December 16, 2009
Fumi Yoshinaga – Viz – 2010 – 1 volume
To date, this is the only manga that has ever made me want to call my mom at two in the morning and bawl my eyes out. But then again, it’s Fumi Yoshinaga, and she’s got a power that no one else possesses.
This is a collection of five short stories told in six chapters. It’s in the Viz Signature line, so expect a similar treatment to Ooku, with pretty color pages and trim size and nice cover and whatnot. I didn’t realize that every single one was related until I got to the last story, and then I realized it’s true genius. There is some obvious carry-over between a couple of the stories, but if Fumi Yoshinaga has a flaw, it’s that her character designs look pretty similar. Yukiko, the daughter in the first story, is a character in all the stories, but I thought she was a stock wavy-haired friend until I got to that last chapter and recognized her mother. And even then, I didn’t recognize her mother, I recognized an insult unique to that character.
The first chapter is about Yukiko coming to terms with her mother’s sudden marriage to a man three years younger than Yukiko. He’s a handsome actor and an ex-host, and Yukiko hates everything about their relationship, but can’t find any fault with the husband himself, try as she might. This was the story that got to me most. This first and last chapter were the only stories that stuck to the theme of mother-daughter relationships that I imagined in this book, but all the stories were good, in their way.
The second story features a friend of the aforementioned husband, in a bizarre relationship with one of his college students that just won’t leave him alone. I wasn’t sure what to make of this story, and it’s the most out-of-place one in this volume, but it still put a smile on my face. The theme was a little more obscure than the other stories too, which was unusual given its silly and slightly graphic nature, but I liked that the most outrageous story also had the most subtle theme.
The third story was about a friend of Yukiko’s, a kind, good-looking girl that had finally decided to seek an arranged marriage to move herself out of her parent’s house. There are themes of equality and tolerance to the story, and the main character takes them to an almost absurd length. I wasn’t all that happy with the way the end of the story turned out, but it was still nice to see how happy the final decision made the main character. This character was also the most frustrating to follow, because I understood she was a good person, but I couldn’t figure out why she was rejecting all the men until the very end. It just seemed like I was completely missing something about her character, but in the end, I wasn’t, and the most obvious explanation was the correct one. I liked her a little less for it, but it’s hard to dislike a character so saintly, in the end.
The fourth story was about Yukiko’s friends in junior high. The three had set modest goals for themselves while still friends (one wanted to work in publishing, one wanted to work at a government job, and one just wanted to work as a female employee in the private sector), and the story was about how well the three of them did reaching those goals. It was most heartbreaking, especially when the disturbing extent of the least successful character’s life was revealed. Actually, yeah, it was depressing all the way through. All the characters were happy, but that last page just took all that away when it reminded you of the beginning of the chapter. Still, it was my favorite after the two that dealt with Yukiko directly.
The last chapter focused on Yukiko’s mother again, and about how she disliked Yukiko’s grandmother for the way she constantly insulted her looks and character while she was growing up. We get a flashback that goes into detail and explains why Yukiko’s mother complimented Yukiko to a fault, and then another that explains why the grandmother was so insulting to the mother. It’s a viscious cycle, but that grandmother does come down hard on the people she loves.
It’s a real woman manga, if such a thing exists (parallel, one can assume, to woman fiction, which is what I call stuff like Jodi Picoult and Penny Vincenzi). Very female stuff, but that doesn’t make it any less of an excellent read. I wouldn’t say it ranks up with my favorite of Yoshinaga’s works (I’m a fan of her more outrageous and comedic stuff), but it’s still an excellent read, and I have yet to truly dislike or even feel ambivalent about anything by Yoshinaga. She’s an amazing lady.
This was a review copy provided by Viz.