Ichi Nichi Ni Kai: Ikuemi Ryo

My career has taken many strange turns and taken me to many strange places—the back of a camel in the desert with a famed mystery author, for instance—but perhaps the most utterly random, completely out of the blue turn was when a Japanese culture magazine got in touch with me and asked if they could interview me about Ikuemi Ryo for a special they were doing on her. Turns out there’s not a lot of writing in English about Ikuemi (unsurprising given that she has yet to be published in English), and when they were looking for someone to talk to about how Ikuemi’s work is perceived abroad, they found my post about Anata no Koto wa Sore Hodo. The world is a small and weird place. 

Because of this curious encounter, Ikuemi’s been a bit more on my radar than she otherwise might have been. So when I came across her latest series, Ichi Nichi, I decided to have it sent to me across the vast ocean by my postal pal in Japan. We had worked out a nice system for keeping me supplied with books and other necessities from my second homeland, and then Japan Post went and ruined it all with their cessation of parcel post to Canada. I can’t even get a package on a ship that will take six months crossing the ocean to me. It’s not great. Fortunately, this title came out before the Great Postal Lockdown and arrived in small-package time to entertain me in my pandemic isolation. 

But the book that arrived in that original package was somehow volume two of the series. I’m normally quite careful about ordering the first volume when starting a new series, but maybe my pandemic brain was confused by the title and took volume two to be volume one. At any rate, when I went to read it, I realized my mistake and had to put in another order, which made its sinuous way through land and air to me just before the Great Postal Lockdown. The lengths I made myself go to for this book!

Ichi Nichi is a nice addition to my favourite of the josei genres: older ladies getting their shit sorted. Of course, by “older”, I mean “over thirty”. Most manga is focussed on the kids (I am an Old; anyone under thirty is a kid to me), so I always love to see the Tired Generation represented. Remi is thirty-nine and living with her mom and her daughter after the death of her husband. So she’s back in the neighbourhood where she grew up just in time for the boy next door, Toki, to move back too, after an awkward divorce. 

He was in one of those marriages that we don’t really have in North America. Or at least we don’t formalize this sort of marriage in the same way. His wife was the only child of a prominent business owner, so he married into the family, taking on his wife’s last name, and was being groomed to take over the business eventually. Except no babies came from their union, which is the kiss of death for the adopted husband-son. And so divorce and the shameful return to his parents. 

Toki and Remi grew up together, have known each other their whole lives, and after a few years apart, they find themselves living next to each other once more on similar life trajectories. They pick up where they left off with an affectionate disdain on the part of Remi and the same old desperate sobbing of their childhood from Toki. The story jumps between present and past, showing us their younger days and the integral part they’ve played in each other’s lives. The present is often spent grappling with that past they shared as they try to find a way forward alone together in their new realities. 

I’ll say right now that if these two end up getting together, I will rage-throw the book across the room. This just isn’t that kind of series, and it would feel like a real betrayal if Ikuemi took that easy way out. (At volume two, anyway. Maybe she will gently nudge the story in that direction so that it eventually makes sense for them to hook up.) This is more about two grown-ups with lived experience and certain expectations of how their lives would proceed having all those expectations upended, and now they’re trying to figure out how to cope with that, which is a thing pretty much all of us of a certain age can relate to. I love that Ikuemi is examining this place where we need to step back and reassess, and look to our communities to hold us up while we get back on our feet. 

She is as masterful a storyteller as always, with a single look conveying so much information. Remi’s half-lidded eyes especially tell us so much about her annoyance and love for Toki and his crybaby ways. Her panelling is so often cinematic, conveing everything we need to know about a scene without a single word. And the way Remi looks at Toki and her future husband are both full of love in different ways. Ikuemi’s command of her artistic expression is honestly impressive. 

So few josei titles are translated into English, so I know there is little hope of this one making it to these shores. But it would be such a refreshing change from the teenage/child protagonists of ninety percent of the manga released in English to get one more book of adults dealing with adult stuff, like Brain favourite Otona ni Natte Mo. Japan understands that readers don’t have to “age out” of manga, and in fact, the publishing industry ensures that readers don’t age out by providing them with something like this to move onto the next phase of their life with. I only wish the English industry would take note and try to court adult readers in a similar fashion. (Yes, I know josei doesn’t sell. Yes, I am bitter about it.)

