Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen Manga Review [NSFW]

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Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen or Bikachō Shinshi Kaikoroku came to my attention when I was scrolling through the manga offered on the Crunchyroll manga app, and I’m genuinely glad I decided to start reading it. This manga is generally out of the ordinary for what I tend to read, being a josei story set in 20th century Paris where brothels were legal places to seek pleasure and the company of a woman. And the story could not have been written by a better josei mangaka, namely Moyoco Anno (interestingly enough, the wife of Hideaki Anno), who is the creator of such big-name mangas as Sakuran and Hataraki Man. You can really see her experience come through especially in her creation of characters and the design of the the specific pages.

Sometimes back-cover descriptions can be pretty terrible to read, but the one Crunchyroll has on their site is a great representation of the manga: “Perverts are people who know the shape of their desires. They have carefully traced those contours like a blind man using both hands to measure the shape of a vase. Colette works in a brothel in early 20th century Paris, an occupation she can’t escape. She and the other girls support each other, satisfying the desires of their clients, day in, day out. The one source of hope in her difficult life was her trysts with Leon. But Colette could never be sure if Leon really loved her… The strength of women in their pleasurable confines; the naked desires of the ‘amorous gentlemen.’ Welcome to a beautiful, bewitching bordello of love and desire.”

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One of the reasons I love this manga is Anno’s art style and the way she designs her pages. The story is centered around 20th century France, and Anno manages to capture that Parisian feel of elegance that comes with the fashion of that decade. The short bobbed hair or giant coiffures, the profusion of feathers, and the almost Rococo-style furniture. These may seem like small things, but for a period piece such as this, reader immersion relies on these small details. In addition, all her female characters sport large eyes, allowing for a range of expressions and emotions. I think one of the other most striking things about this manga is how Anno designs and even decorates her pages. Long, coiling ropes that end in tassels surround her panels, adding in another layer to the Parisian tone throughout. The cords contrast nicely with her straight black backgrounds in some areas, forcing your attention to the panels they border and what is happening within them.

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In past reviews I’ve talked about my thoughts on fanservice and the purpose of showing or including sex scenes in a romance manga or anime. In general, I think sex without a purpose always winds up being fanservice for the sake of smuttiness, which then tends to bring down the quality of the story as a whole. However, for Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen, sex is an integral part of the manga. Not only because they work in a brothel but because the sex comes in all sorts of forms that helps explore the nature of fetishes, sexuality, and contrasts with Collete’s almost stoic demeanor when it comes to fulfilling her clients’ wishes. In the case of one client, the Coffin Man, we see how his particular fetish created connections between the girls and him. In sex, we also see a comparison between Nana and Collete in the methods they both used to entice Leon and Sakae to stay. Over the course of the manga, we see the power of Nana’s sexual allure and her conniving nature underneath that voluptuous exterior. In Collete, we see a girl who was pretty much forced into prostitution by her financial situation and her need to please Leon. To Sakae, she possesses a tantalizing allure, but what made made him keep coming back was her wit and propensity for writing. To Leon, however, she was more a source of money and almost piece of property than love interest as we see with the contrast in his relationship to Nana.

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One of the other aspects of this manga that I love is the sense of realism we see from all the characters. Anno certainly doesn’t pull any punches with her characters, choosing to display all sorts of people and all sorts of fetishes. She dives right into the weird and perverse, never sugar-coating aspects of the story that may have a darker nature. In the history of Colette and Leon, for example, we see the side of Collete that struggles to let go of her love for the painter-turned-gigolo. A part of her realizes that he is abusing her and taking advantage of her, but her memories of their past love seem to overtake any regret even after the other girls try and reason with her and even after he hits her hard enough to knock her out. In the character of Carmen, we see how obsession can turn into mental instability and the ways in which the brothel deals with girls who finally break. In a way, I think this moment makes all the girls pause and think about the fact that this could very well be one of them in the future, hence why Collete tries to rescue her from the basement.

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Because of the nature of the manga, there are not many if any instances of healthy romance at all. The closest may be Sakae and Collete, but he still uses her for both pleasure and literary inspiration. The instance where he tells Collete that her writing doesn’t sound like the writings of a girl in a brothel made me think he still views her as less than him because of her status as a prostitute. Collete and Leon’s relationship is highly toxic and abusive to the point where you’re rooting for Collete to finally get up the nerve to finally refuse his requests for money. But I think that’s also the point of this manga: examining toxic and messed-up relationships that involve people who are themselves a little messed-up. So if you like a sort of gritty period piece on sex workers in Paris by a highly acclaimed josie mangaka, I would suggest you check this one out. The climax (which may or may not be the last chapter) will be coming out on the 8th, and you can also check out the animated short that was released in 2015.

~~ Thanks for Reading!~~

Note: Crunchyroll’s description of the manga spells the main character’s name as Colette. However, the translation they uploaded has her name spelled as Collete. For the sake of this review, I’ve used the spelling that is in the manga.


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