For the month of April, Tokyopop is making a number of its first volumes free to read digitally. I took the opportunity to read Still Sick by Akashi and Don’t Call Me Daddy by Gorou Kanbe. These two manga fascinated me, particularly in conjunction with each other, as depictions of homophobia and queer desire in contemporary Japanese society. In both series, the protagonists struggle with internalized homophobia as a result of their lived experiences, but the way they choose to cope with those feelings is different, and leads to very different stories playing out.
Don’t Call Me Daddy
Still Sick by Akashi is a yuri manga about making manga. Office worker Shimizu is selling her yuri fancomics at a convention when her coworker Maekawa comes up to her table and expresses admiration and enthusiasm. It’s later revealed that Maekawa used to be a professional comic artist herself until she hit a creative block she couldn’t push past, and Shimizu decides to help Maekawa regain her passion for art.
In Still Sick, Shimizu’s fangirl passion for her OTP is immediately relatable. As a child, Shimizu was bullied for rumors about her sexuality. She deals with her fear of rejection by real-life girls by retreating into the safety of fiction and fandom, expressing her desire through drawing comics. Her arc in the first volume is about her being willing to connect with Maekawa and support Maekawa in her creative work.
Don’t Call Me Daddy is also about supporting others, but unlike Still Sick where the focus is on an artist’s drive to create, Don’t Call Me Daddy is about family ties. The story starts 20 years ago, when Hanao’s best friend Mita shows up on his doorstep with a baby and asks for his help in raising the child. After an incident at the child’s daycare where the kid declares that his dad is married to a man, Hanao leaves town and doesn’t come back for 20 years to spare his friend and his friend’s son the pain that comes from discrimination and homophobia.
Still Sick’s Shimizu lives alone and has no close ties besides one coworker and now Maekawa. Daddy’s Hanao has an aging father he cares for and his close friend and a child. Shimizu’s experiences with homophobia in her youth motivate her to protect herself from the vulnerability of relationships, while Hanao’s experiences motivate him to protect his loved ones from the pain of heartbreak.
Hanao tells himself, “if I don’t accept this feeling as romantic love, I can continue enjoying my close platonic friendship with Mita.” Shimizu tells herself she’ll never fall in love with a real girl. Both series follow the protagonists questioning these resolutions they’ve made as they strengthen their bonds with others.
Despite the similarities, Still Sick and Don’t Call Me Daddy have very different tones. One is about working women in their twenties, the other about two middle aged men and their families. Still Sick has some really funny moments, and is drawn with thick, confident lines. Don’t Call Me Daddy so far has a few jokes, but mostly feels serious and solemn, with a subplot about aging and senility in the background of Hanao and Mita reconnecting. The line work is thin, delicate, with careful hatching to add shadow in certain panels. Both are beautiful, but in different ways.
I genuinely recommend both of these comics if you’re in the mood for a character-driven romantic read about queer relationships. Still Sick is easier to digest initially, but I found myself unable to put down either story on my first read through. They’re good comics! And they’re gay!