Story & Art by Okura
Translated by Leo McDonagh
Lettered by Lor Prescott
Cover Design by Andrea Miller
Edited by Tania Biswas
I Think Our Son is Gay is like a big warm hug wrapped around my heart. Okura’s irresistibly adorable story about a mother and her closeted “probably” gay son continues to give me all sorts of happy feelings in its second volume. The emotional heart of the manga remains the same; it’s a kind-hearted story about a mother thoughtfully watching over her son and helping him feel more comfortable and validated so that he’s unafraid to be his truest self. If volume one was focused on Tomoko reassuring Hiroki that he’s unconditionally loved, this volume is focused on building up Hiroki’s self-confidence and watching him grow. While Tomoko still steps in to give her son encouragement, this volume sees Hiroki and the other children be more proactive in pursuing their interests, and their interactions complement and encourage each other’s growth. The mutually rewarding, touchingly supportive relationships between the characters are infectiously wholesome and make the series an absolutely cathartic joy to read.
The emotional core of I Think Our Son is Gay still lies in Tomoko’s supportiveness of Hiroki, cheerleading on his efforts to get closer to Daigo and defending him when he’s feeling pressured. While that remains true in this volume, there’s been a notable shift in both Hiroki’s confidence and Tomoko’s influence that’s interestingly developed. Tomoko set Hiroki on the right course to make decisions for himself, and the fruits of those efforts pay off here in Hiroki confidently making decisions about what he wants to do with his life and in his relationship with Daigo. He invites Daigo over to his place to study, is willing to make an effort to visit Daigo to return his notebook, learns about the games he likes, and decides to join a club with him, among other things. He’s also willing to stand up for himself more readily, including being able to describe Daigo when asked about his crush by his friends; he doesn’t come out, but he’s no longer hiding how he truly feels to other people either.
Hiroki becomes more proactive in a way he wouldn’t have had the confidence to do without Tomoko’s help before, and can now handle himself in previously stressful situations without her help or interference. The most striking example of this shift in his confidence and independence comes through in his interactions with his close-minded father, Akiyoshi. Whereas in the previous volume Hiroki was scared to push back on his dad’s gender-essentialism and homophobia and would laugh along with it, Hiroki now is more confident in challenging his dad’s assumptions and speaking up for him. When his dad remarks that it’s unmanly for guys to cry and scream at scary things, Hiroki unhesitantly defends himself by saying it’s okay for guys to get scared, and makes his dad challenge his own assumptions by making him play the game and own up to his own fright. Later, when his dad grills him about not thinking seriously about his future by choosing to go into humanities just to be with Daigo, Hiroki defends his choices. While he is aided by Tomoko’s reassurance and back-up, he was beginning to rebuke his dad even before she spoke, and he’s the one who convinces him to respect and accept his decision. Later, when he finds out he’s not in the same class as Daigo, he instead makes plans to join an after-school club with him and he comes home happy and motivated. Hiroki is thinking more positively about his future, and no longer shrinks away in face of setbacks.
Hiroki’s conversations with his dad also address the series’ exploration of how to encourage and express positive masculinity. While Hiroki now pushes back against some of his dad’s gender essentialist views of manliness, he still isn’t entirely confident he’s living up to his personal ideas of masculinity. He likes big strong men but is self-conscious about his own physique. He’s interested in BL, but his dad’s ridicule of them makes him worry it’s unmanly to read them. While Akiyoshi reinforces unhealthy and unhelpful expectations of masculinity that even he himself doesn’t live up to, Tomoko tries to show that having these interests is not embarrassing or makes him less of a man. She gives him her dumbbells to encourage him in his desire to get in shape, which later gives him the confidence to ask a classmate who works out for tips on training. She helps Hiroki reflect on whether he doesn’t want to read the BL manga just because his dad said he’s not supposed to even though he actually really wants to, and by telling him she enjoyed it, she gives him the invitation he needs to be less self-conscious about reading it. Tomoko helps Hiroki see that having nontraditional interests doesn’t make him any less of a man, and encourages him to pursue different things he likes and express his masculinity on his own terms.
While Tomoko still keeps a watchful eye over her son, she starts to realize she can be more reassured in letting her son make his own decisions and live the way he wants to, despite what she thinks is best. This is encapsulated in an argument they have over Hiroki not wanting to wear his new pair of shoes; he won’t tell her the reason, but she thinks it’s a waste of him to have a pair of new shoes and not wear them right away. However, hearing one of her coworkers say it’s a waste for her coworker Tono to be gay when he’s so handsome and popular with women makes her challenge her own assumptions. Despite being supportive of her son, she still lamented her own ideal vision of Hiroki’s future, which was based on him having a traditional heteronormative family one day. However, those aren’t her shoes to fill. She realizes that ultimately, Hiroki has his own ideas and understanding of what will make him happy. Tomoko might not always agree with his choices, but at the end of the day, Hiroki’s life is his own to live, and so long as he’s living happily, nothing he does is a waste. It’s a sweet message about both being supportive of other people’s choices and being confident in your own, trusting that you know what’s best for your own happiness.
