A love hotel, the adult film industry, and a high school aged uke… sounds like the set up for a really sleazy, cliche boys love series. But don’t let the synopsis fool you, Castle Mango written by Narise Konohara and illustrated by Muku Ogura is a surprisingly heartfelt read. A hidden gem in an otherwise sex heavy genre, Castle Mango is a breath of fresh air!
The series follows Yorozu Shirosaki, a studious high schooler whose family runs the love hotel, Castle Mango, where for a few hours, couples come to let off some steam. Yorozu sometimes helps run the front desk, but otherwise keeps his family’s business a secret from the rest of the world. His “quiet” life is interrupted when an adult film director, Togame, decides to use Castle Mango as the set of their next porno shoot and he is mistaken for one of the “extras” in the film. Embarrassed and ticked off, he vows to give the director a wide berth, but when it seems like Togame has his eyes set on his younger brother, Yorozu devises a plan. So, he tricks a drunk Togame into believing they slept together, in hopes of diverting his attention. Yorozu thought it would be enough to scare Togame off, he never imagined Togame would actually ask him to be his BOYFRIEND?!
If you just read the synopsis on the back cover, you’d probably think Castle Mango is just another trashy smut filled boys love title. I myself almost passed up on this series because the synopsis, but June (the English language publisher) was having a sale and I figured two volumes wouldn’t be too much of a loss if I didn’t like the series… so I bought it and I haven’t regretted it since.
Castle Mango is truly a gem of a series, it’s not the tawdry affair the synopsis would have you believe it is, rather it’s a cute slice of life romance that just happens to have characters working in or around the porn industry. Even the love hotel where Yorozu lives (and sometimes works) is surprisingly devoid of actual sex. In fact aside from some intense kissing and one light sex scene at the end of volume 2, Castle Mango doesn’t really focus too much on the porn industry or sex at all for that matter. Instead, all of the “risque” stuff is always in the periphery of the narrative. Yorozu just happens to live in a love hotel and Togame just happens to be an adult film director, it’s a part of who they are as characters, but not their defining characteristic. Which is refreshing, since most BL series would have done the complete opposite, relying on the shock value alone to carry the story. However, by defining the characters first, Castle Mango gives the story so much more substance and comes off less gimmicky.
This is a short series, only two volumes so Castle Mango has to cover a lot of ground in just a short amount of time, and for the most part it does a fairly good job of pacing the story. The first half of the series focuses on the budding relationship between Togame and Yozoru. We see Togame trying to court Yozoru, despite the latter’s reluctance and straight up rejection. It’s not something we haven’t seen before but, where another series would have just had the seme push the uke down and commenced with the sexy times, Togame doesn’t pressure Yorozu or cross any boundaries.
When Yorozu says he doesn’t want to have sex, Togame stops, he even agrees to wait until Yorozu is of age (he’s 17 in the manga) and comfortable sleeping with him. I can’t tell you how rare that is for a BL series, but I respect the choice because it gives us a chance to get to see the characters build their relationship without sex being involved. This is also huge, because Togame is openly gay and Yorozu’s sexuality isn’t even mentioned (though he was never interested in men before meeting Togame) and rather than have Togame groom Yorozu into the perfect gay lover, instead he takes things slow. A bit too slow at times, but it’s a natural progression that I didn’t expect from such a short series. However, because of this the ending, while satisfying, seems rushed and formulaic. This is one of those series that really could have done with a few more chapters to round things out a bit more. This is one of the few BL manga that I desperately would love a sequel for, because I really want to spend more time with these characters.
As far as the main pair goes, Yorozu and Tagame are extremely likable and relatable, they each have clear cut goals and motivations outside of their relationship and we get to see them interact with a wide array of side characters throughout the series. Yorozu, is a studious high school student that has had to deal with a lot as the “man of the house” as well as the stigma people have about his family’s business. He isn’t ashamed of his family’s love hotel, in fact he wants to run it one day and we see him actually working hard to think of ways to drum up business and support his mother and younger brother.
A large part of the latter half of the series is dedicated to him struggling to keep the business and his family afloat after his mother gets sick and damnit if I didn’t feel for the kid, because he is just so earnest about everything. Then you have Togame, who directs porn films, but really just wants to be a legitimate film director. But, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t give it his all with porn, he doesn’t do things by half measures and despite his less than respectable profession, he really cares about the work he does. Which is what really gets Yorozu to change his mind about Togame, they’re surprisingly very similar to one another.
Castle Manga is one of those series that really takes the time to build a story around it’s characters and not the other way around, which makes for a much more engaging experience. Of course that isn’t to say that this manga isn’t without its shortcomings, but it’s easy to overlook them in light of all the things Castle Mango does right! If you are looking for a short, slice of life boys love series with a quirky premise and delightfully human characters, Castle Mango is the manga for you. This is the perfect title for a newbie looking for a good first BL title to cut their teeth on and long time BL fans will enjoy the nice relaxing story…
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