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.)