Ai no Kusabi (間の楔?)[n 1] is a Japanese novel written by Rieko Yoshihara. Originally serialized in the yaoi magazine Shousetsu June between December 1986 and October 1987, the story was collected into a hardbound novel that was released in Japan in 1990. This futuristic tale is set in a world where men are assigned various social classes based on their hair color. Iason Mink, a high-class Blondie, runs into Riki, a black-haired Mongrel, and makes him his "Pet." As Riki learns of the dangers Iason faces by keeping him, he finds himself developing feelings for his master. Focusing on the ill-fated love between Iason and Riki, Ai no Kusabi also explores issues of caste systems and social exclusion.
The novel was partially adapted into a two-episode anime original video animation (OVA) by Anime International Company (AIC), with the first episode released in August 1992, and the second in May 1994. In November 1993, an audio drama entitled Erogenous Dark was released focusing on a time period left unexplored in the original novels. A new thirteen episode anime OVA adaptation, also from AIC, is scheduled to begin releasing in Japan in spring of 2010.
The novel is licensed for an English language release in North America by Digital Manga Publishing which is publishing the novel across six volume series, with the first released in November 2007.
Ai no Kusabi takes place on the world of Amoi, ruled over by a computer named Jupiter. Jupiter has installed a number of strict social rules to its society. Among other things, social status is determined by hair color, Blonde being the highest, down to black or dark brown being the lowest. The Blondies, genetically engineered by Jupiter, are the highest social class and occupy the capital city of Tanagura. They travel to the satellite pleasure city of Midas, which has an independent slum area called Ceres. Under Jupiter's restrictions, the Blondies are sterile and forbidden from indulging in sexual activities. Blondies keep "pets" (young teenagers) purely for voyeuristic purposes and they are kept for about a year before being discarded. Further emasculation is seen in the "Furniture," young boys who serve the Blondies.
Contrary to popular belief, the hair-color caste system only applies to those working in Tanagura and not in Ceres. The true separation is between those genetically created in a lab (those in Tanagura) and "mongrels" formed the natural way (those in Ceres). However it was written in the novel that Tanagura even manipulated the 'natural' births of Ceres, ensuring that its population did not grow by restricting the number of female births.
Riki the Dark, a slum mongrel without an ID number and leader of the gang Bison and considered therefore to be the lowest of the lowest meets one day Iason Mink, a Tanagura elite Blondie; the most powerful man in the city. Iason saves him from being killed by a gang and Riki tries to pay his debt by offering his body to Iason. Instead, Iason makes him his pet. Riki is taken from the slums to live with Iason, making Riki leave his gang behind without an explanation.
Iason keps Riki, who is bound to Iason with a penis ring, as his pet for three years. Riki being his pet causes a lot of rumors and commotion amongst the other Blondies. Not only is Riki considered to be too old to be a pet but also he is a human mongrel which is frowned upon. The other Blondies question Iason and his motives yet Iason refuses to give up Riki whom he has grown very attached too.
Riki hates his new position being the proud leader that he really is and begs Iason for his freedom. Iason grants him a year of freedom and allows him to go back to Ceres, the slums. Riki is welcomed back into Bison and returns to a normal life. He has changed, however, and is unable to forget the time he spent as Iason's pet.
When the year passes, Iason decides he wants Riki back. Through his former furniture Katze, now a black marketeer, Iason arranges for Kirie, a young member of Bison, to set a trap and catch the gang. This ends with Bison being arrested. Riki is freed and gets told to return to his master.
After Riki returns to Iason he learns of the taboos Iason has broken to keep him, and of how Iason has protected him from the fate of former pets which end up being sold to brothels. Iason even decides to grant Riki a bit of further freedom by allowing him to work with Katze in the black market.
Guy, Riki's best friend and former pairing partner from Bison, finds out about Riki's positions as Iason's pet and becomes enraged. As a result, Guy decides to get Riki back from Iason. He kidnaps Riki to Dana Bahn. Riki tells Guy that he will never be free of Iason as long as he wears Iason's pet ring. Guy therefore removes Riki's pet ring by castrating him.
