As you may have heard, Inio Asano came to TCAF this year. He was great, the fans were (mostly) great, and a great time was had by (mostly) all. What you may not have heard was that his then-girlfriend, now-wife Akane Torikai joined him on this trip. You didn’t hear about this because it was all on the down-low, under her real name, much like the time husband Anno accompanied Moyoco when she was a guest. And maybe the name Torikai doesn’t mean anything to you either way, and that is the great shame of this story. Because Torikai is an accomplished manga artist herself, but of course, working in the josei field, her work goes largely unnoticed by English audiences. (Insert obligatory plea to read more josei so we can have more josei.) She also hasn’t been translated into English, so that’s probably a bit of a stumbling block, too.
But she is great and nice, and when we met her for drinks a couple weeks ago, she was kind enough to give me the two volumes of her latest release, so trust me, you’ll be hearing more about Torikai soon enough. But over the course of the evening, we of course got around to talking about other manga, and she got very excited telling me about this one new series. Fortunately, she followed up with an email the next day; otherwise, I would have been left scratching my head and wondering if I made up that conversation about a great-sounding manga. Because drinking. Thanks to her email, though, I did not have to question my faulty memories and even had a title and an author name to take with me to the bookstore. So off I went!
The titular Yuria is fifty years old, married to Goro for twenty of those years, a former child ballet practitioner and current teacher of embroidery. She is big for a woman, not in the sense of fat, but in the sense of tall and just generally large. And kind of mannish. I have never seen a woman like her in possibly any manga, and I was intrigued from the first page. In the weird connections department, I am the smallest person in my family, something that is generally unbelievable to most people who have met me but not the rest of my family since I am nearly 170 cm tall, which is not short by most standards that are not my family. But my dad is a solid two metres, my mom is close to 180, and my sister is somewhere around 190. And my sister has always been conscious of how large she is in relation to the world around her. So to see a woman of similar stature as a manga protagonist, it felt so fresh and instantly relatable. (Representation matters.)
So Yuria’s pretty content with her life when we step into it. She lives with her husband and his mother in a two-storey house, cooking mostly for the mother half of this duo since her husband is a food/nightlife writer and is generally out in the evenings, drinking. They stopped being sexual with each other a few years before and stopped sharing a room a few years after that, but they’re still in love, and Yuria relishes the peace of their life together now, as opposed to the more turbulent earlier years when they still thought they could have/wanted children. So naturally, you know there is a “but” coming up. And the but is that Goro collapses suddenly one day with a brain hemorrhage. Yuria rushes to the hospital to encounter there the “friend” that called the ambulance and rode with him. And yeah, you probably see where this is going.
So many things excite and delight me about this series. The tall lady aspect is certainly one of them, but more than anything else, I love seeing the life of a middle-aged woman depicted more honestly than not in the pages of a manga. The concerns Yuria faces in these pages are those of so many women in Japan and abroad—if and when to have to children, what to do when that turns out not to be a choice you get to make, how to grapple with the reality of aging relatives and their care, what happens when your partner is suddenly gone from your side. As someone who, age-wise, is closer to Yuria than to, say, Rinko of Tokyo Tarareba Girls, it’s honestly a relief almost to see these older-lady issues taken up in my favourite medium.
But issues do not a great story make, and this manga definitely has more than issues to keep it going. I won’t go into spoiler-y details, but I could not stop reading the two volumes that have been released so far, and I’m excited for volume three. Irie has created a compelling and at times shocking story. I also love her linework, which feels more like Aoi Ikebe’s in its almost sketchy pencil style and minimal tone use. Characters all have such distinctive and expressive faces, so Irie doesn’t need to slam readers in the face with dialogue to make her points. This series is so good that I am already digging into Irie’s back catalogue to read everything she’s ever written while I wait for the next volume of Yuria-sensei. So you will probably be hearing me sing her praises again sooner rather than later.