KNIGHT OF ALANOC
Bara – Fantasy, romance, smut
1 Volume (ongoing)
Men Plus Monsters
Osric is already upset after yet another relationship ends badly. His bad mood gets worse when someone just comes up and is welcome into his regiment — and made his partner! But could Xerxes become more than just a partner on the battlefield?
There is a rising number of manga-style Western graphic novels coming out, and with other countries like South Korea also getting into the character-driven comics scene, this blend of East meets West illustrated stories will only continue to grow. But while the boys’ love and girls’ love genres (often called yaoi and yuri respectively) have contributed to the acceptance of graphic novels as a literary medium, the bara genre (aka gay manga) has been much slower to find wide acceptance. That’s not solely the fault of licensors and publishers; the author of My Brother’s Husband was just recently expressing his sadness at the fact that there’s only going to be one bara magazine left. This is a part of the industry-wide scaling back of Japanese manga magazines, with all publishers ending some magazines or moving to digital-only distribution.
But perhaps as Japan is reducing its bara manga production, some international creators will help drive the genre. One example is KNIGHT OF ALANOC, a 60 page indie comic about two (male) soldiers. KNIGHT OF ALANOC is a prequel to another series called ACE OF BEASTS, but the description says Knight of Alanoc can be read as a stand-alone. I haven’t read the original series, but the opening was a bit abrupt. We start off seeing a swordsman going home for the day, and he stares off to the distance. The next panel has him taking a deep breath and talking about “ending it”, so I thought maybe he was quitting. Nope, before we learn the guy’s name (Osric), we see him breaking up with his lover in a “it’s not me, it’s you” way.
Well, okay then! Personally, I’d like to learn a character’s name before their life in the bedroom, but moving on.
The next day, a man suddenly asks to be trained as a knight. Osric is shocked when his captain agrees so easily, and Osric is downright upset at finding out the new guy, Xerxes, is given the same rank as him and made his partner. But Xerxes is a friendly man, and Osric’s irritation is quickly replaced by affection. But Osric hasn’t had good luck with relationships before, and this doubt weighs on his mind even as Xerxes moves closer to his heart.
This internal conflict was probably my least favorite part of the comic. Osric can’t help but dream of something more with Xerxes, and their relationship progresses at a steady rate even without explicitly spelling out their mutual romantic interest. Then when things start looking rosy, Osric practically flips out. I know it’s a fairly common phenomenon for someone to lash out when someone gets too close to their true feelings, but this was perhaps too sudden considering that he was so happy to see Xerxes caring for him as a would-be lover, not a mentor. Fortunately, Xerxes is a really great guy and reminds Osric that nobody’s perfect and that he loves him just as he is — a sometimes romantic and crybaby.
Osric may be the protagonist, but Xerxes is the more interesting of the two if you ask me. His dark complexion is apparently very unique, and perhaps the comic will have the two leads be led on an adventure to find about more about Xerxes’ genealogical history, as it’s a story even he himself doesn’t know anything about. Besides that, I can’t help but smile at Xerxes’ enthusiasm for life. He obviously has some reservations about magic, but he’s immediately happy about forming a friendship with Osric. When the latter complains about Xerxes being made a lieutenant, Xerxes has one of the best responses ever: he says that it’s understandable that Osric would hate a “corrupt system” that would allow a backdoor entry and promotion. He’s the kind of person I would want as a friend, and I hope he finds answers about his past.
Bara (which is more of a Western term than a Japanese one) is typically distinguished from boys’ love in two ways: the age of the protagonist/s (usually fully grown men who are muscular versus the more handsome and/or girly young men in BL) and the amount of sexual content (heavily pornographic; BL can be smutty but not necessarily). This is a very explicit comic, definitely NC-17. Although the smut is pretty much limited to one scene, it’s quite a lengthy scene. In some erotica works, you can skip the sex scene, and you could here if you wanted to. But if you are uncomfortable with porn, I can’t imagine future volumes will be tamer than this one. I do not know if same-sex marriage is legal in this world, but it does seem to be at least somewhat accepted. It was nice not having to have this sort of sexual identity struggle taking up pages of this first volume.
I do hope KNIGHT OF ALANOC will expand upon the world though. I do imagine I’m missing some knowledge since I haven’t read ACE OF BEASTS, but I do wish this one had explained a little more about the country Osric and Xerxes are fighting for. I know there are gryphons and healing spells, but does this land have a king? Can anyone use magic? There’s a montage showing the two getting closer — are the black-cloaked winged people(?) random bandits, or the country’s enemy? This comic is obviously concentrating on getting the main couple together, but it could have eased readers into the world better, prequel or not.
The art, as you would expect, features very burly men. It’s also got a classic atmosphere, almost like manga versions of Greco-Roman statues. I’d call this a 70s version of Teenage Renaissance! David in regards to the art. The comic is in full color, so you see things in full detail. I like the backgrounds, as there’s always some short of shape or design to look at: the sparkles shining down from the moon, the crafted designs on the walls, the poorly-made pheasants that were thrown away. However, I did not care for the font. It wasn’t the most reader-friendly choice in my opinion. The letters are pretty thin and a bit whimsical, and although I didn’t need-need to, zooming in made it easier on my eyes.
KNIGHT OF ALANOC is an interesting opening to this series. There were some rough spots like with Osric’s suddenly being afraid of love and the lack of introduction of to the world, but Xerxes is a character I want to know more about — and see him continue to be happy with his beloved.