Is this where I’m supposed to do the year in review? It is the second last week of December, after all. I should really be turning my head around to look at the many happenings of 2018 and reflect on all the books I read this year. But, as I said on a recent episode of Manga Machinations when they were kind enough to have me on to discuss my work as an interpreter, I’m actually really awful at that “best of” stuff. I have a terrible memory that makes it impossible for me to pinpoint when I read or did something without double-checking my journal, these pages here, or the internet at large. Much like when I am asked about where I’m from and my default answer is the last place I lived, my default response for my best of the year/decade/life is always the last book I read and liked.
Which is why I must now update my pick for 2018 that I gave on the podcast from Yuria-sensei to Osaka Kanjo. (Watch this space for a potential new best of 2018 next week!) Because how could I resist a new series by long-time Brain favourite Yumiko Shirai?! She is on the list of authors whose new work I will read without question the second it comes out. The only reason I didn’t read this one sooner was because I was in Canada when it came out (and was forced to place a large order of books for work two weeks before this was released) and then once I got back to Tokyo, none of the smaller bookstores I looked in had it in stock. But finally. Finally! I have read it, and I have Thoughts. Which is why we’re all here, right?
My first Thought is: why is this running in a shojo magazine? I know the demographics of the various genres doesn’t actually correlate with the genre name—loads of men read josei (ladies’ comics) and tons of women read seinen (men’s comics)—but there are generally tropes that are followed or at least nodded to in each genre. You will find none of the usual shojo signifiers here, however. Shirai is doing what Shirai does best: science fiction with solid worldbuilding and nutbar premises. Osaka isn’t as way out in outer space as the teleporting women soldiers pregnant with alien babies of Wombs, but it certainly does not have its feet solidly on planet Earth.
Ten years in the future, the ring line in Osaka is watched over by the O System, an appropriately futuristic monitoring system that continuously records the happenings inside the train to provide evidence for criminal activity upon said train. Police can view the recordings in special viewing rooms and then “capture” the relevant images to use as evidence in prosecuting the criminals. The system is so effective that the mere idea of crime on the ring line quickly becomes unthinkable.
Kanata Mori is a police officer in the O Division, and she has a very personal reason for joining this division in particular. When she was a child, her little sister essentially vanished from the train before her eyes, and she’s spent her whole life trying to figure out what happened. Just when you’re thinking this will be a rehashed version of a movie we’ve all seen a million times, something appears from inside the holographic recording of a train groper and stabs Mori’s colleague. Followed by a mysterious man in black showing up with a sword to cut the whatever-it-is down and save Mori herself from certain death.
It turns out there’s some kind of monster fountain in the middle of Osaka and the ring line is not helping things. And if you look at the monsters, really see them, they materialize and become real. And try to kill you, I guess. The O System can see the monsters, and that is where all the trouble starts. Mori gets dragged into this whole other side of Osaka, and it is complicated and kind of confusing right now. But I take that as par for the course at the start of a really interesting science fiction story. There’s always that giddy awkwardness before you find your footing as a reader in a good story. And I love authors that don’t try to hold your hand through these early stages, but rather just chuck you into the deep end of the pool and trust that you know how to swim.
So yes, Osaka is everything I want and have come to expect from a Shirai story. Which is why I do not understand why it’s running in Bonita. Will there be more shojo elements popping up in future chapters? Or is Bonita just trying to take shojo in a whole new direction? If it’s the latter, I welcome the change with open arms. More science fiction shojo, please! If it’s the former, I am cautiously optimistic. I trust Shirai’s storytelling abilities and could see her expertly weaving in some more traditional shojo moments. She’s proven she has some shojo chops in last year’s short story collection Iwa to Niki no Shinkon Ryoko.
The book also includes the short story “Knock Out Body”, which is more josei than shojo and still cool and weird in a way that I want more of. In fact, I would happily read a whole series based on the concept of this brief tale. In the future, they’ve developed a technology that allows them to “knock out” certain genes, etc., so that they can clone bodies without brains as shells for old people or people who are on the verge of dying or just want a new body for some reason. The bodies are contracted out, and if you can’t pay up, they’ll just put you back in your old body whether you like it or not. But someone is killing the knock-out bodies, so lady cop on the verge of retirement accepts the assignment of putting herself in one of those bodies to try and lure in the perpetrator. It’s great and full of Shirai’s dynamic art and manages to tell such a complete and moving story in so few pages that I was honestly in awe.
So in the end, it doesn’t matter if a shojo magazine is publishing Shirai’s non-shojo work just as long as someone keeps publishing it. Because I need to keep reading it.