The Ties That Bind
Join Animefringe as we explore Kazuma Kodaka's masterpiece of yaoi--Kizuna!
Ranmaru ("Ran") Samejima was a normal high school student with a promising future in kendo, until a fateful rainy night when Ran saves his best friend Kei Enjoji from being fatally struck by a car -- a move meant to placate Kei's yakuza kingpin of a father. Hospitalized, Ran makes Kei promise not to seek revenge, as that would be the first step down his father's path of blood. In return, Kei promises to protect Ran forever. It's an opening that could belong to any of your average fighters, but one that's no less prolific. What sets it apart? Well, perhaps the whole manly protection part might be your first clue that Kizuna is a story of a slightly more romantic nature.
Three years later, the boys are secret live-in lovers attending college together. Ran, who only feels now the occasional twinge in his legs, has a new part-time job as a professor's assistant. The professor takes out Ran after work for a drink at a gay host bar in Shinjuku, and then he drugs Ran's oolong tea with the intent of date rape. Luckily, Ran is saved by a former younger kendo champion fighter, Kai Sagano. Later on, Kei puts the pieces together and realizes that Kai is his younger half-brother, the son of the yakuza boss' wife (Kei's mother was a mistress). Kai has a lot of issues with Kei, mainly for being the elder and all that it entails... and for having Ran. Apparently, Kai has always admired Ran, so he joined the kendo club to get to know him better. Thus the love triangle begins, except Kai never really has a chance for Ran's heart, as it already strongly belongs to Kei, and Ran views Kai simply as his lover's brother and as a friend. Additionally, Kai soon finds someone else to love.
"Kizuna" is a Japanese word that indicates a type of mental linkage between people, such as friendship or a family tie. If the theme of Kizuna can be defined into a single concept, then that is it. The focus is more on relationships and maintaining them than the thinly-veiled hentai or pathetic theme of doomed love that commonly occurs in other yaoi series. It's quite refreshing to read or watch a story that doesn't seem to push a sex scene every other second, and in what sex scenes that do exist, we are not made to view every physical detail or feel the uke's painful violation by the seme. Instead, we get the feeling of genuine tenderness between the lovers. The characters have a true connection with each other, which leads to many comedic and emotional scenes. In the end, however, everyone stays together, proving to the world that the love that they share is solid and true. "Love burns greater when there are more obstacles," Kei asserts to Kai in the OVA.
The manga, Kizuna: Bonds of Love by Kodaka Kazuma, was first published in 1992 in BeBoy Gold, a bimonthly yaoi magazine. The majority of the chapters are self-contained stories, so the manga can be picked up from almost any point with little confusion. Kazuma is very detailed in her artwork, especially with faces, expressions and character clothing, although sometimes issues arise with proportions. Sizes and angles will look slightly off in some panels.
The relationship between Ran and Kei is the central story that we return to again and again, but there are two other gay couples that feature in the manga more than the anime. They consist of Kai and his bodyguard, Masa in a relationship that sits uneasily with many readers, being that Masa has known and cared for Kai since he was a small child and he has some physical resemblance to Kei, and J.B. and Tashiro. Tashiro is introduced late in the series as Masa's friend and Kai's bodyguard, thus the focus lies more on the other two pairings.
The first three translated volumes are currently available from Be Beautiful, the yaoi imprint of Central Park Media, with the fourth volume due to be released in early October. Additionally, Be Beautiful is releasing the 1994 three-part OVA series, the first two episodes formerly available from Ariztical. The first DVD is available now, with the second OVA due in October. As Kizuna was the first commercially released yaoi anime, it only seems natural to re-release this classic, now that yaoi is emerging from the shadows of import-only entertainment from Japan.
There is some plot differences between the manga and OVA. In the manga, Kei is fairly ignorant of his familial yakuza connection and that the hit-and-run accident was no accident. That revelation occurs in the second volume of the manga, as opposed to the first OVA. Kai presents himself first as at college as a rival to Kei for Ran's love, and then he attempts to take advantage of Ran's drugged state at the host bar. As seen in many manga adaptations, the Kizuna anime is a somewhat milder version of the manga, so if you're new to yaoi and the idea of gay love, you might want to try the anime before picking up the manga.
If you are wondering what the fascination of yaoi among women is, look no further. Kizuna is a prime example of yaoi at its best, with its realistic and complex relationships, where jealousy and insecurity co-exist with sweet gestures of love. Don't let the concept of the two principal characters being men stop you from experiencing a romantic tale that will sweep you off your feet.