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The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: Master of Gay Erotic Manga Paperback – April 30, 2013
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Top Customer Reviews
With such over-the-top explicitness, Tagame's work may break more "pornish" than that of his fellow gay-manga artists, but it would be unfair nonetheless to stigmatize it as the sexual ghettoization we call "pornography." Many of the best-known of the U.S. gay hardcore comics deal in the taboo theme of father-son incest; the multivolume MY WILD AND RAUNCHY SON is impressive, but all on that note. Similarly, practically all of the stories from the author known as Julius involve being bedded by Papa, symbolically if not actually. These are serial comics, not graphic novels. The artistic term "erotic," while vastly underestimating the pain and violence in Tagame's stories, at least permits some understanding that thematic complexity and character development are possible. It also carries an implicit nod at the quality of the artwork, which incorporates elements of conventional comic and graphic-novel artistry, noirish "tough guy" portrayals, and for all that an emphatic, honest quality reminiscent of Japanese woodcuts. Author/savant/esthete Edmund White, in his page-length introduction to this book, struggled mightily to parse all the influences. It's worth reading. Perhaps it's the different locus of religion in Japan, where Judaeo-Christian notions of sexual guilt do not hold sway as they do here, that makes the picturing of male orgasm not the guilty pleasure it is for us. The typical American porno "vid" (even if three vids are strung together into a mock feature-length movie) is transactional as to sex: for every Top there's a Bottom and if any "flipping" is to take place, we're usually warned of that ahead of time lest an unscheduled rupture in the homoerotics upset the paying public. (Even in the relatively hardcore machine-shop and bukkake variations the designated bottom seems all too happy to ingest whatever gets sent his way.)
[*This graf is by way of Background*: But sexuality in Tagame's work is less transactional than transformational. This comes across very clearly in his masterwork, the astonishing three-volume PRIDE (2004), at this point available in the USA only in very expensive Japanese-language imports or the Internet samizdat called "scanlation": computer-scanned piracy in which the original language is computer-whitened out and replaced by English translation of varying quality. By contemporary standards, PRIDE's protagonist ought to be the happiest homosexual in Honshu: a handsome and hunky Top's Top, a college literature student with plenty of free time and a butch bachelor pad, he inhabits a modern, Americanized conception of "gay," with all the resources of modern urban culture at hand -- personal ads, Craigslist-style online self-promotions, the local leather bar, sex club and cruisy public park, and adroit use of the telephone-answering machine to screen, sort and prioritize future bedmates. Yet the more he consumes, the less he is satiated - the more freedom he enjoys, he more restricted he feels - the more on his plate, the hungrier he gets. Redoubling his efforts only gets him soft in a hurry. One day, after class, he is summoned to the private office of a tweedy older professor from a different department, who has seen the young man in the local park. The professor turns out to be as intuitive as he is sadistic. He explains to the student in no uncertain terms that his arrogance and so-called pride are impediments to his true self. The teacher restrains the youth and chastises him verbally and physically, during which process the young man gets and stays hard (an enduring litmus test for latent Masochism), a physical fact which the teacher points out with deep and knowing satisfaction. The two begin a mentor/protégée, master/slave relationship; the former young Top is on the way to becoming (as a friend says of him) "a hardcore M." The seminal (so to speak) point to be made is that even though both characters get off, the master "granting" this privilege to his slave, these are not the "money shots" of American transactional video porn that ring down the curtain . . . in PRIDE, and in most Tagame stories, the plot continues. The sex, for all its impact, is punctuation leading to character development and transformation on the part of the student. It's almost as though the Marquis de Sade's "Justine" had been rewritten for contemporary gay Japan, and like de Sade's title character each successive wave of humiliation (an assault on his Pride or her Virtue) is slightly mitigated for us (the audience) by the humor that occurs after each successive humiliation, because we know that the victim is getting just what s/he needs, despite protestations. For Tagame, fulfillment comes only from self-knowledge through hard and painful struggle.**]
