“I hope being with the person he loves can become a reality for my son one day.”
Working mother Tomoko Aoyama has been certain for a while now that her elder son, high schooler Hiroki, is gay and has feelings for his schoolfriend Daigo. So when Hiroki joins the school choir (he’s a tenor!) of which Daigo (who’s a good all-rounder) is also a member, she’s touched to see how dedicated he is to improving his voice and learning the music. Hiroki’s childhood friend Asumi is also in the choir and when her mother hears that Hiroki is keen to improve, they give him her old electronic keyboard to help him practise. There’s no doubt that Asumi (a year younger than Hiroki and Daigo) still really likes Hiroki a lot but the important thing for Hiroki is having fun with all his friends, so being in the choir suits his current needs well (even if he needs to do a lot of practice to stop singing off-key)!
Meanwhile, Tomoko learns at a work meal out that one of her co-workers, Mr. Tono, is not only gay (the women have been speculating) but he’s living with his partner of ten years. He’s not at all fazed by telling his colleagues, adding cheerfully, “Oh, you guys clocked me? You should just have just asked.” She can’t help but mention this when she gets home and husband Akiyoshi (at home on leave) instantly reacts with, “So Fairies really do exist!” to Tomoko’s dismay. Akiyoshi has already been persistently asking Hiroki if he’s going out with girls (or even has a girlfriend). After further discussion, it seems that Akiyoshi thinks that he’s never encountered anyone gay in real life and obviously has no idea at all about his elder son – not that Hiroki seems to have actually thought of identifying as gay yet. The boy’s just living his best life and hanging out with his friends – even if he does blush a lot around Daigo. But for now, it’s the choir rehearsals that are taking all his energies – and the desire to sing the best he possibly can (and not go off-key). How will he manage his nerves when it’s time for the concert to take place?
Recently, I’ve been pondering about ‘that’ moment, whether it be in an anime series or a manga, when the reader suddenly feels connected to the characters. This can make all the difference between continuing or abandoning and it often occurs around the third episode in a TV series – but in a manga, it can take longer, sometimes a volume or two. Mangaka OKURA isn’t doing anything significantly different in this third volume of I Think Our Son is Gay although he is now developing the characters and themes that he set up in the earlier volumes. And the character building at last has begun to override the restrictions of the short chapters format which can feel a little perfunctory, especially as each chapter is self-contained with a neat pay-off at the end.
Nevertheless, this story is still very much told from a mother’s viewpoint. We almost always see elder son Hiroki as Tomoko sees him – it’s rare for him to be portrayed in any other way. It’s her anxieties for him – and her desire to be supportive that come over most strongly. And even though the title stresses that it’s ‘our’ son, she’s the one doing the worrying – and the parent who tries, when husband Akiyoshi comes out with some obliviously crass and homophobic observations, to make him realize how insensitive he’s being.
However, Tomoko’s sympathetic attitude towards Hiroki is all we really know about her. She works at a fast-food outlet and her husband is away from home for long periods at a time, so every time he comes back, there’s something of an upheaval in the household. How are relations between Tomoko and Akiyoshi? What kind of a life do they have as a couple? There she is, being the ‘good’ wife and mother, doing all the parenting while he’s away – but OKURA offers us very little about her as a person. Am I asking for too much? After all, this manga is a semi-humorous, good-natured look at a teenager who may well be gay. It’s all about Hiroki – except we rarely get the chance to find out about anything from his point of view. So, in spite of wanting to praise this manga uncritically for offering a portrayal of a mother fondly watching over her teenaged son who’s probably gay, I find (as a mother myself) that Tomoko is rather underdeveloped as a character; all we see is Tomoko the mother, not Tomoko the woman.
Given that this is a Teen-rated manga that would fit well into the PSHE section of secondary school libraries, I’d like to see more from the teenager’s point of view. One of the most effective chapters is a flashback to an incident when younger Hiroki defended his brother Yuri from some bullies in Yuri’s year who have accused him of being gay because he hangs out with girls and run off with his backpack. (Their warped logic being that only girly boys would spend time with girls…) Hiroki turns their logic around with interesting results as the chief accuser’s companions then lay into him.
Square Enix yet again offer us an attractive volume with a 2-sided colour page at the front and good quality paper. The translator is new to this series but Leighann Harvey is very experienced and has done plenty of BL titles (including Sasaki and Miyano), so it reads very well. Lor Prescott delivers many varied styles of lettering that match the different emotions and interactions of the characters. OKURA again offers an amusing illustrated one-page afterword.
Even though I still have some reservations about the way OKURA is conveying his story, it’s good to have LGBT+ manga from mangaka who identify as gay and this series would make a very useful addition to a secondary school library, alongside the currently best-selling Heartstopper by Alice Oseman.
Read a free extract at the the publisher’s website here.