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Lesbian pornography is a time-tested go-to genre for quick titillation, fetishizing homosexuality among women not as a genuine expression of sexual orientation, but as something for men to mentally place themselves into the scene with. A phantom threesome, if you will.
However, Torajiro Kishi's manga series, Maka Maka, manages to elevate itself beyond that by not only portraying realistic sex between two female characters, but by also allowing the leads have actual character in a medium that frequently glosses over such things as personality and characterization.
The story of Maka Maka centers around Jun and Nene, two young women in their early twenties living in Tokyo. Jun is trying to make a career as a graphic designer, while Nene yearns to break into the fashion industry. Both women have boyfriends from time to time and engage in sex with men, but they rarely seem to receive any enjoyment out of the act.
As Nene puts it best in the manga's first chapter, she feels that both women are simply helping their male suitors masturbate through the use of their bodies. To them, sex should be something far more intimate than the mere sweaty thrusting of body parts. Sex is communication, an act that goes beyond simple lust, creating a bond based on trust and love. And both Jun and Nene experience this no better than with one another.
Ecchi (pornographic) manga, often misclassified as Hentai in the West, usually does not bother too much with such things like story when it comes to getting to its sexual content, the obvious main selling point of the genre. The creators are aware that anything between the sex scenes is simple filler that justifies the characters engaging in the act (if even that, though there is usually some attempt at characterization in the majority of Ecchi manga, no matter how brief).
Maka Maka stands out in the sea of smut by creating a genuine connection between the two leads. They joke together. They argue. They pull pranks on one another. They share their fears and doubts and open up to each other about what troubles them. This level of communication is not rare in manga about lesbianism (known as the 'yuri' or 'girls-love' genre), but it is hardly portrayed in such a sex-positive way as it is here.
The central theme of Maka Maka is communication through sex. Writer and artist Torajiro Kishi never portrays sex as this grandiose affair of screaming writing bodies that explode in exaggerated orgasms, but more as a serene and comfortable act. The pace of Jun and Nene's lovemaking is never rushed, with abundant time spent on foreplay. Sometimes, the two don't even engage in on-panel sex at all, sticking to light teasing and brief moments of exhibitionism or cutting away before anything actually unfolds.
Regardless of what positions or acts occur, lesbianism is pedestaled to the highest degree. And while this isn't a bad thing per se (as we have a great dearth in positive homoerotic fiction in the mainstream as is), it does veer the book back slightly into the aforementioned zone that is titillation of lesbian sex as a wish-fulfillment for the male readers.
Sex with men isn't outright demonized (though any male characters are hardly portrayed in a flattering way, ranging from perverts to opportunists), Maka Maka presents the idea of lesbian sex as something purer and not based around animalistic lust. This is hardly fair to anyone that doesn't identify as a lesbian by dismissing other orientations so readily, nor does it flatter actual lesbians by elevating their sexual activity in a way that simply objectifies them once more, and blending Maka Maka in with the many other ecchi manga that focus on lesbian sex.
Perhaps it is this where Maka Maka differs from other pornographic manga: its heart. What makes Maka Maka memorable is the moments that showcase the genuine connection between Jun and Nene. They cry together. They call each other in the middle of the night just to cheer one another up. Jun remarks on how Nene's skin is beautiful in the moonlight. Nene sews a kimono for her friend.
Yes, they have sex in nearly every chapter, but the reader will remember the moments that lead up to that just as clearly as the eventual pornographic scenes (if not more so). Because in a medium of contrived set-ups, goofy meet-cutes, over the top declarations of love and impossible to downright absurd sexual positions highlighted with x-rayed shots of internal orgasms, Jun and Nene feel real. They are characters with wants, desires, fears, and healthy sexual appetites. They are people, not puppets putting on a sex-show.
Whether it was Kishi's intent or not, Maka Maka is one of the few manga that approached female sexuality and life the closest (though more so from a lesbian perspective, as it completely omits the idea of similar relationships between men and women). It eschews overtly sweet scenes of hand-holding and prolonged wistful longing, nor does it dive deep into raunchy exploitation styled sex.
The connection between Jun and Nene feels real, consensual and never sleazy. There are no contrived meetings, no bizarre implausible sexual encounters and no degradation of the female leads. This excellent yet simple story, combined with an appealing art style and great use of color, stands far above other pornographic comics as it is both very titillating and just outright fun to read. Whether it is read alone with only one hand on the book, or together with a partner, Maka Maka cannot be dismissed as simple porn. It is erotica, but also a story of love and communication.
Two volumes of Maka Maka have been published by Japanese publisher Jive, with English localizations produced by Media Blasters. There seem to be no current plans for a third volume, but Kishi has continued many of the themes from Maka Maka in his follow-up manga series Otome no Teikoku (Virgin's Empire), which is less pornographic in nature (though there are still plenty of scenes of yuri and nudity abound).