Copernicus No Kokyuu by Asumiko Nakamura

"Eventually I'll break off from the swing,
and become a constellation."

A truly magnificent and perplexing yaoi manga, The Breath of Copernicus (Coponicus No Kokyuu) written and illustrated by Asumiko Nakamura is both dark and enchanting, something of a fairy-tale in its trance-like pacing and gothic appeal. This isn't your average yaoi story at all. Nothing about it is for the sake of fanservice, which was a most thrilling shock for me. Of the finalized list of BL-GL mangas I plan to read this 2016, Coponicus is something I only stumbled upon by chance during downloads of certified recommended yaoi online. 

I didn't know what to expect when I first skimmed through the pages, but the visuals did stand out immediately upon browsing. I think Nakamura's artistic style is what really made reading this manga particularly hypnotic. There are many amazing character composition and landscape in her visuals that are just damn impressive. With a sparse total of only two volumes, The Breath of Copernicus is a worthwhile read filled with symbolic significance that someone with a morbid fascination for dark fairy-tales can't possibly resist. 

In fact, the boy-love element of this manga isn't nearly as pivotal, and more or less focuses on themes of personal liberation, quest for identity and community, and recovery from sexual and emotional trauma. Each of these elements have a hefty serving in the story itself, and worth paying attention to. Story-wise, it's an imperfect one. As intriguing as the sum of all its parts ultimately produce, certain aspects of the narrative are weak and baffling. That being said, it's been an incredible reading experience for me, and it could be for you too.

Without giving away too much, the basic premise is this: A traveling circus owned by a deranged ringmaster sells his employees for purposes of sexual exploitation. The protagonist is named Bird's Nest, an eighteen-year-old pretty boy who used to be an acrobat but has now retired to your average clown. He was terribly introverted and fragile, mostly consumed by memories of his brother's death during a performance in the tightrope, and haunted by delusions of said late brother who would often even serve as his alter-ego. 

Later on, Bird's Nest became the center of attention for a rich elderly man who bought him off from the circus to become his in-house lover. There he encounters the rich man's sadistic wife hired to be his tutor, and then falls in love with the wife's younger brother who looked so much like Bird's Nest own sibling whom he lost long ago. The story unfolds as a fascinating, topsy-turvy experience that follows Bird's Nest and his struggle for identity, absolution and independence. Whatever flaws Nakamura may have in her plot, it was more than made up by her atrociously splendid artwork. Here are some pages I loved:

This was a gothic fairy-tale at its core, both haunting and haunted depending on the point of view and perspective the reader would take. I thoroughly enjoyed the metaphors used to impart the author's message. It's very easy to immerse yourself in its characters and setting because Nakamura knows how to capture atmosphere and mood with the art. The story may dwindle every now and then because of some panels that are often hard to figure out, but Nakamura will maintain reader's interest because the themes about sexual exploitation and destruction of self are powerful and striking enough to warrant your undivided attention. The Breath of Copernicus is almost like the yaoi manga version of the recent movie Black Swan, particularly on how Nakamura depicted one's obsession with one's unrequited passion like Bird's Nest and his desire to become an acrobat again and transcend that. He has to destroy and recreate himself in the process, as well as lose the ones who tie him down.

I could call this manga as a story about the victory of individualism over external controls, but it's also a cautionary tale about what pushing yourself to the limits could do to you both in the best and worst of circumstances. As a yaoi manga, there are sex scenes included in the pages but they were mostly vaguely or symbolically illustrated as oppose to something concretely rendered. In fact, I think all of the characters here are pansexual since they mostly engage with each other frequently regardless if they are male or female or something in between. Nothing about the sexual encounters is drawn for fanservice, and are mostly likely there to serve as a plot devices that reveal something hidden or nasty about the characters themselves. Most of these sexual scenes also lean on deviancy and depravity, placing characters in stressful situations that either break their spirit, or allow them to contemplate about higher ideals in a moment of utter despair.

This could be something one can enjoy and consume for leisurely reading, but be warned that it's rather disturbing and off-putting in a lot of places too. There is happy ending of sorts near the end of the story, and maybe it's even enough to undo the permeating darkness and pain that The Breath of Copernicus has cast upon in the earlier issues. Reading Bird's Nest and his calvary is very much like walking on a tightrope yourself where gravity is inevitable and crash-landing is probably the only way out of it. I can very much recommend this not just to yaoi enthusiasts looking for something daring, but also to anyone who likes fucked-up stories that focus on sexual savagery with a bittersweet twist. 



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