DISCLAIMER: The following contains a discussion of sexual abuse and violence.
Many mangaka started out as doujinshi makers – even CLAMP started out as a doujin group. Compared to commercial publishing, doujin creators have a lot more flexibility in terms of topics and publication times, but their market is significantly smaller, which is why their works are often overlooked by the general public. In these words, published by the American doujin group Guilt | Pleasure, is one such book.
Guilt | Pleasure is the collaboration between artist Jo Chen, or TogaQ, and writer Kichiku Neko. They specialize in BL stories with a dark twist, mostly in the crime thriller genre. This is because Kichiku Neko is a former US Air Force Security Force Staff Sargent. His professional experience with law enforcement gives him a rare and unique insight into police procedures and criminal minds not often seen in manga, let alone BL stories.
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This is why all of Guilt | Pleasures’ works carry a strong sense of realism that lends itself perfectly to the group’s penchant for dark themes. This is particularly evident in its flagship series In these words, the story of a sexually deviant serial killer and the psychologist who tries to profile him.
The protagonist of In these words is Asano Katsuya, a Harvard-trained psychologist who was hired by the Tokyo Police Department to interview a recently apprehended serial killer named Shinohara. It turns out that Shinohara specially asked Katsuya to question him, starting a tense battle of the mind. But as the interrogation continues, Katsuya begins to have nightmares about being horribly tortured and abused – something he doesn’t remember ever having experienced.
The first part of In these words is not really a BL story. Instead, it’s a psychological thriller about Katsuya trying to profile Shinohara while facing her own terrifying visions. Their dynamics are reminiscent of Thesilenceofthelambs — Shinohara is a smart, vicious, narcissistic, and charming serial killer, much like Hannibal Lecter. He tries to play with Katsuya through graphic descriptions of his abuses and murders but never gives up all his secrets. Katsuya is calm and rational, but he can’t help but be shaken by Shinohara’s charisma, just like Clarice Starling.
Unlike the non-physical relationship in Thesilenceofthelambs, there are a lot of sex scenes throughout In these words, although they are not always romantic. In these words’ the approach to sexual abuse is different from other popular BL psychological thrillers like Kill the stalk, where the line between violence and love is blurred. It clearly distinguishes the BL storyline from the abuse / crime storyline with careful storytelling and meticulous art.
The abusive sex scenes are deeply disturbing, and readers are taken to witness very agonizing scenes of torture and rape, with the frightened faces of the victims clearly exposed. These scenes aim to highlight the brutality and psychopathic tendencies of the serial killer and to raise the stakes of his crimes, they are not intended to romanticize him. Rightly so, these scenes are particularly difficult to go through.
But when the romance begins, the sex scenes clearly contrast with the abuse. The protagonists have an intimate, flirtatious, and steamy relationship, and consent is always given, which is refreshing for BL. In addition to this, the sow and uke the dynamic is never unequal, there is equal power between two adults and respect and love are evident throughout their interactions.
The path In these words clearly distinguishing consensual from non-consensual relationships may be the result of the Western origin of creators, where issues like consent are debated much more rigorously. Western influence is also reflected in TogaQ’s artistic style. His work does not resemble a typical Japanese manga with stylized and exaggerated art, but rather more anchored in the tradition of Western realism. The colorful prints in particular are very similar to classic European oil paintings, with subdued, layered colors and symbolic images.
TogaQ is an expert in light and shadow, particularly in the way light reflects off the human face and body, giving a palpable feeling of texture to the skin and muscles of the characters. His masterful use of shadows creates an unsettling atmosphere that is downright cinematic. Her attention to detail is amazing too – she and Kichiku Neko went to visit a real Japanese love hotel just to draw a scene for the manga. TogaQ even recreated the wallpaper and bed sheet designs that bring the sleazy look of the love hotel to life.
An even more unique aspect of In these words comes from the psychological aspects of the characters, which is Kichiku Neko’s specialty. His expertise in law enforcement makes all scenes involving profiling and police proceedings feel justified. While not always exciting, this is what solving real-world crimes looks like.
The killer’s mental state is also carefully mapped – he’s definitely a psychopath and a sickening character. But he’s not a perfect killing machine, either. He makes mistakes and leaves details that help Katsuya piece together a profile, but it’s never enough to get the full picture. This is why his cat and mouse game with Katsuya is so interesting to watch develop.
Although Katsuya is an intelligent and capable character, he does not have superhuman deductive abilities like L’s Death threat or Sherlock Holmes. He can only construct the profile of the killer from the available evidence, but it is not always precise. He is also not invulnerable, and when injured he suffers lasting trauma like everyone else. His flaws make him believable, and his real strength lies in the way he deals with his trauma.
Another advantage of Guilt | Pleasure is that the group’s work is available in several languages, including Chinese, German, Korean and French. However, with English being the main language of the group, English-speaking readers won’t have to wait for sometimes awkward translations.
Guilt | Pleasure works can be purchased via the official website whether in digital or physical format. Physical books are absolutely worth owning as they are beautifully printed and contain a lot of additional material.
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