Last week, through the lens of French appropriation, I dabbled a bit with the idea of a feminized manga that, in the limited juxtaposition of Boilet’s nouvelle manga manifesto, made sense as a form of opposition both to a certain stereotype of manga in France (i.e. action/adventure dominated comics for adolescent males) and to a certain conception of bande dessinée or BD. A francophone, feminized manga, as Boilet understands it, emphasizes a penchant for daily life and ordinary people’s lives rather than the extra-ordinary fantasies of action, adventure, SF, and so forth–all the things that a (stereotyped) young man is meant to jizz himself over.
So, it was much to my surprise that Anno Moyoko has been associated with la nouvelle manga and particularly that one of her stories was included in the Japan as viewed by 17 creators volume I discussed in my previous post. She has a rather remarkable penchant for sensationalism, hyperbole, and melodrama that the slow, occasionally plodding stories included in the 17 creators book mesh quite poorly with. Case in point: in 1998, Anno, along with Eguchi Kenichi, produced a half-manga, half-novelized adaptation of Kevin Smith’s 1997 film Chasing Amy. This in and off itself is not all that surprising–and somewhat fitting when you consider how Smith is a massive comic book fan–but he was shocked to discover how graphically explicit Anno’s depiction of the characters’ earlier sex lives was. I find this rather hard to believe, given how explicit the film is in verbally describing these episodes, if not showing them, but it’s a testament to Anno’s lack of restraint that she could make even Kevin Smith blush.
That Anno’s manga is sexually explicit–rather that her manga is sexually honest, as opposed to the sexually repressed romantic delusions that proliferate throughout, say, shōjo manga, is simply a testament to the way in which josei manga emerged as a distinct demographic in the 1980s.
Aihara and Takekuma go on to note (p. 80) that “ladies’ comics” more or less pick up where shōjo manga leaves off, and where a stable relationship is generally the end goal of your stereotypical shōjo romance, for “ladies” stability is the jumping off point into all sorts of insanity. Rediisu komikku (“ladies comic”) or redikomi was known for its extremely graphic depictions of sex and over time was thought to have gotten a bit out of hand. The categorical term josei (i.e. for women) later emerged as something more content neutral, but the sexual frankness of redikomi never entirely went away.
A Woman’s Body, A Girl’s Delusions
Spastic female characters are more or less par for the course in all manga, no matter what demographic or “genre” you may have in mind. Shigeta Kayoko, the main character of Anno’s Happy Mania, represents the two mutually exclusive sides of contemporary femininity in Japan. Shigeta is 24, in that period just after college or what have you in which most youth throughout the world find themselves stuck, working as a clerk in a bookstore while pursuing what appears to be her true goal in life, a stable relationship with a boyfriend.
It’s easy to recognize in Shigeta a (foul-mouthed) version of the young girls of so much shōjo manga pabulum, girls pining for a cute boy wondering when it will be their turn to cash in on the shōjo dream of a sunset ride on a Ferris wheel on her first date at the amusement park (barf). What separates Shigeta from your average Yumiko is that she likes sex, a lot of it, and it’s hard not to notice how quickly she moves from one fling to another.
There’s nothing particularly strange about Shigeta’s sexual promiscuity, but what makes her come off as more than a little crazy is how she superimposes on each new partner the kind of romantic delusion one normally associates with the asexual romances of shōjo manga. Her obsession with having a boyfriend has clearly rendered her more than a little nuts, and I think it’s easy to see that Shigeta is being set up as a parody of an all too common type.
What makes josei so interesting as a demographic, especially given how recently it manifested, is that finally we have a cross section of society creating comics for itself. Instead of men making comics for girls, or later women making comics for girls, what we have here is a modern woman making comics for other modern women, so that women, in a manner of speaking, might see themselves through a glass darkly.
You can fuck me, but don’t fuck with me
Though I would advise you to stay a thousand leagues from the 2007 film (which pains me greatly to say), Anno’s Sakuran (Delirium) from 2001-2003 is a masterpiece of contemporary comic fiction, and if there had been a translation of it while I was still teaching, I almost certainly would have assigned it. Why? In the context of modern Japan, the antics of Anno’s female characters come off all too easily as comic, but by setting Sakuran in an ageya (a house of prostitution) in the Yoshiwara pleasure quarter of Edo, the subject status of women is made all the more apparent: to a certain extent in control, in the courtesan’s ability to manipulate men’s desires, but still subject to prevailing social conditions they cannot meaningfully escape.
Lady of the House: Quit your yapping and show some class / anyway, you’re far too picky about your clients
Takao: she pours the tea / ever mindful of poise; honk like a goose
Kiyoha responds to Takao’s lyrical admonishment–it’s a haiku: o-cha o hiku / shi ni shimijimi to / kari no koe–in the classiest way she knows, by kicking her in the face. When Takao objects on the following page to Kiyoha’s maltreatment (taihen da, Kiyoha ga), the lady (in waiting) adds namen janee yo, literally “I’m not to be trifled with” but the force of what she says is more along the lines of “don’t fuck with me.” Such a wildly aggressive and inappropriate character would easily be at home in any of Anno’s other manga (or any manga, for that matter), but what sets Kiyoha apart from the type of the “spastic woman” is how she is rewarded for her behavior: she is tied up and beaten. Even then she tries to assert some kind of control, the only form of control she knows.
