Ai no Kusabi: the Space Between (Light Novel)

Alt title: Ai no Kusabi (Light Novel)

Vol: 8
1986 - 2010
4.062 out of 5 from 111 votes
Rank #2,373
Ai no Kusabi: the Space Between (Light Novel)

In the future, on a distant star lives a new society. Ruled by a computer system named Jupiter, men are divided into classes based on their hair color. The Blondies, genetically altered by Jupiter, are the highest class and occupy the capital city of Tanagura. Those with black hair, Mongrels, are forced to live in the slums, Ceres. Iason, the leader of the Blondies, encounters Riki, a mongrel, in the streets of Ceres one night and sets out to own him.

Source: June

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Minor spoilers in this review. Story: In short, Ai no Kusabi is a yaoi light novel that takes place on the planet Amoi which has a different political and social system than Earth. The story mostly centers on the political and social issues on the planet, as well as the two main characters Riki and Iason’s relationship. Riki lives in the slums (poor parts where there are no laws and no rights – the people from the slums are looked down on by everyone else). He’s the ex-leader of a gang called Bison and is feared and admired by everyone else in the slums. He’s had to fight for his survival his whole life and takes no shit from anyone. Iason is an artificial human who lives in the elite city of Tanagura. He’s one of 12 “Blondies”, the elites feared and admired by everyone (but in a completely different way than Riki), and his status gives him immense power and riches. After a chance encounter the two of them meet and Iason becomes fascinated by Riki’s pride and slum lifestyle. He’s never had anyone talk back to him before, and this peaks an interest. Due to this, Iason decides to go against the norms of Amoi and make Riki his captive. By using both pleasure and pain he does everything he can to tame Riki into obedience, but this turns out to be a lot harder than he first thought. Riki’s unwavering pride and slum background sends Tanagura into chaos – and Iason has to make a choice about what to do with his pet. But the choice that would have been so simple before is suddenly not as easy when the only human part on Iason – his brain – starts experiencing emotions he never knew he had. Riki and Iason’s relationship is not what you would call a healthy one. Some of the things Iason does to Riki are horrible and emotionally traumatising. It became clear to me early on that their relationship is based on sex rather than love – which isn’t that strange considering Iason has never had any reason to try and understand other people or sacrifice anything of his own because of someone else. Some might be put off by this fact, but I liked it that way. Deep down Ai no Kusabi is a tragic story about loss of self and the dark side of human nature. Even if they both start to question their feelings for each other, it never turns into a lovey-dovey romance. I think that’s one of the reasons their relationship is so interesting. Throw in the mix the more sincere and love-based relationship of Riki and his ex-boyfriend Guy, and you got yourself a very compelling story. What makes this story so interesting is the fact that it would work even without the yaoi parts. The world they live in is strong enough to stand on its own, and I loved to experience all the new things and rules of their society. The novel does a great job at explaining all of the social and political rules that apply, and it also makes you question the morality of those rules. The story is very compelling and well thought-out, and the characters are great (more about that below). I didn’t find any plot holes, but there were a few things that could have been explained or explored in greater detail. The story could have benefitted from being longer and more in-depth. Even though most things were thoroughly explored, I would have liked to hear more about the Guardian and the Underworld for example. The ending (even though I personally wished for a different one) was a fitting conclusion to the story. Art: The art in volume 2-6 is okay. The art is well drawn, but the character design of Riki wasn’t my cup of tea. In most illustrations he looks more like a boy than a man, and he’s supposed to be in his late teens, so this was very off-putting to me. Riki is described as muscular with a manly physique, but he’s drawn as a scrawny little boy. Iason and most of the other characters are drawn pretty accurately to their description though, which is good. In volume 1, 7 and 8 the art is much better. The last 2 volumes have really good art, and the first volume is similar to volume 2-6 in style, but Riki looks older and truer to his description. In the last 2 the style changes drastically – and I loved it! Riki looks like his description – handsome and manly (and not 12). Iason looks better as well, and there are just a lot more emotion in their facial features and postures. Characters: There are a lot of characters in this novel, and almost all of them are directly important to the plot. Almost all of the characters’ have a good background, but because there are so many of them, some were introduced and later forgotten. Since no one wants to read 4000 words of character description, I’ve