Given how close we are to TCAF, you may be surprised that I’m not on here talking up Junji Ito or Hiromi Takashima, our very special manga guests this year. But in a weird turn of events, I have translated the work of both of these artists, so it would be even more self-indulgent for me to write about those works here. That said, you should definitely pick up Takashima’s Kase-san series because it is a delightful bit of yuri that is free from so many of the tired tropes and simply explores the relationship between these two girls as they figure out what it means to be together and how they want to move forward. And you should also be reading Ito’s everything because he is a great master of horror and excess—you should obviously especially be reading all of my translations of his work, if nothing else, though. I personally am devouring everything he ever wrote at the moment, including the utterly dreadful Yukoku no Rasputin which I regret ever crossing paths with, because, well, TCAF. I am his interpreter. I have to be prepared. (Please no one ask about Rasputin.)
But I also need distractions! Reading too much of the same artist all in a row can make all the stories blur together into a mess of tangled and mutilated bodies, in the case of Ito’s work. Fortunately, my special delivery of horror manga from the other side of the ocean also included some decidedly non-horror manga from an artist I’ve only recently fallen for, Kiwa Irie. Her current series Yuria-sensei no Akai Ito is giving me life, so I decided to go back and check out her earlier work, as is my wont when I fall hard and fast for an artist.
But checking out her earlier work was not so easy as all that! I was told that Tasogare was also a very solid series, so I went to the bookstore to get the first couple volumes. However, volume one comes with a CD specially made of the music that features in the book and so costs about twice as much as a regular manga. I did not want a special CD of music I was almost certain to dislike (I am a person of strong musical opinion), so I went from bookstore to bookstore looking for a volume one sans CD. But it was not to be! Which is why I ended up getting it delivered to be from my favourite online retailer with a pile of Junji Ito books once I was back in Canada.
Unsurprisingly, Tasogare is about as far from Junji Ito as you can get, in both content and style. Art-wise, it’s the same loose, sketchy lines as in Yuria-sensei, with a softness that seems to convey Irie’s fondness for her subjects, in stark contrast with Ito’s decisive lines and sharp blacks and whites. Story-wise, Irie takes as her subject the 45-year-old Takako, a divorced cafeteria worker and mother of a teenager who lives with her widowed, hard-of-hearing mother. When the story starts she’s plodding along, accepting her lot in life, but sort of wishing she was a different person living a different life. And then she has two rather fateful encounters: one with the older owner of a new bar in her neighbourhood, Mami, when she is drinking out by the river late one night in an attempt to escape her mother and her apartment; and the other with Koichi, the host of a late-night radio program and leader of a popular band.
The way Takako dives into music fandom despite not so much as having bought a CD before reminds me of so many women her age that I have met in the world of SMAP, K-Pop, and other fandoms. They feel refreshed and soothed by seeing and hearing their idols; watching them on a TV talk show gives them enough energy to get through the next day. And almost all of the middle-aged (or older) women I know in these kinds of fandoms have families and jobs and hectic lives that keep them more than busy enough. Is it the search for a lost younger self, one with dreams and ideals like the bands they now pursue? Or is it just the desire to carve out a space of their own when their lives are so full of taking care of other people? Or something entirely different? (A friend of mine is always talking to me about the feminist nature of fandom, and I won’t say she’s wrong about that.)
Of course, just as in Yuria-sensei, Irie doesn’t simply focus on her main character, but opens up her lens to allow us to see all of the supporting characters as fully formed people. Takako’s mother isn’t just an annoying nag, but a woman who doesn’t know what to do with herself now that her husband of so many years is dead. Mami’s nephew Kohei is a serious young man with goals of his own, constantly thwarted by his uncle’s flighty and flirty nature. Takako’s daughter is a young woman trying to figure her own self out while she deals with a new stepmother and future half-sibling. Irie has this gift for incorporating everyday concerns and worries into her manga in a way that is engaging and relatable. And she does it all with older female protagonists, which I thought was a recipe for banishment to the back of the bookstore! But the first volume of Tasogare at least went into multiple printings, and Yuria-sensei is doing quite well, too, so maybe this is the dawn of a new era of josei?? Please, let this be the dawn of a new era of josei. I will buy all the books.