Manga — Gengoroh Tagame TCAF panel transcript!

(it’s probably safe to assume most of these links are pretty NSFW)

In Toronto a couple of months ago I had the privilege of attending a panel featuring the world-renowned gay comic artist Gengoroh Tagame. Japanese manga artists don’t often tour worldwide so being able to see them in person is a rare alignment of the stars depending on what festivals you’re able to attend that given year (I still remember being devastated at missing out on Naoko Takeuchi visiting SDCC in 1998).

The panel also featured Tagame’s long-time translator and localizer, Anne Ishii, and her collaborator at MASSIVE, Graham Kolbeins. Additionally there was Leyla Aker there, SVP of Publishing at Viz, able to offer insight into the other side of the coin, BL (yaoi) manga (Viz owns the imprint SuBLime).

What followed was an insightful look at Tagame’s artistic history and the changes that took place in the gay manga publishing space over the past couple of decades in Japan. As a historian and a critic Tagame is very thoughtful about his art and hearing his lived experiences and take-aways was fascinating.

I highly recommend reading the entire transcript of the panel, thanks to Deb Aoki!

Tagame also shared some of his evolving thoughts on genre boundaries and the controversial term “bara”:

“When I look at gay art in comics as a critic, I get really anxious about that division precisely because the simplistic way of dividing it is that BL represents more romance, narratives, thinner body types, more effeminate characters. And then so-called “gay manga” would be just more diesel, big guys and more hardcore sex, etc.

But what happens when the creator is a woman doing more hardcore work? Is that considered gay? Is it BL just because she’s female? Is it about the audience, or is it about the creators? So those are definitely things I think about a lot as a critic.

Furthermore, going back to the gender of creators, that’s problematic as well because sometimes BL creators– and I’m speaking just from personal acquaintance with some of these creators– may be biologically female or identify on the page as heterosexual women, but sometimes they’re actually lesbian or transgender.”

“I mentioned in the Massive anthology that I actually personally hate the description “bara” comics, because it’s inaccurate and a false representation, but I’m thinking now based on all the issues I’ve just delineated that “bara” could actually be a very convenient term to describe the situation, or the style.

The reason I hated the description “bara comics” is because the one thing I wanted in the 21st century for people to stop appropriating this terrible word in association with gay men. I don’t want there to be any link between this derogatory term with the gay community. But, seeing it used as a way to describe just the content makes it apparent that it’s very convenient for talking about art that is linked by characters that are muscle-y, huge, and hairy, versus more feminine theme of willowy, romantic figures. That’s a delineation that I can appreciate, I think now, the more I think about it– “bara” could potentially emancipate the content from its creators.”

Read the rest of the transcript here!

You can also read more interviews with Tagame and other gay manga artists in Massive: Gay Japanese Manga And The Men Who Make It.

Games — Hatoful Boyfriend on Vita & PS4, Holiday Star coming

I’ve already obtained every single Steam achievement for Hatoful Boyfriend, even completing the epilogue after the final dreadful route. Yet I am still compelled to buy the game for my PlayStation Vita which was released just last week, along with for the PlayStation 4. They added an additional route written by Hato Moa, featuring the bird Tohri who is normally only found in the prequel Holiday Star.


Lucky for us Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star has also been announced for the makeover treatment and will be coming out from Mediatonic and Devolver Digital in the Fall for all supported platforms (PC. Vita, and PS4). I have a friend who has played through the original doujinshi release of Holiday Star and she reports it’s just as messed up as the first game, so I’m extremely excited for it.


If you are unfamiliar with Hatoful Boyfriend then Laura Hudson makes a compelling argument for the subversiveness of the game in her review. And if you aren’t even sure how to approach dating sims like Hatoful Boyfriend in the first place then I can certainly teach you. But if you’re an old pro like me and my friend Julian, you can listen to us talk all manner of Hatoful Boyfriend spoilers on the Gamers with Jobs podcast.

I love Hatoful Boyfriend. Creator Hato Moa is such an interesting person. You should definitely follow her Tumblr!

I also highly recommend the Hatoful Boyfriend drama CDs. They’re adorable and feature a cast of really talented and popular voice actors (Shuu is voiced by Dio from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure). You can even buy translated Hatoful Boyfriend manga drawn by Hato Moa on the Amazon Kindle store.

Anime — Pillow Boys

Lately I find myself having to explain Japanese drama CDs to people more and more often. It’s because a lot of the techniques used in these situation audio dramas, usually aimed at women, have been finding their way into other media that makes it over to Western awareness, most recently being the Fire Emblem if binaural voice over dialogues when getting intimate with your army (wear headphones for this).

The topic also came up when I was livetweeting the new anime Makura no Danshi, a currently airing show that can be watched via Crunchyroll. While this new anime doesn’t have the ASMR-inducing voice effects that the binaural recordings do, it has the same sort of scenarios that one-on-one drama CDs involve, basically dude talking at you and telephoning your character’s lines back. Each week a different animated guy will sit and pleasantly chat about your day for five minutes.

Once you break past the initial embarrassment factor it’s nice to chill and bask in the presence of a piece of media unabashedly catering to women.

If you’re curious about more stuff like this, many longer drama CDs exist. They range from transmedia tie-ins to existing properties, radio-style dramas, one-on-one situation CDs, BL dramas. There are even plenty of spicy 18+ offerings. Translations usually abound online thanks to Tumblr, if you don’t mind following along or being surprised after the fact about what the sweet Japanese guy was actually growling in your ear.

Or you can wait for Fire Emblem Fates to come out next year!

Goods — Ugly Fenris

People responsible for Western games merchandise, we need to talk.

