Honey & Honey: A Girls’ Love Couple (『ハニーとハニー honey & honey: 女の子どうしのラブ・カップル』)
By Sachiko TAKEUCHI (竹内佐千子)
Published by Media Factory (メディアファクトリー）
“Hello, my name is Sachiko Takeuchi. First of all, I have a lover, Masako. Masako is a woman….and, of course, I’m also a woman. So, basically, I’m a lesbian” (p. 4).*
I like to think that Sachiko Takeuchi’s Honey & Honey is for the lesbian/bi women/WlW population what Saori Oguri’s My Darling is a Foreigner (『ダーリンは外国人』) is to those in international marriages. Both published by Media Factory, these manga take a humorous approach to life as romantic minorities, highlighting both the problems and the benefits to the author’s relationships and their interactions with Japanese society.
Honey & Honey follows Takeuchi’s relationship with Masako, who is adorably drawn with a dog-like mouth. Masako is a soft-butch bisexual woman who is a tachi, a “top” in a relationship; Sachiko is a neko, the “bottom.” If you aren’t familiar with Japanese queer terminology, never fear: Takeuchi does a good job of providing notes for her readers, mainly because a lot of the terminology comes from English (ゲイ [gei, gay]、バイ [bai, bi]、レスビアン [resubian, lesbian]、FtM [female-to-male transgendered], カミングアウト [kamingu auto, coming out), etc.), which can be confusing for Japanese speakers, too, as she notes here:
1. –> Male friend
Masako: Look, I’m bi. There’s this girl I’m seeing now…**
2. Friend: Yeah, I know.
3. Friend: But that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change our friendship, Masako…
4. Friend: Because I’m got nothing against bilinguals! It’s totally fine!
Masako: Wait a sec, no! (92)
I really like this slice-of-life approach, and both Oguri’s and Takeuchi’s manga have an amazing way of normalizing minority relationships while showing the reader how they have different concerns on individual and societal levels. For example, in Darling, Oguri discusses Tony’s personality as a language otaku with a “glass heart” in contrast to her love of teasing him and dislike of language study; but she also raises some issues regarding her parents’ initial apprehension at her dating an American and other practical issues. In Honey, Takeuchi writes about not feeling able to come out to her parents and about some of the issues her trans-man friends have, such as when Kai-kun is held up over paperwork at an exam.
Speaking of a crazy case of coming out, here’s my friend Kai-kun. (FtM. Looks just like a man.)
This happened when Kai was taking an exam. There was an identification check…
Kai: This sucks.
Proctors: Wellll, this driver’s license says you’re a woman. But you’re a man…
Kai: Oh, no, the exam’s about to start! It’s almost 10!
Proctors: This has to be a mistake. Wait a minute, let’s check your address… Yep, Koto Ward…
Kai:[anger anger] It’s me! Look at my face!
Kai: LOOK, I’M A TR***Y, OKAY?! I’M SICK OR WHATEVER! THAT’S MY REAL ID! So hurry up and let me go in!
And somehow came out at reception…
Proctors: Good luck! G-go ahead! (So that’s what’s up?)
Kai will probably remember that parting “good luck!” for the rest of his life. (95-6)
This is a slice-of-life manga about a normal relationship, but Takeuchi also problematizes her and her friends’ status as sexual minorities, as people in heterogamous relationships or who are cisgender don’t have to deal with these issues. Additionally, allies might sometimes forget that a belief in the basic equality of all human beings does not erase the history of social and legal prejudice and oppression. The problems are presented as issues one deals with, not as melodrama (though there is certainly plenty of manga about that). Takeuchi notes in the afterword saying that a reader wrote to her to say that she used to think lesbians led a sad existence, but now she understands they are normal people, just with different daily life issues (111).
The chapters cover a variety of topics straight-identified people might have questions about: coming out to friends and family; plans and hopes for the future; discovering one’s sexuality; legal issues; and going out in 2-chome, Tokyo’s famous gay district. Although Takeuchi writes from her and Masako’s point of view on these matters, her cast of friends adds alternate commentary and one gets the sense that Sachiko and Masako are both individuals and part of a larger community. Takeuchi presents the characters’ situations as individual and universal, but never attempts to state her opinions as What All Lesbians Think.
As for the art style, I particularly like Takeuchi’s clean lines and simplified figures, which are quite expressive. Sachiko’s choice to draw Masako with the animal-like nose and mouth makes her more endearing, and I think the cute but not shojo style of the art might help put readers at ease–it looks like a sweet story, and it is.***
Honey & Honey is a great manga for anyone interested in the queer community in Tokyo. I hesitate to say in Japan because there are few places in Japan with as vibrant a community as Tokyo, and even then, it’s nothing like San Francisco or New York in terms of visibility and acceptability. Yet this is precisely why we need books like Honey & Honey–to show life under the rainbow 相合い傘 (love umbrella).
* I love the last line of the paragraph, which is actually “I’m of the lesbian tribe” (「そう、私のゾクに言う、「レスビアン」なのです。」）.
** Trans. note: Masako means “I have a girlfriend at the moment,” but this phrase could be sort of vague in the original Japanese, so the meaning is apparently not obvious to her friend.
*** Interestingly, Takeuchi also published a manga called Afternoon Harenchi [Shameless] Teatime (「午後のハレンチ ティータイム」）with her same cute, simplified art style, which revolves around her and her friend Mai “shamelessly” discussing sex. There is lots of simplified nudity with bananas and chestnuts in abundance.