Queering Black Jack - Orientaliska Studier

Queering Black Jack - Orientaliska Studier

Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto Queering Black Jack A Look at How the Manga Industry Adapts to Changing Reader Demographics Keywords: gender studies, manga,...

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Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto

Queering Black Jack A Look at How the Manga Industry Adapts to Changing Reader Demographics Keywords: gender studies, manga, queer readings, Tezuka Osamu, Boys Love

Introduction There is ‘gender trouble’ in all three major comics cultures. After briefly discussing the issue, this chapter investigates the changing gender demographics in Japanese manga readership, comparing a recent reboot of the classic manga Black Jack with the original work. The original Black Jack series (1973–1983) was created by ‘God of Manga’ Tezuka Osamu, and its prequel, Young Black Jack (2011–present), created over twenty years after Tezuka’s death, with a new scenarist and artist, Motonagi Masaki and Ōkuma Yūgo, and fully endorsed by Tezuka’s son and daughter. The latter is noteworthy because the new series is a controversial work, with some readers suggesting that its gendersubversive elements insult Tezuka’s legacy. What Tezuka would think of the new series if he were alive is anyone’s best guess, but based on many of Tezuka’s earlier works, it is clear that he did not shy away from issues of gender identity, and sexuality.


A closer look at the three major cultural spheres where comics,1 or sequential art, has been successful as an artistic and a commercial endeavor—English-language comics, Franco-Belgian bande dessinée (BD), and Japanese manga—reveals that the three have much in common. However, they differ significantly in their approach to who may be an artist. While one could argue that, to a certain extent, all three have always been a boys club where women, both as artists and readers, may find it harder to gain a foothold, there are gender issues that only recently have been dealt with in the English-language and French-language comics worlds, but which are much less of an issue in Japanese manga. A few examples shall illustrate that. At the Eisner Awards 2016 it became topical that a surprising number of women artists had been nominated. The very fact that it was a cause to rejoice for supporters of gender equality in comics attests to the exceptionality. In contradistinction, the awards at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée in Angoulême, which many call the most important sequential art festival in the world, complied with business as usual: among the thirty nominees for its prestigious Grand Prix, there was not a single woman. This caused an outcry among female BD artists, their supporters, and feminists alike, in France as well as abroad. In Japan, however, since the late 1960s, many female artists have not just built successful careers, but tackled sexuality and gender taboos and created groundbreaking stories that to this day are enjoyed by readers of the entire gender spectrum. Moreover, many female manga artists are successful outside of ‘female’ genres such as shōjo (girls) manga. The further we delve into the history of manga, the more we learn that manga artists, regardless of their own gender identity, have been subverting contemporary gender conventions within their works for many decades. What is important here is that such tales have not been marginalized as being only of interest to minorities. They are part of the mainstream, like Takahashi Rumiko’s shōnen (boys) manga series, Ranma 1/2, in which the male protagonist suffers from a curse that turns him into a girl whenever he comes into contact with hot water. Another prominent artist active across gender lines is Takemiya Keiko, who apart from her highly acclaimed and frequently awarded works was the first manga artist to 1

In line with recent comics studies custom, the word comics is used for both the singular and plural forms.


become a university president in 2012 (at Kyoto Seika University, where she serves as a professor). Female artists who, like their male colleagues, have the talent and stamina to keep up with the grueling work schedule that magazine serialization requires, do not feel the pressure to ‘stay in their lane’ and let the men do ‘the real work’ the way female comics artists in other regions might.2 Moreover, their work is often highly acclaimed by cultural and literary critics as well as industry award juries, without being held in contempt because of the artist’s and/or the intended audience’s gender, derided, for example, as ‘chicklit,’3 or ‘mommy porn’ if relating to erotic content. Historically, the most prominent early groundbreaking artist with regard to gender subversion is Tezuka Osamu, the creator of Black Jack. His manga Princess Knight (1953–1956) features a cross-dressing protagonist, that is, a princess born with two hearts, one male, one female. Artistically as well as thematically, Japanese manga is not ‘a man’s world’ and it has not been for many decades. Genres and subgenres for predominantly female audiences are commercially viable. Nevertheless, the most profitable manga genres are still those aimed at a male readership: shōnen (boys) and seinen (young men) manga. In recent years, however, the readership of these male-oriented genres has been identifying increasingly as female, with over half of the readers of the most popular ‘male’ magazines now being girls and women. In this article, I will analyze some of the tactics the industry uses to embrace this change in reader demographics, and I will illuminate why there is little resistance against this change within the industry.


Until recently, most jobs available to female artists in the Franco-Belgian BD industry involved coloring in art drawn by male artists. This inclination is famously depicted in Franquin’s classic BD series Gaston La Gaffe (Dupuis), where all female staff members do the coloring, secretarial, or menial (cleaning, coffee making) labor.


This kind of casual everyday misogyny, the reactionary and automatic, almost kneejerk dismissal of women’s writing and stories, pervasive in what we can refer to as the ‘West’ (Anglophone and Western European nations) has been analyzed in detail by Joanna Russ (1983).


