by Katsu Aki; adaptation by Gary Krasney
published by Tokyopop; $19.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Yura and Makoto Onoda are newlyweds, both 25 and virgins. Manga Sutra details their sexual education and exploration. The author, Katsu Aki, says at the beginning of the book, “This isn’t just a hentai manga. It’s about love, sex, and how to… I wrote this with the hopes that it would serve as a bible to those who dream of having the best sex ever. And I really mean that.”
Some might remember that Manga Sutra was at the center of a minor internet brouhaha at the end of 2006. The New Yorker magazine ran a cartoon by Roz Chast about her experiences with untranslated manga. Manga Sutra (the Japanese title is Step Up Love Story) was one of the books she sampled and she made it sound particularly unpleasant. (You can see Chast’s cartoon at Sporadic Sequential.) Part of the problem Chast had with the book was the sex scenes.
So let’s start with the artwork. Manga Sutra is explicit, but it also obeys all the Japanese censorship laws. This means that all characters are anatomically correct from the waist up. From the waist down, women are rendered with the same genitals as a Barbie doll. The men have phallic-shaped shadows, but no actual penises. During sex scenes, the author avoids showing genitalia by several methods; well-placed word balloons, use of shadows, angle of the drawing, etc. Those with prurient interests probably won’t find the book explicit enough for their taste. The artwork in the book is well done and, unlike hentai or typical American porn, the characters are drawn with realistic body types. However, I found the art very derivative of Rumiko Takahashi’s work, especially Masion Ikkoku and Ranma ½.
Through the main story of the Onodas’ sex life, the book serves as a sex education manual. Aki intersperses various statistics and facts throughout the text. We learn the different shapes of hymens, the different shapes of penises, how to French kiss, the average time it takes for men and women to climax, and even where the complimentary condoms are located in Japanese love hotels. I like the voice Aki gives the narrator. Imagine one of those 1950s school health films. Now further imagine a narrator delivering the same information in a more conversational tone and with a good sense of humor.
Yura and Makoto aren’t left to their own devices in this book. Both find themselves with unexpected and unsolicited mentors. Yura’s mentor is her younger sister Rika, a 20-year-old college student. Rika has been with “at least thirty men” since becoming sexually active at 15 and currently has a corral of four men who are her sexual partners. Makoto’s mentor is his older, married brother, Akira. (No age is given for him.) Akira enjoys a satisfying sex life with his wife and is only too eager to impart his wisdom to Makoto. Both mentors actually give very good advice.
The main tension in this first volume is Makoto’s struggle with premature ejaculation. Initially, Makoto thinks he can beat this by sheer force of will. Slowly, over the course of the book, he realizes that it will take more than just good intentions to overcome this obstacle. Makoto learns that it takes time and the use of various methods and techniques before he can acquire the skills needed to control his climax. By the end of the book, Makoto is no more adept in this area then he was at the beginning. This realism and honesty in dealing with sexual issues is refreshing and shows how serious Aki is that this book be a sex manual for couples.
My only disappointment with the book is the lack of characterization and plot. One of the messages of Manga Sutra is that satisfying relations in the boudoir are a result of a satisfying relationship outside the boudoir. That great sex is not just physical pleasure, but also emotionally and psychologically fulfilling, too. Yet we know surprisingly little about Yura or Makoto, as either individuals or a couple, outside of their desire to have a rewarding sex life. We don’t see them interacting as a couple except when they are discussing sex or having sex. Yura is a young stay-at-home wife with no kids. What does she do during the day? We’re told both Yura and Makoto like movies, but we never see them go to a movie theater or even rent movies. What do they do on the weekends? I’d feel more connected to the couple, and their sexual frustrations, if I had a more holistic view of their life together.
I’m disappointed with the way Tokyopop is marketing the book. The blurb on the front cover says, “A guide to getting it on.” The back cover blurb reads like a bad porn ad. Tokyopop is ignoring the stated goals of the author and trying to sell Manga Sutra as simply another hentai book. I hope Tokyopop grows up and markets the second volume in a more mature fashion. One that emphases how the book deals not just with sexual technique, but also with sexual fulfillment in the richest sense.
Ironically, inside the book Tokyopop does an excellent job with both the content and intent of the text. In the back of the book, Tokyopop gives updated and Americanized versions of the statistics found in the text. (This volume of the series was originally printed in 1997.) Tokyopop encourages readers to write in for sexual advice and have hired a sex therapist, Ian Kerner, Ph.D., to answer the letters. This first volume has a short essay on premature ejaculation. There is also an ad for condoms in the back, as well as an ad for “an aphrodisiac cookbook.”
This manga would be a great addition to any sexual education program. The book covers the basic information about anatomy, what to expect the first time, common sexual problems faced by both men and women, and more. I would even recommend this book for use by Christian schools. Most of the sex depicted is among married couples and one of the focuses of the book is how sex is meant to be part of a meaningful relationship, not just an end unto itself. At the end of the book, the one promiscuous character, Rika, even changes her ways. She admits to her sister that her sex life isn’t very satisfying, and Yuka convinces her to settle down to a monogamous relationship. Admittedly, it may not be the ‘wait until you’re married’ response conservative Christians would want, but for Rika that is a significant step in the right direction.
Overall, Aki has written an excellent beginner’s guide to sex for couples. I look forward to future volumes as the Onodas master the basics and progress in their love life. I’m also interested to see how the advice changes and develops as the Onodas become more proficient in the boudoir and what happens when they have their first child.