Review: The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: Master of Gay Erotic Manga

Artist(s): Gengoroh Tagame.

Here’s a review by my friend Jean-Paul Jennequin (see the site LGBT BD for another of our collaborations) of the recent Tagame anthology. For the interested reader, I’ll mention that a second one titled Endless Game has just been published by Bruno Gmünder.


Born in 1964, with a career that started in the late 1980s, Gengoroh Tagame is well known among aficionados of gay erotic art. His comics have been published in French, Spanish and Italian but The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame1 is the first collection of his works in English. It collects six stories dating from 2000 to 2010 and a new one made especially for this book.

“Erotic art” might be a misnomer as Tagame’s works are in fact hardcore pornography and his stock in trade is quite graphic SM. This book offers a good sampling of the last 15 years of Tagame’s production, with stories ranging from the charming (Hairy Oracle tells of a macho cop who has to be buggered to get psychic flashes that will help him solve the case he’s working on) to the violently extreme (Arena is the story of a Japanese karate champ who signs in with an underground “fight club” where fighters use an experimental drug that increases their fighting power but also their libido). In the seven stories, we can see Tagame exploring a variety of fantasy scenarios and locales. While most take place in modern-day Japan, Country Doctor offers a confrontation between the ancestral rural values of agrarian parts of the country and the westernized attitude to sex of the Japanese from big cities. Exorcism takes place in medieval times, an era that Tagame has a distinct fondness from and to which he comes back time and again. Missing takes place in an unnamed foreign country where a Japanese journalist goes literally through hell to bring the murderers of his cameraman.

The stories are well chosen in that the sampling shows work done by Tagame for different sorts of publications : gay male monthlies G-Men and Badi (Tagame was art director and co-founder of the former) and all-comics quarterly book-format magazines Nikutai-ha and Kinniku-otoko. The former have all-male gay readerships while the latter have more mixed readerships that overlap with those of yaoi (and thus include a goodly number of female readers). Tagame often focuses more on the purely sexual aspect of the stories aimed at his all-gay readership while putting more human interest in the ones aimed at a mixed audience. But those two elements – sex and passion – are always present in Tagame’s work and have been there from the start, which is one of the many reasons why he is so highly regarded by connoisseurs of Japanese gay comics.

One cannot emphasize enough the sterling job done by the team of Anne Ishii (producer and translator), Chip Kidd (designer) and Graham Kolbeins (editor) – but even those titles seem unable to mirror the reality of what seems very much a joint effort. The book is beautifully designed (and comes from PictureBox, a publisher specializing in “art comics”, which is in itself a way of saying that Tagame is an artist with a vision). Each story is followed by very revealing comments from Tagame himself, and Passion is bookended with revealing and informative introduction and postface by Kidd and Kolbeins.

The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame works not only as a great introduction to the works of Tagame but also to the whole genre of Japanese gay comics (or bara) that Kidd, Kolbeins and Ishii aim to get back to in an anthology scheduled for 2014, Massive. The demise of their publisher PictureBox may mean that the new book might be longer in the offing but in the meanwhile, their publishing activities are chronicled on Graham Kolbeins’ tumbler site, Gay Manga!

  1. 256 pages, Picture Box. Available from bookshops or online, such as at Amazon.
    UPDATE Jan. 1: The upcoming Massive anthology will finally be published by Fantagraphics. See this interview.

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