1 Manga’s Changing Reader Demographics Traditionally, the major genres of manga have denoted a clearly marked, gendered audience. Many manga magazines indicate their intended gendered audience (boys or girls) in their title; however, this does not limit who can and does buy, and read, the magazine. Since the global manga boom between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s, shōnen manga series that are popular in Japan, like Attack on Titan and One Punch Man, have also become hits on the international market and seen official as well as unofficial translations into many languages (the latter being known as scanlations, unauthorized or pirated fan scans and translations distributed through online networks). Female readers have always been part of the shōnen manga audience; however, the data gathered by publishers through reader questionnaires4 now show that at least half, and sometimes more than half, of the readers of ‘manga for boys’ do not identify as male. While this change in demographics is interesting on its own, the industry’s reaction is too. Instead of trying to win back their target audience, many editors and artists are interested in making sure their works please the readers they demonstrably have. A possible reason for this is that even the largest shōnen manga magazine, Weekly Shōnen Jump, while still selling over two million copies a week, has trouble achieving sales anywhere near the level of its heyday in the early 1990s, when the print-run was six million copies a week. Catering to the needs of their current readers and customers, more and more male artists are incorporating elements that appeal to female readers. The elements that attract female readers can be both narrative and stylistic; the latter accommodating the ‘female gaze’ and most prominently expressed in character design. When discussing Black Jack, I will mainly look at the stylistic elements of the new series. But before that I would like to briefly present a few other works that appear to cater to female readers within male genres recently. Thereafter, I will introduce the original Black Jack series and its much more recent prequel Young 4

These questionnaires are printed on standard size postcards included in every manga magazine as well as almost every commercial book edition, and they contain an exhaustive list of detailed questions regarding the content of the publication. The postage is paid by the publisher, and readers filling out these cards provide data that publishers use to determine the content of publications yet to appear.


Black Jack and demonstrate that this series is not merely designed to appeal to a growing number of female readers in general, but in particular to female readers of what was historically a lesser known genre known as Boys Love manga. Boys Love, or BL for short, is a genre where predominantly female authors create works with romantic and sexual relationships between male characters for predominantly female readers, and thus it is surprising to see BL elements prominently featured in a reboot of an extremely well-known shōnen manga. Since the late 1990s, when sales peaked (coinciding with the coming of age of many readers born during the second postwar baby boom), manga magazines have seen a steady decline in readership. Japan’s aging and also declining population is one likely cause, as is the lack of disposable income among young people. Another reason is the loss of readers to other media, with interactive online games and other webbased media as the likely culprits. While an increasingly large number of girls and women play games too, male audiences seem more likely to give up reading entirely in favor of gaming. That female readers now make up at least half of the readership of ‘male’ manga is something editors may talk in hushed tones about, but that nevertheless influences their editorial guidelines. As a matter of fact, shōnen manga are no longer manga for boys, but manga with boy characters, and seinen manga have been turning from manga for young men to manga with mainly boys or men as protagonists. In short, the names of the major manga genres and magazine titles no longer refer to their gendered readership, but, by tendency, the gender of their narratives’ protagonists.

2 Catering to the Female Gaze in Boys Manga In 2007, market leader Shueisha replaced its Monthly Shōnen Jump Magazine with the new magazine SQ Jump. Selling about 250,000 copies a month, this magazine, which ostensibly targets a male audience, includes content that appeals to female readers from the get-go. In 2016, one of its most popular series is Platinum End (2015–present), created by the hit duo Oba Tsugumi (scenario) and Obata Takeshi (art). Oba and Obata are most famous for the series Death Note (2003–2006) and Bakuman (2008–2012). Platinum End features a male protagonist who is assisted by a female angel and discovers that he is not the only human 115

with an angel companion. While the angel companions in Platinum End play a similar role as the shinigami (death gods) in Death Note, Platinum End’s angels are drawn in a style that is decidedly feminine, many of them not just adorned with feathers, but also lace that seems to organically merge with their bodies. Where the shinigami were designed to look frightening, the angels are pretty and cute, and when adorning the cover of SQ Jump, entirely drawn in pastel colors. Oba and Obata’s new series is not the only one in SQ Jump displaying a generically feminine aesthetic with characters that look at home as much in shōjo as in shōnen manga, rendered in soft pastels rather than the primary and sometimes aggressive colors (bright reds and yellows suggesting danger) traditionally associated with the covers of shōnen manga. Other works with the same aesthetics are Kagami Takaya and Yamamoto Yamato’s Seraph of the End (2012– present) and Hoshino Katsura’s D. Gray-man (2004–present). Seinen manga works too feature stories and covers that appeal to female readers. A recent example is the series Innocent (2013–2015) and its sequel Innocent Rouge (2015–present) by Sakamoto Shin’ichi, running in Grand Jump (Shueisha). Grand Jump is a popular manga magazine for young men, which regularly uses photographs of young women in bikinis on its covers, but since Sakamoto’s Innocent began serialization, it presented also an entirely nude cover illustration of the series’ male protagonist. Innocent’s main character, Charles-Henri Sanson (based on the historical figure by the same name), is as an extremely androgynous young man with long wavy hair down to his hips and as such quite a departure from the usual covers that cater to the male gaze of the initial target audience, with not only half-naked girls but also heavily muscled male protagonists like Kinnikuman (Muscle Man) that can serve as unambiguous masculine role models. Innocent caught my attention due to the fact that whenever a new chapter came out, the blogs of BL manga fans lit up with praise for the ‘beauty’ foregrounded in both the art and the narrative. The work’s artist Sakamoto debuted with Shueisha’s Jump label in 1990, and over the first fifteen years of his career he gained renown for heavily muscled male characters and works with hyper-masculine titles and aesthetics like Bloody Soldier (1993), Motor Commando Guy (1995), and Masurao (2005–2006, a comedic series about a buff high school student whose greatest source of anxiety is his overly large penis). After 116

