It was only a few years ago that Gengoroh Tagame set the manga world alight with My Brother’s Husband, his groundbreaking series that followed a straight single father learning to accept not just his deceased gay identical twin brother’s homosexuality, but confronting prejudices he never thought he had. It was groundbreaking mostly in how it signaled a new direction for Tagame, whose previous work was…well, let’s just say Tagame usually targets an entirely different audience (and age group).
By comparison, My Brother’s Husband was practically chaste in its slice-of-life depiction of a modern family re-redefining what a family could be. Our Colors continues down the same path with another story (translated by Anne Ishii) that would be familiar to any teenager secretly in love, regardless of their sexuality.
Sora Itoda is a 16-year-old budding artist harboring a secret that’s tearing him apart: he’s gay. Nobody suspects his true feelings, not his parents, not even his best friend Nao, who might be harboring a secret crush of her own. Speaking of secret crushes, one male student at school, Kenta Yoshioka, is the object of Sora’s secret affection. The two couldn’t be more different; Yoshioka is athletic and crude, the polar opposite of the shy, artistic Sora. And yet, they’re friends and Sora wouldn’t dare jeopardize by revealing himself to anyone, Yoshioka especially. Sometimes you can’t help loving who you love.
A chance encounter on the beach begins a new chapter for him when, after awakening from a nap, he sees an older man staring down at him, expressing sorrow that he never proclaimed his love. Confused, Sora doesn’t know what just happened. Was this a case of mistaken identity…or a dream?
Later Sora stumbles upon a local cafe run by Mr. Amamiya, the same older man he encountered earlier on the beach, who explains he mistook Sora for someone else. It turns out that Amamiya is also gay, and he and Sora quickly develop a platonic friendship that, within the confines of the cafe, allows the younger boy to not only feel comfortable, but helps him to develop confidence in himself that will change his life forever.
There are moments in Our Colors when I feared the story would veer into more conventional territory, or devolve into an intergenerational relationship like Call Me By Your Name. It never does, thankfully, and it’s a testament to Tagame’s skills as both a writer and artist that he’s able to render a story so dependent on using color gradients as metaphor for emotion in black and white. Sora’s repressed feelings are rendered as a literal mask, a protective shield allowing him to hide behind the hurtful homophobic comments of his friends who’d never suspect he felt differently from them.
Our Colors is an excellent followup to My Brother’s Husband, another demonstration of Gengoroh Tagame’s talents crafting emotionally complex relationships that transcend the LGBTQ label. It’s wild that he’s found his greatest success creating content miles away from his more adult-oriented content. But it’s Tagame’s skills as a storyteller that shine brightest, demonstrating empathy for not just his gay characters but those around them as well, a recognition the ache of the heart sometimes makes us suffer alone, but sometimes we needn’t suffer at all.