Like most people not of the porn world (well, I did write that column for a porn magazine, but I didn’t know it was a porn magazine until later, so I think that makes me a non-pro when it comes to porn), I came to know Mine Nayuka through her debut manga series Arasa-chan, a yonkoma about a thirty-ish woman who has a lot of sex as she navigates just who and what she is supposed to be as a woman transitioning out of young adulthood. I’ve only read bits and pieces of the manga, but it was made into an R-rated drama that is available on Netflix (Japan), and I enjoyed the hell out of that. The manga has basically zero backgrounds in any panels—the focus is entirely on the characters—and the way the drama maintained this artifice was to set all the action in very simplistic sets that would never be mistaken for a real place. Plus, they also feature funny and revealing discussions with Mine and Dan Mitsu, the actor who plays Arasa-chan, at the end of episodes. If you have access to Netflix Japan and don’t mind a little sexy with your silly, this is one to check out.
But before she was a manga artist, Mine was a porn (or adult video = AV) actress. And her new series AV Joyu-chan is the semi-autobiographical tale of her life in the world of porn. As the cover copy notes whether you wanted to know it or not, this book is going to tell you some things about porn. And yes, there are things in here you do not want to know. I have a pretty strong stomach (I’m usually the one bringing up the weird gross thing over dinner), but I happened to be reading a particular scene while eating, and the nausea was pretty immediate. I won’t spoil the surprise for you, though.
We start of in media res, with Mine in bra and underpants on the set of her first picture. She’s pumped as she introduces herself to the assembled cast and crew. The director looks at his notes and says, “Okay, the first scene is… Let’s start with the fucking!” and a ripped, bright-eyed leading man is ready. Our leading lady, however, is not. Mine then takes us back in time to how she ended up in this place. Naturally, it all begins in Kabukicho, the notorious nightlife area of Shinjuku in Tokyo. (I have a friend who won’t even cross Yasukuni-dori at night because “it’s dangerous over there.”) This is the part of town where you will find all the deviant sex things that you read about in Weird Japan articles in American publications.
Mine is looking for work in a nightclub as a hostess, but she gets scouted by a porn agent. She’s resistant at first, but when he starts talking about how much money she could make, she is on board. Here we get the first of an ongoing “the more you know” type segment called “setsumei shiyo!” (allow me to explain), in which Mine shares tidbits about how the porn industry in Japan works. Given that her debut was in 2005, some of this might be a little out of date, but it’s still very interesting. She gives us the inside scoop on fads in the porn industry (for a while, being “ex-something or other” like “former TV actress” or “former roller skater” is extremely popular), terminology, hierarchies, and how the scouts find and manipulate vulnerable woman, among other things. Thanks to her impressive bosom, Mine finds out that she is top-tier material, entitled to some serious cash for her on-screen performances.
After a few chapters on life as an AV actor, including a rather harrowing signing event in a bikini, Mine gives us her origin story. She was a nerdy girl in the countryside who didn’t understand why it was important to have friends, but by the time she hits high school, she’s having sex with pretty much all comers in order to be popular with not guys, but her girl friends. It’s a really interesting portrayal of a much-less talked about Japanese countryside and how women seek out their self-worth in a society that revolves around men. (I definitely saw some of this in my small-town Akita life.)
When the back story catches up with the current time, we are introduced to a new costar, a woman with breasts even larger than Mine’s, and after a three-way with a male actor, we get to see how “Massive Tits” (the moniker given to this woman) ended up in porn. I feel like this is where we drift away from autobio and into semi-autobio, but this backstory feels just as real and compelling as Mine’s own, so I imagine she has known a woman who came up in this way.
Mine’s art has definitely evolved since her debut. There are backgrounds now! Not particularly detailed and only featuring the things relevant to the moment depicted, but it does add a note of reality that her earlier work lacked. Everyone still has those big voids for eyes, but faces and bodies are as expressive as ever, maybe more so. She introduces so many characters in this volume, and yet each of them is distinct and unique. She’s got a real knack for catching the drama of a moment on a character’s face, despite them having black holes for eyes.
The kicker for me was the lengthy chat at the end of the book between Mine and Tajima Yoko, a noted women’s studies scholar and feminist. These ladies don’t pull any punches right from the first page—the tagline for this talk is “For men, women are still holes and wombs.” They discuss the dichotomy of roles that women face in Japanese society: you can be a wife and mother, or you can be a whore, but you can’t be both. So the porn actor is an interesting case, and it can be difficult if not impossible to transition out of porn. Mine managed it—she’s now a wife and mother, and the two women talk about how her experience on either side of this dichotomy differs.
They also get into the idea that anger is an emotion to be respected, and I was reminded of online talk in Japan near the start of the MeToo movement saying that it was okay for women to be angry. Which is something that I feel Western feminists don’t really need to say, but was a really important message for a lot of Japanese women. One of my favourite writers/artists Takinami Yukari noted that it’s still forbidden territory for a lot of Japanese women. And just hearing that it’s okay to be angry about being sexually harassed and treated like a second-class citizen can be the start of a real feminist awareness and desire to make change in this world.
I picked this one up because I am always curious about manga by women about women, sex, and sexuality, but I am definitely staying for the feminist take on sex work.