2005, Sakamoto’s art style evolved, losing a lot of the hyper-masculine musculature but sticking to the realism. With The Climber (2007–2012), creating the art for a manga version of a novel by Nitta Jirō (based on the life of a real climber), Sakamoto established himself as being capable of much more than drawing muscle-packed machos. Looking at the covers of the series’ seventeen volumes, we see the same phenomenon as on the SQ Jump magazine covers: illustrations rendered in soft pastels. Sakamoto’s latest two series, Innocent and Innocent Rouge, are loosely based on the life of the ‘Monsieur de Paris’ Charles-Henri Sanson (1739–1806), who came from a long line of executioners and in his lifetime executed almost 3,000 people, including King Louis XVI, and revolutionaries Danton and Robespierre. Mixing fantasy with historical fact, the two series frequently reference (and can be read as an homage to) Ikeda Riyoko’s The Rose of Versailles and its protagonist Oscar. The historical Charles-Henri Sanson was a portly, not particularly handsome man. In Sakamoto’s work, however, he is depicted as a bishōnen, an archetype of a beautiful boy protagonist first popularized in 1970s shōjo manga. He is ethereally pale, with slender limbs, feminine features, and has very long, thick, glossy, wavy black hair. Though Sakamoto never clearly employs BL manga conventions, in the first volume of the series the young Charles-Henri develops a tentative but platonic relationship with another beautiful young boy. As Charles-Henri’s youth is rife with tragedy, which will make him the monster he is known as, fate has it that when their paths cross again this young boy will be one of the first he has to execute. Sakamoto explains in a 2015 interview that he included this tragic but entirely fictive love story to draw a parallel between the disdain of the higher classes for the lower, rife in French society before the French revolution, and the disdain with which members of the LGBT community are treated today.5 But this parallel may not be apparent to all readers, and some people read Sakamoto’s work as a BL narrative because of this episode. Matching the life of the historic Charles-Henri, Sakamoto has the character later have sex with women, marry, and have children to


Original in French (Sakamoto quoted in an article by Arrivé, 2015): “Je voulais briser les préjugés négatifs qui existent encore aujourd'hui, et faire le parallèle avec les rapports de classe qu'il y avait à l'époque. Les nobles regardaient de haut les gens du peuple. C'est le même mépris que produit aujourd'hui le racisme ou l'homophobie.”


which he passes on his métier.6 In spite of the inclusion of the BL-like story arc, Sakamoto (unlike Young Black Jack’s artist Ōkuma) avoids being accused of catering to BL manga fans because of his consistent art style, which remains realistic throughout all chapters, and because Charles-Henri is not the only androgynously drawn character. Almost everyone, including women like Charles-Henri’s abusive grandmother, and significantly older men like his doting uncle, is beautiful and androgynous. If everyone is beautiful, then no one stands out as particularly so, and Sakamoto’s extraordinarily pretty Charles-Henri blends into the crowd. In the sequel, the series Innocent Rouge, Sakamoto focuses more on Charles-Henri’s younger sister, Marie-Joseph, who has aided him with executions since she was ten and whose inborn sadism and aggression make her more suited for the job than he is. Marie-Joseph too appears androgynous and has a partner called André (just like Oscar’s love interest in The Rose of Versailles). In contrast to her brother Charles-Henri, she has pale hair that Sakamoto draws in a style reminiscent of punk fashion, standing up like a Mohawk and with shaved sides. Thus, the series provides something for every kind of mature reader: opulent Rococo style surroundings and shōjo manga elements like detailed lace and flower accents, scenes of male and female nudity and sexuality as well as depictions of torture and murder.


Though called a monster because of the record amount of convicts he killed, CharlesHenri Sanson’s most important accomplishment was his passionate advocacy for a less cruel form of execution, the guillotine. His son Henri, who would go on to behead Marie-Antoinette with the guillotine, is immortalized in Madame Tussauds’ wax figure museum. Charles-Henri’s grandson was the last in the Sanson family to work as an executioner until mid-19th century. Executions using the guillotine in France were discontinued in the late 1970s.


3 Tezuka Osamu’s Black Jack and its Controversial Prequel Young Black Jack 3.1 Black Jack, the Original Black Jack is possibly the most important work in Tezuka’s career. Although Tezuka had been highly popular from the late 1940s to the late 1960s, and as a manga artist and anime creator had already done an enormous amount of work that fostered the development of manga culture domestically as well as overseas, the early 1970s were a nightmare for him and his production company. Because of his ambitious but risky anime ventures, including animated feature films with sexual content like Cleopatra (1970) and Belladonna of Sadness (1973), Tezuka Productions went out of business. For a while, no major manga magazine would publish any of the manuscripts Tezuka showed them, not until he brought the idea of Black Jack to Shōnen Champion. Skeptical at first, the editor in chief agreed to publish this new series on the condition that it would initially only run for ten weeks and that each chapter could stand on its own (yomikiri). By making all installments self-contained episodes, the series could easily be cancelled. As related in a 2013 Fuji TV documentary about this period in Tezuka’s career, Black Jack had not become particularly popular after the first two weeks of serialization; it was bottom two in the magazine’s series popularity ranking. However, the series came to last ten years. Now, over four decades later, Black Jack is Tezuka’s worldwide bestselling manga, a billion rather than a million seller. With Black Jack, Tezuka was able to salvage his faltering career and maybe even his legacy: the memory of Tezuka’s earlier works and characters, especially from the 1950s and the 1960s, might have been lost if not for the all star series Black Jack, in which over 100 of Tezuka’s characters, like Princess Sapphire (from Princess Knight) and the Phoenix (1967–1988) make an appearance. The pseudonym of the titular character is based on his Japanese first name, Kuro’o (黒男), literally black man. As explained in one of the earlier chapters of the series, jack means man, therefore Black Jack. Being also the name of a poker game, every surgery Jack conducts with his unrivalled skills, is a gamble. Many clients, not careful what they wish for, end up with a lot more than they bargained for. Although Black Jack is ostensibly presented as an amoral and apolitical character, he is also 119

consistently shown making morally just (in Tezuka’s universe) if heavyhanded judgments on those deemed unworthy of his services, no matter how much money they lay down.

