Making its English language debut this month is Last Gender, an exploration of sexuality and gender identity in Japan. Welcome to “BAR California”, a place where people with different genders, propensities, and sexual orientations gather to find a certain “something”. A transgender bisexual who has been hurt by the voices of others, a pansexual looking for true love, and a person who identities as both male and female. There are as many sexualities as there are people.
One of the most fascinating things about Japan is the constant wavering between traditional and modern values. It’s one of the most innovative places in the world when it comes to technology, but they stubbornly hold onto outdated practices such as only allowing physical money in many restaurants and shops. It is also one of the most creative places when it comes to entertainment and fashion, but at the same time is staunchly traditional. When it comes to Last Gender, traditional values are pushed aside as readers are given a look at gender/sexual diversity in Japan in a very down-to-earth fashion.
The series is made up of vignettes that segue into each other, with the focus on characters who feel they don’t fit in when it comes to sexuality or gender identity. Whilst manga isn’t always known for being subtle, this series definitely falls into that category with Rei Taki taking a surprisingly nuanced and reserved take on what makes these people different. From the opening segment that focuses on Manami – a married woman who has struggled for a long time with her attraction to other women – each character is given an equal spotlight, with everything coming across as very authentic. Ran – a bisexual transwoman – has a particularly moving story with a fear of no one accepting her due to her orientation and body. We also see the impact such backgrounds can have on family life with pansexual Mao constantly being chastised by his parents for his choices and frequently being offered various therapies.
All the action is watched over by mysterious barman Yo who enforces the establishments rules and guides newcomers. Yo’s presence helps emphasise the anthology format whilst also adding some extra intrigue to the series as we still have a lot to learn about him.
Art wise, Taki is well suited to this style of story. Her characters are all nice to look at and she has a great sense of style when it comes to their designs. But it’s the little things she is best at, with lots of subtle facial expressions and body language being used that enhances the style storytelling she is going for.
Last Gender 1 is a terrific opening volume and explores topics in a sensitive fashion that are not often examined to this degree in manga. Anyone who wants to see a modern take on gender and sexuality in Japan needs to give this a look.
Last Gender 1 is out now 27 October Vertical (9781647291914, p/b, £12.99)
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