Series: Usagi Otoko, Tora Otoko [Rabbit Man, Tiger Man] by Honma Akira (2009)
Tiger man, Nonami (right,check out that tattoo), a hotheaded graduate of Tokyo University, is a promising young leader in the yakuza. Rumors have spread that the current boss is suffering from a terminal illness, and in the resulting spats over future leadership, Nonami suffers a gunshot wound during an assassination attempt.
Due to his good fortune and sharp instincts (he attributes both to being protected by the tiger on his back), he has managed to escape many near-death situations in the past. This time, however, fortune comes in the form of our story’s rabbit man, Uzuki (bottom left), an unassuming, timid doctor working at a nearby hospital.
Usually quick to avoid trouble and run from danger (like, yes, a rabbit), Uzuki, clinging to his idealistic sense of a doctor’s true purpose and apparently moved by the sight of a barely conscious Nonami drawing warmth from a stray cat, breaks through institutional barriers as well as his own fears to treat the man of questionable background.
Their relationship begins with a game of mistaken identity and cat and mouse. Nonami stations himself at the hospital in search of a nurse he thinks is named “Suzuki” (his only clue to finding his “Nightingale” as his blurred consciousness and heteronormative leanings conjure up false memories).
The realization scene is worth recounting for its comic elements as well as its heavy use of animal allegory which accounts in large part for the popularity of the series.
* For Japanese language manga, as in this case, please read right to left. The dialogue and the action flow in this direction.
It doesn’t take long for Nonami to give in to his attraction to Uzuki (going with his animal instinct), although he insists that he is not gay (lol). I usually read “I’m not gay” in most of these manga as “I’m not out” but the actuality is that whatever they are, no one here is really straight (then again, who really is?). Putting categories aside, the fact is that their preference for each other, cis male persons, poses a real danger to their respective livelihoods and, in severe cases, lives.
Animal allegory thus contributes, also, to the portrayal of the more raw and moving aspects of their relationship, which is, at heart, the problem of what happens when you find your place of belonging but have no safe space in which to build it. Nonami, true to his tiger nature, is a powerful, intelligent, and charismatic creature, well-suited to the demands and risks of his social-professional position (this is often the case with relatively masculinely coded semes). But, aware of his own power, he fears bringing danger to his loved ones or, worse, overwhelming or crushing them by sheer force of being. Nonami goes through lengths not to inconvenience, threaten, or impose on Uzuki’s station as well as his responsibilities as a doctor, even at the risk of his own well being.
Uzuki, although clearly drawn to Nonami, cannot bring himself to actualize his own feelings for someone who lives in a world so marked by that danger he instinctively avoids. His rabbit nature constantly betrays him. In fact, the constant state of anxiety and instinct to escape that mark him as prey is what first alerts Nonami to the possibility that his “Nightingale” is not Suzuki, but Uzuki, and no Florence at that. Uzuki loathes his own cowardice, but remains unable to promise Nonami anything more than their occasional and pleasant courtship. Always, he underestimates the depth of Nonami’s feelings for him and hides behind the high-stake duties of his profession to avoid acknowledging his own.
It is the classic romantic quandary: how to choose the more difficult relationship, the one that comes with the highest risks and the most unreasonable demands. Yaoi is nothing if not a genre of this type of romance. As far as this and other stock BL (boy’s love) storytelling techniques (such as the blending of sexual themes with situational and visual humor or cuteness) go, Usagi strikes the perfect key, if one that’s none too special. The doctor-yakuza pairing is a rare