Part of what helps Tomoko be less worried about Hiroki’s future is seeing several examples showing that Hiroki’s loved and what his future could be like. She notices that Daigo has a picture of him and Hiroki as his phone screen, and even if it doesn’t mean that Daigo reciprocates Hiroki’s romantic feelings, it’s clear that he cares about him fondly. This volume also introduces two new characters who serve as reflections of Hiroki’s closeted feelings for Daigo: Asumi, the girl-next-door who has a crush on Hiroki, and Tono, her gay coworker who isn’t out at work. When she realizes Asumi has feelings for Hiroki and is making efforts to be close to him, she’s conflicted about what she should say and do. Ultimately, she realizes that she can’t know or control what happens between Hiroki and Asumi, their feelings and relationship are for them to navigate themselves. Regardless, knowing Hiroki’s love reassures her that he can find love no matter what happens between him and Daigo as well. When she finds out about Tono, rather than speculate about his personal life like her BL-fetishizing coworker Higuchi, her first impulse is to want to ask him about what his life was like growing up and now, in an effort to better understand what Hiroki’s adult life could be like. However, she also understands that Tono might want to keep his queerness secretive much like Hiroki, so she respects his boundaries and also tries to discourage her fellow female coworkers from gossiping about him. Regardless of what her coworker thinks of him, though, Tono is both a revelation and relief to Tomoko and the reader; an example of an adult gay man happily thriving in his career and relationship with his partner. Tomoko’s interactions with Daigo and Asumi help her realize that Hiroki is loved, and meeting Tono reassures her that it’s possible for him to grow up into a happy adult.
Beyond Hiroki and Tomoko, we learn a lot more about Yuri about his interests and growing pains in this volume too. Much like Hiroki, Yuri has also been confused and struggling with understanding social pressures about love, but while Hiroki’s problems have been finding ways to express his love, Yuri’s concern is trying to understand how other people express it. Yuri is a mostly stoic, level-headed person; he’s not unfeeling, but he’s mostly unbothered by most things and doesn’t get flustered or worked up easily. Even when he’s uncomfortable, like when girls dress him up femininely or he’s getting bullied, he feels more confused rather than upset. In a very revealing flashback chapter, the first in the series to be told from his perspective and not Tomoko’s, we learn that Yuri has problems recognizing the feelings of two people close to him he was unwittingly in a love triangle with. He ended up upsetting both of them after rejecting the girl who confessed to him, not understanding how she felt, and this made him realize he has trouble reading people’s emotions, especially when how they behave is different from how they feel.
Yuri feels uneasy when he can’t understand people, which is why he appreciates his brother so much; because Hiroki wears his heart on his sleeve, it’s easy for Yuri to recognize when he’s in love and how he feels, and knowing that he can rely on Hiroki to always be emotionally honest is comforting to him. That doesn’t mean Yuri has stopped trying to understand people. On the contrary, Yuri’s habit of always being seen playing games, reading, or taking notes is recontextualized as him trying to analyze the characters and stories of the media he experiences and take notes, doing research and reading other people’s reviews to get a better idea of whether he’s truly understood them. This pays off in the final chapter of the book, where he’s able to eloquently summarize what made the ending of the game Daigo lent Hiroki so poignant, and later recommend Hiroki a video explaining it as well. Yuri’s efforts to be more emotionally aware of other people, informing his interests in media and hobby in writing reviews, is a fascinating complement to Tomoko’s efforts to understand her children better and Hiroki’s to being more comfortable with himself. We see that Yuri’s emotional awareness has been developed over time thanks to the influence of his brother’s emotional honesty and the example of his mother’s empathetic encouragement, which has helped him better recognize how others are feeling and give them advice when they ask. Yuri’s character and arc truly embody the story’s themes of being inquisitive and empathetic to the feelings and experiences of other people, and his growth is just as interesting and rewarding to see develop as Hiroki and Tomoko’s.
