Fake by Sanami Matoh
The first thing I heard about this series was that there was a new manga out about a couple of gay New York City cops. Yeah, that strips a few gears, doesn't it? A Japanese comic book about New York Cops? And they're partners who fall in love? I figured it would be pretty bad in one way or another but I was curious to see how a Japanese manga-ka would portray New Yorkers. I've seen some pretty laughable errors made by North American fanfic writers trying to portray Tokyo, would a pro do any better at getting the details right on a foreign culture?
I didn't want to pay money to see so I looked to see if any fan groups had scanlations up and when they didn't pretty much forgot it for a while. Then a couple of months ago I spotted a volume at the book mobile, but it was something like volume three so I asked the librarian to reserve the first volume for me. She reserved the entire series except for one book that someone lost and I've read them all, some parts of them more than once. Matoh does get some things wrong and it's pretty obvious 99% of her knowledge of American cops comes from watching American TV and movies but it turns out to be the sort of series where that doesn't matter too much.
Fake is a comedy-action-buddy-romance that is deliberately over the top and pokes fun at many of the conventions of the shonen-ai* genre. In a single chapter you can have a really horrific serial killer based on real life cases AND slap stick comedy AND romance. I wasn't sure if the over-the-topness was bad writing that happened to be so funny it was enjoyable or if it was well written comedy at first. Then one of the characters turns to the reader and announces that if things go the way he wants then he's gonna get this "sorry excuse for a manga's ratings raised from a T to an M". From that point on I stopped feeling guilty about laughing. Which is good since many chapters had me giggling constantly. I'm glad I didn't try to read them in public or I'd be committed. I laughed at the joke a second time when things finally do go the way he wants several books later and the rating does indeed to from T to M.
The series begins when Randy Maclean, a newly promoted detective, reports to his new precinct. He is partnered with Dee Laytner, a young detective only a couple of years older, whose partner has recently transferred out. The implication is that he transferred to get away from Dee who is a troublemaker. Think of what Mel Gibson's character in Lethal Weapon might have been like when he was just starting out before all the tragedy and angst and you'd be pretty close to Dee.
Randy is in contrast a very reserved and quiet person who is very serious and professional.
You know right up front that no matter what else comes into play Dee isn't going to be able to resist yanking Randy's chain and as soon as he discoverer that Randy is half-Japanese and his Japanese family calls him Ryo, but Randy isn't comfortable with people who don't know him using the nickname, Dee starts calling him Ryo for the rest of the series and all the people who meet Randy and Dee from that point on just assume that's what he wants to be called and uses it too.
Dee is openly bi-sexual and flirts with Ryo pretty much as soon as they are alone together. Ryo brushes it off as teasing, and it is, but by the time they finish their first case Dee is starting to fall for him for real and it takes a while for him to convince Ryo that he's no longer just joking around. When he does it takes most of the rest of the series for Ryo to deal with that. Apparently he is gay but doesn't want to admit it, even to himself, and it's pretty hard to repress that part of himself when he's working closely with an attractive man who makes it clear he wants him.
A lot of the slapstick comes from Dee's ham handed attempts at seduction. He tends to pounce on Ryo and kiss him and get him all flustered only to be interrupted by something that keeps him from getting further with him.
The main something is Ryo's 11-year-old foster son Bikky who he takes in after he is orphaned during their first case. Bikky is the son of a low level mobster, a petty thief already, and far more street smart than his guardian. He knows perfectly well what Dee is after but he doesn't trust that Dee is after anything more than a notch on his bedpost so at first he makes it his mission to protect Ryo from the "pervert". Bikky and Dee are so much alike that they could be father and son though and by the end of the series they have come to genuinely care about each other as family even though they'd rather be tortured than admit it.
There are a bunch of fun supporting characters to round out the cast including Carol, Bikky's pickpocket girlfriend; Mother Lane, the nun who ran the orphanage Dee grew up in; JJ the comic relief character with a crush on Dee, and the police commissioner who also falls for Ryo and by trying to pursue him actually pushes him to come to terms with things sooner and end up with Dee.
This isn't for younger readers. Two guys kissing isn't too bad but in the last couple of volumes there is on-stage sex. The main warning I'd give is for violence and bloodshed. They deal with a serial killer who keeps trophies (shown), a drug cartel, and assorted murderers and mobsters. There are several gory deaths on screen and scenes of torture. I really feel some of the early T rated volumes probably should have been M for the violence.
Having finished the series (except for that missing book) I found the pilot episode for an anime series that didn't make it and I'll review it in another post. I've got to sign off and get ready to be somewhere now.
*Shonen-ai = "young men's love" or "boy's love" and is a genre of romance comics for women in which the main couple is gay. If you need details click on the hot link in the Wiki article I linked to above.