Kiyoha: Don’t you have one, / Seiji-san, / don’t you have one in there? / Eh?
Seiji: Why don’t you save your charms for your customers?
Most of Sakuran is precisely what you’d expect from a book about Edo period courtesans: infighting, children sold in sexual slavery, women murdered by their secret lovers… you know, good old fashioned fun for the whole family. Why I bring this text up in the context of Happy Mania above is how Kiyoha–cynical, smack-talking, mannish Kiyoha–falls in love, and in the most sentimental way you can imagine.
Kiyoha: Danna… you truly… / are my first… / my first ever…
Narration: a courtesan, with killing words of love, loses herself / the intent to lose herself, itself has been lost
That Kiyoha refers to Sōjirō as her danna or patron is telling, because she has already been promised to be sold to a local lord, and when she says that he is her “first,” of course she is not referring to her virginity (she is a prostitute, after all). He is her first true lover, someone she herself chose to be with, outside the simple economics of sexual entertainment. Kiyoha, in the end, is not that much different from Shigeta, deluded by love into thinking her situation is something more than it is or ever can be. But her delusion doesn’t last, for when she runs away to find Sōjirō, she discovers that he is just like the rest.
Kiyoha: ah / a demon
On the following page, Kiyoha clarifies that he is a “smiling demon” (warau oni da), the force of which can only be understood if you take into account that in Japanese the verb warau can mean either smile or laugh. By smiling at her, he is also laughing at how silly she could have been to think they were ever in love.
“Work Mode On! Man Switch!”
Technically, only one text under discussion here is actually josei, for both Sakuran above and Hatarakiman below are considered seinen, i.e. for young men. That said, these texts say far more about the condition of women than your average seinen title, and the fact that Anno’s manga deals with precisely the same social conditions in her josei manga as in her seinen manga gives the lie to any truly meaningful distinction between those demographics.
The title Hatarakiman (“working man”) refers to a mode the main character, Matsukata Hiroko, switches into whenever she becomes pressed and has to finish her editorial work by a fixed deadline. Hatarakiman, then, is a kind of superhero persona, which fact her transformation sequence in the comic makes quite clear.
Narita: The title will be “Foreign Minister Hoshikawa Hikaru, Traitor to the People!”
Narita: Make it at least 8 pages!!!
WORK MODE: ON
Turning on Man Switch
Devotion to work, particularly to work you love and for which you’ve trained your whole life, is something of a modern Japanese virtue… for men. Get into a good (elementary) school, get a good job at a good company, spend the rest of your life slaving away far too much for little reward other than the work itself–this is the working man at [her] finest. What is odd about all of this, of course, is that Matsukata is a woman, and it’s not coincidence that she reaches her peak status as a Japanese worker bee by turning on her “man switch” (otoko suicchi). The rest of her life is pretty much a hollow shell. She is in a relationship but sees getting together with her boyfriend as more a burden than a relief. She hasn’t had sex in a very long time, and her life outside work is mostly an opportunity to quickly recharge so that she might do it all again. However, Anno makes it difficult to judge her as deluded by satisfaction in her career by cleverly pairing the thoughts of Matsukata and her lackadaisical colleague Tanaka at the end of the first chapter.
Tanaka: If I were to die thinking, / “my life was nothing but work,” I’d surely regret it.
Narration: Some are like that, there likely are, certainly there are, yet…
Matsukata: If I thought my work were through, / I’d want to die.
Matsukata is in many ways the mirror image of Shigeta and to a lesser extent Kiyoha as well. Whereas Shigeta’s job is simply a means to perv on the next guy she wants to have as a boyfriend (read: have sex with), Matsukata’s is all consuming, is her life, so much so that when she reaches the apex of her devotion to work, she figuratively becomes a man. Again, the social pressures on women are laid bare, but in the case of Hatarakiman more obliquely. The mannish woman Matsukata eschews all of the silly shōjo delusions of personal satisfaction solely through relationships but in so doing gives up her femininity. She may not be as spastic or nutty as Shigeta, but in this messed up universe where devotion to work = man, she is no longer properly speaking a woman. Whether Anno considers this to be ideal is an open question, one that the text is not at pains to answer.
Matsukata: I wonder what’s the use / of performing the task at hand with all my strength?
Reading Anno’s manga, even when they are hilariously funny, always leaves me with a sense of ill-at-ease. In the final chapter of Sakuran, Kiyoha, having been let down by Sōjirō and by the possibility for a better life, returns to the very ageya she had just run away from. When asked why, she says that she had nowhere else to go, so she came back. As if that weren’t ominous enough, the final two pages are a repetition of her explanation as to why she returned, but with the addition of a circular frame that, like a camera shutter, closes around her face. She’s smiling, but if you’ve been paying attention, dear reader, you’d know to ask, “who is she laughing at?”
Next Week: hopefully, Vanyda’s The Building Opposite
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