Warning: This review contains panels of a graphic nature and is therefore Not Safe for Work. Reader discretion is advised.
While gay Japanese erotica has gained an American audience through certain internet channels, Massive is the first collection of gay Japanese manga released by an American publisher. Edited by Chip Kidd, Anne Ishii, and Graham Kolbeins, the book profiles nine influential mangaka, including the legendary Gengoroh Takame and Jiraiya. Following introductions from each of the three editors—Kidd summarizes each story within the volume, Ishii discusses the delicate art of translating, and Kolbeins emphasizes the importance of the first Japanese gay magazines such as Barazoku—every artist receives an in-depth examination. Readers of Massive not only receive an education on gay manga history, but also learn how each cartoonist began his career in manga, what subjects he focuses on, his opinions on piracy, and how Japanese society’s attitudes toward gay manga come into play.
As Kidd notes in his introduction, most of the cartoonists feel extreme pressure of not being “allowed” to create this type of manga, yet do so anyway because of an internal need. Only Tagame’s, Kumada Poohsuke’s, and Seizoh Ebisubashi’s profiles have pictures with their faces visible. The repressive element of Japanese culture appears just as strong in most of these men’s work, as most of the stories in this collection contain non-consensual situations.
Massive opens with an excerpt of Tagame’s Do You Remember South Island POW Camp?, which is the story of a Lieutenant having to undergo extreme sexual humiliation—including licking boots and getting urinated on—in order to get medicine for his dying Private. Poohsuke’s “My First Black Beauty with the Boss” has a familiar erotic narrative of an office worker getting forced into foot worship by his superior. Kazuhide Ichikawa’s “Yakuza Godfathers” is about the doctor of two heads of Japanese Yakuza gangs hypnotizing them into having uncontrollable sex.
Often, the manga coyly conveys the idea, “He’s acting like he doesn’t want it because he’s not supposed to want it. But he really, really does.”
However, not all of the manga is deadly serious erotica. Many of the stories contain a bright streak of humor. Jiraiya’s talent as a storyteller shines in “Caveman Guu,” where the title character only just finds out that all of the babymaking he thought he was doing with other cavemen wasn’t making any babies at all. Once, he’s presented with the opportunity to mate with a woman… well, it’s manga made by a gay man for other gay men so one can imagine how that turns out.
In fact, some of the cartoonists lament that they have to create erotic stories in order to keep sales.
Although Inu Yoshi’s “Kandagawa-Kun” contains a steamy masturbation scene, one of the cartoonist’s biggest successes is his drawing of chibi mini-men, which he for years drew for advertising purposes. Going even further, Takeshi Matsu’s “Kannai’s Dilemma” is based entirely off of sexual tension with no actual sexual activity in the story. Yoshi’s and Matsu’s work, unlike their peers’ kinkier work in Massive, are down to earth and very sweet in their approach. “Kandagawa-Kun” touches upon what it’s like to miss an ex after a break-up and adjusting to a new period in life while “Kannai’s Dilemma” explores the awkwardness of blooming teenage sexuality. In these stories, sexuality is just a part of life and one could see why some managaka could find the categorization of all gay manga into “adult” books limiting.
But gay Japanese manga isn’t just it’s own genre. The creators experiment with different art forms and different story-telling methods. Gai Mizuki, in particular, has an interest in sci-fi, which frames his story “Fantasy and Jump Rope.” In contrast to Yoshi and Matsu’s work, Mizuki’s and Ebisubashi’s art is very anatomical and clearly panders to more hardcore erotica fans. The stories by Mizuki and Ebisubashi in Massive also happen to take place inside of school with the main characters working as teachers or coaches, another familiar erotica narrative.
Massive is not an introduction to one kind of gay Japanese manga. It is a showcase of the genre’s potential and what the best cartoonists do with it. This Fantagraphics’ collection has been a long time coming and is perfect for any American interested in in this community.