Kokuhaku: Takemiya Keiko

After reading Shojo Manga no Uchu last year, I was interested in picking up some of the classic shojo SFF discussed in its pages, but sadly, so much of it is out of print or unavailable. Happily, brain favourite and shojo manga queen Takemiya Keiko is never out of print (probably. Don’t hold me to that. I haven’t checked on every story and book in her back catalogue), so I settled for grabbing the first volume of her SF short story collections, Kokuhaku, a bunkobon to my annoyance. The compact bunko format is maybe the worst for classic shojo, which is so busy and detailed with text and art. No need to shrink it down to nothing to give The Olds eye strain trying to read! 

The takeaway for this volume (after the eye strain) is pure vibes. The seven stories in the  collection technically have plots, but these tales are mostly about the feels. Because the stories themselves inspire questions like “how?” and “why is this happening?”, and the smaller details of what is going on aren’t really relevant. Takemiya is using science fiction to dig deep into psyches and emotions and relationships because this is shojo before it’s SF, and shojo demands feels. 

“Glass no Meiro” starts off with young Mamoru dancing in his room to his record player (the future still has records) when his congenital heart defect takes him down. His spirit (?) then travels to a random junior high where he recruits a group of eleven boys and girls to be his friends for some reason that we never get to know. (The number eleven is curious here if only because of Moto Hagio’s famed They Were Eleven! which was serialized in 1975, four years after “Glass no Meiro” was released. Hagio and Takemiya used to be friends and colleagues, so this made me wonder if there was something about the number eleven that they had discussed and both used. Or maybe just something in the cultural air at the time?) 

Mamoru is dashing and smart, and the eleven friends have no recollection of him being in their class, while all of their classmates do, making the whole thing very curious and extremely ambiguous. Who is this Mamoru? Why did he target these eleven kids? What does he want from them? As you may have guessed from the initial assessment of “pure vibes,” we never find out! They hang out, Mamoru’s mean to them, one of the friends calls him out, he runs away into the titular glass labyrinth. There’s a vibey moment at the end where they feel their feels at the sudden loss of the boy they didn’t know, and then Takemiya is ushering us into a strange part two to this tale, “Tobira wa hirakuiku tabimo.”

In this version of Mamoru’s life, he spent time at a hospital/sanitorium with other kids who got mechanical organ transplants. The surgeries worked out for those kids, but sadly, Mamoru’s heart is still a total disaster. He made friends with the others during his time in the hospital, though (despite the fact he explicitly has no friends in the “Glass Meiro” part of this tale), and acts out with one of those friends the relationship he sees when he travels back into the past every time he has one of his fits. None of it makes much sense or holds up to any kind of close interrogation. Takemiya is really appealing to the hearts of her readers, pulling on heartstrings and asking them to put themselves into the shoes of this poor sick and friendless boy, to dream the dreams he dreams. 

The next story is “Midnight Dream” from 1975, another vibesy story of a young man in a far-off future struggling with societal expectations. The world is so mechanical and structured, with everyone in their proper place, but he wants something more. He’s different, he’s alive in a world of robots. So when he spots a girl with that same vibrant spark, he feels compelled to go after her, even though the chase will lead him nowhere good. Only to a surprising twist ending in true pulp SF style. 

“Yoru wa Chinmoku no Toki” is a bit different from the other stories here, an old man looking back on his life when asked about his start as a “creator.” In this highly regimented world, only those specially designated as creators are allowed the freedom to dream and do whatever they want, but only on the condition that they renounce the everyday life of the “commons”, i.e., regular folks. This story’s particularly striking art-wise with lots of blacks and empty eyes and few dialogue balloons; Takemiya tells this story through the old man’s narration. 

The titular “Kokuhaku” is also set in a world of a dying human race with strict rules and no room for outsiders. Humans used to cover the entire planet, something that is entirely unthinkable now when they are concentrated in a few small towns and actively managed by sentient robots to prevent their total extinction. All humans are paired up with a member of the opposite sex at birth, and losing your pair to illness or accident is essentially a social death. Likewise if you’re unfortunate enough to be born a twin. Takemiya never explains how these births line up so neatly, but the way it’s described made me think of litters of puppies or cohorts of women being artificially inseminated at the same time or something. So the question becomes who are you and what do you do if you’re a single.