decided to narrow it down to the most important ones. Riki: Riki is my favourite characters from this novel. He’s strong, proud and badass, but sometimes he shows a more pure and vulnerable side. His pride is his biggest trait. It’s what drives him forward and prevents him from giving up or going insane. It’s what makes him so attractive to both the reader and the other characters in the story. Riki has a lot of dimension and a great backstory that explains why he acts the way he does. After everything he went through he never seized to surprise me. Iason: There’s a lot of reasons to dislike Iason; he’s selfish, ruthless and finds pleasure in other peoples’ pain. However, there’s no denying Iason is a great character. His character development is amazing I always found it really interesting to read about his inner thoughts and feelings. Whenever Iason shows up, you always get the feeling that anything can happen. He’s like Riki in that sense; he never seizes to surprise. Iason hardly ever loses his composure and his sense of authority is strong. Katze: Katze is a character that, in the beginning, seems unimportant, but later turns out to be very important to the story. He has a horrifying backstory that can explain literally every move he makes. He stays strong and untouchable, giving off a distant vibe. It’s like he doesn’t belong anywhere and nothing can faze him. Katze is a very unique character that is hard to forget. Guy: Riki’s ex-boyfriend and second in command of their old gang Bison, Guy is the only one Riki has truly felt connected to on a deeper level. He’s composed and intelligent, and his slum life has made him strong both physically and mentally. Guy is a genuinely good person that tries to understand everyone. He doesn’t let his pride stand in the way, and he’s willing to sacrifice everything for the person he loves if need be. In a sense, Guy is a very normal guy, but at the same time, he’s unique. Writing: I feel like I have to add another category to this review – the writing. I read the novel in English and I don’t know how much was lost in translation, but I feel like the writing is below average and nothing close to a professional work. The language used is mostly good (if you ignore the grammar mistakes), but sometimes it feels like the writer is trying to use more fancy words than he can muster, and this distracts more from the story than a simpler language would have. For example, during some of the sex scenes there are WAY too many metaphors used, which I'm personally not a fan of.  Words like “his flowery bud opening its petals” takes away from the rawness that the writer has previously conveyed of the scene. The writer also seemed to forget previous information. For example, there’s a part of the story where a person is held captive for 2 weeks, but later on they say it was 6 months. Clearly an error that can be forgiven, but it’s annoying when it happens again and again. The structuring is also problematic. There are a lot of sudden time jumps and time gaps (especially in the first volume) that makes it hard to follow what’s happening and when. The novel can jump back and forth 3 years or more multiple times in the same paragraph, and sometimes the scenes jumping back and forth aren’t even connected to each other. It just feels out of place. The most disappointing thing of all though, is how little time and depth was dedicated to some very important scene. Some scenes are written exceptionally well, but others feel extremely rushed. One of the scenes that feels rushed is – unfortunately – the ending. I was so disappointed in how the ending was written. It is one of the most important and impactful scenes of the story, but because of how it is written it didn’t manage to bring out any emotion in me. The final epilogue brought out more emotion in me than the last chapter – and that’s not how it was meant to be. Overall: Should you read this? If you want a dark and emotional story very unlike the cheesy, lovey-dovey stuff normally found in yaoi – then yes, you should read this. Even if you usually don’t like yaoi I still recommend you read it unless you’re really off-put by the sex scenes (which are very graphic btw). It’s one of the more unique stories I’ve ever read or experienced, and I want more people to experience it as well. The writing, as you can see, put me off quite a bit, and it's essentually the reason I didn't give it a higher score. On a side note, it can be very hard to find the volumes. Almost everywhere I look they’re out of stock, or very expensive. There’s also no free manga site you can read it on, so if you really want to read it – it might be hard to find a way to do it. However, there are ways to find scanned versions on the internet if you look hard enough, but I still recommend you buy the volumes if you can. Otherwise, there are two animes based on this light novel if you’re interested. The first one is made up of 2 episodes of about 1 hour each, and the second one is a remake consisting of 4 episodes. It was supposed to be a 12 episode anime, but the studio ran out of money and unfortunately it never finished. I personally recommend you to read the light novel first, since the anime can be hard to follow otherwise.

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