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IDK what people know about this ancestor of modern BL - I somehow knew about Kaze to Ki no Uta, but not about this one, which is actually published in English and all. The family resemblance is clear to see, at any rate: psychologically tortured boys have homoromantic bonding with fellow pupils in boys' only boarding schools set in some nebulous Past Europe, all rendered in flowing seventies shoujo panels, Bambi eyes and with flowers as a recurring background element. And like Kaze, The Heart of Thomas is striking - in comparison to modern mainstream BL - in that they are actually good.

A friend recced it, I got a hold of the English version, which is an interesting case: It's treated seriously. None of the big English manga publishers had picked it up by 2011, and Wikipedia tells me that the ones who did put it out are aiming at the hoity-toity comic market. So it's in a considerably bigger format than usual manga is, three tankobon collected in one hardback volume, coloured pages and all, with an introduction of its conception and influence. A classic, indeed.

The story goes as such: On the first few pages, thirteen year old Thomas Werner jumps to his death from a railway bridge, and will henceforth only exist in vague flashbacks and the fond memories of his schoolmates. But Thomas, the little minx, has made sure that he will live forever in the heart of the year older Juli Bauernfeind, to whom he posted a letter proclaiming his love on the day of the jump. Juli claims that he doesn't care about Thomas ill-fated life choices, but he clearly cares a lot when a New Transfer Student with a striking resemblance to Thomas enters the stage two weeks later. That student is Erich Frühling, who has his own family issues to deal with and is not amused by being compared to some dead kid by everyone around him. And I feel compelled to mention the existence of Oskar, who is Juli's roomate and the King of Chill and very possibly the only one who knows the entire sad story of what really happened.

Secrets are exposed, sad pasts are healed, dead parets exist galore all over; it's all quite, quite shoujo in content, with its only unique part being that it's about boys who proclaim their love of other boys, which is why the most beloved anime of 2016 contains the singular selling point of naked manbutts and platonic engagement rings or someshit slapped onto a sorry excuse of a sports story. The BL genre is exists in a fascinating intersction with western slash fandom, so for people who are honestly interested in knowing a bit of manga history and international anime fandom, reading The Heart of Thomas will shed some light on where it all began.

As said above, what surprised with this is that it really is good - because I've come to expect BL to at best be "passable but cute". With the caveat that the BL I'm familiar with is the titles that have been some degree of mainstream in the west, it hasn't exactly been a genre that has made me want to pursue it further. But both Thomas and Kaze have a lot of psychological drama happening, and use a expressionistic-ish layout that foregrounds its mental aspects even further and also is somehow quite interesting to look at without feeling overtly pretentious the way I've often felt like rolling my eyes when western works attempt the same. It works, and while my memory of Kaze says that that one was better, Thomas has by all means a lot of the same things that made Kaze stand out to me, and a... well, less controversial content, let's leave it there. Overlooking all the oddly accepted homosexuality running all over, it's downright family friendly in comparison.

But, but: I'm not sure I'll claim this for the Great Art club either - which, granted, I rarely do with comics and even rarer still with manga (I'm pretty sure my personal list there would be Hikago, Nausicaä, and debatably Emma). The story is psychologically sound, as said, but on a foundation which is pretty standard melodrama except it's with boys. It's a kind of melodrama that I have a hard time seeing happening between teenage boys at all, certainly in 1950-ish Germany; the story fascinated me, but was firmly set in the category of "silly fantasy". Add to that any clear themes beyond overcoming painful experiences and learning to accept the affection that others want to give you, and you've got something that is worth it for being well made, but not for being profound.

I'd say to read it, at any rate. It is thoroughly well-crafted and far from boring, and those are the most important criteria by which I personally chose my entertainment.
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