Passion of Gengoroh Tagame

By Gengoroh Tagame
256 pages, black and white
Published by PictureBox

There’s no mistaking what you’re going to get with The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame. Subtitled "The Master of Gay Erotic Manga" and with "Adult Content for Mature Readers" emblazoned on the side, as soon as you open the book you’re greeted with skillful drawings of naked men. After having encountered so many volumes of the yaoi manga genre in years past—in which the gay male characters more often than not barely do more than kiss—I couldn’t help but wonder what a book like this would look like. What I found was a volume that actually had a lot more to offer than just drawings of men having sex.

The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame contains seven stories, and while there are some themes that run throughout the book, each stands on its own. Characters are generally muscular and manly—the often androgynous and fey bodies of yaoi manga left far behind—and in many of Tagame’s stories there’s some sort of either bondage or coercion involved. And while there is most definitely sex in each of the pieces in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, how it fits into the story varies greatly; for some it’s the centerpiece, for others it’s merely a vehicle for something else.

Two stories in particular stood out for me, "Hairy Oracle" and "Country Doctor," as being especially noteworthy. "Hairy Oracle" introduces us to a police detective and the guy that he’s occasionally sleeping with; the hook being that whenever the police detective is being penetrated, he gets glimpses of the future. In "Hairy Oracle" the sex is almost incidental; instead we’re getting a story where it’s as much about the flip in power and someone shifting from feeling under-appreciated to the center of attention. In "Hairy Oracle" you could swap out anal sex for some other form of power exchange and the basic premise of the story is still there. What’s nice, though, is that there’s a light-hearted playfulness to "Hairy Oracle" (something that isn’t present in a lot of Tagame’s other stories) and as it moves through its 18 pages it doesn’t waste a moment. It moves at a brisk pace and has a very pleasant attitude, ending on a fun note that resolves the earlier quarrel between our two unnamed characters in an effective manner.

With "Country Doctor," on the other hand, there’s no removing the sex. Here we get Doctor Kayama having moved from Tokyo to a small country town as its new resident physician. What starts as an affair with local farmer Masa turns into a situation much greater as his position within the town has him acting as much a sex toy as a doctor. The sex shows up often in "County Doctor," and it’s absolutely an integral part of the story. And while Kayama occasionally is put into situations where he’s a bit uncomfortable (mostly by the surprise of it all), what’s refreshing is how much Kayama ultimately throws himself into the act. This isn’t someone who’s being forced or tricked into having sex; he’s not just a willing participant, he’s enthusiastic. There’s a certain level of joy in this story that makes it attractive, and once you add in the actual plot of the story being fun in its own right, you end up with what I felt was the best story in the book.

Some of the other stories in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame head into a distinctly darker place, though. Several of the stories involve heavy bondage, imprisonment, and torture. "Arena," is probably the one that will prove to be the most problematic to readers who have a problem with that; a story involving a series of fighting championships where the winner rapes the loser isn’t going to appeal to most, and that’s even before the drugs and transformations begin. Tagame’s delving into these depths are unlike almost anything else I’ve seen translated from Japanese to English, and while those elements weren’t my cup of tea, it was interesting to see just how far Tagame was able to go in a marketplace that normally frowns on anything even close to this.

Consistent from start to finish is Tagame’s art, which is drawn with crisp, clean lines. He clearly loves drawing the male body, and he does so in an extremely masculine manner. There’s probably more body hair in this volume than I’ve seen in all other manga volumes combined, and characters usually have well defined pecs and abs. Perhaps most important are two emotions that you see often in Tagame’s work; cockiness and happiness. A lot of Tagame’s characters have a certain swagger in the way they’re drawn; the alpha characters in the sexual encounters have a confidence that just exudes off the page in their facial expressions and the way they carry themselves. For a book that concerns itself greatly with the exchange of power in sexual encounters, this is critical. Showing up a little less often is the expression of someone enjoying themselves, but just as potent. Between Dr. Kayama in "County Doctor" and the university student Charles at the end of "Class Act," it’s their faces in a mixture of pleasure and relaxation that says more than any narration box could. It’s a great antidote to the more violent portions of the book, and helps provide a little something for everyone.

Needless to say, if you have a problem with the idea of reading gay porn, The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame is most definitely not for you. (I’m also surprised you made it this far.) Even if viewed in just a clinical manner, though, this was surprisingly interesting to read. It’s a side of manga that we don’t normally get in English, and Tagame’s art is excellent. And for those who do enjoy gay porn? Well, I don’t think there are many people who would enjoy every single story here (if only by the wide range of stories, with different levels of violence versus happiness), but there will almost certainly be a few right up your alleyway. This book feels like it was a gamble for publisher PictureBox, but I’m glad they did so. All in all, a fascinating book.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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