A core theme of the series is how being treated kindly or encouragingly can really mean a whole lot to someone in many ways. More than that, being a good role model of kindness can encourage kids and others in your life to help someone else. By providing Hiroki an environment in which he’s nurtured, he’s grown up to be supportive of others in turn. We see that he’s not only helped his brother feel more at ease, but he’s made both Daigo and Asumi’s lives much happier as well. Daigo is someone who’s often taken advantage of because of his willingness to help, and consequently, they don’t see him more as the class president and only come to him to ask favors. Hiroki is the only person who calls him by his name and wants to hang out with him as a friend, without any pretense, and having a person like that in his life helps Daigo through his days more than he realizes. Similarly, Hiroki makes Asumi incredibly happy by complimenting her appearance, enthusiastically appreciating her mandarins, and walking to school with her. Hiroki is so oblivious to how happy he makes Asumi just by being kind to her that he worries she doesn’t like him because she’s so lovestruck she can barely hold a conversation with him or look him in the eye. It really goes to show that you can so easily underestimate the impact you have on the people in your life, and how much a simple act of kindness can make a difference in someone’s life for the better.
Okura’s bubbly character designs and knack for drawing extremely cute blushing faces make his characters irresistibly appealing and endearing. Okura’s art emphasizes simplicity in both designs and environments; characters are drawn with round faces and shapes whereas backgrounds tend to be composed of more rectangular shapes. Okura’s backgrounds are pretty minimalist in general, with the interior of the Aoyama home being the most common setting for the series and furnished pretty simply with couches and tables. Similarly, buildings also tend to be mostly squares and rectangles without much intricate detail either. Occasionally exterior scenes will have bushes, trees, or shrubs and those can be best described as black splotches that make out the silhouette of their appearance, but sometimes I swear they’re so photorealistic in detail that they may just be photo scans. There is definitely one very explicit instance of Okura scanning in a photo for a background when the Aoyama family visits a temple, made even more obvious with subsequent panels of that environment not looking nearly as detailed. These aren’t really criticisms so much as observations; the manga’s focus is on its characters talking for the most part, so the backgrounds just need to functionally establish where they are.
Character expressions are the manga’s visual highlight, and because the features of their faces are simple even the slightest shift in the lines of a character’s face can be visually striking and gut-busting funny. My favorite instance of this was Yuri and Tomoko’s expressions when Hiroki told them he thought Asumi didn’t like him; just the simple tweak of making Yuri’s normally curved eyelids straight and square and giving Tomoko bulging eyes and both jaw-dropped square mouths got a big laugh out of me for such a simple moment. My favorite recurring visual joke in the manga is how Okura will simplify Hiroki’s facial features whenever he’s embarrassed. He blushes so hard in a warm grey gradient and a series of dash lines across his face, his eyes becoming huge ovals with small round pupils and wild bags under them, and his hairline disappears so that his entire head becomes simply an outline of its shape. It’s a cute way to communicate how rattled Hiroki gets by an embarrassing comment that he literally gets shaken and loses composure. Another visual motif I enjoy is the little flash bubble effect that occurs whenever a character has a realization or notices something. There are a lot of clever visual clues like these that help Okura’s charming art say a lot about his characters without spelling out how they’re feeling.
Square Enix’s localization is clearly a labor of love. Leo McDonagh’s translation remains thoughtful and empathetic in his word choices, particularly delivering effective emotional gut-punches for every one of Tomoko’s end of the chapter wishes for her son. Lor Prescott’s lettering is similarly dedicated to authenticity, with them doing a really great job in their replications of the look and details applied to different sound effects in the manga, particularly in the horror game chapter. Their normal dialogue fonts are very pleasing and fit Okura’s art well, and I appreciate them switching between different types of fonts for emphasis depending on the tone of how a character speaks or how they’re feeling. The release isn’t without mistakes; my copy, at least, has two grammatical typos on page 8 where “from” seems to be missing from the phrase “stops you [from] getting taller” and the phrase “did you actually look it up” is instead written as “did actually you look it up.” I’m sure these and other minor mistakes will be caught for the next printing, but I felt I should bring it up since it stuck out to me. Regardless, this is still a great release and localization from a team I can tell cares about the material and that shines through very lovingly in their work on the book.
I Think Our Son is Gay remains a wholesome warm blanket of a manga. Writing this story seems to have helped Okura work through his own feelings as well. He notes in the afterword of this volume that he came out to his own mother between volumes 1 and 2 of the series, revealing both that he’s gay and the manga he draws. He was worried about coming out to her, but much like how Tomoko’s encouragement helps Hiroki be more confident in being himself, so to did the series’ readers help give Okura the push he needed. Now his mother is supportive of her son and understands him a little bit better, and it’s great that Okura can now reflect on his relationship with his mother growing up and his relationship with her now through this manga. It’s a sweet and inspiring anecdote, and I believe this manga can similarly be a cathartic comfort for its readers, both those grateful to the people supportive of them in their life, and hopeful to those who yearn to have the kind of unconditional love and support of a guardian like Tomoko.