Yaoi review: Cut

Cut
Story and Art by Toko Kawai
Published by the Juné Imprint of Digital Manga, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1-56970-043-3

Review by Ginger Mayerson

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
“They may not mean to, but they do.
“They fill you with the faults they had
“And add some extra, just for you.

“But they were fucked up in their turn
“By fools in old-style hats and coats,
“Who half the time were soppy-stern
“And half at one another’s throats.

“Man hands on misery to man.
“It deepens like a coastal shelf.
“Get out as early as you can,
“And don’t have any kids yourself.”

Philip Larkin – This Be The Verse

I knew Philip Larkin was a genius, but I had no idea he’d sum up “Cut” in one poem. Although the parents and step-parents in “Cut” are more villainous than those in Larkin’s poem, he still nails it with:

“Get out as early as you can,
“And don’t have any kids yourself.”

And being yaoi, you can be pretty sure the last line will be true.

I’m not really kidding here, but all kidding aside, I found “Cut” one of the most unsettling of the swanky type of quality manga we get as review copies here at J LHLS HQ from the good folks at Juné Manga. It has great shock value, but the characters are defined and to some extent redeemed the shocking events in their pasts and presents. Even the villains aren’t completely two dimensional, which makes hating them more satisfying. Everyone, except the saintly aunt and uncle’s family, needs lots of help and a few of them just need to be arrested.

Most of the early trauma to the main characters in “Cut” is due to other adults just looking the other fucking way when a kid is being abused. I’m not a saint, but I have lived long enough to know that mentally unstable woman who have kids eventually lose them if they don’t end up killing them. It takes a lot of abuse for child protective services to step in, and they usually do so after a lot of mental and physical damage has been done. There was recently a big article on this in the Los Angeles Times, proving the LA Times is still occasionally readable (Hm, maybe I take that back). (Here’s a pdf if the LAT has taken this story down.)

The other character in the couple is essentially pimped to his stepfather by his mother. One hears of this, it was the prostitute’s back story in Nuts (Barbara Streisand is in it, just ignore her). Same story: mom can’t afford or won’t work really hard to raise her kids herself so she marries a creep and she, at least, lives happily ever after. I’ve lived with two single mothers and their lives are very very hard, but neither of those exhausted women would have allowed anything at all bad to happen to their kids for mere financial security.

The Evil Women and Mothers trope is always a bore, but it’s yaoi and the plot hinges on it, so it could be worse. There is one very nice woman, the aunt who is providing a home for one of the young men. Her mothering is mostly rejected, but he has good reasons for doing so. But women in this story are merely plot points to keep the angst and sex rolling along. It’s yaoi, not Ibsen.

And so, being yaoi, these two very fucked-up high school boys find each other, fumble around, have lots of hot sex, fall in love, and have a happy, pragmatic ending. I salute Toko Kawai for not sugar coating the amount of work these lovers know they’ll have to do to stay sane, get saner, and be happy, but they are bravely ready and willing to do it. This is the good thing love does to people and what happy endings are really made of. “Cut” is also beautifully drawn, even the ugly parts, as one would expect of this artist.

I realize that yaoi can’t solve all the problems of the world, but “Cut” cuts a little deeper than most of what I’ve read and rises above what I thought the genre was capable of in terms of storytelling, meaning, and impact.

Lastly, the good people at June Manga must have felt the same way about “Cut,” because Rachel Livingston (their former sales and marketing manager, who’s moved on to other projects) told me that the Japanese publisher could not find Kawai’s original artwork and the Juné people had to have their agents in Japan scour used bookstores and private collections to get enough good pages for the English reproduction. To June, Digital Manga, and to everyone involved in making this book available in English: I bow down to you and sincerely thank you for this beautifully produced labor of love.

Recommended, but with warnings that you will think about it a lot and for a long time.