1 Comment

  1. Is the Great Postal Lockdown still happening here in Canada? I’m honestly curious–during the pandemic I had been getting some packages ordered through Mandarake and Amazon Japan fine, but they both currently are only using DHL for shipping (which honestly if you buy enough things at once amounts to not a huge amount in shipping all things considered, but if you’re just buying a few things is hard to justify the shipping cost). But, I have a friend who had several packages of wonderful classic 60s and 70s shoujo she wanted to send me (she grew up and lives in Nagasaki) and she tried several times last year–including in December–and told me each time they told her that due to the pandemic she couldn’t ship to Canada. However since late January she has sent me several packages by standard air and while one took six weeks to arrive, there has apparently been no issue.

    This sounds fascinating, and not just because over the past two years I have moved back in with my mom and have a childhood friend (who was teaching in Shanghai pre Covid) who has moved back in with her mom here in Victoria, so we’ve reconnected a lot over the past while. And the art is just what I like.

    Excuse the tangent (a tangent from me??) but you bring up the good point (and one I know we’ve discussed briefly on Twitter) that:

    “But it would be such a refreshing change from the teenage/child protagonists of ninety percent of the manga released in English to get one more book of adults dealing with adult stuff, like Brain favourite Otona ni Natte Mo. Japan understands that readers don’t have to “age out” of manga, and in fact, the publishing industry ensures that readers don’t age out by providing them with something like this to move onto the next phase of their life with. I only wish the English industry would take note and try to court adult readers in a similar fashion. (Yes, I know josei doesn’t sell. Yes, I am bitter about it.)”

    And, I’m wondering if there’s actually now some hope of this changing. I can remember in the mid 2000s manga boom, ever optimistic (opportunistic?) TokyoPop with their relatively huge success with shoujo, made a concentrated effort to put out josei works. In their marketing of their choices they were trying to tap into a “chicklit” (I’m sorry for using that term) market and showing this as a hip new way to read those works–stuff like Suppli by Mari Okazaki (which I think was serialized in Feel Young mag) and 6 slightly related Erika Sakurazawa works. So now at 40 these choices still feel quite young, being mostly about women in their 20s dealing with the post undergrade life which feels a lifetime away, but at the time I was the perfect age and they were refreshing compared to anything else on the market (particularly Sakurazawa’s work, which I haven’t revisited to see how it holds up.)

    By all accounts it was an utter disaster (Suppli never even finished). And I think the obvious reason is they were appealing to a market that mostly wasn’t there. There simply weren’t (mostly women–) at that time who had grown up reading manga and now wanted to also read manga that had 20 year old women protagonists reflecting their own age (and maybe experience).

    More recently Harlequin romance released an entire website to online versions of some of their past titles, as adapted by shoujo mangaka. I think these were first for the Japanese market, and most of the mangaka chosen were unknown to me, but they included some genuine classic shoujo mangaka,notably perhaps the first really important shoujo mangaka, Masako Watanabe who had her first manga published in *1949* at the age of 20, and was also notable for pioneering “erotic ladies’ comics” in the early 80s. I read some of the sample pages of one of several Harlequin comics she had on the site (here’s the manga updates listing for Jack Riorden’s Baby which from what I can tell is from an old school Harlequin and it read as much with frankly artwork not up to Watanabe’s best https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=54570 ). The site recently closed, but it also raised the question as to who they were targeting–as the (admittedly stereotypical) reader of these rather tame, older Harlequin novels would mostly never want to read the story as a manga, and probably would find it even hard just to get into the manga visual language that most of us fans either grew up with or have had decades of experience with.

    HOWEVER (I do have a point!) two weeks back I gave a panel at the annual PCA/ACA (an academic Popular Culture/American Culture conference). Virtually, of course. My panel was in the serialized storytelling section (where I had done a kinda now embarrassing panel some years back about the impact of Hideko Mizuno’s Fire! on shoujo manga due partly because it was serialized in 1969 not in a shoujo manga magazine but in the older targeted fashion magazine Seventeen–back when all shoujo manga targeted young girls). It wasn’t on comics–it was on a 2 year gay teen male storyline on All My Children in the mid 90s (I was an addict) and its impact, especially on a genre that still saw as its ideal target demo being 18-49 year old women. ANYWAY–it went well. But I also made a point of attending every panel I could find that related to comics, manga, or anime.

    And what came up time and time again–not so much in the panels but in discussion afterwards, was just how many teen girls now read manga. This wasn’t exactly news to me–my 12 year old niece through no influence by me (I swear!) out of the blue became a manga reading addict as is everyone in her large group of friends, and teacher friends have mentioned just how many students around that age (and not by any means just the stereotypical comic book geeks I mostly remember) just constantly seem to have a manga to pull out and read.

