In our little nerd chat about BL last week, one name that kept coming up was Fumi Yoshinaga. Mostly in the context of her BL/crossover series Kino Nani Tabeta? (the English release of which was announced mere days after we expressed our fervent desire to see an English translation; fujoshi power at work???), but we also discussed her other BL and non-BL work during and after the recording of that podcast. So much so that by the time I hung up the Skype phone (what does “hang up” even mean in a world without receivers?), I was itching to read some Yoshinaga. Fortunately, a little elf at Viz knew what I needed even before I did and had sent me a copy of All My Darling Daughters. I love that little elf!
And thanks to that little elf, I am reading Yoshinaga in English for the very first time. I know she’s probably the most widely published in English of all the manga artists I chatter on about here, but I still go for the Japanese because the original is always better. I’m sorry, monolinguals, but it is true. I say this as a professional who tries really hard to make the translation as good as the original, but we all know the translation is essentially my interpretation of the text. (And I acknowledge the weirdness of working in an industry where the best I can hope for is “almost”.) So reading All My Darling Daughters was weird. Suddenly, Yoshinaga can speak English! And she sounds kind of different than she usually does! (Which is not to denigrate the translation, which actually seems pretty good. Just the aforementioned issue when it comes to translation.)
Outside of all this language stuff, my usual issues with Yoshinaga stand. Everyone is so goddamned smug! Especially Yukiko, the character tying these five short stories together. She basically has such a permanently turned down mouth that I didn’t recognize her when she smiled for the first time. And that is my second issue. The characters, men and women, have basically the same face. Men have narrower eyes, and everyone has different hair framing the same facial structures, but these clues were not enough to keep me from losing track of who was who more than once. Normally, the similarity of Yoshinaga’s faces isn’t a problem for me because I am following the same characters from start to finish. But with this set of interconnected stories, a lot of faces pop up for short times and I get lost. (Maybe I am just face blind.)
But I am a sucker for connected stories and I love Yoshinaga’s storytelling and her light humour despite my occasional grumpiness at all her downturned mouths. The first story has Yukiko (and her ever-so-nineties permed hair) dealing with the fact that her mother Mari has married a man younger that Yukiko. This is kind of a big deal since Yukiko is actually still living with her mother, so suddenly she is forced to share a house with this former host turned actor. Her initial outrage melts away when she realizes that Ohashi actually does love her mother, a realization that forces her to confront her own relationship with her mother and the real reason she’s been so hostile to Ohashi.
All of the stories in here focus on this central idea, a new look at old relationships and at yourself, a kind of reevaluation of who you are and what you’ve wanted up to now. Some are more lighthearted, like Izumi the law professor trying to fend off an overly eager female student, and some are more serious, like Yukiko seeing a new side of Mari thanks to new insight into her grandmother’s life. I particularly liked the portrayal of Yukiko learning to live with her new husband. She tries to excuse him when he doesn’t do his fair share of the housework, but finds that she is starting to resent him for it and suddenly remembers an old school friend who warned her that there was no escaping this kind of inequality when you got married.
It’s a depressing look at something that is all too true not only in Japan, but every country I’ve ever been to. Women are expected to have careers, families, “it all”, but the society around them is still geared towards women being the main caretakers, so “having it all” is essentially impossible. Yoshinaga’s women in this particular story struggle with this balance and remember the days when they were more naive and really believed that they could change the world. So, a tad depressing. All of the stories in this collection include this kind of commentary on the roles women are forced into, it’s just most obvious in this one.
After that spate of books set in worlds without women, it was refreshing to read something which not only acknowledges that women exist, but even suggests that they face a variety of issues in modern society. I will probably never get past Yoshinaga’s perpetually smug faces, but she will always win me over with her deft storytelling and strong, realistic characters. People looking to “write women” should take note of the central premise here: women are people. Just write people.