Eve no Musuko-tachi: Aoike Yasuko

The nice thing about reading books about books is that they often introduce you to other books. And while I was a little unhappy about the lack of critical analysis in Shojo Manga no Uchu, I was very pleased by the comprehensive lists of science fiction and fantasy shojo manga that have come out over the last seventy or so years. So naturally, I marked a whole bunch of them down on my reading list, even though I have so many books on that list that it would take me several long lifetimes to read them all. I am an aspirational and irrationally optimistic reader.

Of the many books highlighted in Shojo Manga no Uchu, the one that most intrigued me that was still in print was Eve no Musuko-tachi, partly because it was described as Aoike’s big break and big breaks are always interesting to read. The big break manga are reflective of the tastes of audiences and can signal shifts in the reading landscape as something that never managed to get traction before suddenly takes off. But I was mostly curious about this title because it sounded absolutely bonkers. And you know how much I love bonkers books. (An aside: I feel like we see less of this kind of absolutely unhinged story nowadays than we used to in the seventies and eighties. I propose manga artists bring back the bonkers.)

Friends, I was not disappointed! Eve is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever read, and I was there for every second of it. The basic premise itself is ludicrous. The Christian god created Adam out of dirt and breathed life into him before taking one of his ribs to make a companion for him, Eve. So far so standard Christianity. But it turns out the angel Dojiel was assisting God at this time, and Dojiel is a clutz (“doji” means clumsy, etc.), so he took one of Eve’s ribs and created a man. God was like, uh no, and exiled this son of Eve to an island, so that he couldn’t mix with the general population, and Dojiel with him as punishment. But Eve’s son flourished and had many descendants, eventually spreading out across the world and mingling with the sons of Adam, and this lineage became known as the Vin Rosé tribe, not entirely male or female, although they present as male.

Dojiel reveals all this secret history to our heroes, London hotties Justin, Basil, and Heath, when he informs them that they are in fact Van Rosé descendants and he is there to whisk them away to their homeland, Atlantis, where the rest of the tribe are. They fly there in a spaceship/time machine called the Okama, a play on the word that means both a (cooking) pot and a gay/effeminate/both man. Because there are a lot of gay jokes in this series! What’s surprising, given when the series was published, is that none of these jokes are homophobic. The language is definitely dated, but same-sex relationships are presented as not only acceptable, but desirable in many cases, and one of the leads—Basil—is presented as an openly gay man, falling for attractive men everywhere they go and doing his best to be patient until Justin is ready to experience the full impact of his love. 

One of my favourite running gags, in fact, is Basil in meaningful moments with the hot guy du jour. The series goes out of its way to portray man-man love in a very romantic and powerful way, including a hot kiss that had both parties looking dishevelled and half-undressed when it was over. In a lot of ways, this felt like a kind of proto-BL (even though, yes, BL was already happening when this series was running), putting hot guys into situations with other hot guys and seeing what shakes out. 

But really, the point of this book is just to be absurd. Our heroes move from the frying pan into the fire into the smouldering charcoal briquettes, the story getting more ridiculous and over the top on every single page. All the characters besides the angels and our heroes are famous historical or mythical figures, but about the only thing they have in common with their namesakes are their names and maybe their general appearance. Marie Antoinette shows up as a blood-thirsty guillotine lover with functional battleships in her giant wigs; Moses wanders around with his stone tablet interpreting for Alexander the Great, whose sole goal in this life is to make Justin his wife; legendary Japanese prince Yamato Takeru just wanders around looking hot; while Bruce Lee vies with Hermes for Heath’s love. 

The first story was clearly meant to be a one-shot, complete in and of itself. But I guess it resonated with readers since Aoike went on to draw many, many more pages of this ridiculous comedy. And the chapters that come after this first one follow basically the same template: Basil, Heath, and Justin encounter an angel with a silly name and silly characteristics; they are whisked off to some mythical/fantastical/outer-spacial land; Van Rosés try to make Justin theirs; historical women try to wage war on Van Rosés; wackiness ensues; Heath and Basil rescue Justin, and they all make it safely back to London where Heath has a concert, Justin gets up on stage, or Basil writes a poem. Or sometimes all three! But the details and the gags are just different enough each time to pull the reader in. And sometimes, all those repetitive gags culminate in a magnificent über-gag, like when Basil’s meaningful gaze with a hot guy powers up to destroy an enemy and rescue Justin.    

