August 26, 2011
Odds are, if you’ve read any article written by me since about 2007, you know that I have a deep love for the series From Eroica With Love, by Yasuko Aoike. As one of my new Friday Features, I’m going to take a look at all the various related series that Aoike wrote (hint: there are a lot). But I want to have an anchor post for these, and I also want to put off talking about Sons of Eve as long as possible. So instead of jumping right in, I’m going to talk a little bit about Yasuko Aoike here, plus link all the Eroica spin-off articles I’m going to be talking about eventually.
From Eroica With Love Spinoffs:
Artbooks & Supplement Books:
Some more info, and pretty pictures (one NSFW), after the cut.
Yasuko Aoike is always included as one of the very famous 70s shoujo manga revolutionaries in the Year 24 Group, along with Moto Hagio, Keiko Takemiya, Yumiko Ooshima, Ryoko Ikeda, and Ryoko Yamagishi, among others. According to the Wikipedia article, the work by these artists share similar themes of “radical and philosophical issues on gender and sexuality.” We’ve seen hardly any of this work in English, only two books by Hagio and two short series by Takemiya. The artists are often discussed though, and it’s easy to see their influence in a lot of work that has been translated into English.
Aoike seems to come up far less in discussions on the Year 24 Group in English, however, than Hagio and Takemiya. This was puzzling to me at first, since Eroica is quite notable, but it’s easy to see why. Hagio, Takemiya, and the others tend to write very serious-minded dramas that take a sensitive look at gender, sexuality, and identity. Yasuko Aoike writes comedies where men chase each other around. But she’s really good at it.
Not all her work is comedy. She has at least a couple historical dramas featuring bisexual characters and difficult backgrounds, and Eroica functions as an action series, but it’s clear where Aoike’s heart lies. She’s dedicated a lot of pages to perfecting the art of boys’ love comedies. She’s said herself that she loves slapstick-style BL comedies and it’s easy to see that she’s enjoying herself when you read them.
Comedy’s a hard thing to critique, especially old comedy. Tastes change over time, and there’s an additional cultural and language barrier when considering Aoike’s work. Still, the biggest testament to her skill as a comedy writer is From Eroica With Love, the one work we can read in English. It crosses the time, culture, and language barriers and still manages to be just as funny now as it was 35 years ago. Everything from the camp to the class translates perfectly, and it is hilarious. And again, it’s so clear when you read it that she loves writing it. In one of the Eroica supplements, she talks about occasionally pulling an old volume for reference and laughing hard at her old jokes. She’s taken a couple breaks over the years, but Eroica still comes out semi-regularly in Princess Gold, at least 4-5 times a year. And it still has its moments of brilliance, though the art has grown more utilitarian over the years.
But I’ve talked about From Eroica With Love plenty elsewhere on the site. Read any of the reviews, where I gush embarrassingly for thousands of words.
Aoike started out writing a lot of shoujo short stories, and a couple of dramas, before she got into the BL comedy groove around 1974. Her jokes of choice were slapstick sight gags. Though Eroica started out as one, it evolved into more of a romance/comedy/adventure, and balances all three with a kind of perfection. After a few volumes of Eroica, she began to move away from comedies. El Halcon and Seven Seas, Seven Skies both started after From Eroica With Love and are both historical dramas with complicated characters, backgrounds, and relationships. She wrote a handful of hardboiled spy-type volumes in the early 80s. After putting Eroica on hiatus, she went on to draw Alcazar, the story of Don Pedro de Castillo, the tyrant ruler of Spain. Not a comedy, and not all that romantic, from what I can see, but more of a straight-up historical drama. She’s also drawn not-comedies about monks, medieval knights, and even a supernatural detective story. Only one of her stories post-1975 is set in Japan. Mostly, though, she just draws Eroica. Now and forever.
Her most common themes are probably that her work consistently takes place in Europe, and include a lot of detail and attention to the setting. They also tend to have a light touch, even when they’re not comedies, though she’s perfectly capable of pulling off serious drama and romance. A more unfortunate theme is that her main characters tend to always look like Klaus and Dorian, even when that’s not really the case. It’s especially bad in Knights of Drachen, but sometimes it can work to reader benefit when she feels like drawing cheesecake illustrations of, say, Don Pedro.
Her character designs were much more varied in the past, but clearly the Earl and the Major are simply where her heart lies now. She also has a self-professed fondness for beefier gentlemen than she’s allowed to draw in shoujo manga, which may explain why her characters have gotten less waif-y over the years.
Also, let’s not forget that a lot of her characters from the mid-70s are actually rock stars. Aside from the Led Zeppelin/Eroica connection, I’ve heard that the characters from Sons of Eve are also based on celebrities, in addition to actual celebrities appearing in the comic. Plus, Robert Plant is totally the star of one of her earlier short stories. Like, it’s obviously him. Even more so than the Earl.
Her art’s changed quite a bit over the years, which I will talk about more in the articles I’m going to write. For a comparison though, I’ll leave you with this page of girly drawings from the 60s, and a page from a recent installment of From Eroica With Love.
It’s unfair to compare a page of color thumbnails to black and white comic art, especially one that scanned that badly (it’s almost impossible to scan a big Japanese anthology without tearing it to pieces). So here’s the color image from the same chapter.
There’s probably about 45 years between those two color illustrations. Girliness is still quite fashionable, though.