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keeps ones distance

Kizuna: Bonds of Love

is a yaoi manga, authored by Kazuma Kodaka. Released in 1994, and still ongoing, it was one of the first and most popular manga to feature a homosexual relationship.

The manga, currently 10 volumes long, is released in English by Be Beautiful (volumes 1-8 are on sale as of 2008). Many fans prefer to also purchase the Japanese editions and read them by way of fan translations , because of censorship and translation issues in the official English version. An example of the latter is the use of Enjouji's first name; in the Japanese version everyone, even his lover Ranmaru, refers to him by his surname, but the English translation uses his first name "Kei".

In regards to censorship, the target in this regard has been certain scenes depicting memories of Kai and Masa's early relationship. Two pages from the first volume of the English translation were excised because they contained images of a very young Kai kissing Masa on the lips. While an innocent reason is given on Kai's part for this action, and Masa's reaction is one of shock and embarrassment, it was deemed suitably inappropriate by the editors and removed. A flashback to this memory in the second volume was edited so that a thought bubble obscures the image of young Kai, only showing Masa's face.

Kizuna is also available as an anime, in the form of three OVAs. The first two have been released in the US on DVD, most recently in a new "Special Signature Edition" with Kazuma Kodaka. A third OVA, "Much Ado About Nothing", is harder to find.

Plot

When Enjouji Kei first met kendo prodigy Samejima Ranmaru in their first year of middle school, it was love at first sight...at least for Kei. From the moment they met Kei pursued a very reluctant and introverted Ranmaru for his affections, seemingly unaffected by Ranmaru's cold nature and disgust towards him. Within their first day of school they make an awkward friendship that cumulates with a chaste kiss in the kendo dojo of Ranmaru's house. For the remaining years of their school, their budding relationship grows into a strong love.

Unfortunately, life is anything but ordinary for this young couple. In his third year of high school, Kei's mother Hotaru died of lung complications. In a letter addressed to Kei, she reveals a deep secret; his father, whom he'd never known or met, was Sagano Takeshi, the head of the Kansai Shouryuukai in Osaka.... a yakuza boss. Kei was Sagano's oldest, albeit illegitimate son. Seeing the distress over his mother's death and coming to grips with his origins, Ranmaru vows to watch over and protect Kei. The same afternoon he makes this vow, Ranmaru saves Kei's life by shoving him out of the way of a yakuza hit man's car. Although Ranmaru survives the hit-and-run, the right side of his body is left disabled and he's forced to give up his dreams of kendo. But Kei never leaves his side throughout his extensive physical therapy and this obstacle only proves to strengthen their love for each other.

Neither Kei nor Ranmaru want any part of the yakuza life, but the life finds its way to them anyway. Kei's half-little brother, Sagano Kai, the legitimate son to their father, comes looking for a fight with Kei and love with Ranmaru. Kai has focused his rage on Kei for everything wrong with his life and has fallen in love with Ranmaru, whom he considers to be his idol. Even though Kei doesn't get along with Kai at first and Ranmaru tries to keep Kai's affections at bay, the couple take fondly to him and allow him to stay with them for a brief while. During the course of Kai's stay he saves a drugged-up Ranmaru from a lecherous professor, but in turn takes advantage of Ranmaru's vulnerable state and has his way with him. Though it would be considered an unforgivable act, neither Kei nor Ranmaru hold a grudge against Kai for his actions.

Although when Kai's former bodyguard and next head of the Kansai Shouryuukai, Araki Masanori, shows up to take Kai home, they are quick to dump Kai on him. Masa and Kai, for their part, have an extremely complex history, including an incident that left a scar on Masa's face, and it's clear that the tension between the two is not completely platonic. Even though Kai saw his actions against Ranmaru as saving him from a worse fate, when he experiences his own violent rape at the hands of one of Masa's former lovers he's forced to re-examine his own actions and feelings. Overt time, the feelings between Masa and Kai grow in light of the trauma Kai suffered and Kai is able to make peace with Kei and Ranmaru.... somewhat.

