Gay Erotica Manga for the Masses
By Matthew G. Meyer
Photography by Matthew Kelly for Opening Ceremony
An enormous painting of beefy, buzzed-cut Japanese men, called “gachimuchi,” were smiling down at Opening Ceremony’s party last night and unsurprisingly became the evening’s must-snap selfie spot.
Gachimuchi are the stars of the retailer’s latest capsule collection, out today in celebration of LGBT Pride. The line of T-shirts and tanks also includes a beach towel and personal sex toy from Japanese brand Tenga—all adorned with the work of enigmatic cult gay erotic manga illustrator Jiraiya. The artist, who refuses to be photographed, is something like the Martin Margiela of gay manga.
“It’s amazing,” says 26-year-old Graham Kolbeins, whose brand of niche streetwear, MASSIVE, collaborated on the collection. “This store, which is widely known and respected, is taking a chance putting gay erotic artwork on clothing.” That risk is already paying off, as crowds of customers—fueled by sake cocktails—bought up much of the collection at last night’s pre-sale.
To clarify, the images aren’t pornographic, but playfully suggestive: The buoyant characters project a message of confidence and optimism. Something does feel empowering about spotlighting the sexuality of Asian men, a population that are often marginalized in the racist context of many geo-locating hook-up apps. Like Jiraiya’s comic books, the unisex collection, available now in sizes for any shape, encourages body pride, as well.
“The artwork represents larger-bodied people, and a lot of our customers are also bigger,” Kolbeins says. “We really made a point of insisting that there be XXL and XXXL, sizes that aren’t typically included in a fashion line of this sort. I didn’t want to alienate anyone with this collection.”
And at the more affordable end of Opening Ceremony’s price range—products range from $55.20 to $92—and sizes from XS to XXXL, more customers can know some part of that narrative.
Amid the chaos of the evening, Anne Ishii, co-founder of MASSIVE, posed with a baby in front of a large backdrop of Jiraiya’s images. Nearby, wearing the collection’s Shinjuku Backpacker tee, Kolbeins accepted congratulations.
The collaboration, which Kolbeins describes as “serendipitous,” is the result of combined passions.
Kolbeins and Ishii, who first met through a mutual friend at bowling night, became reconnected two years ago over an interest in gay anime artists. Last spring, the pair just published an English-language, gay erotic anthology by a “mangaka,” or manga artist, named Gengoroh Tagame, when they became inspired to print manga images on apparel.
MASSIVE’s first sweatshirt featured two of Jiraiya’s gachimuchi amorously pressed chest-to-chest. Amassing a following on Tumblr, it became a viral sensation last fall before the Christmas holiday season. By December 2013, it made the leap to high fashion retail when Jacky Tang, vice president of retail and development at Opening Ceremony, happened across the item online.
“I’d discovered Jiraiya years ago,” Tang explains. “But when I went to do research on him, I found there wasn’t much out there. Then I came across the sweatshirt and freaked out.”
When the sweatshirt quickly sold out at Opening Ceremony’s New York and Los Angeles locations, the retailer approached MASSIVE to discuss next steps. By January 2014, Kolbeins and Ishii got to work designing the current capsule collection.
They took the plans to Jiraiya himself, whom they met for the first time in Sapporo, Japan, while working on an upcoming project called Massive: Gay Erotica Manga and the Men Who Make It. Because the artist’s precision-textured computer illustrations take months to produce, original pieces would not be possible for this collection. Instead, Jiraiya allowed Kolbeins and Ishii access to his archive of work, which he’d produced in partnerships with gay Japanese magazine G-Men and GG Group, a Japanese sex club.
Eight pieces in total, the finished collection is the product of an evolving process that passed through Kolbeins, Ishii, Jiraiya, and Opening Ceremony. For the artist, the collection is its own token of optimism.
“The time I spend on illustration work is frequently at the expense of profitability,” said Jiraiya in an email interview. “Seeing something so great come of what I once passed off as a total wasted time definitely encourages me to keep up efforts for the future.”
Photographer Jason Rodgers, who shot the collection’s lookbook, recognizes the collaboration as an innovative move for Opening Ceremony. “They’re trying to create these independent narratives about the clothes themselves,” says photographer Jason Rodgers, 31, who shot the lookbook. “They’re reinterpreting the way we view the web.”
Rodgers’s images, a fantasy of fog and Tokyo neon, communicate a forward-thinking narrative about sexual orientations, body types, and genders. When he cast the shoot, Rodgers sought individuals with distinct identities, like trans artist Amos Mac and plus-sized model Naomi Shimada.
“It’s a gay thing, it’s a straight thing. It’s a girl thing, it’s a trans thing,” says Rodgers. “Everyone knows some part of that.”