I’m sure I’m not the only one mentally time travelling to this time last year lately as the anniversary of WHO’s declaration of a pandemic approaches, bringing the end of normal as we then knew it. I’m prone to this habit at the best of times, like “On this day last month, I was on a plane to Taiwan” or “It’s been a year to the day since I bought these shelves.” I’m not generally much for looking into the past—I’m usually more about the present moment and my ever looming deadlines—but for some reason, a glance at the calendar will occasionally send me to a very specific moment in the past and often a very trivial one that could do without being remembered. (See above re: shelf purchase.)
But of course, having been trapped in my Toronto apartment for nearly a year now, the time travel feels much more real. This time last year, I was still noodling around in Nakano, concerned about the growing threat of the corona virus, but more because it was getting impossible to find any masks in any of the shops because people were stockpiling them than through any real fear of contracting the disease. Although the threat did grow more real after the taxi driver corona virus boat party. (Yes, I avoided taxis after that.) But I was still doing my usual rounds of the bookstores, looking for the newest volumes in favourite series and enticing new releases that I’d never heard of before, picking up novels and manga to weigh down my suitcases upon my return to Canada.
I’m still working out how to get my fix of J-books on this side of the ocean. I had a good system going over the summer with the help of honto.jp and EMS shipping, but then they shut down all EMS deliveries to Canada at the end of November. So the struggle to get the books from over there to over here began again. Fortunately, I have friends who love me and one of them kindly sends me a trickle of small packages to keep the books flowing. Sudo Yumi’s latest arrived in just such a small box, happily packaged with some butter peanuts from Family Mart because those are the best peanuts in the entire world and I would die without them. Weirdly, a mere day after the two books that make up this story arrived, a kind reader commented on another post here to recommend Yume no Hashibashi to me. Serendipity! (Thank you, Sigurðr!)
Yume really is exactly my jam, so clearly, Brain readers have got my number. Originally published in Feel Young, my favourite josei magazine, the story does the same sort of time travelling as I’ve been doing lately, although instead of “this time last year”, it’s “thirty years ago”. But Sudo starts us in 2018 with the elderly Kiyoko reading in her room. We soon learn that she has dementia—she confuses her granddaughter with her daughter and doesn’t recognize her great-granddaughter at all. So when Mitsu shows up for a surprise visit, we feel as anxious as she does that Kiyoko has forgotten her and their long history together. But she hasn’t, not yet at least, and as the two women talk, we get hints that this is no mere friendship, but a lifelong forbidden love.
From 2018, the story moves back to 1988, then to 1969, 1961, and back through the years until the girlhood of the two women we first meet at the end of their lives, each time stopping at some key moment in their lives together to reveal how their relationship has developed and what it’s meant to each of them. There are little mysteries along the way—what really happened to Kiyoko’s finger, why does Mitsu always wear gloves—but for the most part, Sudo traces the feelings of the two women from pained regret to girlish hope, a strange roadmap for how things never quite went the way they wanted them to.
Sudo’s fine linework is a perfect match for the sensitivity of the situations she portrays here, subtle shifts in faces reflecting the inner workings of the characters. She also manages to age her characters backward so skillfully, always recognizably the same people but also always recognizably younger. I’m always impressed when a comic artist can pull of aging their characters since it’s not generally required in most stories, so it’s not the kind of skill set an artist really needs to develop.
It’s also interesting to see in reverse the kinds of social pressures Kiyoko and Mitsu have fought against or bent to. The world around them and the expectations placed on women grow harsher as we move back in time until we are confronted with the arranged marriage of a 15-year-old girl, a norm at that time and almost unthinkable now. She deftly upturns reader expectations through the growth of her characters in reverse. From the way they interact and what they say in the beginning of the book, I definitely did not expect the two girls they started as. But that’s how life actually works. The me at fifteen is an entirely different being than the me as a current Old. When we tell these stories from beginning to end, though, our minds form a consistent narrative out of them—well, of course I ended up here because I did this after I did this, etc. But forcing us to look at a life backwards highlights the strange twists and turns we all encounter.
Complete in only two volumes, I feel like this is an easy and obvious piece of josei yuri for an English publisher to pick up. The two books could easily be published as one longer book for English readers, so no worries about attrition, less risk than taking on a ongoing series. And it’s beautiful and thoughtful, quietly moving, offering readers glimpses of bygone eras as it tells of a love spanning the ages. Plus look at those covers! The way the girls look at each other so longingly, so hopefully from one volume to the other, it feels like all seventy of their years together are hiding in that shift from pink to blue.