Review by Frank Plowright
To Western ways of thinking there’s so much craziness about Japanese society that it seems odd to consider that explicit pictures of genitals remain forbidden, which is why much of Massive: Gay Erotic Manga’s content is being seen uncensored for the first time, yet outside its country of creation. And this is from a country with a massive market for gay comics. North American censorship laws are technically far more relaxed, but explicit material is still largely confined to a ghetto, distributors and retailers either fearing community outrage or sharing the views that prompt it. It all makes Massive both a groundbreaking publication and simultaneously one that’s much needed, and it lives up to both billing and stature.
In common with most uncategorised manga, this content is designed to be read quickly, and there’s a certain irony that far more time will be spent reading the contextualisation, the creator biographies, and about the packaging, translation and formatting than the strips themselves, which are largely brief spurts, if you will.
Nine artists are featured, starting with Gengoroh Tagame, first anthologised by PictureBox in 2013, and in common with all other creators introduced by a biographical career trajectory overview. He’s a stunning artist who’s studied anatomy, yet nevertheless supplies the occasional stumpy figure for panel-fitting convenience. His tale set in a World War II prisoner of war camp is the least explicit in the book, yet one of steamy sadistic passion effectively told.
The remaining selections are chosen to be diverse, to show the fullest possible diaspora of gay manga, with the running order of creators being Inu Yoshi, Kumada Poohsuke, Takeshi Matsu, Jiraiya, Gai Mizuki, Fumi Miyabi, Seizoh Ebisubashi and Kazuhide Ichikawa. Fantasy is all, and these range from the joyously hilarious caveman excess provided by Jiraiya (who also supplies the book’s sole naked woman) to Miyabi’s novel method villagers have when it comes to dealing with a demon. Almost all Mizuki’s content is explicit sex, although with a comic twist, a frequent theme as many stories are also very funny. Ebisubashi’s cautionary tale of teacher Mr Tokugawa’s private exhibitionism (sample art right) toys with the clichés of scripted sex films down to the pseudo-documentary narrative descriptions, while Ichikawa comes up with a novel manner of Yakuza bosses settling their differences. Some strips are out and out excess, while others such as Matsu’s clever use of illustration as fantasy aid retain a subtlety (sample art left).
A second connecting factor is present. These are all great artists and the diversity covered is astounding with very little crossover between the styles. Poohsuke is represented by two completely different works, one that could almost be a newspaper strip in execution, and the other fetishistic brutality concerning foot worship. You’d not consider it to be the work of the same person without the explanation. For all the wonder of the art, however, the stories are largely simple and straightforward. They represent a genre, but don’t stun with their insight or approach.
Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It grew from the enthusiasm of Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd and Graham Kolbeins, astounded that despite the popularity of Yaoi, more sedate gay manga, no-one considered anthologising the explicit material. While the selection is of necessity a starting point rather than encyclopedic it’s difficult to imagine the curation could be better.