So I guess Ayako Noda is the new star of my heart? I’m not sure exactly at what point old loves like Haruko Kumota and Keiko Takemiya stepped aside to let her shine through, but judging from how eagerly I was counting down to the release of the first volume of Sennetsu, it is clear that Noda has inspired an almost frightening cultish devotion in me. All of which is to say you should never look to me for an unbiased look at her work. I love her. And that love is in a way similar to the love I bear for Itoshi no Nekokke in its white hot intensity. But whereas my love for Itoshi is gentle and rock steady, my love for Noda’s work is overly excited and a bit roller-coast-y. I see the cracks in her storytelling, the sometimes awkward and impossible human figures, and yet my heart pounds with every page.
This passion, it’s a thing I’ve been thinking about for the last couple years, this idea that when you’re an old, your love of art changes in unexpected (to you) ways. The fiery, uncritical passion of my loves when I was a teenager has shifted into something more measured, something more self-aware. I feel like I’m able to look deeper into works and examine them on more levels than I was way back when I was wrinkle-free, but I also feel the loss of that blazing fire, the ability to simply be consumed by a work and burned up by it. I will never be able to see Weetzie Bat or Geek Love or any other book I read and loved in my teens and twenties as anything other than magical and perfect. Even if in my head, I can step back and examine them with a more critical eye, my heart is filled with that pure love.
And works that I came to after that, I am somewhat more removed from. I might love books like How Are You? or Utsubora, but it is almost a love at a distance. I’m not going to stay up all night reading them, no matter how much I enjoy them; I am going to go to bed when I am tired. The books will still be there in the morning. The idea that the book will still be there in the morning is honestly something that never occurred to me when I was eighteen. I had to stay up and devour it, lest it be gone when I woke. (Not that I really believed that. Just the desire to read was so great, it seemed impossible to set the book down for even the most basic necessities of life.)
I’ve been struggling a bit with this shift in the way I interact with art. Does it mean I am less engaged? More cynical? Too cerebral? Or *gasp* set in my ways?? Because although I like the me I am now and the way I’ve learned to think about art and how it affects me, I also really miss that visceral, purely emotional reaction to a work. And then the first tankobon of Ayako Noda’s new series finally came out.
I have raved about her work before, but the raving has reached new levels of giddy excitement with Sennetsu. For real. I was at the bookstore the day it was released, a day of peak Brain fangirl perhaps, since the newest Aoi Ikebe also came out and I grabbed a signed copy of the latest Fumiko Fumi. (And yes, we’ll be talking about those soon enough.) And although it has been almost a month since that fateful day, make no mistake, I raced home and read Sennetsu as soon as I had it in my hot little hands. I just haven’t written about it until now because: feels. (Also deadlines and way too much travelling.)
As the obi states, the basic premise is “yakuza X university girl”—“I fell for a bad man.” The cover seems to back this up, the hand with the cigarette yanking her chin up, the side eye from her, and yet she doesn’t seem scared. Or at least not entirely. This is the whole book, friends. Ruri is working at a convenience store over summer holidays where Nosegawa is a regular customer. He comes in every day and buys two packs of cigarettes. And Ruri is for some reason, intrigued. She knows he’s older than she is, but she likes the way he laughs on the phone as he buys his cigarettes. And she gets the feeling, however unconsciously, that he is dangerous. And she maybe wants in on that.
So she worms her way into his life, not sure what she wants from him, but knowing that she wants something, in the way you know things when you are twenty. Nosegawa is not averse to the worming. He is a yakuza, after all, and enjoys the younger ladies, despite having children Ruri’s age. Ruri’s best friend, Tomo, is a little more street savvy and immediately sees that Nosegawa is bad news. But Ruri is so happy and so in crush that Tomo feels forced to hold her tongue. And so things proceed.
Halfway through this one, I realized that this is basically a BL story with one of the guys turned into a girl. I’ve read this power dynamic in BL any number of times: dangerous older guy preys on hot younger guy. I’ve seen the young woman falls for bad boy narrative in manga too, but the way Noda writes this story, it feels so much like it was originally a BL story and she swapped out one of the guys, reintroducing all the expectations readers bring to this kind of dynamic when it is between a man and a woman and yet somehow maintaining the gender-free excitement of the BL version. Ruri’s naive, but she’s taking charge in a certain fashion. She pursues Nosegawa in a sideways sort of way. She’s an uke who’s a secret seme.
Noda also brings the same sensuality she brings to her BL to Sennetsu. So many lingering looks, moments of outrage, panel layout that highlights and accentuates any possible sexual tension. And the only way Nosegawa could be more of a hot oyaji is if he were wearing glasses. Fortunately, he has a university-aged son who wears glasses, so all your fujoshi bases are covered.
I read every page with my heart racing, flipping back to various scenes over and over, delighted with how Ruri and Nosegawa danced around each other, revisiting sly smiles and those blushing faces Noda does so well. I have to assume this will turn out badly since Nosegawa is clearly a cad and Ruri a total innocent, and badly is how that story generally turns out. But I’m excited to see what kind of badly Noda is going to give us. And more than anything, I’m excited to see more awkward sidelong glances and glowering oyaji peppered with bits of blushiness. I ask nothing more from Noda.