Despite Gobber’s admission there was “another reason” why he
never married in How to Train Your Dragon
2, the repressed Smithers on The
Simpsons and a chaste kiss that occurred between two men on Cartoon
Network’s Clarence, homosexual
characters are virtually unknown in American animation.
That’s not the case in Japan, as fans of anime and manga know.
Bisexual New York City Police detective Dee Laytner falls for his new partner,
half-Japanese Randy “Ryo” McLaine at their first meeting in Fake. Although he doesn’t consider himself
gay, aspiring rock singer Shuichi Shendo chases icy novelist Eiri Yuki in Gravitation. In Card Captor Sakura, a group of girls
agree that “one of the seven strangest things” about their high
school is that handsome soccer star Toya and his inseparable pal Yuki don’t
have girlfriends. All three animated stories were based on popular
These male-male pairing are examples of what Japanese viewers
call shounen-ai (“boy love”) or yaoi. Yaoi was created by women for female audiences, first as doujinshi (fan comics), then as
professional works. The stories center on romantic longings, punctuated by an
occasional kiss, between beautiful, androgynous young men with flowing hair,
long limbs and smooth, slender bodies. Yaoi
manga and anime have become increasingly popular in the US, and there are even yaoi cons.
The manga gay men in Japan read offer very different depictions
of body types, sex, romance and friendship. That work is little known in
America, and the new anthology Massive helps to fill a gap in Americans’
understanding of the vital, complex culture of manga. In contrast to the
willowy bishonen (“beautiful boys”)
who populate yaoi, the men in
“Massive” are just that. They’re built like wrestlers—big, muscular and hairy, often
sporting more of a belly than would be considered attractive in the US. In his
introductory essay, Graham Kolbeins notes that the bodies are classified as “gacchiri (muscular), gachimuchi (muscle-curvy), gachidebu (muscle-chub) and debu (fat).”
The level of drawing in these erotic fantasies is extremely
high, sometimes rivaling the work of the iconic Western porno artist Tom of
Finland. Jiraiya, whose chunky athletes adorn popular magazine covers (and the
cover of the book), is a master of Photoshop. His figures display a realistic
solidity that leads some readers to believe he just traces a single photograph.
In fact, he assembles the elements in his illustrations from numerous sources,
taking an ear from one model, the curve of a neck from another: “In order not
to fall into the uncanny valley, I have to stare at photos for hours to make
sure things look all right. Otherwise it’s kimochiwarui
Jiraiya’s work has clearly influenced some of the other
artists in “Massive.” But Takeshi Matsu draws in a more angular style that
feels appropriate to the defined male bodies in his stories. Kuamada Poohsuke and Inu Yoshi
employ simpler, cartoon-ier styles.
The content of the stories in “Massive” is completely unlike
the feathery romanticism of yaoi
manga and anime. Rough, even sadistic sex takes the place of wistful longing.
Gengoroh Tagame draws a heroic Japanese Army Lieutenant’s humiliation by an
American P.O.W. camp commander. Jiraiya’s priapic caveman Guu subdues every foe
physically and sexually. Women have no place in these raw fantasies.
Ironically as the work of these artists has become known
outside Japan through the Web, rampant piracy has led to declining sales. Matsu
sums up his fellow-artists’ complaints when he says wearily, “All my manga has
been digitally pirated, and that’s not cool. I know for a fact that people are
going to see these digital versions and then not buy print books, and that
makes me a little upset….People have to make their living off of drawings, and
if I can’t make money off of that, it just makes me not want to draw, frankly.
It’s kind of depressing.”
“Massive” is not for readers who disapprove of homosexuality
or explicit sexual activity in comics. But broader-minded readers will gain intriguing
insights into a segment of Japanese pop culture that’s virtually unknown in the
By Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd, Graham Kolbeins
Fantagraphic Books: $35., 280 pp, paperback