Lunacy: Ishitsuyo Natsuko

We’re here! We did it! We’re finally at the end of The Longest Year: Part Two! Congratulations, friends. We’re marching into 2022, vaxxed and maybe even boosted! Here’s hoping that The Longest Year is not actually a trilogy! I don’t think I can stand another winter in Canada. I will simply freeze into a permanent block of ice that even the most powerful summer sun will be unable to melt. 

What better way to end a year full of madness than with a book titled Lunacy? Especially when that book is penned by Brain favourite Ishitsuyo Natsuko. You may remember her from a certain publishing project I did with the Beguiling. From the moment I first spotted her debut work Majutsushi A, I was smitten. Ishitsuyo mixes magic and sexuality and commerce in some really fascinating ways in that book, and then doubled down on all of that in her first long-form work Amazoness Kiss. Which was a wild ride that included a sex club mini-golf showdown. Naturally, I eagerly awaited her next book. 

And then I found out that next book was not being serialized with Torch, as her work thus far had been, but in the Kodansha literary magazine Shosetsu Gendai. This actually makes a lot of sense to me since Ishitsuyo’s work is more on the literary side of the manga spectrum, but I can’t imagine what faithful Shosetsu readers thought when they happened upon this particular blend of capitalism and spirituality. I wondered, though, if being published by one of the big publishers would dilute Ishitsuyo’s essential weirdness. And indeed, it starts off like any number of mainstream manga: in high school, with someone being bullied. But the woman who brought us Women’s Masturbation Monthly would never deliver something so mundane as a mere tale of school bullies. 

Luna walks into her classroom after gym class to find her underpants hanging from the blackboard, like always. She yanks them down and pulls them on right then and there, in the front of the classroom, which both her classmate/neighbour/aspiring novelist Subaru and I gaped at. Just this one act tells us so much about the kind of character Luna is. Imagine being so unconcerned about the fact that your classmates keep stealing your underpants and displaying them for all to see that you would simply pull them down and put them on in full view of all those classmates. We soon learn that this weird confidence and the reason she gets bullied are one and the same: Luna is a child of god. 

Her grandmother runs a moxibustion clinic, and Luna practices her craft on her nerdier classmates. But with a special twist. Her moxa is made with the blood of a virgin—yes, her own menstrual blood. And it has the power to remedy almost any ill, thanks to the blessing her blood has received from the god of fire. Or so she tells class hottie Kensho when a package of the stuff falls out of her pen case and he mistakes it for pot. Rather than being deeply weirded out, he asks if it works for constipation. (And here, again, I must wonder what is going on with J-folks that they are so troubled by constipation. This and anemia constantly show up in all kinds of media. Please, J-folks, each your veg! And maybe double up on the spinach.) So Luna gives him an impromptu demonstration, and thus a lucrative business relationship is born!

Art-wise, this has a bit more of a mainstream feel, and I really emphasize that “bit more”. It feels like there is more use of tone and a little less hand-drawn detail, especially all that lovely cross-hatching we see in Majutsushi A, but that fits very nicely with the story and the high school setting, like Ishitsuyo is borrowing some tropes from more standard entries in the school manga genre. Maybe the most surprising thing is the lack of anything explicitly sexual, apart from some moxibustion-related nudity. It’s chaste by the standards of Ishitsuyo’s previous work. But Luna’s powers, both business and spiritual, hinge on the fact that she is a virgin and can never fall in love. This last bit is tested in this volume, and Luna is punished for her overreach. So perhaps we can look forward to business-related smuttiness in future volumes. 

Ishitsuyo really drills down on the occultness of business in this series. Success directly hinges on the right moxibustion session and correctly worshipping the proper god. It’s like she’s seeing right through all the window dressing on capitalism and pointing out that it’s just a man wearing a sheet, like an episode of Scooby-Doo. None of this is real! It’s only real because we choose to believe it is. Which is the interesting part of the story. Why do we choose to believe in money and making it? And how can we leverage these beliefs to our advantage? No answers yet in these pages, but Ishitsuyo is asking some interesting questions by poking around in the fringes of “manifesting” our desires. 

Yes, the story is bonkers. And yes, I can’t wait for volume two. Especially since the whole thing is framed by a very brief prologue of a lawyer visiting Luna in jail and bringing her a copy of a biography of Luna written by that same aspiring novelist Subaru. Who knows where this rollercoaster will take us! 

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