3.2 Young Black Jack and Earlier Reboots In 2011, a prequel called Young Black Jack, recounting Jack’s time as a medical student, began serialization in the seinen manga magazine Young Champion. While the scenario, written by Tabata Yoshiaki, is loyal enough to Tezuka’s original narrative to be read as pure homage, the art by Ōkuma Yūgo has been controversial from the start, containing hard to miss elements of parody. After Tezuka’s death in 1989, there have been a considerable number of reboots of Black Jack in many different media, such as manga, anime TV series and films, live action films and TV series, and a Takarazuka Musical Theater Production.7 Depicted by many different artists, Jack was drawn in a large variety of art styles, some of which were very far removed from the original design by Tezuka. Tezuka’s style was cartoonish and betrayed Disney influences decades after his debut. Thus, the original Jack has a relatively round face and very thick eyebrows. In Tezuka’s oeuvre, many characters are drawn with comically enlarged noses and other facial features that mark them as unattractive, but Jack, tall and even-featured for a man who was patched together from scraps as a child, is to be read as quite handsome. But because of new readers’ unfamiliarity with and the datedness of Tezuka’s style, Jack’s handsomeness doesn’t necessarily translate to contemporary audiences. In representations by younger artists in the 1990s and 2000s, we can see Jack’s looks getting an update. His facial features become more angular, one could say masculine, with a larger, more pronounced jaw, never as comically large as the over-emphasized jaws of Marvel and DC comics superheroes, but large enough to code him as handsome. He has fuller lips than the original Tezuka design, gets a strong, straight nose instead of a simple pointy one, and his eyes too have an elongated, more angular design with less bushy eyebrows. 7

Noteworthy for this chapter because all of the actors in the Takarazuka Musical Theater are women, who cross-act when playing male characters. Tezuka grew up in Takarazuka city, and as a child socialized with Takarazuka Musical Theatre performers.


Artist Ōkuma Yūgo’s design differs significantly from almost all earlier updates. Ōkuma’s Jack is not just handsome, he is undeniably pretty (fig. 1). With features that are decidedly more feminine, this Jack polarized readers; one group loved the new design, and the other group claimed that it insults Tezuka’s legacy. As discussed below, Tezuka drew two major cross-gender characters in the original Black Jack series, Imagami Rie (Princess Sapphire from Princess Knight) and Kisaragi Megumi, or Kei, and he went on to draw the shorter series MW, with explicitly homosexual and bisexual protagonists. Thus, there is no definitive argument to be made that were he alive, he would be opposed to his successors playing with gender subversion. The younger Black Jack, especially as he appears on the inside covers of all single book volumes, is depicted in a series of images that look like parody images of Boys Love (or yaoi8) manga. These images are all in glossy color, and in the most striking one, also reproduced in merchandize (that is, posters and plastic clear files), Jack’s body is naked and glistening. Under his left collarbone, he has a tattoo of Tezuka’s Phoenix. There are thick drops of water falling down and landing on his skin, which is colored in a peachy rose, radiantly glowing in a way that would make it perfectly suitable for a women’s skin care advertisement. Jack’s physical scars, apart from the one on his face, are barely visible. In the original series, part of Jack’s face is of a darker color because the skin donated came from a friend of mixed race (Japanese and African-American); however, in Ōkuma’s cover illustrations, this patch of skin is a chameleon, changing color to match, very fashionably, his necktie. In this image, the expression on Jack’s face can be read as provocative. He is looking straight ahead, but at something beside the reader, frowning slightly, holding a scalpel between his lips.


Usage of the terms BL and yaoi vary, but in general BL is used when referring to the commercial genre, and yaoi when referring to derivative narratives created by fans, based on source works.


Fig. 1. Illustration of the revamped Black Jack used for promotional merchandize, sold as a poster and a plastic file. © Tezuka Productions, © Yoshiaki Tabata, © Yu-go Ōkuma, © Akita shoten.


3.3 Young Black Jack’s Appearance In Young Black Jack, the impression of femi-nine beauty rather than masculine handsomeness lies in the components and structure of Jack’s face. It is heart-shaped with high cheekbones and a distinctly smaller jaw than he has in earlier reboots of the 2000s, his lips are fuller and can be described as lush. He still has a straight nose, but it is finer, and his eyes are set wider, almond shaped, with thick black lashes. The scar on his face, as in the earlier versions, is less a disfigurement than a feature that makes him immediately recognizable while marking him as different. His body too, on display in scenes of gratuitous nudity that do not necessarily further the narrative either in the 2011 manga series or the 2015 TV anime, exhibits feminine characteristics. In one color illustration on the inside of vol. 8, Jack’s nude dismembered body is posed in front of a yellow and red flower-patterned background (fig. 2). Here too, he has luminous, iridescent skin. His torso is leaning back, a position that flattens the chest muscles in reality, but it might also make readers read the torso as that of a woman. The scars covering it tell us it is Jack’s. Having not yet had the opportunity to interview Ōkuma about her depiction of Jack, I looked for other hints that would indicate that she draws his chest this way on purpose. Her twitter account, where she retweets another user’s tweet from 10th June 2016, provides a clue: [...] while I was walking home today I came across a group of junior high school students who were discussing the Avengers [live action film], and one of them was indignant saying, “I’m not really fond of Captain [America]. Doesn’t he have big breasts for a guy? I feel awkward looking at him.” And I thought, you, you get it! (Twitter user @9bee_16).9 (Emphasis added)

While the average viewer may not perceive the live action version of Captain America in Marvel’s Avengers franchise in such a way, it is interesting to note what this user, Ōkuma herself, and over five thousand other twitter users found funny,10 namely, that the student’s remark unknowingly referred to a stylistic element found in Japanese BL fanworks based on the Avengers. There, Captain America is usually 9

Translated by the author.


This tweet had 5,538 retweets by other users as of October 9, 2016, and 4,594 users had added it to their favorites.


depicted as a sexually submissive charac-ter with rounder and fuller pectorals and gluteal mus-cles than the actor. Unsurprisingly, user 9bee_16 also identifies as a fu 腐 (short for fujoshi, lit. rotten girl, the name which BL fans use to describe them-selves) in the profile.

Fig. 2. Inside cover illustration of vol. 8 of Young Black Jack. © Tezuka Productions, © Yoshiaki Tabata, © Yu-go Ōkuma, © Akita shoten.


