It feels like every time I turn on the TV these days, there is another drama based on some manga I’ve never heard of. But I can always tell that it was originally a manga. Something about the pacing? The plotting? The characterisation? I’m not entirely sure, but even without obvious manga-derived elements like the talking bar snacks from Tokyo Tarareba Musume (English version here), these dramas always seem somehow different from original TV shows. Inevitably, I find myself wondering if the show was originally a manga halfway through the program, look it up online, and discover that yes, yes, it was. And almost equally inevitably, that it was a josei manga. Apparently, josei manga get live action drama, while other genres get anime adaptations when it comes time to move them from the printed page to the small screen. Except for seinen, which frequently gets movies. And I leave for another day speculation on why stuff specifically for an audience of young men is adapted to the big screen.
Normally, I have a strict policy of not watching what I read and not reading what I watch. I don’t like the way the characters get muddled up in my head, although I do enjoy seeing different interpretations of the same work. But I arrived in Japan too late to see Anata no Koto wa Sore Hodo from the start; in fact, I only managed to catch the last two episodes. So the characters weren’t really fixed in my imagination, and those last two episodes left me curious about the starting point that led to that ending. And I can’t let random rules dictate what I read in this life, so I picked up the first volume of Ryo Ikuemi’s manga to see if I could actually read the series without having the show overwhelm the characters on the page. And good news! I can!
This is entirely thanks to Ikuemi’s ability to create compelling characters in an interesting situation. Which isn’t exactly a surprise. She’s an experienced artist, with dozens of works under her belt. Indeed, Wikipedia informs me that she has six series currently running. (Which seems like far too many, though. I hope she’s sleeping.) One of those series is the delightful, Soroete Chodai? about her cats which I should really read more of. It’s so cute. And you know, full of cats. But Anata no Koto is not about cats. There are no cats. Be forewarned. This is instead a josei story about marrying the person you like second best.
I don’t read enough josei, so I’m glad for the TV drama that brought me to this work. There’s this tendency in the culture at large (or at least, the cultures I’m a part of) to denigrate works focussing on women’s stories, to make them somehow less than men’s stories. And when you live your whole life in a culture like that, it starts to sink in whether you want it to or not, so you end up unconsciously placing less importance on those stories yourself. I make an effort to seek out works created by women (and people of colour/minority cultures) in all media, but I don’t put as much work into looking for stories about women. It’s a minor distinction at times. After all, a lot of stories by women are about women. But to put it in the context of Japan and the media I consume here, I tend to read seinen or indie women artists, whose stories are not addressing the roles and lives of women in Japanese culture in a direct way, rather than reading josei and shojo women artists whose subject matter is, by definition of the genres, the roles and lives of women and girls. I’ve been trying to rectify that oversight recently, picking up more shojo and josei titles, so Anata no Koto was an especially welcome find.
Ikuemi breaks this first book up into four sections, each one titled after and from the perspective of one of the four people involved in the adultery that forms that backbone of the story. Mitsu Miyoshi and Koki Arishima are the adulterers in question, but both are married, and the other two sections are devoted to their spouses. Mitsu was totally in love with Koki in an almost creepy way all through elementary and junior high school, and they had a brief moment when he came to the karaoke bar her parents ran, but then they drifted apart and the story starts with them running into each other again at a fast food place years later when they’re grown and married. The married thing isn’t mentioned right away, not until later in the first section, Mitsu’s chapter, when it becomes clear that she’s losing Koki again after a few nights together. She blurts out that she’s married too in an obvious attempt to keep him from worrying she’s too serious about him and is out to wreck his marriage.
While the first chapter fills us in on the developing affair between Mitsu and Koki and Mitsu’s version of their history together, the other sections give us the histories of each of the other people caught up in the affair, bringing their stories up to the place where the affair begins. What intrigued me about the story and the way Ikuemi tells it is how utterly unbiased she is about any of the characters. They’re all portrayed so sympathetically with very rational reasons and desires for the things they do and want. This isn’t a one-sided tale of evil woman steals husband or shrew wife drives husband to have affair or abusive husband breaks wife’s spirit. These are real people who care about each other and happen to trip into a situation that makes all of them unhappy.
The visual expressions of the characters naturally play a large role in creating these nuanced portrayals. The books is full of pages of sidelong glances, half smiles, raised eyebrows, blushing cheeks. So many eyes meeting! But all those eyes fill in the blanks left open by the words the characters speak. And everyone has a weirdly wide mouth. Which bugged me at first, given my nonsensical fixation on lips, but it ended up growing on me. And I’m so in love with Ikuemi’s noses! They seem just right somehow in a way I can’t quite pinpoint.
Having seen the ending of the drama, I’m assuming that the series will also continue in a way that defies societal expectations for women and allows the characters to assert their own agency and define their own lives. But it’s still being serialized (on an irregular schedule), so nothing is certain. Except for the fact that I’ll keep reading it, drama adaptation be damned. Ikuemi knows how to tell a story I want to read.