Kodansha’s Vertical imprint closed out 2022 by releasing Last Gender: When We Are Nameless Volume 1. While the first volume turned out to be quite a mixed bag in terms of the content, there was enough to make it feel worthwhile revisiting the series with the release of Volume 2. Has anything changed? Let’s find out!
Set in BAR California, Volume 1 of Last Gender introduced us to a number of the establishment’s customers who come to enjoy some peace away from the oppressive nature of the outside world. Here at BAR California, you can be anything you want to be, without worrying about stigma or judgement from those around you.
Our first story this time around focuses on Yukihiro, a man who lost his partner due to society repeatedly telling the two that a gay relationship was wrong. Yukihiro hates the world that led to the death of his lover, but more than that he hates himself for not noticing how much his partner was hurting. Now he lashes out at those around him, particularly patrons of BAR California, while wishing he had never realised he was gay.
Then in our second tale, we meet Shiho, a woman who identifies as lithromantic. This means that she enjoys the feeling of being in love, being attracted to and spending time with someone, but she immediately loses interest once those feelings are reciprocated. Naturally, that means those for whom she holds romantic feelings feel that she’s strung them along, since they were looking for something more than a one-sided relationship.
At BAR California Shiho meets Kei, who’s gray-gender and describes himself as having no clearly definable identity. He floats between them all and while he is attracted to women and has sexual desire, his feelings aren’t as strong as other people’s. This works out perfectly for Shiho, who’s free to fall for him, while not worrying about him loving her in return.
This then leads to us meeting Makoto, a cross-dresser who’s friends with Kei (and who Kei has feelings for). Makoto has been through quite the self-discovery journey, having wondered if they were transgender before finally realising that they do identify as female but feel more comfortable wearing male clothes. But society doesn’t look kindly on Makoto, with opinions ranging from assuming Makoto is attracted to women due to wanting to dress as a man or is trans, all of which are untrue but still cause Makoto significant discomfort with their identity all the same.
Makoto feels safe at BAR California and around Kei, but outside there’s always an underlying feeling of fear and being judged by strangers. Ultimately, while Makoto might have feelings for Kei, they also don’t want to burden Kei with the stares and discomfort that come with being around them.
Much like Volume 1 of Last Gender, each of the chapters in this book follows a different story and introduces us to several new characters. Just as before, these individuals then become recurring characters in the following tales and we get to see familiar faces from the previous book as well. Because the stories are more connected this time, the characters are better fleshed out and it feels like by the time we reach the end we have a better grasp of who they are as individuals.
There’s a lot less sexual content this time as well, which gives author Rei Taki more pages to spend on moving the plot along. The amount of sex was certainly one of the elements I had the most complaints about in Volume 1 as I felt it undermined some of the points the author was trying to make, so I’m happy to see a better balance here. This entry certainly feels more polished and renewed my interest in seeing the series through to its conclusion with Volume 3.
However, one issue I did have this time around is the fact that Taki’s art doesn’t distinguish the male cast very well. Kei, Yukihiro and one of the other characters who comes in toward the end all look very similar to one another in their designs and I often found it hard to distinguish between them. This led to some confusion until another member of the cast identified them by saying their name.
This wasn’t as much of a problem in Volume 1 since most of the characters were female and Taki drew them with different hairstyles and clothing, but both Kei and Yukihiro have similar hair and fashion sense leaving them with very few unique aspects to their designs. Certainly not ideal, but hopefully it won’t be as much of a problem in Volume 3!
As previously mentioned, Last Gender Volume 2 comes to the West thanks to Kodansha via their Vertical imprint. The book has changed hands in terms of translation from Rose Padgett to Mishima Kitan, which has unfortunately led to us not having any translation notes at the back of the book. Given how insightful these were in Volume 1 given the difference in the usage of some terms in Japan compared to the West, it’s a real shame to see that not carried on. Otherwise, the translation and release are fine with no issues to note. The final volume is scheduled for an English release in June.
Overall, Last Gender Volume 2 is an improvement on its first outing. While there are still a couple of issues that may impact your enjoyment, by and large author Rei Taki addressed my previous concerns and I’m always willing to give my time to something showing signs of growth.