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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Manga Review: The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame

The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame
Author: Gengoroh Tagame
PictureBox Inc.
256 pages
Provocative to say the least, Japanese comic master Gengoroh Tagame’s gay BDSM stories are legendary for both their virtuosic drawing and their unparalleled passion. PictureBox’s oversized omnibus includes ten English editions of short stories dating from the late 1990s to 2012. (Source:
Content warning: This review covers a very sexually explicit manga that has scenes of rape, torture, BDSM, and related issues that can be triggering/upsetting to readers. Feel free to skip this post if those things aren't cool for you.
Technically, this book is yaoi. But I would never suggest it among titles like Love Mode and Wild Rock and the Finder series, although the Finder series can get pretty brutal. Gengoroh Tagame's works are a different beast all together: explicit, violent bara manga - also known as "men's love", m/m manga specifically targeted towards men. No uke/seme dynamics here, just grown burly men in sexual scenarios. Except that Tagame doesn't play nice and neither do his characters.
In other words? Hide this one far, far away from young, innocent eyes. Don't let your parents even see the cover. When it's good, it's good, but when it's bad, it's nasty. But if you can handle a plethora of muscles and non-con situations, then The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame should definitely be on your bookshelves.

Gengoroh Tagame takes great delight in putting his characters through the most outlandish of scenarios, that usually end up in sexual intercourse for everyone involved. He sets readers up with an innocuous tale of a detective who can only solve crimes through orgasm ("Hairy Oracle"), then knocks any notion of the other stories being similar with "Arena", in which a pro fighter's journey to America ends with him involved in a bloody all-or-nothing battle royale which ends in the loser's rape, much to the delight of the live audience.
What separates Tagame's work aesthetically from other yaoi manga-ka is that his characters are not waif-like young men with dewey eyes and hairless chests. Tagame's men are full grown bears of men with big muscles and even bigger members who don't blush or conform to the uke/seme stereotypes. Even with the main character of "Arena" is subjugated by his opponents, he still maintains an air of masculine domination, laying low only when not doing so will certainly mean his death.
Real talk: rape is a very common theme throughout this book. It is actively used as a weapon to destroy men's wills and turn them into slaves. It is used to kill. Rape and sexual torture serve as major plot points in several of these stories. It is not enjoyable or made pretty to obfuscate the fact, and only in one story does one character grow to enjoy the environment he's been forced into - but that's quite a stretch to put it that way. And it definitely does not end in romance or love for those involved, a trope which far too many yaoi titles of all origins fall into.
Okay, not every story is a rape fest waiting to happen. One story is about a country doctor who stays out of the city because the sex in his small town is so great (although this story has a very surprising twist). Another is a dark historical piece about a young lord who cannot control his own dark BDSM ways and his second in command who gladly helps his lord resolve his primal urges. And of course, there is the opening piece, which is Tagame's singular more typical 'yaoi/BL' story in the collection. Can we have a whole book about a guy who solves tricky mysteries by receiving the important clues through sex? Because that sounds awesome.
Tagame's artwork is incredibly detailed and spares nothing to the imagination. His style seems to delight in scenes of sexual anarchy, BDSM and torture, explicit material in which this volume does not lack in. There is blood and other messy bodily fluids, and Tagame really does not skimp on the penises. Like, he really doesn't. This man really loves his tighty whities.

There is nothing delicate about The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame. Everything is in your face and, well, passionate. Some scenes will make you laugh. Other scenes will make you squirmy and uncomfortable. But no scenes in this book will bore you. As an introduction to the sweaty, muscle-and-hairy chest world of bara, you can't look for any better book than this.