rabbit man & tiger man

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.

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* For Japanese language manga, as in this case, please read right to left. The dialogue and the action flow in this direction.

The capture:

The kiss:

The struggle:

The denial:

The reality:

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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

permutation of the yakuza romance, but what’s even rarer is how the artist goes beyond profession as character design and actually offers professional realities to bolster the verisimilitude of the relationship’s development. The result is a decidedly heart-stringing pair of badass beautiful boys.
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Throughout the series, Honma positions Uzuki and Nonami side by side, like two incompatible species trying to figure out how to make it work.
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*all images belong to Honma Akira; the scans which appear here are cropped, sized, and displayed with generous permission from Nakama Scanlations
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15 thoughts on “rabbit man & tiger man

  1. wow that’s was well writen and great analysis of the manga. love the pictures you’ve chosen to go with the text, they are so cute^^

  2. This will end up being a hallmark series of how using animals and animal traits for people works well.
    Much better than other series that just use animals to add a cuteness factor where if the ears and tails were not there, neither would the ratings.

  3. What a pleasant read! This really is one of my favorite stories, just for the cause you pictured above – the two characters side by side, so opposite in nature yet comfortable in each other’s silence. It’s really a nice feeling this oasis of stillness surrounding the chaos of both their high pressure life styles.

    My favorite manga ever, btw, is “The Cornered Mouse..” & its sequel “The Carp…” ^^

    [Came here by rec of Nakama – Thank you for sharing your thoughts!]

    • Thanks! <333 to Nakama for letting me use their images and sharing the link. Fandom is great. 🙂

      And Mizushiro Setona love is…love! I sometimes imagine trying to write about that amazing series, but it feels like my heart will burst every time I try to put it in words. lol. So instead I copped her titles. ^^" Please feel free to *kyaa* about that any time.

  4. wahhh. thanks everyone for your lovely replies and sorry for the delay in realizing it. i’m new to this blogging thing and must have accidentally turned on some sort of comment screening function…no very free forum-y of me.

    anyway, thanks so much for taking the time to read.

    i’ll keep trucking along with my humble form of fangirling, so please feel free to stop by anytime!

  5. this is a well-thought out essay. i like how dissect the characters and their situation quite accurately and made it all the more better as you correctly point out the use of animals and imagery thru descriptive words the dynamics of their relationship with each other and their professions. thank you for writing and sharing UsaTora manga luv with us. 😀

  6. I love that your tastes in yaoi seem to ruin so closely to mine. It means I have more interesting pieces to read about more of my favourite manga in the future (at least I a-bit-too-desperately hope so) if your site continues… *please continue it*

    I wonder if you would be able to also write about the other story in this manga, the one with the huge age gap and the *shiver with delight* older uke ne?

    This kind of discussion about yaoi is what I crave.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks so much for reading, thinking, asking questions, and leaving such encouraging comments!

      I started this site because I crave this kind of discussion, too…but it was all a kind of desperate, hoping type of sentiment at first…so knowing there are others who want to participate is super exciting.

      I have at least 8 more manga essays under the title of “badass, beautiful, boys” in the works I’m definitely planning on forging on with…so please keep talking to me if you feel moved to do so and please also feel free to be honest, critical, and doubtful about anything that doesn’t sit right with you. 🙂

      Love your comment name.

      • ureshiiiiii
        the possibility of 8 more essays (and maybe more, yes? *moe eyes*) is very exciting! ❤ I can not wait for them! And the fact that you are welcoming our feedback is very reassuring (^w^)
        *happiness*
        I know what you mean when you say your heart might burst if you tried to write about cornered mouse/carp jumps twice… but if you could bare to risk it, then an essay on those two books would be very! well! received.
        You mentioned Nonami's heteronormative leanings when he assumes his nightingale is female. I was wondering how you place this manga when it comes to heteronormative couples in yaoi. Nonami is very much the man. But is Uzuki really the 'woman'?
        Really can not wait for more ❤

      • *beams back* if I can survive this week, essay 3’s going up this weekend!!!

        cornerd mouse/carp essay…risking the combustion might be an ambition i’m working myself up to…isn’t that always the risk of engaging with powerful storytelling? haha.

        as for Nonami-Uzuki, I think they would be slotted into the type of BL that follows the formula of two “straight” guys getting together. in other words, “i’m not gay; the person i love just happens to be guy.” i put “straight” in scare quotes because at that point, what the hell’s the point in treating any of these categories–gay, straight–as a natural given. it would be more accurate to say something like, “the two remain invested in performing straightness (i.e. are not “out”), while choosing to be in a non-straight (define it however you want) relationship.”

        when i say nonami’s “heteronormative leanings” i think i’m referring to the fact that he is so invested in his own straightness, he can’t imagine that the person who saved him is NOT female.

        i don’t think the series goes out of its way to code Uzuki as “woman” or particularly “female.” i think in some ways, the animal coding might serve to pull the two characters away from normative gender performance and stereotypes. his behavior isn’t female; it’s rodent-like. lol. in some ways, this maybe also frees us as readers from having to read them according to those gender norms…

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