeared that my parents were in love. They were reserved, as is fitting, and did not show signs of affection in public. But at the many dinners and functions they attended, to all and sundry they seemed as any devoted married couple would.
That my parents kept company with Tokyo’s elite was something I never considered unusual. A large picture hung in the dining room and featured my late grandfather, side by side with a member of the royal family. I never questioned why our brood were so close to others of high esteem. I took it all for granted.
I was a portly child. There, I’ve said it. My mother ruined me with cakes and candy to the point where I had folds where no child should have. When I entered my teenage years, my father suggested some sort of sport would reduce my bulk and get me out into the fresh air. I’d endured music lessons since birth. My evenings and weekends were spent in front of the piano with my tutor, Yano. He was a harsh man and his methods were strict, but no amount of bashing on the ivories would help diminish my excess weight. My father wanted me to join a team. Being very socially awkward, I kicked up such a fuss, rather than attempt to kick any kind of ball. So on this rare occasion Father allowed me to make the choice of activity on my own.
For many years, I’d wiled away my solitary hours lost in the notion of being a samurai. I watched every film that I possibly could. My shelves were weighted down with volumes filled with tales of noble warriors and of my favourite heroes — the Rōnin.
The samurai with no master.
That I was enveloped in a world of fantasy was perhaps an understatement and not something I considered to be strictly true. My existence with my parents was nothing more than a veil which shrouded my real life. I was not pretending to be a samurai — I was a samurai — and my nightly travels took me not only across the length and breadth of Japan, but to the exotic lands which surrounded my country.
In China, I learned about the ancient traditions from the protectors of the emperor. Men so brave, that they’d lay down their lives for their leader without question.
In Korea, I encountered the royal guards — trained from childhood and so skilled with a bow and arrow that they were practically undefeatable. I joined them in vast banquets where we were entertained by majestically dressed ladies, who sang and played the kayagum for us.
My heart still soars when I hear the simple strings plucked to bring such beautiful music.
All of these experiences enriched me and were no less valuable purely because they were gained with me never having left my bedroom. In my world, I was respected and fated to become great. My father wanted me to take up a sport, but what advantage would that be to someone with the soul of a fighter?
The decision of what compulsory pastime to undertake was easy. I required no time for thought. I would learn fencing and archery to become like the men with whom I filled my dreams.
Around about the same time as I realised my destiny lay with a good few feet of tempered steel in my hand, I discovered that when it came to matters of the heart, women did not move me.
If I could not be ensnared by the royal concubines of ancient times, what hope had a modern girl in capturing my attention?
In my nightly forays, battling my enemies with my comrades by my side, after the bloodshed was over — and trust me, there was plenty of carnage — I ended up in the arms of my closest ally, Hyung. I have no idea why I called him by this Korean title. He was superior to me in every way and no doubt I heard the term used and found it fitting for him. However it came about, I called him Hyung and that is what he answered to. He was a beautiful man, with hair which fell down beyond his waist, his willowy frame showing little indication of his true strength. His lips were soft. I know this because I kissed them often enough. His eyes, black as pitch, captured me in a way that no other’s ever could.
So much time was spent with him, that in my mind, he was as real as anyone. I recall every contour of his handsome face. The smattering of hair which graced his chin and the corners of his mouth. His voice was gentle, unless we were in battle, when he would roar with bloodlust. But when we were alone at night he would whisper to me and bless me with his wonderful smile.
Whilst I realised that my parents would hardly be thrilled to find out that my heart could only ever belong to another man, then, like now, I felt no shame.
I am me. I am Kanno Sakamoto.
ReviewsA profound sense of loss haunts me as I think on the melancholic poetry that is 'The Gangster and The Samurai'. This startlingly beautiful portrait of one man’s descent into madness simply wouldn’t let me go. Even now I wonder what has become of its ill-fated hero, Kanno Sakamoto, an exquisite, accomplished Yakuza who falls prey to his own delusions in his desire to be loved.
From its poignant blood and roses cover, which offers subtle hints of Kanno’s fragile emotional state, to its captivating storyline which had me rooting for the tragic hero, this is yaoi at its best, this is Yaoi Plus. Yaoi Plus is my personal term for stories that capture all of the lyrical, angst, heat, and beauty of the best yaoi manga and anime, but hold a deep, lasting artistry that reaches beyond the genre’s standard and incorporate qualities that transform the book into a classic. A work that reveals additional nuances each time you read it. I for one will be reading this story again and again. It is like a song I want to play repeatedly.
Delivered in Kanno’s distinctive voice, the tale moves along swiftly. Details of its dark hero’s solitary beginnings quickly morph to his loss-of-innocence college years and transcend to his determined rise through the Yakuza ranks. Kanno’s matter-of-fact tone as he reveals his reasoning for his unreasonable acts had me both championing and weeping for this lovely man.
There is plenty of action here of both the violent and the sexual variety and the supporting characters, most notably Katashi, a fascinating narcissistic satyriasis and Hyung, the clever gangster whom Kanno pines for, add a genuine slice-of-Yakuza-life feel to the story. I could say that the storyline combined the best elements of the biopic, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ with those of the great yaoi classic, ‘Ai no Kusabi’, but its pure originality makes that statement fall short. This is yet another masterful tale from authors Katsura and Yuramei, and I can only hope that Kanno, Katashi or Hyung show up in another book. Yes, I’m greedy like that.
Thank you, Katsura and Yuramei, for this exceptional and winning, ‘descent-into-madness’ story. “Brilliant, Hot, Violent, Angst!”
Kanno Sakamoto is a man of all trades who, after an awful childhood which Katsura and Yuramei go into great detail about realises his life is not what he wishes, and instead fantasises about a life he wanted most of all. He sees this as choosing his own path in life, and at least he also sees it as he found love inside this dream of his. Being a homosexual male isn't something many would comment on in mixed company, but he is content to be in love and loved by his fellow warrior, Hyung. In all of this readers might find it hard to know whether or not the real world is actually his fantasy. As Kanno is the samurai, it is obvious that Hyung is the gangster, or at least it appears that way. After meeting Hyung in the Yakuza organisation, he falls for him instantly, but his love is full of loss, angst and inner loathing, the ingredients that make an excellent yaoi.
As yaoi is primarily known for being about graphic novels, this is a refreshing change and runs along the lines of the text based novels Loose Id and Yaoi Press write. This is written from the first person, and as such allows Kanno to invent his own life from his own point of view regardless of reality and the boredom it presents. Here the story has all the ingredients that make yaoi novels so engaging and interesting to read. There is the angst, the drama surrounding who Kanno really is, Hyung's place in his life, the tears, the anger and also the sexual attraction between the two men. This novel is out to shock in ways I can't describe, but one thing is for sure, this novel will be the start of a new branch of yaoi novels and it has been a long time coming. Katsura and Yuramei are a writer and artist team to watch out for.