The year is 1979. Gengoroh Tagame is 15 years old. Most gay characters he sees in media are cross-dressing serial killers. The gay characters in manga are too pretty for him to identify with. Yet, according to the afterword, he knows he is gay. Decades later, Tagame would be a leading voice in manga for gay men. His last manga published overseas, My Brother's Husband, dealt with a straight man coming to terms with his brother's homosexuality. Now, with Our Colors, Tagame finally gets to write a manga for that 15-year-old all those years ago. Having read both, it brings me great pleasure to say Our Colors is every bit as good as his previous work.
Sora is, by all appearances, living the typical teenage life. He goes to school, paints in the school's art club, and hangs out with his friends, Koichi and Nao. But that is a facade to cover the fact Sora is gay. He plays along with his homophobic classmates. He has a crush on Koichi but doesn't feel safe confessing. Everyone thinks Nao and him are dating, but telling the truth would mean having to come out. He escapes his worries via his drawings in the art club. It's a great relief, but even there he has to use symbolism to hide his feelings. Sora's life is like an empty canvas. Then he has a chance encounter with Mr. Amamiya. A cafe owner and openly gay man, Amamiya gives Sora the tools he needs to paint his own life. How that takes shape in the story is a gorgeous character study of the main cast.
Tagame uses the viewpoints of Sora, Nao, and Mr. Amamiya to tell his story. This allows him to show the full picture of how coming out can affect the lives of others. Sora provides the main point of view. Though it's set in contemporary Japanese society, there's a universality to Sora's experiences. Even as a straight person, I read some of what happens to Sora and go, "I remember seeing this happen when I was his age." Now I can comprehend how it must have been for those on the receiving end. It can be consoling to read you're not alone in your experiences, but also disheartening to see this happening in other parts of the world. Luckily, Sora has people to help him on his journey.
Nao gives the straight person's perspective, with the added wrinkle of being a lifelong friend. Finding out her best friend is gay is overwhelming for her at first, like meeting Sora all over again. But their friendship triumphs above all. She also has Mr. Amamiya to talk her through it. At his cafe, Amamiya is able to give sage advice to Sora and Nao. The author does a good job of not making Amamiya a complex character. He's openly gay now, but he wasn't always like that. The latter half of the book dives into his past, and Sora and the reader see the whole Amamiya of past and present.
All these complicated feelings and relationships are expertly communicated through visual metaphors. For example, when his classmates start making homophobic jokes, Sora goes stone-faced. To see how Sora feels, a literal stone mask snap into place on his face. This becomes a frequent motif in the manga to help him shield from the outside pain. There are also paintings in the early chapter introductions that communicate their tone. These are beautiful, paint-like drawings. It is too bad they didn't last the whole book, they spark your imagination. Great moments like these make you pause and appreciate more of what the author is saying.
Tagame wrote this for his teenage self, but this manga will touch people far beyond him. The multiple-character journeys will touch people who are LGBTQ, straight, young, and old. Along these journeys are visual metaphors that entice the eye and the mind. Even in black and white, Our Colors paints a colorful story of self-discovery. I'm glad Tagame chose manga as his canvas.
Our Colors Manga
Set in contemporary suburban Japan, Our Colorsis the story of Sora Itoda, a sixteen-year-old aspiring painter who experiences his world in synesthetic hues of blues and reds and is governed by the emotional turbulence of being a teenager. He wants to live honestly as a young gay man in high school, but that is still not acceptable in Japanese society. His best friend and childhood confidante is Nao, a young woman whom everyone thinks is (or should be) his girlfriend, and it would be the easiest thing to play along—she knows he's gay but knows, too, how difficult it is to live one's truth in his situation.
Sora's world changes forever when he meets Mr. Amamiya, a middle-aged gentleman who is the owner and proprietor of a local coffee shop and is completely, unapologetically out as a gay man. A mentorship and platonic friendship ensues as Sora comes out to him and agrees to paint a mural in the shop, and Mr. Amamiya counsels Sora about how to deal with who he is. But it won't be easy. Mr. Amamiya paid a high price for his freedom of identity, and when a figure from his past suddenly appears, the situation becomes a vivid example of just how complicated life can be.Add to CartLearn More