Itsuka Midori no Hanataba ni: Yoshino Sakumi

After my first dip into the Yoshino Sakumi pool, I was excited to get a hold of more of her books and devour her catalogue, as is my way when I find a new artist to love. So I randomly ordered what looked like an attractive volume to go in my latest package of books for work delivered to me from across the sea. Because I am still not allowed to go back to my Japanese home and noodle around in the bookstores to find books in a more organic way, like I normally would. Please implement sensible pandemic containment policies, like testing and tracing, instead of returning to the days of sakoku, Japanese government. 

When the box of books arrived and I finally had this volume in my hands, I realized it is actually something of a tribute to Yoshino, coming out only a few months after her death in April 2016. Itsuka collects what I assume is the last story Yoshino ever published, the titular “Itsuka Midori no Hanataba ni”, which came out in flowers in June 2016 after her death, alongside an interview that she did with the magazine in March 2016. It’s heartbreaking to read this short chat with a flowers editor and know that she was dead a month later, especially when she talks about her notebooks of ideas and how she has some stories she’s been waiting for years to draw. It’s not the kind of interview you give if you know you’re about to die; it’s hopeful and looking toward a future filled with many more stories. The only cause of death that’s been announced publicly is simply “illness”, and we’ll probably never know what took her from the world seemingly so quickly. 

“Itsuka Midori no Hanataba ni” is great to go out on. Hana works at a family restaurant where she meets Sota after he forgets his phone there. When he comes back for it, Hana is shocked by the woman by his side. She is definitely not a living, breathing human being. Sota doesn’t seem to notice she’s there, and Hana doesn’t say anything as they become friends because she doesn’t want him to think she’s a lunatic. But of course, there’s a cute twist that I didn’t see coming which fits the story and the characters so perfectly. This story also has the best single image from a zombie film. 

“Mother” is probably the last story that was published while Yoshino was still alive, in January 2016, but it’s clear that she intended this to be more than just the one-off it turned into. This volume collects over a hundred pages of thumbnails for the sequels to “Mother”, the second of which “Gekidan Solaris” is unfinished even in thumbnail form. By nature, thumbnails are sketchy, rough things meant to plot out the story to show to an editor and get approval before putting in all the effort to actually draw a story. But there are some very fleshed-out moments in these storyboards that give you a clear sense of what Yoshino was planning art-wise. The dialogue is all there, though, so you can actually read through and see where she was going with the story.

And it’s a wild one! A brief bit of expository text at the start of “Mother” lets us know that after the great war, the continent was poisoned and everyone was dying. The only survivors were the people living on islands here and there. A glimpse of this idyllic island life is quickly followed by a facility of ominous vats and faceless people clearly sabotaging them in some way before fleeing. It turns out that in this devastated world, there are very few old-school human beings left. They are the “originals” and they’re seed stock for the “mixed”, which are grown in artificial wombs. Then there are the full-on clones, who have no reproductive capacity and short lifespans. You can see how the hierarchy here works. The clones are tasked with living in the facilities to take care of all those artificial wombs and growing clones, while the mixed get sent out to live on islands with originals and learn the laws of the land. 

The laws are pretty strict. If you steal something, you have to make that thing again from scratch and return it to the person you stole it from. And when I say from scratch, I’m talking “plant wheat to make flour for a cookie” from scratch. The whole thing is overseen by the “conductor”, a weird mechanical aperture in the wall of buildings all over the place. I assume it’s connected to some central intelligence, but it’s never really explained. Which is fine by me. I like it when artists just plop things into their worlds and trust readers to follow along. 

This all sounds abstract and less than engaging, but Yoshino brings us into this world through one island in particular. Alia is the original in charge and the “mother” to two mixed children, an older boy name Mujik and a girl named Kitarra. Alia teaches the children how to grow food and live on their little paradise, but we quickly see that she is hard as nails and will put up with absolutely zero shit from these kids. She is one hundred percent on board with the weird, totalitarian conductor.

I wish Yoshino had gotten to draw the sequels she was planning because just the storyboards filled in so many interesting details and fleshed out this curious world she created. I would loved to have read a whole book or series set in this place.

The rest of the collection is a bunch of short one-shots from earlier in her career, between 2004 and 2008. “Ryou no Otsukai” has a little boy saying mean things about his mother to a lizard that turns out to be some kind of hate dragon that feeds on bitter words. So with each grumble from the boy, the dragon gets bigger and bigger, until it’s flying through the sky with the boy on its back. The protagonist of “Unmei no Hito” is newly obsessed with a fortune teller, while “Hana no Yo Datta” is a cute quick peek at falling in and out of crush. 

Then there’s a series of shorts in partial colour, where Yoshino’s clearly playing around with art styles to varying degrees of success. I really liked the way she works with lines and shapes in “Midori iro no Neko,” and the spots of red in “Suika” are used to interesting effect to tell a story about a doppelganger. But I was less enamoured with “Joker” and “Komori no Keifuku” which do that negative space, no outline thing with a lot of black and red for a weird sixties vibe (except for the very late nineties/early 2000s tribal tattoos and braids). These two stories are both told with narrative text around illustrations, so they feel more like picture book style stories than manga. 

Overall, Itsuka is a great chance to see some really interesting moments in the career of a great manga artist. Looking at where she’d been and where she was going makes me want even more work from her, and I hate that we don’t get to look forward to anything new anymore. Fortunately for me, coming to her work rather late, she has a large back catalogue for me to dig into, including a run at the late and great IKKI, which you know I’m excited about. It’s clearly time to order more books from Japan.  

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