Miyako Bijin Yawa: Sudo Yumi

You may know by now that I am a bit obsessive when it comes to artists I like. I will read one book, love it, and promptly buy every single other thing that artist has done. I’m not sure this is a particularly healthy approach to art, but it has made my book collection extremely complete for specific artists. (Yes, I have every single est em book in French, English, and Japanese, including both the original Mellow Mellow and the IKKI reprint of Orokamono wa Aka o Kirau. I do not need two copies of what is essentially the same book, but that beautiful cover on the IKKI reprint… I could not resist it.) I’ve got recent fave battan’s entirely catalogue on order, although it will take a while to get to me thanks to the ocean that separates me from my beloved Japanese bookstores, and I look forward to obsessing over each of those volumes with you here. 

But in previous shipments via my postal pal in Tokyo, I received some of the earlier work of Sudo Yumi, whose Yume no Hashibashi charmed me with its backward time-travelling narrative of lost love. Hotai Shojo Kikan was another yuri volume, a collection of short stories of various relationships between girls, but Miyako Bijin Yawa is a josei collection of stories originally published in Feel Young, the best josei magazine and no, I will not be taking any questions about that at this time. As is often the case with one-shot and first volumes, this feels like it started out as a short story that the artist was asked to keep going with after the editor saw the finished pages or when the story got good reader feedback. Which means that sometimes things can feel tacked on or shoehorned in later on, as is the case here. 

In the first chapter, or “first night” as the title stylings have it, the kimono-clad beauty Miyako is drinking in a bar themed around scary stories when Osada stumbles in, seeking to escape the goat-headed vision of his boss in the intersection. Miyako invites him to join her for a drink, but only because she made a bet with another patron before he walked through the door. Their chat about scary stories soon becomes something more, something life-changing for Osada. But Miyako returns to her hometown of Kyoto after that one night, leaving Osada with a whole lot of feelings he’s not sure what to do with. 

The “second night” follows a geiko struggling to become a maiko until a chance encounter with a movie star gives her new resolve. This story’s a bit of an outlier in that it seems like the only one that doesn’t get retconned to be connected to the first story. (But maybe I missed some telling clue there.) Still, it’s an interesting look behind the curtains of Kyoto teahouses and the geiko culture. Plus loads of lovely drawings of kimono, something I will always get behind. 

The third night focusses on Misaki, who’s planning a big trip to Tokyo with her girlfriends when she suddenly ends up in hospital for emergency surgery because what she thought was a nagging headache was actually some serious brain business. Her roommate in the hospital loves a good ghost story, and a nurse’s assistant is happy to oblige. Misaki is very much not interested in hearing about ghosts before undergoing surgery and so she flees to the roof where she finds a sympathetic nurse. Of course, nothing is as it seems to be, but the big twist can be seen coming almost from the first pages of the story. Which is not to say that it’s not worth reading or that I didn’t enjoy it, just that this story is perhaps a bit less subtle than some of Sudo’s other work. 

This and the story that follows get incorporated into Miyako’s life in the fifth night when we learn that someone was Miyako’s relative and another from another story was her friend and so on. Maybe it was meant to be a set of interconnected stories right from the start, but if so, the signifiers were far too hidden to pick up on until the fifth night laid the connections bare, explicitly detailing who was who to Miyako. I love a series of overlapping stories and characters in the same world, but this one could have been handled a bit better. The stories are just too different in tone and style to feel like they are part of the same world. Going from scary bar to geiko to hospital to university to pawn shop simply felt too disconnected.

The extra story at the end of the volume is honestly the standout here. It tells the origin story of the creepy doll in the bar in the first night, and it feels like half manga artist wish fulfillment and half spooky story. A struggling manga artist encounters a traditional style doll in the pawn shop from the fifth night and falls in love. She takes it home, makes it new clothes, gives it a little bed and everything. And then strange things start to happen. The storyboard she started before falling asleep is mysteriously finished and sent to her editor. Pages uninked before she goes to bed are inked when she wakes up. Yes, it’s the doll. I don’t normally like stories about dolls (because dolls are very scary and please never make me look at them), but this one is a charming cautionary tale in which the doll is, for once, not actually scary, but just trying to be helpful. 

My previous complaints about the samey-ness of Sudo’s characters stands, though. Too many faces are interchangeable, with characters only really identifiable by hairstyle and clothing. I feel like with a good editor pushing her out of her comfort zone, she could do some really amazing work. Maybe that’s what happened with Yume no Hashibashi. Either way, I’ll keep reading to see where she goes next. 

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