Hello again, everyone!
I wound up taking a bit of an unscheduled break during July, so it’s been a while since I’ve posted a new review. However, I was doing a lot of reading during my blogging vacation, so hopefully August will be a more productive month for the blog.
For my grand return, I’m going to be reviewing New York, New York, a classic boys love manga from the 90’s created by Marimo Ragawa. I first heard about this series when panels from it were featured in Paul Gravett’s Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics. I’ve been curious about it ever since and was extremely excited when Yen Press announced that it had been licensed. I had a little bit of trouble tracking down a copy, but I did find one eventually and I’m thrilled to finally be discussing it today.
Kain Walker is a New York City police officer and a closeted gay man living with the stress of keeping his sexuality hidden. He’s constantly worried about people at work finding out he’s gay and he makes sure to only go cruising for hook ups at gay bars that are located far from both his work and home.
It’s at one such bar that he runs into Mel Fredericks, a beautiful young man who captures his attention instantly. Mel is still processing a difficult breakup, so he’s only interested in talking with Kain at first, but the chemistry between the two men is undeniable and they soon start dating.
While Kain and Mel have deep feelings for each other, being together isn’t simple or easy. On top of the difficulties they face as a gay couple, they have to overcome jealousies, communication issues and deeply buried traumas in order to stay together. Can love possibly be enough to allow them to weather these storms?
While New York, New York is certainly a romance, I’d say this series is is best characterized as a melodrama. There’s never a quiet moment in the lives of Kain and Mel!
Certainly, many of the trials Mel and Kain face are realistic difficulties that any couple might face, but there are also some heightened situations that could have been pulled from an action series or a dark, psychological drama. While New York, New York isn’t explicit in it’s depictions, the series does tackle subjects such as rape, attempted suicide and childhood sexual abuse. There were some difficult and extremely emotional segments in this story and I recommend exercising your discretion when deciding if this is a manga you want to read.
That said, I do think this manga is very good. It was especially interesting to me to see an older boys love manga tackling topics like internalized homophobia, coming out and the aids crisis. While some newer BL series I’ve read have attempted to more realistically depict the experience of being gay in a world that is still unaccepting of LGBTQ+ people in many ways, a great deal of the older titles I’m familiar with either presented a very simplified picture of these issues or ignored them entirely. New York, New York doesn’t pull any punches in this quarter. When Kain comes out to his parents it doesn’t exactly go smoothly. While his dad manages to take the news in stride, his mother struggles to be accepting. She isn’t the only one either, his long time friend also reacts poorly and we see how much these responses hurt Kain.
Coming out isn’t the only heavy topic we see explored. Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking storylines in this volume revolves around Gersh, Kain’s co-worker and another closeted gay man suffering in a society that rejects him. Gersh is married to a woman and claims to be bi-sexual, but this seems to be denial more than a true reflection of his sexuality. He sleeps around with men while his marriage deteriorates, but won’t consider getting a divorce. Eventually he contracts aids, and the tragedy is compounded further when he passes it on to his lover. Gersh never felt like he could live openly as his authentic self and the desperate need for secrecy ultimately destroyed not just his life, but also the lives of many of the people he cared for.
The fact that Mel and Kain manage to stay together and support each other, despite all of the forces that could have torn them apart can be seen as a testament to the power of love to endure, even in the face of overwhelming circumstances. Thankfully, while is doesn’t hold back on the angst, this isn’t a bleak or hopeless manga. Kain’s homophobic mother and friend have their eyes opened to their own prejudice and become more open-minded as the story progresses. There are also people who do accept Kain and Mel without hesitation. The conversation Kain has with his more progressively minded father about how he’ll always have his support was one of the most moving scenes in the book and had me in tears.
The one area of New York, New York where I felt a little unsatisfied is actually the relationship between Mel and Kain itself. The section where the two fall in love and get together is fairly brief and most of the story deals with the struggles they encounter during their relationship. This isn’t the part I take issue with – it’s actually kind of nice to read a story that focuses on the relationship instead of the getting together part – rather, my problem is that Kain is a terrible boyfriend (at least at first).
Mel is a gentle soul who hates conflict and who has trouble standing up for himself. He has a tragic past that has left him with a lot of scars and insecurities and he is understandably hesitant to talk about it. Kain, meanwhile, is jealous and kind of a jerk, not to mention a hypocrite who cheats on Mel. It was kind of hard to root for them at first, as I felt like Mel needed someone who was more understanding and dependable. Thankfully, Kain does grow and become a better partner as he learns more about Mel’s past and things get more and more serious between them. In the end, he’s able to offer Mel the emotional support he needs and I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationship continues to develop in the next volume.
New York, New York is an emotional rollercoaster of a story that’s full of highs and lows, as it follows the tumultuous relationship between two men who have mountains of problems to scale in order to find happiness together. While Mel and Kain’s romance has plenty of rough patches, I ultimately appreciated that the manga was willing to tackle some dark and difficult topics. New York, New York is worth checking out if you’re a fan of classic manga, enjoy angsty love stories or boys love manga that deal with some of the harsher realities of gay life.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
For more information on this manga, visit Yen Press’ website.
What did you think of this manga? Are you new to Marimo Ragawa’s work, or are there any fans of Baby & Me out there? Let me know in the comments!
If you enjoy reading my reviews, please consider supporting me through Kofi.