The reviewer’s lot is such that sometimes you have to jump into a series feet-first, while it’s mid-storyline, and orient yourself without the benefit of seeing the characters and their relationships being introduced to new readers. This is less of a problem for BL readers, since BL series are typically short and often the instalments are self-contained; unfortunately, Yakuza In Love is one of the exceptions, so I’m not sure I can properly review the first half of volume 3.
The plot, which is a thriller/romance hybrid (as you had probably guessed from the title), rattles along at a good pace, and there is action galore and lots of gorgeous tattooed men making very intense pronouncements at each other; but without knowing who’s sleeping with who, or why exactly they’re pointing guns at each other, or even who they are, this part of the book is rather hard to follow. It did make me want to pick up the first two volumes, so although I can’t judge it as a culmination of the overall story, it was certainly intriguing in its own right.
The second half of the volume is made up of short self-contained stories featuring the characters from the main story, and is much easier to follow for a newbie. It’s also really very good. The first short is an alternate ending of the main story written in the style of a BL dating sim, and is both hilarious and very erotic. The rest are vignettes or slices of life for the various yakuza couples involved in the main story, with extra helpings of sex. Even without a grounding in how these relationships came to be how they are, the emotion comes across very clearly. Late as I am to the series, I can’t keep the characters’ names straight, but I have no such difficulty with the characters themselves; they’re all brimming with personality, and the dynamics between them ring true, whether it’s the Yakuza underboss struggling to let go of the memory of his dead wife so that he can really be with his living lover, or the young protegé struggling with feelings of jealousy when he sees his mobster lover with a woman.
Yakuza In Love has one of those can’t-fail concepts: tough guys living in a tough world — and revealing their softer sides, but only to the ones they love and trust. Shiuko Kano’s used the concept well, marrying erotic romance with action and even comedy with enough verve and flair to make this volume a great read for me despite my lack of knowledge of the story so far. I’m going to be tracking down the first two volumes of the series now, which should tell you something.