The more I read Fumi’s work, the more I like it. If she keeps this up, she’ll turn into my brain’s most second-tackled author (after est em, who may never lose her crown if she keeps producing good work at the pace she has been). I decided to buy the first volume of Bokura no Hentai based on the tagline alone, fell in love with the series and Fumi’s gentle touch when it comes to gender and teenageriness, but I didn’t push beyond that really. My brain and I were happy with these kids and their complex crossdressing lives. And I really don’t need to add more weight to my already pressed bookshelves. Plus, as I noted before, I felt a weird resistance to exploring more of her work. But then Memento Mori broke down that wall with a weirdly delightful tale of death and love and sexuality, and turned me into a hardcore Fumi fan. She could scribble some stick figures on a napkin at this point and I’d buy it.
So I was happy to run across Sakikusa no Saku Goro once more, when I was receptive to actually buying it. I’d seen this book before, but snobbishly dismissed it based on the copy on the obi: “The dream-like ending of the days of their youth.” Yawn. I don’t care about dreamy youth. I am old and grumpy. I shake my fist at the dreams of the youth that get on my lawn. But I really should have paid more attention the first time I came across this one in the bookstore. After all, it’s published by Ohta Publishing, who never steer me wrong, even when it looks like they are going to. I really need to just trust them already.
Sakikusa touches on issues Fumi raises in both the aforementioned Bokura and Memento, death and sexuality and what it all means. Sumika meets her twin cousins Akio and Chinatsu at her father’s funeral after his suicide. She is little, they are little, all are adorable. Fumi’s usual soft lines and rounded style is present here too. After the prologue, we jump to the three in high school, and her style grows a little more flowing, reminding me a bit of Haruko Ichikawa when she gets all windy with hair. The three live in the country somewhere in the Kansai region, so they all speak in delightful Kansai dialect. (I often think about moving to Kansai solely to pick up the dialect. It’s so wonderful and warm!)
Sumika’s house is directly across a field and a river from her cousins’, making for perfect secret spying with binoculars. She has a crush on Akio and watches him and the many girls he brings home, as though he were a movie. In her mind, the girls are replaced by Akio’s best guy friend, and she frantically scribbles out what would seem to be a BL manga featuring the two. (We never really get to see the manga she’s drawing.) And then one day, when they are sitting together at school, Akio confesses that he likes her and they start going out. Of course, Fumi is writing this story, so naturally no one’s sexuality is what it seems at first glance.
The twins being almost identical physically, but polar opposites in terms of personality is a fairly established and boring trope, but Fumi pushes it to bring them past personality and into something they share beyond their looks. Fumi almost never shows us the twins interacting; it’s always one or the other or rarely both with Sumika. Which makes sense given that Sumika is the protagonist of the book, but can make the characters of Akio and Chinatsu feel a little one-sided and hollow. There’s a nice reveal in the second chapter that lends more reality to Chinatsu and for the rest of the book, she felt more fleshed out to me than Akio ever does. Which isn’t to say that Akio’s a bad character. Given the overall story and his own personal arc, he’s definitely supposed to feel more distant and harder to connect with.
In addition to the childhood friends/crush aspects of the story, there’s an interesting gender dynamic at work too. Even though Sumika is supposed to be close to both of the twins, she ends up spending most of her friend time with Chinatsu, the girl twin. There’s that unspoken “girls are friends, boys are love interests” feel from shojo manga, but Fumi manages to turn this around in an interesting way. (I won’t spoil it for you!)
The panels are, for the most part, slow, measured, considered. Whole pages taken up by close ups of a face, or maybe two faces. Fumi wants you to pause, to consider what it means to be in this place, on the verge of leaving childhood behind, of striking out on your own in the real world. She shows the magic and promise of this, but that’s secondary to the anxiety, the worry, the sadness, the realization that this life with these friends is not going to last. There’s a warmth to the whole story, you can feel the love Fumi has for her characters and the desire to convey that love to the reader.
I honestly can’t believe none of her work has been published in English yet. The things she writes about are so relatable, so non-specific to Japan and Japanese culture, and a real niche has been carved out by works like Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son or Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yesterday? for stories dealing honestly and gently with sexuality and daily life. And Fumi’s art style is totally not out of place in the world of manga licensed in North America. So I will just keep reading her work and talking about it until maybe someone decides they should totally publish it in English (and as always, hire me to translate it).