I know I ask this question about a lot of artists, but seriously, why is Miki Yamamoto not published in English? Why are we not putting her on our year-end lists this December? Even as I ask the question, I know the answer (short version: capitalism sucks), but you know, it’s frustrating. As always, I am sitting here wishing that the English-speaking world was less afraid of looking outside its own limited sphere to embrace more works in translations, and more specifically, more interested in less stereotypical forms of manga. Like the recently discussed Akino Kondoh, Miki Yamamoto is doing something unique and deeply interesting in manga, and I want to stamp my foot and make people pay attention to her.
Sunny Sunny Ann! is looser in many ways than her more recent How Are You?, but similar undercurrents run through both works, not the least of which is the lips that I am training myself to be okay with. But where How’s Lisa is a stranger in a strange land, a white woman marrying a Japanese man, the titular Ann is basically creating her own land and living there on her own terms. She lives in her car, so that she has the freedom to wander. The idea of living in a house, in one fixed location, is completely repugnant to her. She’s also not particularly interested in having a job, preferring instead to be paid for sex by a few men in the community she orbits whenever she needs money. These men are all local business owners she knows well, which creates some interesting tensions that could be a whole book in and of themselves. In particular, the strained triangle between her and the cafe owner and his wife could yield some very interesting stories. And I would most certainly read that book.
But this book focuses more on Ann’s eventual wanderings after she is forced into a situation so many sex workers get pushed into at some point (although her reaction is, I’m sure, the dream of many a sex worker in the same situation). No longer able to orbit around the town and her safe client group, she drives off into the sunset, in search of new adventures and a new life. Which sounds like the end of her story, and I did think it was, at the end of the first chapter. But when Ann showed up in the next story about a porn star marrying a much, much older and very rich man, I realized that the book was more like a loosely connected road trip than a straightforward, tight narrative. And I love, love, love narratives like this that interweave the stories of different people in different places in their lives, allowing them to have a shared moment. I’m fascinated by the different ways people react to these kinds of fleeting encounters.
With the first chapter to set the tone and ground the reader in exactly who Ann is and what she wants, Ann can take a bit of a backseat in terms of development and story to let the people who wander into her life shine for a bit. And so, we see the porn star Laura going up against the horrible family of her elderly husband, with Ann in an accidental supporting role. She steps into a more central role in the story of a young girl with a rather neglectful mother, but the spotlight is still on the girl rather than Ann. It’s only in the last chapter when Ann becomes the main character again with a chance encounter with her own past.
It’s a rambling kind of story that is perfectly matched to its aimless hero. Ann is determined to take what she wants from life, even if life is not so convinced that it wants to let her. Yamamoto uses Ann to take more than a few jabs at social norms, starting with the convention of living in houses itself. The house for Ann (and for many of us) carries so much baggage: settling down, husband, children, and everything that life brings with it. Even after a very enjoyable evening spent at the home of the cafe owner with his family, she knows that she is not the type who can be locked up in four walls like that. Ann is an affirmation that not everyone can or should live a “normal” life.
And I don’t think I’ve actually read another manga where a sex worker was the protagonist, with another sex worker of a different variety in a supporting role. Not to mention that Yamamoto’s portrayal of both is so nuanced and full of depth. Both Ann and Laura have had sex for money in some capacity, but that is never the central aspect of their characters. It’s a job, something they do, and most of the discussion of it centers on other people and their prejudices toward sex workers, always portraying Ann and Laura sympathetically. Both women are sexual and sensual, but always on their own terms.
I also love the way Ann’s dress is somehow, impossibly, always flapping off to one side. It’s like she’s carrying around her own wind machine. And there are just some perfect scenes, like when she sits on a stool and pours herself a glass of wine on the trunk of her beloved car. Ann’s hair is also a moving target, a living creature on her head. And Yamamoto manages to convey Ann’s warm sensuality in thick lines and brief moments. The women in Sunny also seem on the heavier side of the standard ultra thin, and I love the variety of bodies Yamamoto brings to the page.
I want more from Miki Yamamoto. I don’t know why no one is throwing piles of yen at her to get her to draw more things. Someone should be doing that. She is an immense talent, and she is most definitely not getting the attention she deserves. Let’s get Yamamoto on the bestseller lists, friends.