As these two focal couples develop, another minor couple tries to works things out. Tashiro is a trusted ally of the Kansai Shouryuukai, and is hired for a brief period of time to be Kai's bodyguard. A carefree and easy-going person at heart (thoroughly annoying Kai), Tashiro's actual jobskills don't merit for a bodyguard but more as an international assassin. In the course of guarding Kai, he runs into his old teacher and former lover, J.B., who happens to be working for the opposing side. Even after nearly a decade apart, the sexual tension between the two hasn't changed, and they finally reunite in the aftermath of their jobs (Tashiro being the successful one) to become a double team.

Overall, Kizuna itself isn't a typical yakuza series or action series, or even boy's love series. All of these elements are combined into one as each couple faces a new obstacle and overcomes that obstacle based on willpower and the love they feel for their significant other.

Main characters

Enjouji Kei
The illegitimate son of a yakuza boss in Osaka, Kei knew nothing of the yakuza while growing up in Tokyo. His mother, Hotaru, a former geisha, had not wanted her son involved in the yakuza life and ran away before he was born. When she died of lung complications she revealed to him his origins in a letter.

Kei met Ranmaru on their first day of middle school and fell in love with him at first sight. Much to Ranmaru's annoyance Kei pursued him that whole day showing open attraction to him. After showing off some skills during kendo practice Ranmaru invited Kei to his home to practice kendo in his family's dojo. Though Kei showed no interest in kendo they sparred anyway and later shared their first kiss with one another.

While he attended high school, Kei was part of the tea ceremony club. It thoroughly annoyed Ranmaru that Kei showed no interest in joining the kendo club though he had the skills for it. And it was during high school that Kei and Ranmaru took their relationship to the next level. After Hotaru died Ranmaru vowed to take care of Kei. That very same afternoon Ranmaru nearly died saving Kei from an attempted hit on Kei and ended up nearly crippled. The tables now turned, Kei took care of Ranmaru all throughout his recovery while blaming himself for what happened.

Kei is not at all shy about his feelings for Ranmaru. He openly confesses his feelings for him all the time, much to Ranmaru's embarrassment. But he would do anything to be with him and even gives him a wedding ring to marry him. Even though Hotaru shielded him from the yakuza life the yakuza life forced its way into Kei's life anyway, though Kei vehemently keeps his distance from it. For a long while he was in a big conflict with Kai, his younger half-brother for Ranmaru's affections. He sees Kai not only as a spoiled brat trying to steal his lover but an extension of the yakuza life he wants no part of. Nevertheless he does care about his little brother in his own way and tries to keep an eye on him.Samejima Ranmaru
A kendo prodigy and nicknamed the "White Devil" of kendo. Kendo has always run in his family and he's been practicing it for a long time. He ranked at the top of every national game he took part in, thus earning his title for his speed and his strength.

However, up to middle school he didn't really have any friends. All his time and energy was put into kendo. That all changed when he met Kei, who fell immediately in love with him. At first he was taken aback at Kei's straight-forwardness and thoroughly annoyed and disgusted with him. But he was also impressed with him and his rusty kendo skills. He invited Kei back to his house to practice and afterwards they shared a kiss. Though he didn't admit it at first it left quite an impression on him.

In high school he was captain of the kendo team. Kei and him ended up confessing their feelings for one another and took a physical level to their relationship. However, not too long later when he entered the kendo championships Kei learned his mother died. Seeing his lover's distress he vowed to always protect him. He ended up keeping his promise in a big way whena a yakuza hit man tried to run over Kei with a car and Ranmaru pushed him out of the way. The assault left Ranmaru paralyzed on his right side and believing he could never do his beloved kendo again. But after undergoing extensive physical therapy with Kei at his side, he managed to get his limbs moving again with a promising outlook on kendo again.

Ranmaru is completely shy with his feelings, but there is no denying he loves Kei. He's only been able to say the words 'I love you' to Kei once, but luckily Kei understands Ranmaru enough to know how he feels. Like Kei, Ranmaru wants no part of the yakuza life that nearly killed him, though as with Kei the yakuza life forces its way into Ranmaru's. However he takes kindly to Kai though he tries to draw the line when it comes to the younger man's affections. He wants Kei and Kai to have a brotherly relationship without the two of them having such strong animosity towards one another.Sagano Kai
The son of a yakuza boss in Osaka and Kei's younger half brother. Though he was raised in the yakuza environment (known as 'Bon' by his father's cohorts) he has no active role in his father's business. Even Masanori has been assigned as Kai's father's successor when he retires. But Kai doesn't seem to mind this; his dealings with his father are extremely limited and they often fight with each other.

