The Best of Japanese SF Comics: Fukui Kenta (ed.)

In case it wasn’t obvious, I am a pretty big fan of science fiction. Thanks to a science-fiction loving dad, I grew up reading the stuff, and while the older I get, the more Thoughts I have on the portrayal of women (among other things) in older sci-fi, I will still happily read Time Enough For Love again for the millionth time. I also love manga. (Maybe you’ve noticed?) So whenever these two loves come together, I am primed to throw large wads of cash at any nearby bookseller. I really enjoyed Shojo Manga no Uchu, but it left me wanting more. I wanted to read some of the stories described in its pages, not just the descriptions and histories. And then Japanese SF Comics was published late last year.

I don’t know how I came across it, but I’m glad I did. Although the title has big dreams, the ambitions of the actual book are much smaller. Rather than the actual best of all Japanese science-fiction manga (an impossible goal!), the focus is on a much smaller sub-section: the seventies, the so-called golden age of Japanese science-fiction manga. We’re introduced to stories by legends like Matsumoto Leiji and Moto Hagio, but I was also very happy to see people like Yamada Mineko and Sasaki Junko represented in the collection, two artists who were introduced in Shojo Manga no Uchu but whose work I had never read before. 

I’m happy to report that I like them very much! Yamada Mineko’s “Fuyu no Enban” is a slow-burn SF, in the sense that the science fiction part doesn’t show up until quite late in the story. So I spent quite a while wondering why this shojo story about a jaded rich boy was part of a best SF collection. But then the person jaded rich boy hits with his car turns out to be a time cop from the future. Yamada goes hard when she gets there. This story was the first of what would become the popular Armageddon series, and now I want to read that series. Good thing I’m going back to Japan at long last! Time to go digging through secondhand bookshops! (Wild aside: Researching Yamada while writing this, I discovered that she made her debut in the rental manga era, publishing books with the company friend-of-my-brain Tatsumi Yoshihiro ran way back in the day. Manga really is the smallest world.) 

A few of the stories in this volume are connected with longer works in a similar way, like Tezuka’s contribution, “Atom no Saigo”—the end of Astroboy. Astroboy’s been unpowered and on display in a robot museum for the last fifty years when a Bonnie and Clyde type pair bust in and bust Astroboy out because they need his help. Takahashi Yosuke’s “Miruku ga Neji wo Mawasu”, a surreal story about a little girl who literally winds up the world to keep it going, gave birth to Kaito Miruku. The prequel to “Densetsu—Miraikei”, “Juma” by Mizuki Wakako is a fascinatingly bizarre tale that involves full-body prostheses, spaceships, climate change, and alien beings beyond human comprehension. It’s a lot, but somehow it all works together to create a moving portrait of a future where we actually act on threats to the survival of our species. 

Of course, I love Takemiya Keiko’s entry here, “Jirubesuta no Hoshi Kara.” Tonio is a smart and ambitious kid, dreaming of becoming a space pilot when he encounters an astral projection (???) of a young, androgynous person from a plant thirty thousand light years away, and the entire course of his life changes. But the real stand-out in this collection for me is “Lydia no Sumu Jikan” by Sasaki Junko.

Zeb is driving through the mountains when a girl jumps in front of his car, forcing him to swerve off the road. The girl throws herself into his arms, like he is her long-lost best friend, but he knows he’s never seen her before. She takes him home with her, and he meets her family, all women who look curiously like the girl, Bea. I won’t reveal the twists and turns this one takes because they are a delight to experience, but I will say that I’ve never come across a time-travel tale quite like this one. I was curious about Sasaki’s work before, but now I’m actively excited to read more of it. 

The book is pretty great as a reference. The stories are in chronological order, so we can see how science fiction changed in manga over the decade covered here. Every story is followed by an overview of the artist, a glimpse at their other significant works, and information about the publication of the story in the collection, including the year and magazine name. And in case you miss that information in the profiles, there’s a page at the very end of the book that lists the initial publication information of all of the stories. 

Editor Fukui also has a lengthy essay at the end of the book, which I assumed would give extra context like the situation in Japan at the time these stories were published or why the seventies was such a golden age for science fiction in manga. But alas, much like the essays in Shojo Manga no Uchu, it is merely an extremely long, chronological list of science fiction manga from the late thirties all the way up to 2019. So if you’re trying to find your next science fiction read, it might be helpful, but if you’re looking to contextualize the work Fukui handpicked for you to read, well, not so much. I’m still extremely curious as to what sparked the shojo manga interest in science fiction in this period, so if you know of any papers looking at this, let me know! I’m a university instructor now—I have JSTOR access! 

3 Comments

  1. It makes me so so happy to see some recognition for Junko Sasaki in English ;__;. She is such a criminally underrated classic shojo manga creator. Her magnum opus, Dark Green, is one of my all time favorites! (I even chose to translate a few parts for a university final project haha.) I have yet to read the short story here, but if it piqued your interest, I highly recommend checking out her other works!!

    1. Thanks for pointing out Sasaki’s magnum opus! I’m definitely interested reading more of Sasaki’s work, so I will check this one out. (I hope you get your translation published at some point!)

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