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The queer community, especially in the U.S., is a hard place right now. It is easy enough for someone who does not pay attention to politics much to see a local pride event or the litany of advertisements from major corporations supporting the queer community that everything will be fine. The reality is much different.
Rather, many areas of the country are still significantly hostile to LBGTQ+ people. The southeast, which I call home, is particularly bad given the overwhelming conservative majorities across state and local governments. Said conservative majorities are also actively being used to try and regulate the ability of gay and transgender people to exist publicly.
That being said, these issues also hold true in Japan, where according to Equaldex, overall governmental and public attitudes toward queer people are still a fair bit worse than in the States. Outside of big metropolitan areas like Tokyo, rights for LGBTQ+ people are pretty up in the air. All of this is to say that queer representation is more important than ever, and Rei Taki’s Last Gender: When We Are Nameless is a fairly interesting attempt at it.
The manga focuses on a queer hotspot called BAR California, where folks from all walks of life can meet and do whatever, and yes I do mean whatever. Most forms of intimate action are not only allowed but actively accommodated. It is here the story proceeds through a number of character vignettes, each representing one or more parts of the alphabet soup and telling their stories.
One preface worth putting out there immediately is that, while this manga is not necessarily supposed to be porn, it does contain a good amount of sexually explicit images. After all, the primary focus is on dating and hookups. Even I did not realize it until after buying the thing, though the volume being the only one in plastic wrap on the entire shelf probably should have been a tip-off. While there is something to be said for depictions of queer people being overly sexual, Last Gender does so in a way that is both informative about various identities and also honest about the struggles these identities bring to its characters.
A good example of this comes in chapter two, which focuses on a trans woman named Ran. Given her gender identity and attraction to both men and women, Ran has often been fetishized to the point of self-hatred. It is only through another character’s persistence in hanging out with her that she is able to finally find someone who accepts her, which makes for a short and sweet ending.
However, as enjoyable as the series is, it is also not without its problems. For starters, given that each character only gets about a chapter, outside of BAR California’s seemingly lone employee Yo, a lot of development is crammed into about 20-40 pages each. This makes a lot of arcs seem incredibly rushed, despite the point of the manga being to give these characters space to tell their story. It is possible that some of them will return in later chapters since there are two more volumes afterward, but as a first impression, it leaves a lot to be desired.
The second issue ties in with the first, which concerns the identities of the characters. Given how little space each person is given, the core aspects of their queer identities seem almost trivialized in how rushed out they are. Some scenes feel incredibly awkward, like when Ran drops her pants and just shouts out that she is trans and bisexual at Mao as if Taki realized how many pages were left in the chapter just needed to fill some kind of identity quota.
Still, for as rushed as it can feel at points, there are enough tender moments to make up for it. Masanori’s chapter about being bigender was particularly moving, especially since it can be harder for older queer people to express themselves given that social attitudes toward them tend to fall more negatively with older demographics.
It is by no means perfect, but given that it is only three volumes total, there is a decent chance I will finish it out, for no reason other than having nothing else to read. Last Gender offers a unique perspective when it comes to those who are still, by and large, forced to negatively contend with their queer identity due to societal heteronormative pressure. Those who are looking for something a bit more openly sexual on these issues should give it a chance.
Have you read Last Gender? Let me know down in the comments.
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