Mangaka: Aki Aoi
Publisher: Seven Seas (@gomanga)
WHAT IS IT?
A collection of botanical and beastly boys’ love short stories.
Think of your favorite fairytales such as Beauty and The Beast with a queer twist.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
When Marcel’s younger sister is injured while gathering herbs in the forest, the young man finds himself standing face to face with a fearsome beast named Giselbert. The towering creature offers to assist in exchange for a favor that he will come to claim on the day of his sister’s wedding. Now, ten years later, Marcel steels himself for death at the hands of the beast, only to discover that all Gisel truly desired was company in his isolated mansion in the woods. The two souls begin to bond and discover that they may not be as different as they initially thought.
Entangled With You: The Garden of 100 Grasses features several botanical-based narratives beyond Marcel and Gisel’s. Soft and sweet moments are highlighted by the presence of ghosts and mushrooms, fables and flora, and the journeys shared between men both as friends and partners. With stories of adventure, romance, and plant-heavy themes, this beautiful collection of Aki Aoi’s boys’-love-centered tales is an absolute delight.
Aoi’s artwork is stunning. The incredible, tiny details in the plant life and architecture highlight the fairytale feeling of the stories, and whisks readers away to a magical world full of nature and wonder. The characters are beautifully rendered and emotive, with soft features and expressions that add to the serene sense of the manga.
Each individual tale is unique, but contains enough theming and floral-focused bits and bobs to tie the collection together in a cohesive manner. It truly feels akin to curling up with your favorite childhood fable: it’s comforting and familiar but is vastly original in its storytelling.
The genuine sense of coziness and whimsy in the artwork and narratives makes this collection an instant favorite that is highly needed in the BL genre, which can often lean into the dark-and-heavy category. A light one-shot such as this is a joy to read.
There's a small, easy-to-miss detail that I really appreciated in the form of tiny floral prints near the page numbers. Each one is different and it's such a clever and aesthetic way to make something so mundane and forgettable feel special.
The team at Seven Seas ensured that all of the font choices were legible and fit the bubbles appropriately, as well as stand out against darker backgrounds so they don't get lost against the artwork. Even the small wording on the postcard backs used to cap off each chapter was designed to look hand-written and those easy-to-overlook details are really appreciated.
The main focal story of Marcel and Gisel is a wonderful piece of storytelling. It truly is the highlight of the collection, and manages to tell a cohesive and full story in a mere 80 pages that quickly became a favorite for me to return to.
The chapter titled Corrosion was my personal favorite of the collection. It tells a gripping body-horror-adjacent story that stuck with me profoundly after reading. Though it's one of the shorter pieces at only 11 pages, it was definitely a stark contrast from the other pieces, and has a gasp-worthy ending that's sure to please.
The two-part story at the end, Along The Way, is reminiscent of a fan-favorite BL title called Our Not-So-Lonely-Planet Travel Guide and follows the two protagonists as they travel to a far-off land to see a migration of birds. It is a heartwarming and charming story that is the perfect example of how to craft a meaningful and well-developed story that wraps up cleanly in only a handful of pages.
I love how different all of the sub-genres are from story to story. It has everything from body-horror to ghost tales to monsterromance, and Aoi managed to handle each one with a natural flair, showcasing the diversity in their storytelling abilities.
All of the romantic plots are so soft and almost sheepish, everything is delicate and PG, limited to hand-holding and romantic conversations, and it 100% works with the tone and pacing of the manga. It’s simply delightful and leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
The marketing and back synopsis only talk about Marcel and Gisel’s story, but their tale is wrapped up in the first three chapters (though it is the biggest part of the manga, taking up 80 of the 175 pages). While the rest of the entries are enjoyable, it is highly misleading when you’re expecting a full manga about them, only to have it abruptly switch to another story.
Like many other one-shot manga titles, especially ones that contain several stories, it does suffer from the lack of ability to breathe and develop some of the shorter individual narratives. These are all well-written and have fairly good arcs, but you are left wanting more from a few of the pieces.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
BL collections like this are becoming increasingly popular among readers, especially for fans of BL and GL content, and Entangled With You: The Garden of 100 Grasses is a perfect addition to any collection. The gorgeous artwork and plant-heavy stories make this a cozy, comforting read with a wonderfully positive and uplifting aesthetic. The various time periods, charming fictional settings, and dynamic characters with bright personalities and expressive features, all cement Aki Aoi's collection as a must-have for any frequent reader of slice-of-life fantasy.
With bits of light monsterromance, a pinch of apothecary charm, a small dash of eco-horror, and a sense of wanderlust seeping through the pages, this collection is a wonderful entry point for new BL readers and a refreshing light read for long-time fans. Even non-BL fans will find this title enjoyable, as the draw of the work Aoi created will instantly captivate anyone who loves fairytales and rich worlds filled with breathtaking landscapes and curious characters.
HOW DO I READ IT?
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