Like so many manga of the era, this is one dense series. It’s packed with text and images and jokes and so, so much information that each page can feel like sensory overload. So it’s actually quite helpful and refreshing to have so many running gags and to have this template for the story. It allows the reader to get comfortable and really enjoy all the silliness that Aoike is presenting to us, like an astounding number of fourth-wall breaking jokes, in which our heroes often speak directly to their creator. And credit must be given to their creator for her powerful drawing skills. Despite the flood of characters that this series presents, they are all visually distinct and recognizable at a glance. Plus so many of the historical figures feature visual gags based on their actual historical selves for next-level hilarity. 

In case you can’t tell, I love love love this series. It’s exciting, sexy, adventurous, science fictional, fantastical, historical, and just plain weird in equal measure, a combination that deeply appeals to me as a reader. I can’t imagine encountering it as a girl when it first came out. What a lightning bolt it must have been to Princess readers! I completely get why it was Aoike’s breakout title, and I deeply wish English readers could get to sample this nutbar of a series. But classic shojo is a hard sell and deeply weird classic shojo is probably an impossible sell. But prove me wrong, publishers! (And hire me to translate as always.)

4 thoughts on “Eve no Musuko-tachi: Aoike Yasuko

  1. Thanks so much for this wonderfully fun write up. I had seen sample pages of the manga and knew the gonzo premise, but nothing more. However, I am a fan of Aoike’s best known work, From Eroica with Love (which I had assumed was also her breakout work until I read your piece–it seems she premiered it just after, Eroica starting in December 1976 in Viva Princess, moving to Princess when Eve finished and finishing 39 volumes later in 2012). The two works sound incredibly similar in terms of following a basic formula, with increasingly wacky additions each installment, historical allusions and figures, and the way it treats homosexuality and effeminate men (and using Aioke’s fave rock stars like Robert Palmer as character models), although Eve with the biblical stuff is up a notch from Eroica’s James Bond parody.

    Interestingly, Eroica also started off as a one shot (although the trio that seemed set up to be the leads are cut down by two members by the third installment as she finds the formula she wants–sidenote, I always love seeing how some of these vintage manga trasnformed as they went along, notably when you read something like Moto Hagio’s Poe Clan in the order it was originally serialized).

    What you say about how she plays up gay stereotypes and gay jokes but it never feels homophobix is true in Eroica too. You mention how BL (or shonen-ai or whatever anyone was calling it then) was already starting to be a thing by 1976–I mean KazeKi started that year which really seems to have cemented the genre. One distinction though I find interesting is that Aoike seems to be the first major BL author to clearly draw her bishonen as *men*, not the girly boys we got at that time from Takemiya, Hagio, etc (the only other exception with 1970s titles I can think of is another Year 24 member, Toshie Kihara’s, beloved shonen-ai title Mari and Shingo, but that didn’t appear until three years later.)

    As for an English translation–I would say it would never happen except CMX back in 2004, the shortlived DC published manga label that was known for its wonderful and bizarre initial vintage shoujo licenses (like Swan, Cipher and Moon Child–all insanely popular titles for their time in Japan but unknown to most English readers) picked up From Eroica with Love which was, at the time, the most WTF licensing choice I had ever encountered (although Eroica and its MANY spin offs over the years have long had a very distinct English speaking fanbase who apparently did fan translations even in the 1980s, seeing it as similar to the then emerging slash fiction trend). We got 15 of those volumes in the wonderful but brief period that CMX existed… And Eve is, I believe, only 7 volumes, so… stranger things have happened?

    1. Glad you liked the write-up! And that’s very true that Aoike was drawing her men as men rather than bishounen, which was quite unusual for the time. I’ll have to take a peek at Eroica since I really loved this series, but it’s pretty daunting with so many volumes. I have so little time already!

      But the manga boom when CMX was licensing bonkers stuff is sadly over, and most publishers now are *much* more selective, especially when it comes to older titles. It’s a lot more work to put out classic stuff (the original art is sometimes gone, there’s nothing digital, etc.) and the market for those books is pretty small, so it’s hard to make those books work as a business decision. I’d love to see even one volume of Eve in English, which I think could work very well since each chapter is basically its own separate story set in that universe. But it’s a hard sell for publishers…

  2. if this was translated into english, I’d pick it up in a heartbeat. Eroica’s gotta be one of my favorite mangas and I want to read more from Aoike!!!!

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