“Mirage” and “A Fairy Tale from 2763 A.D.” also play on these ideas on nonconformance in future worlds populated by robots where humanity is somehow on the decline. “Fairy Tale” is mostly interesting because it feels like Takemiya was trying to play around with her style. It was published in 1978, a full decade after her debut, so she should have been pretty settled art-wise, but the animated marionette has a real Disney feel to it that seemed jarring somehow. There’s also an essay by Nagai Go at the end of the collection, situating the stories in their time and place, a cool peek behind the curtain at the early seventies’ manga scene.

These stories all seem to share an underlying anxiety about going out into the world, about becoming an adult and losing the joy and magic of childhood. Takemiya takes us into the future with societies with robots and rigid rules, but the central premise of each story is the protagonist’s desire to be extraordinary, to be something more, to not be confined by the circumstances and the world that they are born into. Which is extremely relatable especially if you’re a girl who happens to be born into a sexist world where a “woman’s happiness” is getting married and popping out some babies. 

My one complaint with this volume is none of the original publication dates are included, making it hard to situate the work in Takemiya’s career. And given that the reprint I have dates to 2013, whatever editor put it together must have been entirely too aware of Takemiya’s legendary status and how valuable publication dates would be. Fortunately, thanks to Wikipedia, this is a small quibble. Takemiya brings us the feels and the vibes and the cute boys in these early SFF stories, and that’s really all a shojo fan could ask for. 

3 Comments

  1. You know my love for vintage shoujo, and Takemiya in particular. I don’t have this volume (and boo to most of the vintage titles still in print being indeed in bunkos–although I feel the need to point out that my fave Takemiya 80s work Spanish Harem still isn’t in print, though it should be part of her eventual digital complete works that has long been talked about I guess… Boo, digital only. Where was I? She was just so damn prolific–in a recent interview I posted she modestly claims that’s because she was a craftsperson not an artist, and would never turn down an offer)

    BUT among my spotty collection of Takemiya in dozens of books in different formats, *3* short story volumes (one from her 90s “Complete Works” set that at one point I actually thought I’d manage to collect all of) contain Midnight Dream–so I’ve always assumed it’s a particularly well regarded story?

    I also have a collection titled Mirage from 1986 that has 4 stories and does have the original serialization dates. According to it, Mirage was serialized in two parts–May 1984, and October 1985. It doesn’t give the magazine title (of course not) but it was a Hakusensha one–and I’m going to guess it was Lala which, along with Shogakukan’s Shoujo Comic, was known for more experimental work (and unlike Hagio who basically stuck with Shogakukan’s Shoujo Comic and in the 80s their proto-Josei, Petit Flower, Takemiya always points out in interviews that she refused to ever stick to just one publisher or magazine). I actually never looked at the date till now, but it *definitely* is Takemiya’s 1980s era style, which was a bit less ornate than the 70s work (which seemed to be the trend in general with shoujo). Hope that is *some* help as far as dates.

    Anyway, these short sci-fi works from Takemiya have always fascinated me–because of their length I’ve worked on translating them myself with a friend and did originally think I may be missing key plot points. But, as you say so perfectly, these works aren’t about the plot, they’re about the vibe (Takemiya and Hagio hate having their work compared–of course they do–but one similarity I’ve always notice is this tends to be true of their short works which are more like poems, or something, whereas their long works–notably KazeKi and Zankokuna Kami are plotted to the *hilt* but I suppose some would say that tends to be true of short stories v. novels anyway).

    “Takemiya takes us into the future with societies with robots and rigid rules, but the central premise of each story is the protagonist’s desire to be extraordinary, to be something more, to not be confined by the circumstances and the world that they are born into. Which is extremely relatable especially if you’re a girl who happens to be born into a sexist world where a “woman’s happiness” is getting married and popping out some babies. ”

    I think this paragraph perfectly sums up how I feel about these works–and why they mean so much to me, so thank you (while of course not the same, as a gay dude there growing up there is also the sense of how you would be able to fit into the expectations of societal roles–or at least that’s what I felt.)

    Anyway, great to see more Takemiya covered by you!

  2. Oh and meant to add Manatsu no Yoru no Yume is from 1975 and was one of several short works she did in Shoujo Comic between the serializations of Pharaoh no Haka there, and the start of KazeKi’s epic run (useless fun fact I recently found out–which switched over in 1980 to the new Petit Flower as its readers aged–a magazine editor Junya Yamamoto–who Rachel Thorn says is an honourary Year 24 member–called The Magazine that KazeKi Built.)

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