Guy contacts Iason and arranges to meet him in Dana Bahn. Iason, thinking Riki is in Dana Bahn because of the tracer in the pet ring, meets Guy there. Iason tries to get Riki back but finds out what Guy has done. After attacking him, Guy sets off bombs that he had planted in Dana Bahn with the intention of killing Iason to set Riki free. Riki appears to stop Iason from killing Guy and get them all out of Dana Bahn. Reluctantly Iason helps Guy and they head towards the exit.
As they approach the front gate, an explosion wracks Dana Bahn. The gates of Dana Bahn collapse and slice Iason's legs off just above the knees. Riki is forced to leave him there while he takes Guy out of Dana Bahn. Riki sees Katze, who has been waiting outside after Riki contacted him, and tells him to help Guy while he returns to Iason.
Iason is surprised to see Riki come back, despite what he had done to him as a pet. Riki sits down next to Iason and offers him a cigarette, poisonous Black Moon that Katze had given to him, and they both perish in Dana Bahn together, much to Guy's and Katze's grief.
- Riki (リキ): Riki, or "Riki the Dark" has been called the 'charisma' of the slums. Has a black hair and brown eyes (in OVA) with a tan skin tone and in the OVA, wears a black sando with a black jacket with an inner color of maroon on top and a pair of black pants. He was the leader of Bison, a gang in Ceres, and eventually became Iason Mink's pet, which had a crushing effect to his human pride. During his stint as Iason's pet, his pet ring (which has a tracer and allows him to access certain areas like the Saloon) was placed in his manhood, not following the usual design for a pet ring (like a necklace, a ring or an earring). Iason explained (to Raoul) that having Riki as a pet, a no id citizen, the laws does not apply to him. Riki is now registered as Z107M. In the cd drama, he formed a sort-of friendship with Daryl, Iason's furniture. Daryl helped him escape, at the risk of his own position, because he does not want Riki to change (his personality and attitude as a gang leader) and explains to Iason that making him into a pet might be too much, thus, his assistance without Riki's knowledge. He was once Guy's lover, the second in command of his gang. Riki is proud, rebellious, fierce and defiant, but his experiences change him. He became matured and quiet.Some men living in the slums feel he has lost his spark. He is torn between his pride and the feelings he has for Iason that he is unwilling to acknowledge. In the novel, it was mentioned that Riki first met Iason when he was 15 years old, then he was taken by that same person when he was 17 years old as Iason's pet and he returned to the slums when he was 20 years old. Also, it was mentioned in the novel that the reason why Riki does not want to return to Iason (aside from losing his freedom) was that he feels that he will not be able to resist him if Iason thinks of doing something to him. In the audio book, two OVAs, and first drama CD, he is played by Seki Toshihiko. In the later drama CDs, he is played by Itou Kentarou.
- Iason Mink: Iason is not just any Blondie - he is the most perfect, superior and powerful of all of them, the one who talks directly with Jupiter and carries out Jupiter's commands. He is the head of the Syndicate, Tanagura's black market for pet trade. Blondies were artifically designed and sterile, also possessing an IQ of more than 300. He is blonde (of course), and is taller than Riki and in the OVA, it appears that a metallic shoulder pad is common as their everyday clothing. He is in love with Riki (whom he took as his pet), a mongrel from the slums, which casts a literally dark shadow over his seeming perfection. Iason becomes interested at first, thinking of what it would be like to have a gang leader from the slums as a pet instead of those non-thinking bred from the Academy. He also showed signs of obsession and jealousy. Which can be devastating, there were some instances where he showed jealousy, like when Riki masturbates in front of a hologram of a woman (mentioned in the cd drama), the incident with Mimea (shown in OVA and mentioned in the cd drama) and when Riki called out Guys' name while sleeping after drinking too much sake (this was in the cd drama). And finally falls in love with Riki but when asked about it, he gives a sad smile. He has an elegant and calm manner that hides a passionate, ruthless and unforgiving nature. For Riki, Iason is willing to flaunt and break all taboos, one of them is having a mongrel as a pet and that keeping that said pet for 3 years. In the novel, it was mentioned that as part of Riki's 'training' as a proper pet, he made the mongrel go naked for 1 month, for Riki to get used to being naked in front of him. Then the next 2 months, he made Riki masturbate in front of Iason and show his intimate parts. After 6 months, Iason took the unusual step of embracing Riki. It was unusual because elites and blondies, are just to enjoy looking at their pet, not touching them. In the audio book, two OVAs, and first drama CD, he is played by Shiozawa Kaneto. In the later drama CDs, he is played by Ookawa Tooru.
