Viz Media is launching a new title under its Shojo Beat imprint this week: Nozomi Mino’s Yakuza Lover. The series depicts the romance between Yuri, an unassuming college student, and Oya, a yakuza boss she happens to run into at a party. It’s love at first sight, and despite the characters’ debates over safety and how far they should take their relationship, Vol. 1 quickly takes a turn toward the erotic. So, is this an intriguing debut?
The strongest aspect of this series is its art. There are screentones galore, and Mino is a fundamentally skilled artist. If you want a shojo series with an abundance of nice patterns and shading, then Yakuza Lover has you covered. If that sounds like I’m only praising very bare bones details, then that’s because there’s not much else of note about the visuals. Yakuza Lover just looks like what one might stereotypically expect from the genre. The basic details of anatomy, page layouts, etc. are all solid enough that the book is never ugly. With that said, there’s no unique or memorable flair to the art. The characters’ faces in particular don’t have a lot of variety. In a series that consists so heavily of two lovers staring at one another, it would help to see more facets of these characters and their interactions with one another.
Unfortunately, the plot is just as repetitive as the art, if not more so. The series opens with a chapter wherein Oya happens to come across Yuri when she’s in danger and helps her out. It’s noteworthy that Yuri plays some part in her own protection so she’s not completely damseled, but by the way she talks about Oya throughout you’d never know. The two keep managing to run into one another until they finally give in to their feelings and establish a relationship.
With that said, a lot of the early interactions still come down to: 1) Yuri remembers Oya fondly, 2) they reunite by chance and are mutually pleased to do so, 3) Oya leaves with a remark about how he hopes to live long enough to see her again. This acknowledgement of his dangerous occupation is fun, although it seldom feels like he’s in any real danger.
This theoretical danger is integral to another disappointing aspect of the manga: the arc of the couple’s romance. While lip service is paid to the fact that Oya is dangerous to be around, it only becomes truly relevant when his imposing reputation helps him protect Yuri. Ultimately the couple cease having misgivings about whether or not they should be together, but this feels less dictated by explainable character growth and more just so that their status as lovebirds can be a given. As far as one can tell, neither character has much of a life or purpose outside of their romantic coupling either. There’s no supporting cast to speak of.
And now, the smut. The series is fairly unabashedly erotic, and there are multiple sex scenes here. How are they in terms of quality? Decent. There’s variety in the characters’ dynamics across the scenes, not to mention that this is the area of the book that suffers the least from faces being too repetitive. Mileage will vary on if the scenes are actually erotic depending on the reader, of course.
Overall, Yakuza Lover Vol. 1 is just okay. The art is serviceable and the sex scenes are among the best in the book, which is appropriate given the marketing. Nonetheless, there’s little about the series that sets it apart from other titles. Neither the characters nor their worlds feel fleshed out, and a lot of the plotting gets quite repetitive quite fast. I imagine some readers will enjoy the series depending on their personal tastes, but it’s just not distinct enough for me to recommend.
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