The only other part of Jack’s body rendered in a feminine style is the curve of his spine and his pelvic anterior tilt. Male characters in manga are usually drawn with straight backs, whereas the spine of female characters shows a more pronounced curve. Female models for photo shoots with a pornographic appeal are routinely asked to arch their back more, in order to appear more sexually available to male consumers. Jack has the typically male broad shoulders and narrow hips, but being drawn with an anterior pelvic tilt, which makes the buttocks stick out, his physique invites readings as feminine. Apart from the purely physical characteristics, Jack’s physiological reactions to parts of the narrative also mark his body as feminine. On the book covers, Jack, while looking seductive, is usually somewhat composed and always fully dressed, in a white shirt, a white M.D. coat, and a necktie color-matched to the skin graft on his face (fig. 3). In the racier illustrations on the inside covers and throughout the narrative, Jack is depicted as soaking wet, with closed eyes and parted lips, almost as frequently as he is nude or half-nude for no particular reason, often in the frontispieces of chapters, where the artist has greater freedom than on the paneled pages where she has to follow the narrative parameters provided by the writer.

Fig. 3. Cover illustration of Young Black Jack vol. 4 (from Ōkuma Yūgo’s blog, nd). On every cover, Jack is depicted in his M.D. coat and with a medical instrument. Here, he is holding up a stethoscope winking at the reader, perhaps inviting them to play doctor. Jack looks at the reader from under his lashes (called uwame tsukai, a seductive ‘upward glance’ without lifting the face). © Tezuka Productions, © Yoshiaki Tabata, © Yu-go Ōkuma, © Akita shoten.


In view of these illustrations, it comes to mind what popular feminist writer Naomi Woolf said in The Beauty Myth about depictions of women in the media: Beauty pornography looks like this: […] Her back arches, her mouth is open, her eyes shut, her nipples erect; there is a fine spray of moisture over her golden skin […] the stage is arousal, the plateau phase just preceding orgasm. (Woolf 1990 [2002],132)

In heterosexual pornography, men(’s genitals) getting hard and women(’s genitals) getting wet is a sign of arousal, and as Woolf explains, depictions of women for male audiences in popular media often reference pornographic codes of sexual arousal to make the women depicted seem sexually accessible to male consumers of these media. There are numerous scenes within the Young Black Jack manga narrative in which Jack is depicted as Woolf describes, although never in an explicitly erotic context. They are all scenes in which Jack is experiencing torment, be it physical torture inflicted by his adversaries or mental and emotional anguish. In these depictions, his expression is deliberately ambiguous and can be read as both agony and ecstasy. As such, I argue that Ōkuma’s erotic drawings of Jack are a parody of heteronormative pornographic codes, not catering to the male, but the female gaze. Moreover, we can find hints that Jack’s depiction as being wet is significant when we look at the character’s wetness from the perspective of gender studies. Robyn Longhurst writes in her 2004 book Bodies: Exploring Fluid Boundaries that female bodies have historically been banned from the public sphere because they were regarded as leaky vessels, not in control of their bodily fluids and thus of their sexuality. These fluids included menstrual blood, breast milk, amniotic fluid and even urine from incontinence caused by lack of adequate obstetric care. As Longhurst points out, a leaky body does not have clear boundaries and is therefore easily perceived as a threat that disrupts (male, homosocial) order. And precisely because women were seen as leaky—in opposition to men as (self-)contained vessels—wetness has come to mark bodies as the sexualized other, or feminine. Jack, who oozes bodily fluids in many scenes throughout the series, can therefore be read as the female other.


4 Black Jack’s Romantic and Platonic Relationships 4.1 Gender and Sexuality in the Original Series Although Jack is a loner, Tezuka gave him one constant sidekick. In a chapter that combines the uncanny and fantastic with medical realism,11 a parasitic twin tumor from a woman after removing a telepathic teratoma. Jack promises the twin in the tumor to keep her alive. As there is not enough tissue to make her a body, Jack builds an exoskeleton of artificial material and creates Pinoko, his own Pinocchio.12 Pinoko’s biological age is the same as her twin’s, twenty-one (Takeuchi 1992, 124), but she never grows; she rather looks, acts and talks like a small child. Pinoko insists that she is Jack’s ‘wife,’ but Jack treats her as a foster daughter first and foremost, and in a pinch, as an assistant and nurse for surgeries.13 Pinoko’s child-like nature and over-the-top jealousy of any woman who approaches Jack has a dual function: offering comical relief and making sure that Jack stays romantically unattached. As the prequel Young Black Jack is set before this event, Pinoko is not included, which for readers who dislike her, adds to the series’ appeal. Tezuka gave Jack a single serious love interest early in his series, opening up the possibility for transgender romance. The chapter that was first published on November 25, 1974, introduces the only woman Black Jack has ever loved, Dr. Kisaragi Megumi, who studied medicine with him. As a student, Jack saves Megumi from being sexually assaulted by a


Tezuka was a licensed M.D., who had studied medicine during WWII, and thus his accounts were often already anachronistic at the time when the series was serialized. While many young readers felt inspired by Black Jack to enter the medical field, others, including some professional organizations, frequently voiced their discontent with Tezuka’s inaccurate and unrealistic depiction of medicine, urging him to stop. As Tezuka explains in an interview in 1979, this pressure was what eventually led him to end the series ahead of time (see interview from the Tezuka Osamu fan club member zine, published on July 1, 1979, quoted in Tezuka 2010, 318).


For an in-depth discussion of this kind of artificial child character, a staple in uncanny Japanese literature since the 1920s, see Nakamura (2015).


