Yup, we’re wading into Murakami territory here. A book with more than one book which I feel the need to comment on book by book. And like 1Q84, I will probably post less and less about this series of books as I realize that most of my comments are the same from book to book. What is different here is that I love Kaze to Ki no Uta, unlike my overall hostility towards 1Q84.
Kaze is a bit of a history lesson for me. It’s one of those series (originally published in 1976) you come across constantly if you do any reading about BL or the history of manga. You will slam up against this series eventually. Way back in the days of flouncy shirts, 14-year-old Serge, the son of a French nobleman and a Roma prostitute, comes to a boarding school in the French countryside, the same school his father attended, with all its attendant expectations. There he shares a room with preternaturally beautiful Gilbert, the school’s vaurien, and various adolescent hijinx ensue. Except the adolescent hijinx are more along the lines of pornographic, vaguely illegal town. Book One starts with Gilbert having some sexy times with Breau. Naked sexy times. I actually can’t believe that this was published more than thirty years ago. Because damn! You get underage gay sex and racism in the first five pages. And it just goes on from there.
In a way, it’s very much the story of adolescence. There are the worries about the future, the need to be accepted, the concern that you were made wrong, the conflict between what you want and what you want people to see. And there is family history, who you are versus where you come from, what your family wants from you versus what you want for you. Serge comes in mid-game, when everyone else at the school has already taken up their positions. So he tries to navigate these murky waters while remaining true to his own heart, and find out who he really is. Classic shojo stuff.
But it is also an unabashed product of its times. This is when the Year 24 Group (of which Takemiya is considered a member) were hard at work, shifting the perceptions of girls, what comics for girls should be and who comics for girls should be written by. Doujinshi zine-style manga and Comiketto (the biannual comic market in Tokyo), though still in their infancy, were rocking some serious boats. The previously romantic asexual world of shojo girls’ manga was moving in some crazy new directions, taking on serious issues that had been basically taboo until that point. And onto this stage, Kaze to Ki no Uta. It is simultaneously a parody of its predecessor shojo manga and a loving tribute. And it is, above all else, opening a road forward. No, for real.
This series has been on my reading list for a long time, but I always put it off because I felt like I had read so much about it that I didn’t need to bother with actually reading it. I knew about how it broke new ground, challenged perceptions, blah blah blah. But actually reading it is obviously different from reading about it. And ten pages into it, I completely understood why people were still talking about it. It is a series that still merits discussion.
And that’s not just because of the daring themes and topics that Takemiya tackles. Although her approach to homophobia and racism is still unbelievably relevant. But combined with her carefully considered panels and artwork, those daring themes have all that much more impact. I could drown in these pages. When Serge slumps down on the floor, lays his head on his bed and sobs after a particularly brutal encounter with Gilbert, the background drops into black with icicle shards of black and grey dripping down around him and his bed. It is the perfect artistic encapsulation of his despair. And Takemiya really excels at capturing the feelings of her characters like this. Panels of blooming love are framed in blossoming flowers. Characters break free of their panels when particularly exuberant or excited. Metaphoric images like the petals falling off of the flower in lieu of showing the detailed rape of a character.
Kaze to me exemplifies the best of the world of manga, a story made stronger by its artwork and artwork made stronger by the story it tells. I am basically raving about this book, but I really can’t get over how unbelievably incredible it is. I can’t imagine reading this as a teenager. If I was feeling the same kind of things that Serge feels, it would be like a punch in the face. It’s still like a punch in the face even though I am pretty far removed from that world of discovering my own sexuality. I feel a little cheated that I didn’t get to have comics that were telling this kind of story when I was young. I mean, I loved Spiderman, but I could have used a little dark advice from the world of boy-on-boy action.