This book marked Kano Miyamoto's debut to professional BL manga publishing. While she still did and does draw a lot of self-published works through her Curve doujinshi circle (one of which, Vanity, surprisingly and happily appears in this volume), Lovers and Souls was the first introduction many people had to her work, and as a first effort she succeeded wonderfully. Like many of Miyamoto's manga endeavors, Lovers and Souls is both beautiful and tragic, showing both the best and the worst in human beings. Her characters are flawed, often more than a bit strange, but always unmistakably "human."
Toru Shinomiya, an art college student and described as "like a blank piece of paper" is a young man who, while having much experience in the world, is unable to understand it or relate to it on a personal level. That is, until he meets Satoshi Matsuoka, a graduate student and professional photographer. What started out as a job modelling for Matsuoka becomes much more complex when he offers Shinomiya money to sleep with him. Shinomiya, finding himself fascinated by the experience, spirals down a path of selling himself to other men, even though he is supposedly straight, all the while finding himself inexplicably drawn closer to Matsuoka and feelings that he still can't quite grasp. The story takes a somber and emotional turn, however, so those looking for a "happy ending" are going to be disappointed with this offering.
The book also includes the first appearance of Hikaru Taira, a main character in Miyamoto's Hydra (a doujinshi series predating this story's timeline) and Rules (taking place after this story, and alluded to in this book a couple of times when Hikaru introduces Toru to Atori). Hikaru is one of my very favorite BL characters (mostly because we share the same occupation, though Deux sort of botched the panel where that is revealed) and right away his differences in personality from Toru's are made evident. He does not sell himself for money nor does he approve of others doing it, though he finds himself drawn into Toru's energetic world regardless. Not much about Hikaru is revealed in this short piece of this universe's story, however. That will have to wait for a hopefully future license of Miyamoto's works.
The main story only comprises about 2/3 of the whole book and the last third contains a short one-shot story about two high school friends who become friends-with-benefits after one, Nozaki, comes out to the other, Kai. Kai becomes inexplicably curious about Nozaki's lifestyle and Nozaki himself, even though he's never once been attracted to another man before. This story is classic Kano Miyamoto, and helps balance the sadness in the end of Lovers and Souls with a touching story of love, loss and the rebirth of emotions.
Deux did a pretty solid localization of this book. I have yet to own a work they have localized that I thought was messy or inadequate. I was also both surprised and thrilled to see that they had included the doujinshi, Vanity, in this published volume, as it was never released with the story in the original Japanese publication (only released as one of many self-published stories in the Rules universe). If this is some kind of allusion to the future publication of Rules in English, I am nothing short of ecstatic and wait on the edge of my seat for news on the subject.
I highly recommend this book to fans of "realistic" BL stories. There are no fantasy elements (no magic or vampires), no male characters who are basically women with male parts and no expectations for the reader to simply accept that two characters inexplicably "fall in love" with each other "happily-ever-after." All of the characters are very complex, and while the word "love" might get thrown out, it is never done so out of nowhere or as many BL stories fall into the trap of, to "solve" all of the characters' (and by extension, story's) problems, instead being reserved for highly emotional, pivotal moments in storytelling. In Miyamoto's mangas, as in life, problems aren't solved just because the words are spoken, and even the happy endings leave room for emotional growth. Kano Miyamoto is one of my favorite BL mangaka and I hope that others will be able to appreciate her work as much as I do.