How Ludwig II Changed My Life

My history in the boy’s love space is indeed a storied one. I started in the genre of two pretty boys kissing when I was way below the age limit to be ingesting said content. But boy’s love kept me going while in high school as it gave me something to do and something to use to help me interact with my peers. Additionally, it helped me work through some gender angst I was going through at the time.

I didn’t remain enthusiastic about anime and manga when I went off to college; hoping that I would live my aunt’s asserts that my anime and manga fandom would be a phase I leave behind as I matured. That backfired splendidly in my sophomore year when I rediscovered anime and had gasp a small disposable income that no one could judge me over. I bought manga, watched anime and reconnected with a part of my soul that left me in my transition from youth to youth who could legally go off to war. 

But I still felt intense ennui and a lack of purpose in my life. I was in my late teens and away at college, still feeling much of the angst I felt when I was a young teen at home. That was until I met a very interesting King who would change the course of my existence. 

It was a gift. 

The manga was a gift. I was out with a friend and the spine of the manga caught my eye. Ludwig II by You Higuri. It had two pretty boys on the cover, looked historical and I was intrigued. I picked up the volume only to find that it was the story of a young stable boy and his dangerous love affair with the then king, Ludwig II, who is said to be mad. There is a shocking amount of drama and emotion in this story of what should be pretty straightforward for a boy’s love series; showing that indeed yaoi and shonen ai started as a parody of shojo manga. I ate it up. I loved the drama, the references to historical Germany (something that many people close to me know is a bit of an obsession) and I fell in love with the enigmatic and eccentric Ludwig II. 

It wasn’t until I got to the end of the manga that I realized that the main character whose charm I fell for was based on a real person. There was a real King Ludwig II, with whom the mangaka fell in love with during a trip to Germany. The real Mad King was ruler of Bavaria, probably wasn’t gay for his stable boy but was known for fits of violence, mood swings and his odd tastes. He loved castles. He built two beautiful castles: Linderhof and Neuschaiwnstein. One is the model for Disney’s imagining of Cinderella’s Castle and the other was built on the instruction of “Versaille but make it German.” 

Ludwig II was a patron of the arts, namely Richard Wagner, whom he supported and loved. If not for Ludwig’s time and money, we would not have Wagner’s work. And Ludwig, in his delusion, loved pretending to be the great Swan Knight Wagner imagined. He even had a special grotto built in Linderhof to act as a operatic backdrop to watch actors in little swan boats perform Wagner’s work as Ludwig rode along in another little swan boat because one can never have too many swan boats. 

We don’t know what Ludwig II was sick with when it comes to his “madness”. We just know that he was unwell. And we know that after trying to sell Bavaria to make more castles, he was ousted from power and he drowned himself in Lake Stern, just behind Castle Neuschwanstein. 

Consider it serendipity, but like Higuri-sensei; I too fell in love with the King. Not just the fictional character crafted for the sake of voyeurism, but the complex man who clearly was a little too sick for this world but also gave us so much with so little credit. Many know of Wagner but few know of Ludwig. Think if we only knew Shakespeare but ignored Queen Elizabeth I.  I voraciously consumed information about Bavaria’s Mad King. I read books, researched, practiced my German: all of it to please My King. Ludwig became a strange obsession of mine that kept me going through a particularly challenging college semester. Before I knew it, I was in deep. So deep that a funny little mention by one of my philosophy professors struck me like a ton of bricks. He said that while he would be the professor in the summer abroad that he’d be visiting some castle in Bavaria. As if possessed, I asked if the castle was Ludwig’s; and imagine my shock when he said yes. He spent the spring semester mostly cajoling me into going to Austria. I balked most of the time. The cost, the fact that I never left the country like that except for a trip to Mexico as a child I barely remember, the cost, the fear, the anxiety, the cost were all things that kept me firmly in the States while my professor got to see a castle I had dreamed about. He spent the fall semester encouraging me to go to Austria but I was afraid to do so.

The following spring I decided to do it. I still don’t know what fully convinced me to do so. But I did it. I decided to go to Austria knowing that King Ludwig’s castles would be a mandatory tour for the summer program.

That summer, a month before my departure, my mom died.

I was convinced that was the end of my Austrian sojourn. Convinced that I’d never be able to make it to Austria. Burying mom would cost too much; that I would have to be there for my family; that I would be too fragile. My aunts and grandmother did not share my sentiment and in fact, encouraged me to go. And so I did.

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to see the signs in Bavaria for Castle Neuschwanstein. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to be able to use my meager German to get around and how amazing it was to see 

I was told by a small German woman that the castle would be a short walk up mountain but for my king I proceeded to take my fat and asthmatic carcass up mountain to see the facade that was in my dreams. I gazed upon My King. I gazed upon his creation: one of his two children. He made miniature castles too: his little children. I wandered the halls he wandered. Saw the lake that claimed his body. Saw his home and wept. 

I ate lunch outside of Neuchswanstein and then it was off to Linderhof. I saw his Grottoes where he had special performances, saw his gilded excess, and was attacked by one of his terrible swans. I knew more than one of the tour guides there and led my small group of mostly bored Americans as we wandered the palace of extravagance and decadence. 

