Friends, my heart cracked in two when one sunny day that same friend who first brought me into the Ekoda-chan fold presented me with the final volume of that series upon my autumnal return to Japan. The cover, appropriately enough for the grief the book brought to our hearts, was black.
How could it end? we wept and moaned. Where would we turn now for our cynical take on modern life as members of the ladied persuasion in this country? What was left to us?? It was a dark time, my friends, when we ladied ones wandered the land, bereft of hope or light or anything to sustain us through the soul-crushing onslaught of all things Straight Man. Dark days that continued until last week when I discovered what had appeared to save us from the endless night. The saviour Yukari Takinami has returned, sisters. And she has brought with her a new bible to lead us through this savage wilderness, a fujoshi princess from the Heian era. Her light shines strongly enough to rescue us all.
Asahakana is told from the perspective of Koinumaru, dispatched from the local houseboy association with the express mission of getting his mistress hitched to someone. But his new mistress Yumeko has zero interest in getting it on with an actual dude. She’s much happier reading the latest books and fantasizing about all the imaginary men in those pages getting it on with each other. Or with women. She’s not fussy. She mostly just wants to get sweaty daydreaming about all the hot, hot action. The local bookseller, a woman who crossdresses because life is easier that way, is a serious enabler, keeping her client knee deep in books at all times. Yumeko’s dead mother is also a significant stumbling block since she is hanging around her daughter in ghost form pretty much all the time and possessing her into passivity when Yumeko starts to express any real interest in the outside world.
And then there is Yumeko’s dad, a great lord who’s way more interested in taking perversion to new pervy levels. He wants his daughter married off, but he also wants his daughter’s new servant Koinumaru to spank him. The only suitor Yumeko has is a hardcore flasher. Koinumaru has an uphill battle ahead of him.
The whole thing is entirely silly and isn’t too concerned about maintaining historical accuracy. In the second chapter, Yumeko is making herself up like different members of Kiss in an effort to learn how to make herself up properly. So everyone speaks modern Japanese, and a lot of the laughs come from an implicit understanding of modern values contrasted against what a reader would expect from a manga that takes place in the Heian era. Like when Yumeko first meets her flasher would-be fiance, she can’t escape from him because of taboos about certain directions of travel in that time period. So she can’t turn back and get away from the weirdo showing his anything and everything to her. And when Koinumaru tries to get the flasher to get out of their way by insulting his manhood, she jumps in to defend said manhood. However big or small, all men have something to offer. (Spoken like a true fujoshi.) She simply destroys the flasher by telling him he’s not interesting enough for her to look at. Her fantasies of the men in her books are much, much better.
It took me a while to get into this first volume of the series, only because our princess Yumeko looks—and occasionally acts—like my beloved Ekoda-chan. She is not quite as jaded, but she definitely casts an askance eye on the world around her. But whereas Ekoda-chan looked outward for the adventure she was seeking, ending up in bed with a cast of sad sacks who were obviously no good for her (although she was aware of that while she was doing it), Yumeko turns inward, the power of her imagination so strong as to bring stories to life in the minds of her listeners. (A running joke is that the force of her imagined hot guys creates a literal vision of them above her head.) And Ekoda-chan herself even makes an appearance in a later chapter featuring, appropriately enough, nudity of the accidental variety.
Weirdly, if you are a person interested in the tales of ancient Japan recorded in things like the Kojiki, this might actually be a series to check out. For the benefit of her ignorant servant Koinumaru, Yumeko reads out loud a story from way back in the day in every chapter. She just ships everyone and everything, making all those old stories pretty dirty, even if they weren’t dirty to start with. Takinami actually did her research in writing this series, as she notes in the end with a fairly comprehensive bibliography, so there’s quite a bit to be learned about ye olden Japan in a seriously fun way.
A lot of the elements in here are similar to Ekoda-chan, like Yumeko having an older sister who is the polar opposite of her, the frequent snark and sarcasm, the not-so-subtle jabs at a nonsensical patriarchy. But unlike the yon-koma Ekoda-chan, Asahakana is a story manga, which really allows Takinami to reach out and explore different worlds of snark. I wasn’t sure about this series at first, although of course, I grabbed it when I saw it on the shelf at my neighbourhood bookstore. But I worried that Takinami wouldn’t be able to break free of Ekoda-chan, that her storytelling would be forever tied up with her debut work. And maybe it is? The blood of Ekoda-chan flows through Princess Yumeko’s veins, like she is her natural and obvious successor. But Ekoda-chan’s successor has new and interesting stories to tell. We are indeed saved, lady friends.
*As always, please forgive the terrible photos taken with my phone while I am scanner-less in Japan.