    Art Spiegelman, of all people, who was the guest speaker brought this up. Mentioning how one barrier that’s always existed in the past with his books like Maus is that many adults who don’t grow up reading comics simply don’t have the visual vocabulary to comfortably pick up a long form comic and read it (and from my own experience I’ve tried to get my mom to read some manga that I know, at least plot and character wise, she would *love* and she just finds it too difficult to mentally interpret the visuals). Art pointed out that he had been told and seen some evidence of this changing now that, and he said largely due to manga, so many more kids and teens grow up reading long form comics (and yeah, I know this can be argued to not be a new thing with kids in western culture, but it does seem to be with manga, at least on this scale). And this was what everyone seemed to be saying in discussions on a variety of related panels. *Everyone*. (And yeah, the academics at PCA are, at least speaking for myself, on the geeky side, but they were talking about their experiences as teachers, etc.)

    So (now I get to the point I wanted to make). We have a generation of readers, a large percentage of them being girls, who don’t have to “age out” of reading manga–it’s become a natural part of how they consume entertainment and surely for a lot of them that means not just reading about teens for the rest of their years if they want a manga fix. Whereas in 2005 with Erika Sakurazawa Tokyo Pop was trying to appeal to a market that simply wasn’t there (why would or should a university age woman who loves reading Marian Keyes want to give this manga a shot when she could just read more actual books appealing to her). And, of course, you still had to find a way to get these non comic/manga readers into a comic book store, and to notice these books, that the store probably didn’t carry anyway, which also is no longer the case (my niece didn’t even KNOW Victoria had a comic book store–she buys all her manga at book shops).

    Surely this is the right time for Western publishers to start building up the market that josei would appeal to? The most serious attempts in the past have courted a manga reading audience that wasn’t established, or else have gone after the established indie/art comic audience which wasn’t a natural fit either. But we now genuinely have a youth culture that is growing up used to reading manga, and finding it as natural as reading a novel (if not more so).

    But I guess most publishers still don’t seem to know how to tap into this (though things are improving). I remember ten years back when the anime of Kids on the Slope came out, based on the top selling josei manga (by Yuki Kodama, which ran for five years in Monthly Flowers) and it baffled me that Viz didn’t attempt to make that a thing. The tv anime did fairly well in N America and had a big geeky name connection–this was the first manga adaptation by Shinichirō Watanabe (creator and director of Cowboy Bebop, etc)–and, though a historical manga about high school and college kids into jazz, it seemed an easy crossover title. Plus Flowers is Shogakukan who still had strong ties to Viz. But I was told Viz constantly turned down pitches to translate the title as something that would never sell.

    There is some hope. Vertical tried their own line of josei manga releases about ten years back, including Asumiko Nakamura’s brilliant Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist (which I think *technically* is seinen but they listed as josei)–this was before Nakamura picked up a following here due to Classmates, of course–and it’s a completely different work, but it has at least remained in print. However, I was told their goal was to anchor their josei works by releasing Kyoko Okazaki’s best known titles–starting with Pink and Helter Skelter. These also seem to be still in print, but sold poorly enough to end any future volumes–even after announcing the upcoming release of River’s Edge (which was a fave of mine back then–having read it in French, of course…) And now they’ve announced that River’s Edge, a decade later, IS coming out from them later this year.

    And now I’m just rambling. I guess my thought was in the past English manga publishers didn’t really have a strong enough market of josei targeted manga readers to make it work. After all even in Japan, josei wasn’t a thing until the 1980s. Famous “Year 24” editor Junya Yamamoto created Petit Flower (which for whatever reason at some point morphed into Flowers) in 1980 specifically because he realized that there now had been a steady shoujo readership who was “aging up” and out of his Shoujo Comic that he could appeal to, with the initial dual idea of taking Takemiya’s KazeKino away from Sho-Comi, where people felt it was becoming way too mature for anyway, and moving it to the new magazine, as well as allowing Moto Hagio (as well as others) to write about young adult protagonists (her great MESH started in 1980 in PF). If he had tried to launch PF just a few years earlier, arguably it would have failed because there hadn’t been enough josei age readers who had grown up with the manga habit to make it work. I think a similar time might (fingers crossed?) be finally arriving here…

    *end of essay* 😉

    Anyway, thanks for as always your thoughtful reviews that cause me to go into my own thoughts/rants.

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