Manga historian Takeuchi categorizes Pinoko within Tezuka’s oeuvre as a “woman of uncertain form” (不定形な女性) and draws parallels with two of Tezuka’s earlier artificial children, Atom (Astroboy) and his sister Uran (Takeuchi 2002, 123-125).


group of thugs14 and later operates on her when she is diagnosed with uterine cancer. He confesses his love for her before she undergoes anesthesia, that is, when she is “still a woman.” Such a storyline would be offensive in a contemporary setting, but in the early 1970s Tezuka reasoned that the removal of Megumi’s uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes would result in a lack of female hormones which would make her feel less feminine and change her personality accordingly. When Jack declares his love, Megumi asks him to kiss her just once and then to forget about it, but Jack insists that this moment will last forever. Years after the surgery, when Megumi is living as a man, Kisaragi Kei (written with the same character as Megumi), s/he visits Jack under the guise of Megumi’s younger brother who works as a ship doctor. Jack isn’t fooled, and Pinoko is jealous of Kei in spite of the male appearance. Reading between the lines, or between the panels, there is a subtle suggestion in Jack and Kei’s expressions: they still have romantic feelings for each other that they choose not to act upon. While developments in Tezuka’s work can be shockingly sudden and ham-fisted, the interaction between Jack and Kei in this chapter is depicted with a delicate tenderness that showcases Tezuka’s range as an artist. It is noteworthy that during the serialization of Black Jack, Tezuka also created the short series MW (1976–1978, 3 vols),15 whose protagonist, the mass-murderer Michio, is in a sexual relationship with a Catholic priest named Iwao (fig. 4). Called Tezuka’s ‘forbidden tale,’ the story was controversial not necessarily because of the homosexual relationship essential to the development of the plot (in contrast to BL manga, where the plot services the development of the homosexual romance essential to the genre), but because the epitome of evil in this series, the corrupt politician Nakata Eikaku, a character responsible for the leaked poison gas disaster that damaged Michio’s brain and turned him into a sociopath, was a blatant parody of Tanaka Kakuei.16 Tezuka draws the first explicit scene of male-on-male seduction only thirty pages 14

This episode is rebooted in the new series, Young Black Jack, and witnessed by Imagami Rie (Princess Sapphire), followed by a two-page spread where Rie sees Jack as a knight in shining armor. 15

The title indicates the initials of ‘Man’ and ‘Woman,’ but is read moo (ムウ).


Tanaka Kakuei was the prime minister during 1972 –1974 and embroiled in the Lockheed scandal when Tezuka created the story.


into the first volume, and POV character Iwao confesses that Michio will sometimes turn “into a woman” (when they have intercourse Michio bottoms). Michio’s face, handsome but also feminine enough to pass when in drag, is often highly reminiscent of Tezuka’s Black Jack (fig. 5). When Tezuka was struck with stomach cancer, he insisted on continuing to work on his unfinished manuscripts. Often working on eight series simultaneously while most manga artists barely manage two or three at a time, he left behind a huge oeuvre, ripening for all ages and all genders. Manga critic Nagayama Kaworu argues that the majority of Tezuka’s work is casually erotic (ecchi), including his manga for children; it contains so many elements of erotic desire that it is only natural for artists who grew up reading Tezuka to later engage in erotic manga (2006, 21–22).

Fig. 4. Tezuka quotes Aubrey Beardsley in this spread of a lovers’ tryst and quarrel between Michio and Iwao (Tezuka Osamu’s Collected Works, no. 301, MW vol. 1, 1993, 86–87).


Fig. 5. A cartoon of Jack operating on Tezuka, with Jack’s face bearing a striking resemblance to Michio’s in MW (Tezuka Osamu, Black Jack Illustration Museum. Tokyo: Akita shoten 2001, 252).


Tezuka’s design of the character Black Jack did not cater specifically to a male or female gaze, leaving Jack’s sexual and romantic tendencies open to a wide variety of interpretations. As Fujimoto Yukari explains when discussing fanworks based on the series NARUTO, female readers may queer shōnen works (2013, 189). However, they often do so without being invited by the artist. The design of Ōkuma’s Young Black Jack comes pre-packaged as queered, with stylistic elements that are clearly borrowed from the BL genre, where one male character of the couple is replete with feminine characteristics as a rule. Thus, the question arises, what Ōkuma’s art implies about Jack, and how consumers read these implications.

4.2 Young Black Jack’s Male Femininity Mainly made by female artists for female readers and as such representing female fantasies rather than of homosexual men’s love life, BL narratives are rarely realistic. Although ostensibly about gay romance, most of them follow heteronormative conventions of heterosexual romance for women, which accounts for one male character taking on the female role and the other one the male. One could argue that a recreation of the heteronormative template with two male characters serves no clear purpose. However, BL manga is regarded as “an affirmative feminine space and subjectivity that subverts” (Akatsuka 2010, 160) “whose discontent extends to the socially degraded valuation of femininity itself” (ibid., 161). By using a character that is explicitly not female, creators and readers can circumvent the devaluation of their own gender. In conventional heteronormative romance for women, male protagonists tend to feel entitled to women and be confined to their traditionally male, often sexually predatory role. Suffice to mention the ravishing (sometimes kidnapping and assaulting) of the female heroine, a narrative device that deprives the heroine of sexual agency but also leaves her blameless for her (and the readers’) sexual desire, regardless of the level of deviancy. In a patriarchal society, this kind of narrative helps to confirm the existing power structures, and thus is easily sanctioned as suitable reading material for a female readership. At the same time, it opens the traditional genre up to ridicule as those creating and consuming it can be accused of being complicit in their own oppression. Subverting heteronormative romance 131