- Guy (ガイ) : A former pairing partner of Riki's. (He, too, is overly obsessed about Riki.) When Riki was the leader of the Bison gang, Guy was his second-in-command, and Guy assumes the leadership when Riki vanishes for 3 years. In the novel, it was mentioned that Guy was offered to become Iason's pet with Kirie as the middleman. But this was a plot of Iason to make Riki come back to him. At first he refused but after some thinking, he finally relented and went to Eos. There, he was kept by Iason and waited for Riki to show up, either to demand Guy back or return to him as his pet once again. But nothing happened and so Iason himself went to see Riki and got an 'assuring' answer from the mongrel and so, he released Guy. In the OVA, after he was released from prison (the incident with Katze plotting an ambush where the Bison gang members where arrested for sneaking in during an android shipment), he went to see Riki and asked if they can get back together, like they used to in the past but Riki refused him, confesing that he is now Iason's pet and can no longer escape it. This made Guy furious and punched Riki in the face. Later on, he devised a plan to help get Riki out of his predicament (because he thinks the reason why Riki became Iason's pet was for the Bison gang to be released from prison) and get back at Iason for taking Riki away from him. In the end, he survived and had his arm taken off as a result of Iason's fury on him (Guy) having the pet ring removed from Riki (this was mentioned in the novel and shown in the OVA). In the audio book, he is played by Kozima Takayuki (小島貴幸). In the two OVA, he is played by Tsujitani Koji. In the later drama CDs, he is played by Toriumi Kosuke.
- Katze (カッツェ): A former furniture of Iason, he then gets involved in the black market and became the man of great power and influence there. Something of a computer genius, he once almost uncovered what he calls the 'Secret of Tanagura,' but got caught in the act by Iason. This earned him a nasty scar on his left cheek which he usually covers with his hair (in the OVA, he has a reddish brown colored hair). He returns Riki to Iason by manipulating Kirie. In the OVA, Katze plotted an ambush for the Bison using Kirie by telling the gang that an adroid shipment will be held and it is a great opportunity to earned some cash. The gang took the bait but security is already in there and stopped the gang from going any further and Kirie took Riki to an elevator-like platform. At the top, Katze was waiting, and Riki is beyond furious. In the novel, he was actually very much concerned with Iason and Riki to the point that he tries to help them as much as he can (in this case, when Iason asked him to give Riki a job because the latter is getting depressed when he is just cooped up in the apartment also when Riki went missing - Guy kidnapped him - and asks Iason if he can do something to which the latter refused) and he cried when they perished together. In the audio book, he is played by Hōchū Ōtsuka. In the OVA, he is played by Hideyuki Tanaka. In the later drama CDs, he is played by Miki Shinichiro.
- Daryl (ダリル): Daryl is Iason's furniture who serves as Riki's caretaker and responsible for the household chores. He calls Riki "Sir Riki" and loves him because of his pride and his will not to bow down. Daryl dies in the novel because he lets Riki escape. It is unknown what happens to him in the CD Drama, just that it was mentioned that Iason will punish him for hacking the terminal (used only by the furniture) , letting Riki go (but Riki got caught by the security guards but got as far as Plage) and that Daryl accepts his punishment (it was not mentioned what that punishment was). Like Katze, Daryl is intelligent for hacking the system. In the 1993 drama CD, he is played by Ryōtarō Okiayu. In the later drama CDs, he is played by Eiji Hanawa.
- Jupiter: Jupiter is the Artificial Intelligence which rules Amoï. She placed her android-like Blondie "children" at the pinnacle of society. In the cd drama, the only ones who can talk to her are the Blondies, and in the OVA, it was shown that it was Iason. Also in the OVA, she looked like a silver colored statue but it was in a hologram form.
- Raoul Am: A Blondie and the second in command of Tanagura, he is also Iason Mink's friend. He serves as the voice of reason, concern and societal pressure as Iason's infatuation with Riki becomes more obvious. His pet is one he bred by himself, named Mimea. In the cd drama, it appears that Raoul can tamper minds, which he does not want to use to Iason in case the situation gets any worse (the relationship of Iason and Riki). In the audio book, he is played by Ikeda Hidekazu. In the two OVAs and first drama CD, he is played by Hayami Sho. In the later drama CDs, he is played by Takaya Kuroda.
