Utsubora: Asumiko Nakamura


Time for swooning fan girl action! I am not even going to try and hide the deep, abiding love I feel for Asumiko Nakamura. So much pretty! So many beautiful lanky lines! Starburst eyes! Cinematic panels! And then as if all the art was not enough, thoughtful storylines! She really brings it. She’s also got an oddly broad appeal. I can be talking to someone who basically hates everything I like when it comes to manga, but then Nakamura’s name comes up and we both swoon and get all dreamy-eyed. She is maybe magic.

And she’s another artist that I wish we could see more of in English. A lot of her BL has underage action, so obviously that is never making it to the English side of the ocean, but she’s working more and more outside of BL, so illegal sexy times are not so much of a problem anymore. I mean, her latest work is a series of vignettes revolving around trains. But for you monolinguals, there is one option available to you now, thanks to the hardworking manga lovers over at Vertical! Utsubora! And it is one of the best things she’s done, a complete story in two volumes (Japanese) or one book (English). Why aren’t you reading it already?!

I actually was reading this in Erotics f when it was being serialized, but just like with Machiko Kyo’s U, I didn’t get to read every chapter because of the whole they-don’t-sell-Eroticsf-in-Canada problem. And because Utsubora is a “super suspense” manga, as the cover of the book tells me, missing even one chapter means you are left scratching your head at later chapters as you try to figure out why the editor is ripping apart the novelist’s office like some cheap hoodlum. So I decided that however the larger mystery of the story plays out, what I really needed to solve was this cheap hoodlum/editor mystery and so I finally bought the books.


The whole thing starts with a beautiful girl committing suicide. Or so it seems! (dum dum dummmmm!) The scene that opens the story, the girl plummeting gracefully to the ground alongside a tall building, is just so beautiful, it doesn’t even seem like she is falling to her death. She seems more in control somehow. It’s a seriously engaging way to start a story. On top of that, when the police arrive at the scene, they find that she has no ID, no nothing on her, just a cell phone with two phone numbers in it, that of the famous novelist Shun Mizurogi and that of a young woman purporting to be the dead woman’s twin sister, Sakura Miki. Mizurogi claims to have met the dead woman, Aki, at a party, but obviously, given that this is “super suspense”, nothing is what it seems and nothing goes where you think it’s going to.


Nakamura’s art style is basically perfect for this kind of moody story, and she really turns the creep factor up here. Lots of long, dark hallways, quick cuts to pull the reader along during especially tense parts, conveniently windy areas for dramatic hair blowing. And as always, her men are tall and unrealistically broad-shouldered. The haunted detective is particularly large and looming, which is a nice contrast to his inner turmoil and insecurity. I’m particularly interested in her choice to put Mizurogi in kimono and have him live in an old-school Japanese house. It lends an air of period piece-ness to the story, even though it appears to be taking place in the here and now. That impression is reinforced by Mizurogi’s fellow writer, Yatabe, who also noodles about in kimono and even takes Mizurogi to see sumo where basically everyone shown is wearing kimono. It’s an interesting juxtaposition and provides an unexpected way of showing how Mizurogi changes in the end or how he was different when he was young by putting him in Western style clothes.


The story takes some dark turns and some bits didn’t quite gel for me, especially the ending of the epilogue, which felt tacked on and unnecessary, although I did really love the way she plays the two main female characters off each other in that epilogue. I also could’ve used a bit more exposition about the relationship between Aki and Sakura, although I can understand that part of the point of the story is the mysterious murkiness of their relationship. Still, these are all minor complaints that I am making for the sake of some kind of sense of balance. This story swept me up and carried me away on a cloud of flowing hair and sharp contrasts. It’s one of those stories I keep coming back to after finishing it, picking up the books and opening them to random pages to drink the images in.

And when I get back to Canada, I will read it in English too, if only to show that there is an audience for this kind of work in North America, so that Vertical or someone will publish more of her work. So that I can press those books into hands and give all my monolingual friends the chance to fall in love with her work the way I have.

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