by removing the female character and replacing her with another male creates confusion, and many people may no longer easily agree that these stories are suitable reading for a female readership. Akatsuka compares the coded-as-more-feminine male character in BL manga and his “male femininity” (ibid., 168) to another identity that is hard to establish in patriarchal societies, that of “affirmative femininity,” which is also wanting in traditional romance narratives. As two sides of the same coin, misogyny and homophobia limit the ability of those affected to act as subjects within homosocial power structures. But by putting a male character in a position that is assigned to the female character in traditional narratives, both the creator and the audience can experiment with and (re)consider their ideas about gender identity and gender roles. There are two essential character types in BL manga, the coded-as-more-masculine seme (lit. attacker, similar to the top in Englishlanguage same-sex homoerotic narratives), and the coded-as-morefeminine uke (lit. receiver, similar to the bottom). Ōkuma’s design of Jack leans heavily toward the latter. Those familiar with BL manga may further pinpoint the kind of uke; given Jack’s depiction on most of the new series’ covers as provocative, inviting, seductive or a mixture of all three, Ōkuma’s Jack appears as a sasoi-uke (inviting uke), the type of character that does not passively wait to be seduced like the damsel in distress, but takes the initiative and lures in his paramour. Noteworthily, there is a significant gap between the narrative itself and the art style. While the art suggests (homo)erotic content throughout the run of the series, the no romantic or sexual entanglements of Jack are actually narrated. The tension created by this contrast is one of the factors that makes readers perceive the series as provocative. After all, some may see their expectations betrayed (by the mere suggestion of homoerotic content). The commercial BL manga information site Chiru Chiru (chillchill.net) has published a total of ten entries about the Young Black Jack series so far, emphasizing its targeting of BL audiences with catchphrases like “Limited edition of Black Jack for the anime series is utterly homo[sexual]!” (May 22, 2014) or “BL-like Young Black Jack merchandize does it again!” (June 20, 2014), and readers comment on these articles expressing their frustration with the series’ storyline never delivering what the art implies. Yet, readers not familiar with BL conventions may miss this layer of meaning, which the artist added to the scenario by means of style. 132

Over the past decade, there have been a number of shōnen and seinen series that were parodies of the BL manga genre, but these series were clearly marked as such, and therefore did not betray readers’ expectations. Two examples are Konjō Natsumi’s 2004 series Mōsō shōjo otaku kei [delusional girl, otaku category], in which the protagonist’s girlfriend is a passionate BL fan, and the series Tsumi ka batsu (Sin, flowers, punishment, 2004) by Mikami Honemaru, published under Shueisha’s popular Jump label. The latter’s protagonist is a university student who works at a florist, where he manages daily incidents caused by the flamboyantly gay and extremely beautiful owner of the shop, who has a habit of undressing in front of customers and using his anal orifice as an ikebana vase. Ōkuma’s art for Young Black Jack is not her first foray into drawing seductive characters; however, her earlier characters were female, for example, in Yakuza Girl (2008–2009, scenario by Motonagi Masaki), a comedy series where gratuitous nudity is used to further the narrative, and Boku to kanojo no game sensō (Me and my girlfriend’s game war, 2012–present). Since Ōkuma’s penname is male, and she drew sexy female characters predominantly at the start of her career, many readers may assume she is male. Many manga artists use pennames that may or may not correspond to their gender identity, and while some of them are secretive about divulging who is behind the name, others are open not just about their main penname, but a whole range of pennames they use for different genres. The same artist might be active in the seinen manga, ladies’ comics, hentai (manga with graphic sexual depictions, usually heterosexual) manga, and dōjinshi (fanzine) genres, using a different penname for each. For example, renowned illustrator and game character designer Kojima Ayami uses the penname Kuronuma Odille for her Black Jack yaoi dōjinshi. A bonus episode that illustrates how common it is for women in the manga industry to use male pennames is included at the end of volume 10 of Young Black Jack. Tezuka’s daughter Rumiko mentions in an interview with writer Tabata Yoshiaki that she used to think, before meeting him, that he too was a woman, and Tabata for his part answers that he does not think that to be strange at all. Ōkuma does not discuss her gender online, but readers who have been to autograph sessions for Young Black Jack comment on how her being a woman explains her depiction of Black Jack. 133

4.3 Suggested BL Relationships in Young Black Jack Ōkuma uses BL conventions to draw Jack in a manga that does not include these conventions on the narrative level. However, a BL story hinges on a romantic and often sexual relationship between two male characters and without this relationship, works cannot subsist within the genre. If Ōkuma, through her art, inserts a BL layer of meaning, which male character does she suggest Jack is in a relationship with? Her most frequent depictions of Jack in a sexually suggestive pose with another male character show the younger, medical student Jack together with his older self, the Jack already established as an unlicensed surgeon, usually wearing his long black cloak as distinct from the white M.D. coat worn by Jack, the student. On the inside cover of vol. 6 (fig. 6), Jack the younger has his eyes closed, his lips are slightly parted, and his face is almost touching that of Jack the older, whose mouth is wider but whose lips are relatively less full, whose eyes are open, and whose jaw and nose are more angular and defined, looking as if he were the seme character. There is another scene in which the lips of Jack the younger and Jack the older are just centimeters away from touching. On the inside cover of vol. 4 (fig. 7), Jack the younger is holding a naked Jack whose back is split open with a zipper, spine and ribcage exposed. The depiction of part of Jack’s body as dissected is not novel; Tezuka himself did so in some of his illustrations for the original series, with the muscle, nerves, blood vessels, and bones beneath the skin displayed as in a surgical manual. The novel aspect is Jack the younger holding this dissected body like a lover, both hands on the split buttocks, his lips almost on the neck. Moreover, what is exposed are not nerves and muscle, but bones and flower petals, giving the illustration a gothic cachet. In this illustration, too—as in Woolf’s quote about pornographic depictions of women— Jack the younger’s eyes are closed and his lips parted.


Fig. 6. Inside cover illustration of vol. 6 of Young Black Jack. © Tezuka Productions, © Yoshiaki Tabata, © Yu-go Ōkuma, © Akita shoten.

Fig. 7. Inside cover illustration of vol. 4 of Young Black Jack. © Tezuka Productions, © Yoshiaki Tabata, © Yu-go Ōkuma, © Akita shoten.


