It’s spring! And I think it’s for real, my good chums! I stepped out yesterday with bare legs. No tights! Although I did wear shorts under my dress because spring might have finally sprung, but it’s still not that warm out and all you people sitting out on patios in tank tops have some kind of internal thermal regulation issues that you should have checked out by your doctor. But the sun feels so good after what felt like an endless winter of grey skies even when I spent at least half the winter enjoying the blue skies and mild temperatures of Tokyo. I might have been born in Canada, but I am not a winter person, something that never fails to shock the Japanese people I encounter. It appears the common mythology there is that Canadians are all padded with an insulating layer of fat to protect us from our harsh winters.
Coinciding with the arrival of the spring breeze was, of course, a big old box of books from Japan. For work, I swear! I needed a couple Inio Asano books to complete my preparations for his upcoming visit to TCAF (you’re coming, too, right?), so I figured I might as well piggyback some new releases from favourite authors in that shipment and save myself the trouble/expense of bringing them back on my next trip to Tokyo. And one of my most anticipated of those new releases was Akachan Honbucho, or “General Manager of Baby”, as the English subtitle would have it. I wouldn’t actually mind reading a story about a general manager of babies—the concept seems wacky as hell and very open-ended (like, would the general manager have a staff of babies? Would all babies in the world report to this general manager? Or would it be more like wrangling babies? Organizing the babies for some purpose? Someone write this story for me.)—but Akachan is actually about a general manager who is a baby.
Please don’t at me about Boss Baby. While there is a superficial similarity between the two, in that there is a baby who is a boss, Takeuchi’s baby is a 47-year-old man who is an actual boss. Takeda is your average suit-wearing, beer-drinking, chain-smoking salaryman who worked his way up the corporate ladder the way a good salaryman does to become the general manager of his company. And then one day, he wakes up and he is a baby. This is where our story begins. At no point is the question of how Takeda turned into a baby ever addressed, and this is just one of the many joys of Akachan. He is simply there sitting at his desk in a onesie while his subordinates stand and gape. But Section Manager Amano (35), Section Chief Sakai (40), and Nishiura (28) are quick to recover from the shock and get to work on accommodating their boss’s new limitations. Because while he still has the mind of a 47-year-old man and talks like one, he has the body of an eight-month-old baby, or so asserts young father Nishiura after gently rocking his boss in his arms.
Most people, upon waking to find themselves in the body of an eight-month-old baby, would probably see a doctor or at least take a couple days off work. But most people are not Japanese salarymen. So within the hour, Takeda is all set up with a pram, a crib, and all the other accessories a baby requires. Nishiura is tasked with taking Takeda around for that day’s meetings since as a baby, he obviously has limited mobility on his own. Most of his clients take his new condition in stride when they see that despite his infantile appearance, he can still get the job done.
If you want things to make sense or look for reasons in why something happens, you should not read Akachan. None of it really makes any sense. For instance, no one wonders how Takeda got to work that first morning in his baby body. And the question doesn’t even come up until the end of the second chapter. And the limitations of a baby body are used when it’s convenient and hilarious, and simply ignored when it’s not. (Is an eight-month-old baby physically capable of speaking like that??) But none of that matters. Takeuchi is just plain funny. Every page of this book is a silly treat. Takeda napping in the arms of the company president who also falls asleep like that. Takeda trotting along in his baby walker on the roof of the company building in a sun hat. The parade of adorable onesies on Takeda as he goes about his boss business.
But underneath this humor is Takeuchi’s sly subversiveness. She takes jabs at the salaryman society as Takeda’s baby form allows his colleagues to show their softer sides and confess their frustrations with the way work culture in Japan has led to disappointment and regrets in their own lives. And she quietly allows characters to be who they are, even when that falls outside mainstream expectations. Sakai’s married, but he and his wife are child-free, a bit of an oddity at the age of forty. Amano is staunchly single, spending his evenings gaming for his popular YouTube channel. And young father Nishiura is married to a man. The general manager being a baby is the silly hook that Takeuchi pins her story on, but she fills it out with real depth and meaning.
Takeuchi’s work is unlike anything else currently being published. Her confident, thick lines, the unabashed physicality of a lot of her humor, her interest in pushing the limits of what a gag manga can be, and the way she highlights the sheer silliness of life moments make reading her work a serious treat. I want her to take good care of herself so that she can keep making books that crack me up and make me think, but I also want her to work harder and faster because I want to read those books right now. I am full of contradictions. But in one thing, I am ever steadfast: asking publishers to please license her manga and hire me to translate it. Seriously, it’s very good. You’ll be happy you asked me to translate it.