Kai's fighting with his father is linked to the fact that on the day of his mother's funeral when he was a child his father told him all about Hotaru and Kei. Kai saw this other family as the biggest betrayal in the world and has translated this into hatred against Kei. He ends up blaming Kei for a lot of things; he blames Kei for any unease his mother might've felt in death, he blames him for what happened to Ranmaru, etc. Because of so much pent-up anger he seems doomed to always fight with his father and half-brother.

He's very talented in kendo, though his passion for it isn't too high, and it's through kendo that he finds out about Ranmaru. He becomes fixated on him and eventually develops feelings for him. Such feelings end up having him temporarily disowned by his father (who also can't see that Kei and Ranmaru are a couple). But despite his best efforts Kai cannot divert Ranmaru's love from Kei and eventually resigns to having an unrequited love. Later on in the manga he focuses on kendo again and challenges Ranmaru to a huge match and he's able to topple his idol.

Kai's relationship with Masanori is extremely complex. Before Masanori rose in the ranks of the yakuza he was Kai's caretaker, often going with him on outings that parents usually do with children. Kai has always loved the much older man and Masanori has been afraid of his feelings for Kai, not just because of their age difference and their positions but also because of the feelings Masanori once held for Kai's mother. Kai then turned his attention to Ranmaru and scorned Masanori on several occasions, though it was apparent there was something going on between them. However when Kai was ready to put his feelings for Ranmaru behind him and focus on Masanori, he had to practically beat the older man's head in to get his point across. Their relationship is sent into even bigger turmoil when Kai is raped by one of Masanori's scorned lovers and the trauma rears its head when they become intimate with one another. Kai feels very guilty he can't put it behind him but Masanori understands and is willing to take it slow.Araki Masanori
One of the big wig's in one of Osaka's largest yakuza syndicates, he was selected by Sagano himself to take over the business when he retired. The Araki family themselves seem to be situated inside the yakuza lifestyle; Masanori's older brother Hitoshi was a member of the Kazama syndicate in Hana to Ryu. Despite his position Masanori is very protective of his syndicate and everyone who works in it and will not hesitate to deal out punishments when seen fit.

Even with his brother's position he started out at the low ranks as Kai's caretaker. When he started out he fell in love with Kai's mother and was always ashamed of his feelings. He was also very upset by the affair Sagano had with Hotaru, though supposedly Kai's mother never got upset about it publicly. He's always been very protective of Kai but somewhat afraid of the affection Kai held for him. When Kai was a child he brushed it off the feelings as sort of a child love but when Kai still showed those feelings in his early teens it unnerved him and pushed him away. Kai ended up falling in love with Ranmaru and Masanori ended up bedding a few people to forget whatever feelings he might've held for Kai and his mother.

Unfortunately it was one of these bedfellows who ended up causing Kai a lot of hurt as he kidnapped and raped him. Despite their past Masanori wasted no time in killing him in revenge, though Kai pleaded with him not to. This incident seemed to further drive a wedge between them; Masanori felt guilty because the attack was his fault and Kai felt guilty because he felt the scorned lover genuinely loved Masanori. Their relationship was nearly permanently damage until Kai managed to put his feelings for Ranmaru behind him and aggressively pursue a reluctant Masanori.

Though he did not approve of the affair he shows Kei and Ranmaru the highest amount of respect and his loyalty to Sagano is unwavering. He tries to keep his growing relationship with Kai a secret but both of their zealous natures is let known in the presence of Masanori's cohorts (mainly Kyousuke). Despite this he takes their relationship very slowly in light of the trauma Kai suffered.Tashiro
On the surface he's an extremely easy-going Eurasian who makes light of any situation. But in fact he's a well-trained hit man trusted by the Sagano syndicate.