It is useful to keep in mind this theme of an almost Nietzschean struggle leading to betterment through motifs of heavy kink. It is visible even in embryo in the last and shortest narrative of THE PASSION OF GENGOROH TAGAME, "Class Act," the only story specifically commissioned for this volume by editor Chip Kidd. Almost a précis of the first book of the multivolume PRIDE, in "Class Act" a teacher breaks out the cane because a student's paper is a day overdue(!). Then the student -- quite disingenuously, it turns out -- e-mails the teacher an inappropriate paper to provoke another confrontation. Transformation is accompanied by mutation in this book's longest story, 2000's "Arena," in which Tagame wittily posits a future society that has gone from professional boxing to mixed-martial arts toward competitive sexuality. The protagonist is a grizzled and cynical arena fighter who, upon traveling from Japan to the USA to compete in an "ultra private" exhibition, is given an experimental vaccine (in de Sade's day, perhaps a magic amulet?) to ramp up his general machismo. It works -- on his studliness -- and he becomes a kind of overenhanced sex monster, pitted against some fearsome-looking Caucasians, one of whom is almost a caricature of Jesse Ventura. Instead of chanting "Go! Go! Go!" the spectators shout the F-word as encouragement. "Arena" is not only the longest story in the collection, it's also the most visually dense and definitely the most violent, gruesome at times, though the satirical aspect of the sci-fi takes the edge off a little. Have the sophisticated French been softened up by de Sade? "Arena" has already been legally translated into French, along with several other Tagame stories. But this is not to say that Tagame's stuff is relentlessly serious. In "Hairy Oracle," the sex is anal but the plot is mental -- a career detective, frustrated over his inability to figure out a difficult case, submits himself to the ministrations of a male prostitute and breakthroughs occur. In "Country Doctor" (which opera buffs may find reminiscent of Benjamin Britten's PETER GRIMES), set in a remote Japanese village, a novice physician from Tokyo gets it on with a cheerful working-class chub, then with a randy high-schooler, then with an experienced elderly patient complete with tied-up slave whom he walks in on by accident. Of this last incident, the Mayor gets a peek -- and the Mayor just happens to be the local Shinto priest. Before long an ancient ritual is unearthed and the young doctor becomes the community "bride" by joyously "marrying" a symbolic wooden phallus in full view of all the town's assembled adult males (no kids, no women, but Tagame is politically astute enough to tell us the women have their own ceremony, too). The story ends with the doctor explaining by phone to his parents that he's too busy to make it home for the holidays, while the pictorial reveals just why. In an afterword, Tagame admits that the anal initiation ritual is more his creation than precedent out of Shinto. He is quite right, though, that guilt over same-sex relations is largely a Western importation.
So would I recommend THE PASSION OF GENGOROH TAGAME? Absolutely. Act now and you can be the first kid on the block to own this breakthrough translation, and at a discount. This volume was printed in Canada and is of very good physical quality -- pretty much a B&W paperback art book of 271 pages. If I had a criticism of the product, it would not be that all the stories except one are reprints of earlier works (that's what an anthology is, after all) but that a type of "anthology-itis" creeps in nonetheless in that we are given a wide variety of stuff -- not necessarily Tagame's very best stuff (though I consider "Arena" among the best) -- instead, a mix intended to highlight the artist's versatility and fit a format. I for one wish they had included even half a chapter from a recognized longer masterwork like PRIDE, or perhaps the graphic "novellas" GUNJI or GOKU. I do hope THE PASSION OF GENGOROH TAGAME succeeds; it certainly deserves to. Then perhaps the magic of the market will start giving us further and legal translations of more Tagame work.
Fascinating factoid: In manga, sexual situations are often accompanied by this symbol: 7". No, it doesn't mean what it does here - Japan is on the metric system. Just a fun coincidence.
Some of this stuff is really dark, but the fun comes from discovering how you can enjoy something kind of sick. The lighter stories were also nice if not filled with a lot of slut shaming. If you don't have hang-ups about that then you'll definitely enjoy this book. I'm not really into BDSM, but I think any gay guy could appreciate a good power struggle. The little snippets from the author at the end of each story help to remind you how much thought was put into these short stories and are a nice touch.
I hope more of this type of stuff gets released. It's fun to experience some explicitly sexual manga aimed at gay men after seeing what the straight boys have been getting for years. Enjoy!