I still have the swan I purchased while visiting My King’s home. I still have the photos I took while visiting My King’s homes. I still have the books, brochures, postcards and more I purchased while visiting My King’s homes. 

It’s not hyperbolic to say that meeting King Ludwig II changed the course of my life. Without him; his charisma, his story, his madness; his glory, I would have stayed in the States. I wouldn’t have gone to Austria. I wouldn’t have left the States. I would have stayed small and I would have abandoned anime, manga and yaoi. I would have cast aside those parts of me that are now so important. I would be an entirely different version of myself; one I can barely fathom even if I truly stretch the limits of my imagination. 

I’m a different person because of King Ludwig II. And I do believe because of him; I have been changed for the better.

Return of the Hype

Man, it feels good to be the king.

Finally, after the summer that hype died, I finally know what it feels like once to be pandered to. My patience has paid off. Now I get to have my time in the sun. Today I want to talk about how I have been vindicated and all by a special anime announcement.

I’ve gone on record saying that Kou Yoneda’s Twittering Birds Never Fly is on my recommended reading list to better understand me as a complex human person. And it’s one of my favorite boy’s love mangas of all time. And after the summer where hype had left me, I found that I quickly retreated to things that made me feel alive. Twittering Birds Never Fly was one of those series I took refuge in and I continued to fawn over the brilliant artwork, complex storytelling and excellent pacing. Here’s a brief synopsis: Yashiro is the boss of a rather lucrative yakuza group and he is…complex. He has pent up feelings from a crush he’s had since high school on top of a sex drive that would make most hosts blush. Emotionally, he’s pretty calm, you never really know what he’s feeling as he often will say rather cruel things with a smile. Yashiro finds himself smitten over his new bodyguard, Doumeki, who is pretty aloof and pretty cold but rather quickly expresses feelings for the handsome Yashiro. Yashiro wants nothing more than to sleep with his bodyguard but Doumeki confesses that he is in fact impotent. The series covers plenty of twists and turns, emotional highs and lows and lots of yakuza action as well as a love story that makes sure you feel every ounce of tension between the characters. The cast is actually fairly large, you meet plenty of other yakuza bosses and plenty of underlings but no one is a waste of space or is just a filler character. I could honestly write an entire blog post on just how much I love this series but I want to highlight a particular point: the series is problematic but there’s a few things that save it; what saves it is context and reward.

Yashiro is a garbage person and I’m not going to fight anyone who dislikes this series’ strange obsession with sexual violence and the cesspool that is literally every character. Really, there’s only a couple of characters that you can “look to” for relief one of them being Yashiro’s childhood crush, Kageyama and Yashiro’s underling, Nanahara, and really that’s it? Everyone else is pretty terrible but it is a series about gangsters so abandon all hope ye who enter here. But for every act of violence, every cruel sexual act, every crass line is framed in a way that does not reward terrible characters and without giving too much away, no one really gets off easy when they do something terrible. I can respect that this is a bitter pill to swallow narratively but no one gets rewarded for being a monster and that’s what makes it so much easier to digest this series for me. It was, in fact, the darker storyline that really related to me. Longtime blog readers will know that my childhood and teen years were a little less than sugarplums and rainbows so I don’t always relate well to candy-coated stories: I can relate to Yashiro’s background of abuse, pain and wanting to run away from feeling anything negative and thus sinking into hedonism.

But considering that I was one of five people in the U.S. to read this series, I never held out much hope that it would get an anime. In fact, I had done a few fan casting moments with friends. I had picked Daisuke Namikawa for Yashiro and Kazuhiko Inoue for Doumeki because of course I did.  But oh I was wrong that no one would be willing to animate this wonderful manga. Blue Lynx decided to take a chance and have animated this series and I was over the damn moon. When I saw the mangaka tweet about the pilot, I nearly cried. The animated teaser was so fluid and so beautiful and seeing the lines from the first volume of the manga come to life with brilliant color just made my heart sing. So that’s what color Yashiro’s suit is. That’s what Doumeki sounds like. That’s what the city looks like and Yoneda-sensei’s art style lends so well to being animated. She has a mastery of lines, proportions and design and it looks almost like someone just filled in the manga pages with color.

And that’s not all. An anime means merch and after the pandering that came with the summer that hype died, now I get to feel what it’s like to be pandered to. Yashiro and Doumeki dressed as 1920s American Gangsters? Sold. Want to see Yashiro and Doumeki dressed like they’re going to the beach? Done. Want to see side stories, omake, hear Drama CDs and see promotional art? You are in luck. It’s wonderful to see one of my favorite series of all time all over my social media feed. It’s wonderful to hear people talk about a manga that when I mentioned it, no one else seemed to know about. It’s wonderful to feel hype for once. I want to see how they’ll adapt certain parts of the manga, how they’ll tackle certain issues. Will things change? Will they stay the same? Oh the suspense is killing me, I hope it never stops.

I was worried that the hype center of my brain had died, that I had lost something, that I would never be excited for something again. But no, dear reader, I’m not broken: just bored. And now, I have something to look forward to, something to set my sights on, something to look forward to and talk about, study, and discuss.

I can’t wait for this anime to really get started. And it feels so good to be excited about anime once more.