He wasn't always a hit man, though. He use to work at a church/orphanage on land that once belonged to his father, going by his name Roy Karstein-Tashiro. But when one of the girls gets gang-raped and the caretaker won't allow police intervention, he swears revenge. It's around this time Tashiro meets J.B., a trained hit man visiting the church. After a long while he convinces the man to train him to use a gun to be able to protect the kids and the church. During this time Roy thinks he is being trained to kill the guys that raped his friend, he also starts to feel atracted to J.B; in return J.B. tells him that he's there only to learn about guns and that if he is interested in that, he should go look for some of the girls out on the street, but ends up "teaching" the boy how to kiss. When Roy feels he has had enough training and is ready to go kill the ones that raped his friend J.B. tells him that he wasn't training him to kill but to protect. Roy, after hearing this goes into a rage, and goes looking after the guys himself, but ends up nearly dead himself when he hesitates in killing the rapists and J.B. does it for him. After sharing the night together, J.B. disappears from Roy's life with the message for him to find another way to live.

But Roy decides to live as a hit man anyway in hopes of finding J.B. again. His job ends up taking him to Japan, where he is only known by his last name Tashiro (meaning wish in japanese) where the Sagano syndicate hires him out to kill the man who tried to mow down Kei with a car. Tashiro does the deed, but this further incites the wrath of the organization who sought Kei's death. Years later the Sagano syndicate hires him out again, this time to guard Kai from the same organization sending out a fake Kai to do dirty deeds and sully the Sagano name. His upbeat personality annoys the hell out of Kai, who's trying to come to grips with his feelings for both Ranmaru and Masanori. But Tashiro proves to be a very effective bodyguard while tracking Kai and eventually taking out the leader of the opposing organization.

It's during this job that Tashiro runs into J.B. again for the first time in 8 years. Unfortunately J.B. has been putting the Japanese he learned from Tashiro to good use and was hired by the opposing organization. In the end J.B. refuses to follow an order based on his own code and the two are reunited in the aftermath. Recognizing that Tashiro willfully chose the life of a hit man and he'd been looking for him all that time, the two hook up as a double team and do jobs together, while rekindling the flame they once had.J.B.
One of the best hit men in the world. He's very calculating in his jobs and he makes sure to follow through with them. But he's not a bloodthirsty killer; he's constantly ashamed of his profession and he has a strict code as to never harm any children. He had been the one originally hired out to kill Kei, but he refused because of Kei's age.

On one occasion he frequented a church/orphanage after carrying out a job. Here he meets a very overeager Tashiro and becomes quite fond of him. When one of the girls at the orphanage is gang-raped and Tashiro is rearing to kill the men responsible, J.B. hopes to diffuse that notion. But Tashiro won't be silenced and J.B. relents and teaches him how to kill. Truthfully it was suppose to be a diversionary tactic, but Tashiro rushed in to kill the rapists anyway and it was only J.B.'s interference that saved him. J.B. didn't want Tashiro getting involved in such a dark life and even as he took the younger man to bed he was revulsed with himself for corrupting what he considered to be an angel. He ended up leaving Tashiro, hoping the younger man chose a different way of life.

He continues his life as a hit man until he gets a job in Japan to kill Sagano, Masanori, and Tashiro (the one who killed Kei's would-be hit man). Though he accepts the job he's not wiled about killing Tashiro and seeks the younger man out several times to try and get him to leave Japan. But Tashiro won't be deterred either and each attempt to carry out their jobs, though they're on opposing sides. But Tashiro is the only one who does his job, as J.B. can't follow through with an order since Kai (whom he considers a kid) threw himself in front of Masanori as J.B. is set to shoot him.

In the aftermath J.B. confronts Tashiro at the airport and they reunite as lovers again. He seems to have come to terms with the fact that Tashiro chose to be a hit man and they work together as a double team in carrying out jobs.

Trivia

  • Enjouji and Ranmaru first appeared as supporting characters in one of Kodaka's earliest works, Sessa Takuma. Ranmaru's sister Yuki was one of the focal characters in this series, being the love interest of the series hero, Takuma Ban.
  • In volume 3, a transexual character named Rena is introduced. Rena works at a hostess bar called Club Lush with other transsexuals in another yaoi series by Kodaka, Kusatta Kyoushi no Houteishiki. Enjouji even makes a very brief cameo in volume two where he meets Rena for the first time.
  • A 2005 signing of this manga by the author had five hundred fans attend.

External links

Anime Reviews

  • Kizuna, OAV #1, Be Beautiful release, reviewed by K. Avila, Sequential Tart, Sep. 2005
  • Kizuna, OAV #1, Be Beautiful release, reviewed by Summer Queen, Boys on Boys on Film (age 18-plus web site), 2005

Manga Reviews

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