Released by Seven Seas Entertainment, Syundei’s Total Eclipse of the Eternal Heart centers one Hoshino Terumichi, a young man who’s fallen in love with his classmate, Yamada Omihito, a boy he describes as a “devilish beauty”. Teased in school for their apparent relationship, Hoshino enjoys spending time with Yamada, but constant nightmares of boys being murdered at the hands of a man named “Sensei” plague him. Things take a turn when Hoshino realizes that Yamada may have more connection to his dreams than first expected…
Total Eclipse, which borrows heavily from the ero-guro style which arose in late-Taisho Japan, is not one for the faint of heart. Murder, sexual assault, and pedophilia are all present in this book, something which would understandably turn-off many a reader. While it’d be a stretch to call any of this behavior glorified, there’s certainly some level of gratification in its portrayal. Much as in the original ero-guro stories, Syundei takes a great deal of delight in portraying the obscene, shocking the senses in a way that makes us question our relation to a world in which these things really do occur.
The hard question here is whether or not it does so with enough tact or purpose to make it worthwhile. Without a doubt, the material here is not worth writing off merely because of its obscenity. The victims of “Sensei” are portrayed in a sympathetic manner across the book and manage to both get their revenge for the abuse they’ve suffered and, more importantly, to create fulfilling lives outside of that. Their need for revenge, while a supernatural device which plays within the ero-guro trappings of the manga, allows for a catharsis which victims of abuse rarely get, without cutting off their chance to reach some degree of happiness, which victims do often get the chance to do. Furthermore, the drama between the two main characters carries a frighteningly alluring ambiguity to it, one which would propel any reader not turned off by the premise to read without breaks.
On the other hand, that doesn’t erase the fact that this work still clearly takes some pleasure in the situation its characters are put through, perhaps a bit more than is wise. There’s a number of sex scenes, and while none of the rape is ever portrayed in detail, there’s a bitterness even to the sex that is consensual; this isn’t necessarily a negative point for all readers, and I have to admit that I enjoy such a thing myself, but it’s a notable fact that none of the sex here is entirely pleasant, something you have to take or leave. This also isn’t an “educational” or “representative” queer manga; the point of queerness here is for its ambiguity, not because it’s important to present queer people accurately. That said, this comes from a mangaka who made a far cuter and more straightforward work about the gays already, and there’s certainly value in having these types of shlocky works portray queer characters rather than purely normative ones, as long as they don’t implicate gay people as fundamentally wrong in doing so.
This is, in all, a manga that I really enjoyed. It was a real page-turner, with a strong grasp on how to make ero-guro fiction work, and I think it did manage to pull out some useful threads on abuse and the way systems of oppression increase that abuse for queer people. Yet, I can’t ignore the fact that for many readers, it’ll simply be a bit too gratuitous. Syundei’s art is fantastic, and the writing does exactly what it intends, but I question if its intentions are for most people. If its subject matter sounds up your alley, you’ll probably love it, but I’d be sure to do some research before you make this purchase.
On Monday, I’ll be reviewing volume 1 of Witch Hat Atelier!