- Mimea (ミメア): Mimea is Raoul Am's female Pet of the highest breeding. She develops a liking for Riki's unusual ways, falls in love with him, and had a forbidden intercourse with him. To Riki, she seems little more than a way to test Iason's feelings, make him jealous, and ruin his public image. In the cd drama, when Iason punished Riki for this event, he made, as what he call 'date by screen', with Mimea on the other monitor. Mimea was insisting that this was all made just to push them apart and that they love each other. She also tells Riki that she will be paired to another pet by the name of Jana, whom she described as a sex freak and has nothing but his looks, and thinking of carrying his child pains her. But Riki was silent (his pet ring was fully activated at that time, and he had a hard time speaking and breathing, thus the silence) leading Mimea to think that Riki is abandoning her and called him coward. She was played by Emi Shinohara in the first drama CD, and by Kawaragi Shiho in the later drama CDs.
- Kirie (キリエ): or Killie. The youngest member of Bison, 17 years old, Kirie is lured into lucrative deals by Katze as part of Iason's scheme to bring Riki back after his year of freedom. In the OVA, his eyes had odd colors, the right eye is colored gold to sandy brown and the left eye is colored blue. Kirie is eventually made to betray his former comrades. In the cd drama, the reason for Riki's dislike to this boy is that he reminds Riki of his former self - proud, rebellious and defiant - his traits back then before meeting Iason. Also it was revealed that Kirie actually likes Riki. In the end, he becomes a pet, learning the "ways of Tanagura," as Iason says. As for the cd drama ending, his mind was tampered and does not know what is happening around him, it was not told what happened to him after that. In the audiobook, he is played by Taiki Matsuno. In the two OVAs, he was played by Shigeru Nakahara.
- Enif: (エニフ) A former high-class Pet owned by Sir Kyle, who had a fight with Riki during the Free Party that the latter attended. He is now discarded and used as cheap labor, in stark contrast to the freedom and kind treatment Riki still enjoys with Iason. In the cd drama, it was mentioned that he was the one who told about Riki and Mimea's forbidden act. And according to Mimea and the other pets, if you tattle someone, you get lynched.
- Jana: A pet whom was paired to Mimea after the incident that happened between her and Riki. According to Mimea, he is a sex freak who has nothing but his looks.
- Lusa: In the cd drama, Mimea mentioned this name to Riki and telling him that they see Riki as their enemy, because he was a mongrel taken from the slums.
- Stee: a 17-year-old pet bred from the Shiruru Family whose former owner is Sir Aisha. Mimea also mentioned this name along with Lusa and shares the same feeling against Riki. But unlike Lusa, he was sold off to a male brothel in Midas, which Riki thinks might be hard on the other pet because he never did it with a man, only with women.
- Rasshi: mentioned in the cd drama apparantly works for Iason.
Written by Rieko Yoshihara, the individual chapters of Ai no Kusabi were serialized in the yaoi magazine Shousetsu June between December 1986 and October 1987. The chapters were collected and published as a single hardbound novel in 1990. The novel is licensed for an English language release in North America by Digital Manga Publishing which published the novel across six volume series. The first volume was released on November 20, 2007; as of March 2009, five volumes have been released. In June 2009, DMP made the first volume ofAi no Kusabi, Stranger, available as an Amazon Kindle e-book.
An audiobook was the first spin-off from the novels, being released on 31 May 1989.
Five soundtracks were released:
- 間の楔 オリジナル・サウンド・トラック (Ai no Kusabi Original Soundtrack)（10 October 1992）
- 間の楔 SENSE OF CRISIS（10 December 1993）
- 間の楔 AMBIVALENCE（25 March 1994）
- 間の楔 SYMPATHY（10 July 1994）
- 間の楔 Sound Selection of "AI NO KUSABI" 祈り-ORACION-（25 January 1995）
The first drama CD was released in November 1993, called 間の楔 DARK-EROGENOUS.
Three more drama CDs were released by a different company through 2007 and 2008.