Lately a lot of my friends and artists I follow have been catching up on the Dragon Age series. I noticed when they hit Dragon Age 2 a big uptick in Fenris adoration came about. I was quite the fan of him when I played originally and find he still is a favorite of mine. But there’s not really any merchandise to buy of him, oddly enough. So they get by with fanart and fan-made goods.

Then imagine my surprise when I see the same artists reeling at the little vinyl Dragon Age 2 figures being sold at the most recent San Diego Comic-Con. Turns out you somehow made Fenris ugly and this is definitely not the kind of goods they want on their desk. I certainly don’t, which sucks because in general I do want a desk-Fenris. Not this McDonald’s Happy Meal gremlin, though.

(It’s not even the problem being “Oh no he’s ugly” it’s “Oh no literally the only figure I can legitimately buy of him is terrifying to behold.”)


Look, I know you guys are all chasing that Funko Pop! dragon of cheaply made vinyl blobs to line the walls of Newbury Comics but that’s just not gonna cut it for the players who I see most often championing your games.

And it’s with situations like this that I see a completely different approach to merchandising for women in the West versus Japan’s extensive goods market aimed at women. There’s a really big disconnect between what the fans I know want to buy and what is provided.

I realize sheer side of geographical area and retail shelf space are a completely different beast in the United States versus Japan, but in a world where you can distribute most everything online and where plenty of spots are somehow made for niche resin superhero statues: why is it still a limiting factor?

Japanese companies like Good Smile have now gotten to a point where they’re teaming up with other figure company Max Factory and opening a separate brand, Orange Rouge, to handle creating Figma, Nendoroid, scale statues, and other collectibles of male characters for women fans. And Western companies like Marvel team up with Good Smile to make a bunch of cute little Avengers Nendoroids, among other things. They can even make Solid Snake look adorable.

What’s confusing is why more Western game companies don’t collaborate more often with Japanese companies like Good Smile to produce higher quality figures. It’s not unheard of, even for BioWare themselves. They teamed up with Square-Enix’s Play Arts KAI for some Mass Effect action figures. And they paired up with Kotobukiya for the Shepard and Liara sexy bishoujo statues, but only women figures nothing of the men characters of similar quality for women fans to buy. It’s a bummer.

I guess there’s that Garrus bust? I don’t know of anyone who would want a bust…

Give me a statue of Fenris like this, on a throne of broken crates like at his trashy house and with a bottle of wine. As he do.


Games — Understanding Dating Sims

After publishing my article on DRAMAtical Murder, Polygon has let me write up something new, this time concerning dating sims in general. I’ve always wanted to make a sort of how-to-play 101 piece on dating sims to link to my friends because I noticed a lot of them were having trouble understanding visual novel gameplay systems and repetitive story branching. It’s not exactly the mechanics breakdown I promised in my otome history post but it is another step in the series.

Also published recently is my friend Miellyn who wrote an article about romance in a wide variety of video games for Vice, and she was kind enough to get a quote from me for it. We were both on a Romance in Games panel at PAX East 2014, which was quite bawdy and a lot of fun! There’s also a lot of BioWare folks quoted in the article as well, along with my good friend Arden who made Kindness Coins.

I’m so excited to see interest in these kind of games and topics of romance increase. There’s a whole lot more to be explored in the genre and the inspirations these games cause could turn into some really unique games down the line!

Steven Universe

Through my past couple of sick days I’ve been using the time at home laying on my couch to blast through Steven Universe, a show breathlessly acclaimed by all of my friends. I had been enjoying all the fanart but hadn’t watched much of the show myself, until now.

I’ll admit, Steven Universe didn’t grab me at first. I had seen the pilot last year when it went up online and found the concept interesting but irritating at the same time. As I got further into the show itself I saw more details on the Crystal Gems’ relationship to their youngest, half-human member Steven and I became endeared to all of them.

Steven Universe doesn’t balk from delving into themes of non-traditional family units and even consent. All the characters are their own flawed beings, with three non-human Gems trying their best to act as mothers for the half-human child their beloved colleague left behind. Steven is just a kid and watching him learn how to negotiate with parental units who don’t always know what best to do is fascinating. They all learn and grow from each other.

I also really enjoy all the anime references and throwbacks, with plenty of allusions to Revolutionary Girl Utena, Sailor Moon, Ghibli, etc. You can even spot little references in the backgrounds, like Steven’s Gitaroo Man and Cloud Strife figurines.

You can now watch the first half of Steven Universe streaming on Hulu, and the rest is up on Amazon Instant.

Manga — Persona Q

The Persona Q game combines two of my favorite thing—Persona fanfiction and Etrian Odysseys map-drawing. With all the manga news coming out of Anime Expo and Comic-Con this past week I’ve been reminded about the existence of separate manga adaptations of the Persona 3 side and the Persona 4 side of the game. And that they’re readily available to read through Crunchyroll Manga, thanks to publisher Kodansha, if you have a paid subscription! Print versions will be coming in Feb-March 2016.

I just read the Side: P3 version first since that’s the route I took when playin the game (I missed Shinjiro) and I wanted to see if it differed at all. The Side: P3 artist, Sou Tobita, draws really cute expressions and tiny dynamic character poses. Side: P4’s style, drawn by Mizunomoto, has slightly more realistic proportions but still in-line with the game’s super-deformed character designs.


It’s hard to tell how much you’ll get out of these comics if you haven’t already played Persona 3 or Persona 4 and gotten attached to some of the characters. Though the set-ups do a pretty good job of explaining Persona Q’s unique situation and the different Persona games’ particular oddities.


Also recently announced was UDON Entertainment is bringing over the Persona Q artbook and the Persona 4 manga adaptation into English! (You can preorder the print edition here) This is really exciting as I’ve been holding off buying the Persona Q artbook in Japanese and I’ll buy pretty much any Persona 4 adaptation that exists.