Summary: Kendo star Ranmaru struggles to redefine himself after a crippling auto accident; Enjouji struggles to distance himself from his yakuza bloodline, and keep Ran-chan happy. The two would probably be very comfortable with their "opposites attract" relationship by now if not for the entrance of Enjouji's half-brother (and bratty heir to the mafia family) Kai, who is determined to keep his big brother miserable, amongst some other meddlesome plans. Add in Masa, the junior boss of the Sagano clan, whose primary duty seems to be babysitting Kai, and things really get interesting. Many different plotlines come and go, but remember... it's a kendo manga. Trust me, you'll forget anyway.
Makoto's Notes: Kizuna is, to me, a great big character study with plot liberally sprinkled here and there. The somewhat-forced plot devices are never as enthralling as the simple interaction between the main 4 characters, to whom I've grown extremely attached over the years. Don't read the series for the kendo or the mafia or the Nifty Action Sequences. Read it because it's nearly impossible not to adore the boys and all their quirks.
The series is Kodaka-sensei's pride and joy, the culmination of her doujinshika years of yakuza stories blended with a heaping spoonful of angst, humor, and extremely likable characters. The series has given her superstar status amongst current female mangaka, as Kizuna regularly appears on bestseller's lists. There's a very good reason for her popularity, but it took a few volumes for her to break the shounen-ai mold of the day and make this story a lasting one. The beginning is rough, in art and story, relying on what are now nearly painful cliches of the genre. (Obviously they weren't so predictable in 1992, but they weren't exactly fresh either.) Volume 2 features the "You're All" storyline, which is probably the closest to what Kizuna was meant to be. It's sweet, but it doesn't get really fun until later.
Trust me, it does get fun. It's Kai and Masa who keep the series fresh, and drive the audience to the point of madness with unresolved sexual tension. Tashiro and JB are a fun diversion for a storyline that lasted entirely too long, but eventually spun off into their own series Gun & Heaven. Kizuna is surely winding down (long-time readers can appreciate that there's really just one more hurdle to cross, then we can all move on happily), but Sensei has put it on hiatus at the moment... preparing for the end to her darling, or buckling down for another long story arc? We'll see soon.
Reading difficulty is tricky to gauge with Kizuna. The early installments are stingy with furigana, but the plot wasn't exactly deep back then either. But by '94, BeXBoy Magazine had furigana for pretty much everything, and I'm grateful. So the main issue is the Kansai-ben, the extremely thick Osakan accents that Enjouji and many of the yakuza characters speak with. Sometimes Kai is nearly unintelligible... but he's a teenager, and no one understands teenagers anyway.
English-speaking fans are lucky, however, that there are some really excellent translations available online. I highly recommend checking them out.
Warnings and Suggestions: Er, a lot. A fair amount (especially towards the beginning) of graphic sex, and it's not always warm and fuzzy... two rape scenes, both distressing but for different reasons. It's a very adult series, although the love scenes are almost exclusively of the "vanilla" variety. This one ain't for the faint of heart, pure and simple, but it belongs in the collection of every Ladies Comic reader.
ISBN 4-88271-150-8 (Volume 1)
ISBN 4-88271-239-3 (Volume 2)
ISBN 4-88271-381-0 (Volume 3)
ISBN 4-88271-758-1 (Volume 4)
ISBN 4-88271-928-2 (Volume 5)
ISBN 4-88271-592-9 (Volume 6)
ISBN 4-8352-1120-0 (Volume 7)
ISBN 4-8352-1216-9 (Volume 8)
ISBN 4-8352-1417-X (Volume 9)