- 間の楔I 〜DESTINY〜 (25 May 2007)
- 間の楔II 〜NIGHTMARE〜 (25 April 2008)
- 間の楔III 〜RESONANCE〜 (25 October 2008)
Original video animations
Anime International Company created a two-episode anime Original Video Animation adaptation for the series. The first episode was released in August 1992, and the second in May 1994. Directed by Akira Nishimori and Katsuhito Akiyama, the episodes were based on a screenplay written by Naoko Hasegawa. They featured character designs by Naoyuki Onda and music composed by Toshio Yabuki.
Ai no Kusabi Remake
A second, thirteen episode anime OVA adaptation, also from AIC, was scheduled to begin releasing in Japan Fall 2010. Akiyama was supposed to direct again and Onda would have provided the character designs. The screenplay would have been written by Yoshihara herself. Unfortunately, due to financial issues, the production has been cancelled for now. They managed however to release a 8 minute preview of the first OVA.
Mania's Danielle Van Gorder felt the prose of the first novel was "florid", and criticized the finishing point of the second novel as anticlimactic. She found the characterization of Iason in the third novel to be realistic and compelling, and felt the theme of the fourth novel was power.
Patrick Drazen has described the Ai no Kusabi OVA as a "magnum opus" of the yaoi genre, and the setting as dystopian, similar to Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Jonathon Clements and Helen McCarthy describe the society of Ai no Kusabi as being like that of Ancient Greece, where power is restricted to a class, and women do not figure significantly. They consider it ironic that Jupiter is a feminine computer, and describe her as being like Ghost in the Shell's Motoko Kusanagi — Jupiter is "a man-made idea of the female in a world run by masculine elites". Anime News Network's Maral Agnerian praised its interesting, well-developed plot and "fleshed out and complex" work. She also praises it for being one of the few series from its time to contain "actual gay sex in it instead of the usual angsty moping and shoujo-esque sparkly kisses", while noting that the scenes are primarily in the second episode. Anime News Network's Justin Sevakis highlighted the OVA as a "Buried Treasure", calling it "one of the best yaoi anime". He described Riki and Iason as both being "alpha-males", rather than a seme/uke pairing, and noted how the costuming was elegant for the higher eschelons of society and revealing for the lower classes. He criticized the OVA's adaptation of the story, explaining that it was assumed all viewers would be already familiar with the tale through Shousetsu June.
- Aestheticism describes the title as "untranslatable". Digital Manga Publishing includes the English translation The Space Between on the covers of its release of the series.[dead link] In its English website, AIC refers to the series as Wedge of Interval. In the first edition of the Anime Encyclopedia it was listed as Ties of Love. Many other fan translations are known.
- "Ai no Kusabi". Digital Manga Publishing. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
- "Ai no Kusabi". Anime International Company. Retrieved 2008-02-01.
- Clements, Jonathan; Helen McCarthy (2001-09-01). The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917 (1st ed. ed.). Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press. p. 401. ISBN 1-880656-64-7. OCLC 47255331. Cite uses deprecated parameter
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- Digital Manga Publishing (2006-10-25). "Juné Manga ~ News: October 2006". Press release. http://yaoi-manga.com/news?mo=10&yr=2006. Retrieved 2008-02-01.
- "Ai no Kusabi Volume 1: Stranger". Digital Manga Publishing. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
- "Ai no Kusabi Volume 5: Darkness". Digital Manga Publishing. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
- "Ai no Kusabi Boys — Love Novel Get New Anime Remake.". Anime News Network.
- Van Gorder, Danielle (2008-03-18). "Ai no Kusabi: The Space Between Vol. #01 - Stranger". Mania. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
- Van Gorder, Danielle (2008-04-10). "Ai no Kusabi: The Space Between Vol. #02 - Destiny". Mania. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
- Van Gorder, Danielle (2008-08-06). "Ai no Kusabi: The Space Between Vol. #03". Mania. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
- Van Gorder, Danielle (2009-03-13). "Ai no Kusabi: The Space Between Vol. #04". Mania. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- Agnerian, Maral. "Ai No Kusabi: Wedge of Love". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2009-03-13.
- Sevakis, Justin (2008-01-10). "Ai no Kusabi". Buried Treasure. Anime News Network. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- Official Digital Manga Publishing Ai no Kusabi website
- Official AIC Ai no Kusabi 2009 OVA series website (Japanese)
- Active Anime vol 1 review
- Active Anime vol 2 review
- Active Anime vol 3 review
- Active Anime vol 4 review
- Aestheticism review
- Anime Meta-Review review