~by Gengoroh Tagame
The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: The Master of Gay Erotic Manga was one of my most anticipated manga releases of 2013. I was astounded when PictureBox announced the volume, the first collection of bara manga--erotic comics created specifically with a gay, male audience in mind--to ever be published in English in print. I honestly never expected bara to be licensed and am thrilled that it finally has been. Tagame in particular is a highly influential artist working in the genre, gaining international recognition and renown. In addition to a piece specifically commissioned for the collection, The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame selects six of Tagame's short erotic manga originally published in Japan between 2000 and 2010, only one of which was previously released in English ("Standing Ovations," originally translated in the erotic comics zine Thickness.) The beautifully presented volume, produced and translated by Anne Ishii, also includes an introduction by Edmund White and essays by Chip Kidd and editor Graham Kolbeins.
The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame opens with the collection's most lighthearted offering, "Hairy Oracle," about a detective with a very unusual way of solving tough cases. This is followed by "Arena," the longest and one of the most savage pieces in the volume in which experimental drugs cause the victors in an underground fighting tournament to rape their opponents. "Exorcism" is a period piece while "Country Doctor" takes place in a pre-modern Japanese village (at the moment, these two are probably my personal favorites.) With its inclusion of a fighter and a voyeuristic audience, the next story, "Standing Ovations," is in some ways reminiscent of "Arena" but is shorter and more direct. "Missing" is also extremely violent and has one of the more involved plots as well. The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame closes with "Class Act," commissioned by Chip Kidd for the volume, which features a college student, his professor, and a tough lesson. Most of the stories are also accompanied by commentary from Tagame discussing the history and thoughts behind their creation.
I'm not entirely sure how the individual manga in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame were selected, but Tagame does mention that a few were particular favorites of his for one reason or another. Tagame creates manga for a very specific audience. As he himself puts it, "I don't write love stories, I write pornography." His work is incredibly intense and extremely explicit. Although there are moments of sweetness, charm, and delight in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, the stories are all sadomasochistic fantasies that explore brutality, humiliation, and desire. The power dynamics and psychological factors are complex, layered, and severe. While similar themes can be found in the manga included in the collection, the reasons behind each man's submission, whether willing or forced, is different. I appreciate the range of stories in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame. The collection includes tales that are extraordinarily dark and heavy as well as stories that are significantly lighter in tone.
Some of the selections in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame are historical while others take place in contemporary settings; some are based in reality while others incorporate supernatural or speculative elements; one even includes religious overtones. But what every manga in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame shares in common is Tagame's powerful and stunning artwork. There is beauty and passion to to be found in the brutality; many panels are even reminiscent of traditional Japanese woodblock prints in their composition. Tagame's subjects are hypermasculine men with burly and muscular physiques. There is some artistic exaggeration and stylization, but the men's bodies and experiences, both of pleasure and pain, are realistically, exquisitely, and viscerally expressed. Tagame's work truly is incredible. It is not at all an overstatement to call him a master. I sincerely hope that The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame will not be the last of his work to be released in English.