MMF: The Fumi Yoshinaga List

August 19, 2011

This month’s Manga Moveable Feast is a celebration of all things Fumi Yoshinaga, as hosted by Kristin over at Comic Attack. Go check out the other content, because there is A LOT to say about Fumi Yoshinaga. I feel a little bad I didn’t write a real article instead of an overview, because there are dozens of topics that are worth covering related to her. But instead, here’s a little walk through all her work published in English.

This is a long one, so I’m going to put the rest of this behind a cut.

My first Yoshinaga series was Gerard & Jacques. Apparently, I was very impressed by the sex at the time, because I was… uh, actually not that young. But there wasn’t a lot of sexually explicit manga for women available in English at that time, so Gerard & Jacques was a novelty. Now, my shelves groan under the weight of English-language manga porn for women. Anyway. Gerard & Jacques is the rare BL title that balances super-explicit sex and character relationships, and Yoshinaga also does a good job setting the whole thing during the French Revolution and portraying the novelist career of the main character rather convincingly. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in these two books. I never quite forgave it the opening rape scene, but if not for that, this would probably be one of my all-time favorite BL titles.

Next, for some reason, was Flower of Life, which overruled Antique Bakery because I’m not much of a foodie. But I do love stories about high school life, for some reason, and I believe this was also an early look at the “slice of life” genre of manga, which makes an interesting story out of mundane activities. That’s the best way to describe Flower of Life. It has interesting and extremely well-developed characters, and their unique personalities mesh and clash as they go about the business of high school life. Even visiting each other’s houses and eating dinner is a pure pleasure in this series. The stories through all four volumes are mostly funny, with a lot of sweetness mixed in, until the striking and bittersweet ending. I remember being quite pleased that a series that was, in theory, not about anything could have such a definite resolution. But the resolution is a good one, and in fact something that I will likely never forget. Flower of Life made a huge impact on me, and is still my favorite of Yoshinaga’s works. And that’s high praise coming from an artist whose work I enjoy every single time.

I read Antique Bakery next, but Antique Bakery was written before Flower of Life, and it shows. They’re the same sort of story, except Antique Bakery is about a group of men that run and staff a cake shop. The chapters move from topic to topic, different stories in the lives of the men, sometimes events happening in the shop, sometimes a look at the lives of the customers, et cetera. There are lots of flashbacks between the two main characters, and towards the fourth volume, an interesting plot develops related to the main character and his childhood that ends the series on a definitive, if not very satisfying, note. I found Flower of Life to be a more touching story, but both are entertaining and sweet in their own ways, and if you prefer adults to high-school age stories, it’s likely you’ll want to reach for this one first. Plus, all four of the covers are scratch-and-sniff, which is a massive bonus.

Ichigenme… The First Class is Civil Law is the next on my list. A two-volume BL story, this takes a look at the lives of law students in university. It’s enjoyable because of Yoshinaga’s knack for writing interesting, slightly funny, and very personality-driven characters, but for other reasons of its own. Yoshinaga’s style of story, focusing on the events of the every day, works particularly well in Ichigenme, since she takes full advantage of the law school setting and the classes the characters are going to. They actually care about what they’re doing, which is unusual. It’s also a romance, and one of the better ones she’s written. Apparently, it had a sex scene that made me cry, which is… something.

The BL one-shots are all worth reading, though one of my least favorite is her debut, The Moon and Sandals (which is two volumes, but I group it in with the others here). Her characters just aren’t as strong in that one, but that’s mostly just compared to her other stories. For a BL series, it’s got some pretty great characters. My favorite of the one-shots is probably Lovers in the Night, but I think that’s because I like Gerard & Jacques so much. They’re basically the same story. Truly Kindly and Don’t Say Anymore Darling are volumes of unrelated short stories. I find that volumes of single-artist short stories tend to be weak, so I love that Yoshinaga has two volumes full of really good ones (if you’re into romance/BL). And Solfege is music-themed, which is fairly interesting, but it was low on my personal list of Yoshinaga titles.

Garden Dreams was a non-BL book similar to Gerard & Jacques/Lovers in the Night. It’s a book of short stories that delve into the lives of two of the main characters, and it has all the usual Yoshinaga good stuff.

All My Darling Daughters is a book of short stories that look at a mother/daughter relationship from several different perspectives. There’s romantic side stories for both the mother and daughter, a look at the mother’s relationship with her mother, and some tangential stories about friends, family, and freeloaders. Again, good characters, and an excellent sense of humor, but I found this one to be far more touching than most of her other material. It was far easier for me to relate to, being the daughter of a mother myself. This ranks just behind Flower of Life as my favorite Yoshinaga title.

Conversely, my least favorite of all her titles is Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy!, which is a shame because it has a great title. But unfortunately, this is a very food-centric work, where F-mi Y-naga writes restaurant reviews in the form of short manga chapters. I am not a foodie, nor do I know anything about Tokyo and its restaurants, so this was literally one of the least interesting things I could have possibly read. But having said that, there’s still some charm to be had, since the beginning of every chapter has a charming story about what lead up to going to the restaurant, and one chapter that even sheds a little light on her BL books and her opinion of them. And I was in the minority in my opinions for this one, because I think everyone else loved it. Even still, I would say it’s not for anyone that isn’t interested in food culture or desperate for more from Yoshinaga.

And finally, there’s Ooku. Technically, it’s her best work, hands down. It’s also one of her two current series, and her longest work by far (seven volumes and going). She tells the story of the Tokugawa Shogunate from a very female perspective. And by that, I mean an alternate history of what would happen if most of the men were killed by a disease and the shogun rulers and all of the elite and most of the working class were women. I think much is lost in translation, since American audiences are going to be less familiar with the original history and unfamiliar with the gender spin Yoshinaga is putting on it. But it’s still fabulously theatrical, with lots of politics, drama, and some stiff romance and tragedy. I just finished the roughly 3-volume portion that deals with the life of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, which is utterly tragic in just about every way. As big a mess as Tsunayoshi seems to make of everything she touches, Yoshinaga still makes her a very sympathetic character. It’s superb writing, and a recent 3-volume marathon helped boost my opinion of this series significantly. The English re-write is a rather unfortunate translation to Early Modern English that gets easier to ignore the more you read, and I think the subject matter will also turn a lot of people off. But if you’re looking for a fine, very literary comic, look no further.

There’s only so much you can take my word for, and I can say the same nice things over and over, but you can’t really understand just how good Yoshinaga is until you read one of her books. Having said that, and praised her to the skies in a lengthy article and more than two dozen reviews, I can see how there might be a barrier to entry for some. For instance, I’ve been trying to get my roommate to read her work for years. As much as he enjoys all good comics, he only occasionally reads romance comics, and never BL, so much of Yoshinaga’s body of work is of no interest to him. Antique Bakery is too mundane, and Ooku is too much of a commitment due to the history. Flower of Life was the only series I could convince him to read, but even that, with its meandering storyline about everyday life, baffled him until about halfway through the second volume. He grew to like it quite a bit by the end, but if I hadn’t forced him, he wouldn’t have read past the first volume.

So no, she’s not for everybody, and she might be a hard sell for people who otherwise enjoy great comics. But she is the queen of… well, good character-driven series, in my mind, especially those written for women. And if you have any interest whatsoever in her work, I encourage you to take the plunge.

2 Responses to “MMF: The Fumi Yoshinaga List”

  1. […] Connie from Slightly Biased Manga – The Fumi Yoshinaga List […]

  2. […] of Slightly Biased Manga lists each of Yoshinaga’s books along with her opinions of […]

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