Filled with heart-thumping drama, Yakuza Lover Vol.1 is a dizzying ride bound to get readers hot under the collar. The romance that unfolds in the first volume is decorated with shy, blushy moments, but make no mistake: the story quickly and consistently sheds its innocence, giving way to a steamy love affair. Such an eager shift into the lustful excitement leaves the story feeling a bit rushed and shallow in the romance department, but that hasty pace isn't without its merits.
20-year-old protagonist Yuri is a college student on the search for real love, not interested in wasting time with any of the vapid boys in her class. Though she’s model-status beautiful, she’s no delicate flower: When she and her friend encounter a dodgy crew of drug pushers at a party, the headstrong gal makes it known that she refuses to be trifled with. Despite this bravery, Toshiomi Oya, an underboss of a Yakuza syndicate, swoops in to save her; she catches his eye, and the two experience an irresistible spark of attraction.
Oya is a chivalrous gentleman, offering his coat and protection and insisting she can use his business card as a kind of shield. As their bond deepens, he reveals himself as a very charming and doting partner, but he's not always a softie. Despite his initial politeness, the Yakuza boss is very forward with his erotic interest in Yuri and doesn’t hesitate to make this known. Moreover, the threatening gentleman certainly has a dark side as he handles dangerous Yakuza situations.
After meeting Oya, Yuri can’t stop thinking about him, but she’s warned to let him go because he’s too dangerous. As much as she tries to convince herself she’s not into bad boys like him, she simply can’t settle her impulse to see him again or to at least thank him for his heroic and kind actions.
Upon reunion, their story of attraction only picks up pace, with the two having very physical reactions to being in each other's presence. From there, Yakuza Lover plays on many romantic tropes like desperate pining, spicy yet often silly jealousy, and passionate professions of love. While there are undertones of fear concerning Oya’s business with the Yakuza, the manga is teeming with sunny and playful moments from everyday life. Yuri’s acceptance of him, regardless of the danger, deepens his affections, but the dread of losing him proves hard to bear. Yuri asserts her saucy attitude at times, but her character tends to fluctuate as she shows her vulnerability.
Those looking for an emotional slow burn, however, will not be impressed with Yakuza Lover. Things heat up fast and they don’t slow down. Void of real meaningful conversations building up to romance, Yakuza Lover doesn’t specialize in exploring much beyond carnal and clichéd relationship desires. This lack of depth doesn’t mean the relationship can’t be compelling, just that it lacks subtlety.
On the other hand, those seeking a zesty and, at times, cute affair will certainly feel fulfilled. For daydreaming girls, Yakuza Lover certainly indulges all sorts of wild fantasies from pampering to pleasuring. An exhilarating dive into that first, intense sensual connection with a partner can make for an enjoyable read.
Another appealing element is the intricate art panels designed by the story writer Nozomi Mino. Their style consists of many tall, thin bodies, with big doe eyes glistening in a starstruck gaze. The clothing design is lovely as well, with long slender dresses matched with voluptuous curls or meaningful accessories. When the temperature turns up, the clothes do come off, but not without leaving a bit to your imagination. Readers get a close look at Oya's badass tattoos on his exposed chest, but a fair amount of the romping is classily left under the sheets.
Overall, Yakuza Lover Vol. 1 gives you a pleasing bite of raunchiness without forgoing the youthful butterflies that come in the early stages of love. Lacking a bit of the “get to know you” phase, the romance is far from substantial, but sometimes that slow connection isn’t what readers are looking for anyway -- especially when it’s hard to wait for a fun, intimate entanglement.