Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Man of Tango
Angel “Angie” Almodovar is an Argentinian Tango instructor living in Japan, teaching nightly classes with his platonic dance partner Bene. Despite his love of the dance, Angie has never truly felt that he has made a connection with another person in a really meaningful way...until one day he meets Hiro, a Japanese-Colombian barely eking out an existence in a land that doesn't speak to him. Although Hiro identifies as straight, Angie pursues him, seeking to make that loving, meaningful connection with another person that he yearns for...and using the tango to reinforce it.
The Man of Tango is a bit of an oddity in the BL genre as most Western readers have experienced it. The men are distinctly masculine - “manly” may actually be the better term – and one of the main characters is a woman. Many of the more sensual scenes are enacted fully clothed and out of bed, as the characters dance the Argentinian tango, and the final chapter takes us beyond the usual implication of “they lived Happily Ever After” to show us where the characters ended up thirty years later. While all of this does make for an interesting book that travels far from the norm in some respects, The Man of Tango also suffers from some awkward pacing, art that doesn't quite work, and the feeling that we're really missing an integral part of the story.
The book begins with a younger Angie having broken off yet another frivolous relationship. We learn about his tendency to do this, despite what his older ex-lover Nonino wishes for him, and then we are whisked to present-day Tokyo, where Angie and a person of uncertain gender are teaching a tango class to a group of stereotypically gay men. This is where the first major issue of the art comes in – the person is in fact a woman – Bene(dict) Maria Cruz, Angie's platonic dance partner. Her gender is disguised simply through a fault in Okadaya's art – despite having breasts and wearing feminine clothes, Bene has linebacker shoulders and masculine musculature, giving rise to the distinct possibility that she is a man in drag. Muscles are, in fact, Okadaya's greatest weakness as the story presses onward, with men seeming over-muscled to the point where they resemble He-Man action figures more than real males. Clothed this is less of a problem, as their physiques simply look powerful, which adds to the tango scenes. Nude, however, there's a slight sense of the ridiculous.
Angie meets the love of his life, Hiro, early on in chapter one, after a gratuitous sex scene. He and Bene are performing at a bar, and Bene, while waiting for her partner, bumps into Hiro. She recognizes him as Angie's type, and after the show invites him over to their house. After Bene gracefully ducks out, Hiro gets drunk and pours out the horrible story of his childhood to the older man. Angie puts him to bed, vowing to do nothing, but when he returns, Hiro has become somehow seductive in appearance and Angie proclaims himself not mature enough to resist. While forced sexual encounters are not unheard of in yaoi, there is something disturbing about Angie's words. For Hiro's part, when he discovers what transpired, he is more embarrassed than traumatized. Granted, people tend not to read this genre for its important life lessons, but there is something that feels in poor taste about this handling of the situation. Yes, it all works out, and yes, we can read this as a sign that Hiro was never against a relationship with Angie in the first place, but it feels a bit too glib, and given the sweetness of the epilogue, one could wish that the relationship had not begun quite this way.
That said, the gradual coming together of Angie and Hiro is somehow charming, as they emotionally mimic the steps of the tango. Angie says a few times that the tango itself changes depending upon who is dancing it, the correlation here being that everyone lives and loves in their own ways, taking the same basic steps as everyone else but creating something unique. All three of the main characters show this – soul-weary Hiro, somewhat cynical Angie, and torn butterfly Bene – as they go through their lives trying to figure things out and make ends meet. The epilogue, which was written later than the rest of the book and takes place thirty years in the future, is a strange mix of lovely and simply not enough, particularly as regards one of the characters. We know from Okadaya's notes in the book that she had an entire world developed for these characters, and that she knows far, far more about them than we as readers ever do. It just would have been nice to see that shared a bit before hitting us with “thirty years later” so that we could more fully appreciate the ending of her story.
Viz's SuBLime imprint has released a very complete edition of The Man of Tango, with the story's original short, the epilogue, and creator's notes. The translation reads well, even if translations for the Spanish are only provided on the table of contents and there is no translation given for the French song lyrics. (Not where one could remember them, anyway.) The binding is a bit tight, with a few letters lost to the margins, but overall this is a nicely produced volume.
If you are tired of impossibly pretty feminine men living in scenes of perfection and beauty, The Man of Tango might be what you're looking for. Separating itself from the genre herd, it has its issues with art and pacing, but still manages to hit some emotional notes. If nothing else, the author's love of the story and the characters really comes through, and there's something wonderful about that, regardless of whatever faults the book may have.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Not your run-of-the-mill BL story, dance scenes are very sensuous. Bene is an interesting character and Hiro has a believable tragic past.
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