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.)