The mountain of unread books at Château Brain has grown to almost embarrassing heights. Whereas once (in the long distant past) it was an actual pile, a stack of books on a side table, it has spread and sprawled out from that side table to occupy half of a sturdy Ikea bookshelf, with unread books spilling out in heaps on top of the bookshelf. And yet I keep buying books? It is a disease possibly? Part of the recent extra book-buying is the plague that keeps us all bemasked—I don’t want my favourite bookstores to go out of business, so I keep ordering from them at regular intervals, regardless of the number of books I already have in my house waiting for me to read them. And part of it is that when I order books for work from Japan, I figure I should just throw in some books for pleasure too since I’m paying the shipping, and everything takes so long to arrive in the post now.
But mostly? I just really like buying books and having books. It’s such a thrill to see them there on the shelves and wonder what I’ll read next. Some books I deliberately leave in the unread bookcase because I am so eager to read them and I want to savour that anticipation. (Yes, Harrow the Ninth, I’m looking at you in specific here.) Some books are there for research I am totally going to do at some unspecified future point for a project that will almost certainly never be finished. Others get pushed to the back of the shelf, lost in the mix, waiting to be rediscovered one day. And still others get picked up and put back over and over because they seem too daunting in some way. Kioku no Giho is one of these.
I hesitated to dive in for a few reasons, the biggest of which was probably that it is a long bunko manga and I do not like long bunko manga. As an Old, my eyes do not like tiny type, and the bunko format is the home of tiny type. And Kioku is nearly four hundred pages long, so that is a lot of eyestrain just waiting to happen. I should really just buy one of those magnifying reader things for Ultra Olds, but I want to cling to the illusion that I am not actually slowly marching toward death for a little longer yet. But this book was recommended by a reader here (or someone on Twitter? I can no longer remember who it was because, as noted above, I am an Old) whose taste I trust, so I felt compelled to at least try to read the tiny type.
Once I started, I could not stop. And having finished, I am daydreaming about ordering more of Yoshino’s work. It’s so pretty! And she is such a compelling storyteller! Her linework on characters’s faces in particular bears more than a passing resemblance to est em’s, too, especially the eyebrows and pointed ends of noses, which was also strangely compelling to me, like discovering an unknown influence on a personal favourite. But at the end of the day, it is always about the story for me, and Yoshino knows how to tell a story.
The better part of the book is taken up with the titular “Kioku no Giho” and a side story about one of its main characters. Karen is in high school and has the strange hobby of trying to lose herself in the world around her. Our first look at her has her telling herself to concentrate and erase her body, to become the sound of the world outside. Her friends call her back to reality and the girls go on to take passport photos in a photo booth. They are headed to Korea for their school trip, so in addition to a picture, Karen also needs a copy of her family registry to get her passport. But as she hands her papers in to her teacher, she notices something odd on the registry, a strange provision about an unfamiliar law. When she starts to dig into this mystery, she gets help from the blue-eyed Satoi, a sort-of outsider at school, and ends up on a trip to understand who she is and why she has forgotten so much of her past.
It’s solid and intelligent shojo that refreshingly doesn’t revolve around or even involve romance at all really. Karen and Satoi are comrades, dedicated to figuring out just what happened to Karen when she was small who happen to forge a real friendship while they’re at it. A friendship Satoi especially needs since he was raised apart from others in cult-ish devotion by his mother, who insisted his blue eyes were proof that he was a miracle and close to God, which meant that he couldn’t debase himself like other people, a past which is explained in the second story “Shimobashira no Mori”. Getting this backstory made a lot of the smaller details in “Kioku” snap into place when it comes to Satoi’s motivation in helping Karen.
The remaining stories are brief one-shots. “Anna O” features a protagonist who dreams of a beautiful woman feeding him oranges, dreams that are so vivid that he has a friend stay over to check that this is not actually happening to him during the night. In “Joshi Kokosei Satsujin Nikki”, the high school girl of the title fantasizes about the deaths of people in her life while she deals with a stalker and her own unconventional family situation. A cupid confronts the boyfriend of a dead woman in “Kona Milk”, while the protagonist in “Tomei Ningen no Shisso” discovers that her boyfriend is someone totally else and falls down a rabbit hole trying to figure out who exactly. The last story, “Renai Kazoku”, is the shortest and the silliest, a family of impossible romances, each more ridiculously soap opera than the last.
From the sheer variety of stories in this collection, it’s clear that Yoshino was interested in exploring all facets of people and their lives with each other. There’s drama and emotion, but all with a serious amount of nuance and empathy. Even when her characters are doing not great things, Yoshino presents them in all their depth, not as cardboard cutouts of good or evil. She really cares about these people and so you as the reader end up caring, too. So thanks to you, kind reader who told me to read this book! Now I have a reason to buy more books for the case of unread books. I need more Yoshino Sakumi in my life.