Now that I’m back in chilly Canada, wrapped in my customary layers of scarves and sweaters in this strange transitional period from summer to fall when it can be twelve degrees one day and twenty-five the next which makes getting dressed every day a terrible guessing game that I always lose so I’m glad I work from home and can generally avoid the weather, it’s time to cut Mount Bookstoberead down to some kind of manageable size before I head back to Tokyo in a couple months and fill my shelves right back up. Because this cycle of reading and buying books is apparently my true calling in life, and getting paid to translate some of them is the closest I can get to simply being paid to stay home and read books, with business trips to bookstores to replenish my supplies.
But so many great books are being released in my absence from the overcrowded city, including the latest Juza no Ulna, making me bite my nails in anticipation. After seeing Izu in conversation with Yumiko Shirai earlier this summer as part of the Media Arts festivities, I am more invested than ever in that bizarrely human sci-fi manga with lovingly rendered footwear and the rounded curves of Ulna’s hint of a second chin. Fortunately, past me knew that future me would be in this terrible position at some point, and she went ahead and bought some of Izu’s past work to slip into the pile of unread books for just such a moment, a new edition of Izu’s debut work Mitsubachi no Kiss.
I’ve no idea what the original edition was like, but this new printing is extremely lovely, all black and red and silver for the covers of the two volumes of this series. The contents are just as lovely. Izu’s style is basically the same now as it was when Mitsubachi was published ten years ago, the same textured lines, cross-hatching, and cinematic panelling. Some of the character designs are a little rocky, like he’s not quite sure of his cast, but the main characters are solid as hell, and even the less solid side characters are truly expressive in a way that gives every scene a strong emotional foundation.
You can see his sci-fi origins here, too, and some of the ideas he would later take up in Juza, like perception and human connection, but there’s more off-the-cuff philosophizing from characters here in strange conversations and dialogues, which can make things a little plodding from time to time. But the basic story is fascinating.
Kei has the power to see people, really see them when she touches them. She can read their thoughts, of course, but more than that, she can see their futures and their pasts. She can destroy people by knowing them more intimately than their minds are even able to handle. She just needs physical contact. The power comes to her while she’s still a child, so she spends most of her life alone, isolated, until she is approached by a cult attempting to recruit her. Not because she has this power, just because recruitment is what cults do. But once they learn of her power, they make good use of it, and this is where our story actually begins, with Kei “advising” the cult’s followers. The problem is that she doesn’t just see the answers to their questions; she sees everything. And she can’t keep herself from offering unwanted advice and warnings.
Naturally, the government knows about her and her powers and is very interested in bringing her in to use her for their own espionage efforts. Suruga is the man tasked with getting her out of the cult and bringing her in. But he has his own past trauma that perhaps makes him a little more sympathetic than he should be to his prey. The first volume is entirely taken up with this little cat-and-mouse sort of thing, along with a close-up look at Kei’s powers and how she uses them. It actually comes to a very satisfying conclusion, so even though I had volume two in my possession, I was a bit surprised that there was a volume two.
This could easily have been a one and done, but perhaps it was popular enough with readers that Izu and his editor decided to go further with the story. Or maybe Izu always intended it to be these two separate pieces. Either way, there is a second volume, and this one delves into the more personal aspects of what it means to be a woman with such powers and how isolating it can be, how difficult it is for Kei to make real human connections. This volume also contains a surprise sexual assault, so stay away if this is something you are not too cool with reading. But the assault does feel earned as part of the natural flow of the story this far; it’s not just there because that’s how we punish women. And it’s not particularly graphic. It’s what comes after that felt unnatural to me. I won’t go into specifics because spoilers, but it felt a bit like a man writing a lady character without knowing any actual ladies, like this great Twitter conversation. Which is honestly disappointing to me, because I feel Izu can really capture characters of any gender, but in this instance, let the point he was trying to make take the lead rather than the personalities and natures of the characters themselves.
But if you’re stuck waiting for the latest Juza as I am, Mitsubachi is a nice couple volumes to tide you over until your package of books arrives from Japan. Or until you go back to Japan to buy them at your favourite bookstore. Whichever works for you.