“My Brother’s Husband” is a gay manga for straight men
[Int:] Your newest work “My Brother’s Husband” (Otōto no Otto) began serialisation within the September 2014 issue of Gekkan Akushon. When you started drawing for a general magazine [rather than a BL or gay magazine], did you feel any doubts?
[Tagame:] Actually, sometime before, I had already been approached by the editor of a different seinen magazine who invited me to try and write a manga [for them] which included gay elements. Whilst I had a strong feeling at the time that I wanted to make gay magazines and gay culture into something truly great, I had never thought of publishing my work within a general magazine. However, after receiving this invitation from the seinen editor, I began to think “on top of writing a manga, it seems there wouldn’t be a need restrict [the work] according to the specific genre of the magazine.”
Unfortunately, whilst that particular project never went ahead, the experiences I had gained during the writing of “Virtus” led me to think such things as “why don’t I just do the kind of work that I want to do from now on?” and “if the next job to come up appears interesting, why don’t I try it out, regardless of the genre?” It was due to these thoughts that I opened a solo exhibition of my work in France and accepted the offer to publish a new work within the pages of Gekkan Action, as well as various other projects.
By the way, whilst I like to think of “My Younger Brother” as Japan’s first ever “gay manga for straight men,” even at the best of times the hurdles I needed to overcome as a gay artist creating a gay manga within a magazine that is mainly read by straight men were quite high. For example, to ensure that I didn’t cause any negative reactions amongst the [straight male] readers of the magazine, I had to pay particular attention to the plot. Therefore, if I employed the kinds of narratives that gay readers and those who enjoy BL would expect, perhaps the story wouldn’t move forward smoothly [for straight male readers].
[Int:] Incidentally, this is the first of your works to have a young girl as a main character, isn’t it (they laugh).
[Tagame:] I thought “since this work is for straight male readers, maybe I should try and fire them up with a cute young girl” and so I added the character named Kana. But, to be honest, I didn’t have any confidence that I would be able to draw her well (he laughs). Although I quite enjoy drawing beautiful adult women and old crones, I had an inferiority complex surrounding my ability to depict a young, innocent, middle-school-aged girl. As a result, when it came time to start composing the first episode of the manga, one of the editors even said to me “although we understand that you have confidence in drawing hateful women, I think that might not be appropriate here” (he laughs).
But, as soon as I started composing [the first episode] for real, I came to understand that drawing a little girl gives me the same kind of pleasure as drawing a cute little animal. At the beginning, I used to nervously think to myself “Kana’s up next! I hope I can draw her well,” but lately I’ve started to think “let’s draw her more cutely!” (he laughs).
“Liking BL” is one kind of sexuality
[Int:] Within the afterwords to be found within all of your published works, you always precisely define the intentions which underlie your creative practice. Also, whenever you are asked to speak, you always respond in such a logical and well-thought out manner. Where exactly did you cultivate this sense of logic?
[Tagame:] Before I became a professional artist, I worked as a graphic designer and an artistic director and I believe that what I learnt in those industries has greatly influenced me. Not only must design be logical, but in order to gain your client’s understanding or respond well to their needs, strong presentation skills are absolutely necessary. Therefore, even when I am writing manga, I am always especially thinking about how I can constructively convey within my work exactly what my readers are looking for, as well as that which I personally want to draw.
When a particular scenario comes to mind, I gather a lot of material in order to expand it, but when I enter into a state where I think “I personally like these materials, but since it doesn’t really fit into the core narrative of the work, let’s throw it away for now,” I find that I really need to reflect on what to add and what to subtract. In my opinion, not only is this process important, it is also a lot of fun. Whilst it is certainly the case that the genesis of an idea is usually very impressionistic, turning that idea into a work of art involves a lot of theoretical reflection.
[Int:] So at the same time as being fairly sensual, there remains a certain amount of cool, critical reflection. Perhaps it is precisely because you can draw with such superb balance that your work has managed to capture the hopes and dreams of so many readers.
Finally, I’d like to ask you about your stance on “BL culture.”
[Tagame:] From the beginning of my practice right up until today, I’ve been observing the development of BL, but lately I think that my impressions of BL have become a little bit lighter in many ways.[i] At the time when such works used to be called “yaoi,”[ii] “beautiful youths (bishōnen)” and “aesthetic narratives (tanbimono)” were mainstream and there was a strong tendency for [people to believe that] “the art must be beautiful” (in other words, “if the art realistically depicts gays, it’s no good!”) (he laughs). “Dangerous love” and “forbidden love” were also commonly utilized as advertising slogans [on the covers of yaoi magazines/books]. There was thus a tendency for an atmosphere that was very discriminatory against homosexuals to be found behind the scenes of yaoi manga.
However, since the time when the word “Boys Love” started to be used — and just as shōjo manga itself started to evolve and grow — it seems to me, looking back from my distanced position,[iii] that the discriminatory atmosphere of the past has begun to disappear as the love between two men is beginning to be written more sympathetically [by contemporary BL authors].
Supporters of the former yaoi culture seemed to possess a guilty conscious, thinking to themselves “why is that whilst I am a woman, I like yaoi?” They always seemed to have prepared desperate excuses for their preferences, such as “it’s beautiful, so it’s okay” or “it’s forbidden, so it’s okay.” However, as times have changed, the number of people who say “I like BL and there’s nothing wrong with that” has greatly increased.[iv] Personally, I think it’s fine if we think of “liking BL (BL-zuki)” as just another form of sexuality.[v]
By the way, “self-reception (jiko jūyō)”[vi] is one of the big themes to be found within my work, basically speaking, I write happy endings for those characters who have accepted their personal sexuality and bad endings for those characters who don’t (he laughs). The more the number of people who perceive their sexuality to be “liking BL” increases, the more open BL culture will become and that can only be a positive development to my mind.
Tagame Gengoroh (2014). “Painting the essence of gay erotic art” from Bijutsu Techō Vol. 66, pp. 114-119.
Trans: T. Baudinette
Part One is available here.
[ii] It is important to stress the Japanese historicity of the term “yaoi,” which has become the coverall term for BL in the West. Yaoi specifically refers to paradoic and homoerotic works published unprofessionally during the late 1980s and early 1990s, before the formal publishing boom of BL in the late 1990s.
[iii] Tagame utilises the phrase akkerakan to which implies reflecting on the past from a position that is outside the sphere of direct influence or concern. In other words, Tagame is distancing himself very much from what is currently occurring in BL manga.
[iv] Tagame is inferring that such people are no longer “desperately” searching for excuses for their “guilty pleasure.”
[v] Although not cited, Tagame’s position here is strongly influenced by the work of BL theorist Mizoguchi Akiko.
[vi] One could also render this as “self-awareness”.