On the inside cover of vol. 7, Jack the younger is looking at the reader, leaning back, a smug smile on his lips. He is wearing a high school student’s uniform of which the gakuran (military-school style coat) and the white shirt beneath are unbuttoned all the way down, exposing his neck and chest. Jack the older is right behind him, also looking at the reader but with a look that is jaded or concerned rather than smug. The position they are in suggests that they are lying down spooning, like lovers. There are more depictions where Jack the younger and Jack the older are within intimate, suggestive distance, on inside cover illustrations and within the narrative. Jack’s psychological struggles with himself are represented as what could be a lovers’ quarrel or a lovers’ tryst. Many of these suggestive images, including the one where Jack has his hands on the buttocks of a zipped open version of himself, have been printed on the series’ merchandize, like file holders and covers for public transport commuter passes.17 It is not unusual for fanworks of parody BL (yaoi) to present the reader with a couple that consists of two versions of the same character; this kind of ‘self-cest’ (self-incest), or clone-cest, can be read as autoeroticism or narcissism. Creators of such narratives may say that they love the character so much they cannot get enough of him, that no one else is good enough for him, and the more there are of him the merrier. Jack as a narcissist may be a fitting depiction, as he has been represented with narcissistic traits from the start of the original series. By no means evil, he is shown as being very sure of himself, often arrogant, making merciless decisions whenever he deems fit. Another relationship that is hinted at, though to a lesser extent than the pairing of the younger Jack and the older Jack, is that between Jack 17

Other merchandize that is marketed mainly at the series’ female readers are balljointed dolls; in 2011, Korean maker Taeyang created a Black Jack doll in its popular Pullip series. The company Volks Inc. created a Black Jack doll in their Super Dollfie range. This Black Jack doll retails for 140,000 yen, and was on display at the Tezuka Osamu Memorial Museum during the 2015 Young Black Jack exhibition. Playing with these types of dolls is an important enough expression of manga and anime fan activity that manga retailer Mandarake holds regular doll events throughout their many stores in Japan. The socio-cultural meaning of dolls as traditional toys for girls has long been to prepare them for their assumed future roles as wives and mothers; these contemporary bishōnen dolls have a different meaning. They are but one expression among many, within a variety of media, of a narrative’s fan’s passion for a particular character.


and Dr. Kiriko. Dr. Kiriko is a regular character in the original series, often in an antagonistic relationship with Jack because Jack tries the impossible to save lives, while Kiriko specializes in euthanasia. Formerly a military doctor, Kiriko learned on the battlefield that his patients would curse him for treating them to live with pain and dismemberment instead of letting them die with dignity. Though a killer, Kiriko is a complex character and not necessarily evil. In Young Black Jack, Kiriko’s appearance has been updated to make him appear more attractive. In the original series, he is tall and slim, missing one eye and wearing long gray hair, which gives him the appearance of the grim reaper. In the new series, Kiriko is still tall and slim, taller than Jack, but his hair is short, and he still has both eyes. His appearance has changed to such an extent that readers familiar with the old series do not recognize him until his name comes up. Kiriko and Jack’s relationship is suggested but never as visually explicated as that between Jack the younger and Jack the older. Some merchandize puts Jack and Kiriko together in positions that possibly reference BL manga covers, and many readers find the scene in which Kiriko lights Jack’s cigarette erotic, but Ōkuma’s visualization does not suggest as many erotic possibilities as in the case of the older Jack/younger Jack pairing. Last is the one-sided relationship between Imagami Rie and Jack. While Rie, originally Tezuka’s first cross-gender character Sapphire, is physically a girl in the Young Black Jack series as well, she is a crossdresser here too, presenting as a boy. To the reader it is clear that in the reboot, too, this character has a crush on Jack, but while he cares deeply for her, his feelings are neither romantic nor sexual. When she is beaten and critically injured by her fellow student protesters for the thought crime of not being extreme enough and not wanting to participate in a terrorist attack where innocents will die, Jack tries to save her life, but Rie dies in spite of his efforts.

5 Discussion As mentioned earlier, readers’ reactions to the new version of Black Jack were mixed, with the controversy focused on the art, as the narrative was not significantly altered. While some readers see Ōkuma’s art as a transgression against their assumed homosocial reader space, we need to 137

keep in mind that it is an authorized transgression, as Hutcheon (2006, xii) calls it in her discussion of adaptation. The manga series can be read as self-parody, with a constant self-referential humor similar to the one Tezuka employed throughout his career, and thus a homage. Rather than betraying his legacy, Young Black Jack, with its “unerring ability to delight and confound” (ibid., xvii) fits into Tezuka’s legacy, and “desacrilizes” the original series only in as much as it “resacrilizes” (ibid., 14). When it comes to gaining new readers from a generation that may never have read the classic series and may be disinclined to do so because of the art’s datedness, this desacralizing can play an essential role. Rather than the same old, the element of unexpected humor in the reboot and the attention paid to the controversy it caused may have been key to the success of this new series—comparable to another classic work that made us think about gender, The Stepford Wives, which was a horror film in 1975 and rebooted as a comedy in 2004. When Tezuka created Black Jack, he gave him the surname Hazama (間), meaning “in between”; indeed, Jack has always been a liminal character, never completely fitting in anywhere. Another part of the original design that marks Jack as a marginalized character is his clothing. Over his black suit he wears a long black cloak tied around his neck with a red ribbon. This gives him the air of a gentleman vampire. Jack’s scarred body is reminiscent of another famous character from gothic literature, Frankenstein’s monster. Although Jack is not composed of body parts, he has been referred to as “wasei Frankenstein” (Japanese Frankenstein). He is someone who survived only by a miracle and through his work has also always walked the line between life and death. Thus, Jack has always been queer in a sense, and this is precisely what makes it possible to apply BL codes without much difficulty. Because of his inherent liminality—in addition to the experimentation with gender conventions that have always been part of Tezuka’s work—Jack may well be the ideal character to adapt in ways that cater to the female gaze and the increasing number of female readers of traditionally male-oriented manga genres. Acknowledgements I would like to thank my colleagues Jaqueline Berndt (Stockholm University) and Olga Antononoka (Kyoto Seika University) for their comments and valuable input on this chapter and the two earlier presentations it is based on.


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Websites Ōkuma Yūgo (personal website, last updated 2014/12/08) http://www.geocities.jp/kuma_underman/ (last accessed 2016/09/26)


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