The Manga Movable Feast: 2 tastes of Fumi Yoshinaga

August 21st, 2011

The pieces for my contribution to this month’s Manga Movable Feast — focusing on the works of Fumi Yoshinaga — started falling into place around 11:30 p.m. Friday, about two-thirds of the way into reading All My Darling Daughters.

I already did have a few thoughts on what I wanted to cover, of course. The fact that this month’s MMF is being hosted by a very enthusiastic Kristin Bomba over at Comic Attack has to be mentioned. Just look at the essays she posted as part of link summaries from days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 for proof. My brain screams for mercy these days whenever it tries to gather coherent thoughts for more than one post a week, so generating that much material over the span of a week is an accomplishment worth applauding.

An essay on Yoshinaga also ought to mention the series that have garnered so much praise among the manga bloggerati and beyond in recent years, like Antique Bakery, Flower of Life and Ooku: The Inner Chambers. But I wasn’t going to have time to start in on those series (although I’d love to sometime in the future … man, that’s becoming a recurring theme in these MMF essays, isn’t it? Ahh, lack of free time … the enemy of innovators everywhere.) The only time I did have was to read two of her single-volume efforts, Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! and All My Darling Daughters.

Save for the fact that both were written by Yoshinaga, it seemed nigh impossible at the outset to reconcile the two in one post, something that I really wanted to do to save time (not to mention that precious brainpower mentioned earlier).

On the one hand, there’s Not Love But Delicious Foods, a manga that I’m tempted to rename “Foodie Yoshinaga’s Manga Guide to Fabulous Food Places Around Her Neighborhood That You’ll Probably Never Be Able To Go To Yourself Unless You Can Afford A Trip To Japan.” (Try fitting that on a book cover, though.)

The book recounts epicurean excursions that Yoshinaga herself boys’ love manga artist F-mi Y-naga goes on with friends, colleagues and live-in assistant S-hara. It’s not something you want to read on an empty stomach — the relationships and personalities of the characters depicted within are largely defined by a salted and fried young ayu served atop knot grass here, a dish of liver sashimi that ought to be taken one piece at a time and rolled in grated garlic and chives before eating there, and parfaits and sundaes and fluffy springy bread bowls filled with cheddar cheese as a topper. Restaurants are mapped out with meticulous notes — for instance, did you know that Pierre Marcolini Ginza, open Mondays to Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays and holidays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and just a minute’s walk away from Ginza Station, serves lovely 1,680-yen parfaits and hot chocolate that’s quite filling? Well, now you do, and you’ll get to know about 14 other eateries by the end of this 162-page book as well.

On the other hand, there’s All My Darling Daughters, a collection of stories about the lives and loves of young men and women that appear at first glance to be unrelated. But there’s a common thread, albeit invisible in some places: Each of the featured characters has some link to Yukiko Kisaragi, an office worker on the brink of turning 30 who is still living with her mom, Mari, at the beginning of the book. That doesn’t last for long, though; a cancer diagnosis convinces Mari that she ought to live her life however she wants going forward, so she goes out and marries Ken, a former host club host/present aspiring actor who’s three years younger than Yukiko. By the end of the first chapter, Yukiko’s committed to moving out, not only convinced that Ken’s trying to con her mom somehow but also feeling a bit hurt that he’s muscling in on the monopoly of love she had enjoyed with her mom all those years.

But at the point that you start thinking, “Ooh! This sounds like an interesting story! I want to know what happens next,” Yoshinaga’s lens shifts to Yukiko’s circle of friends/coworkers, each of who have compelling things going on in their lives as well. There’s the teaching assistant who has a student throwing herself at him, willing to do all manner of sexual favors for him; the young woman who keeps going into arranged-marriage meetings and liking her prospective partners before abruptly breaking off the arrangement because he’s always “too good for her”; and Yukiko’s friends from middle school whose lives ended up different from what they had envisioned when they were younger. Yet by the time Yoshinaga finally shifts her focus back to Yukiko, we’ve seen enough bits and pieces of her life going on in the background of the other stories to be able to pick up her story again without skipping a beat.

Great books, both of them. Yet as I was enjoying my reading, the problem I mentioned earlier persisted in the back of my mind: How could I write one post that could hit upon the common strength of both books? And then there was something else that managed to wedge itself into my subconscious, something that Kristin wrote in her introductory post:

Not every fan may recognize Fumi Yoshinaga’s name, though if you do not, I hope this week encourages you to seek out her work. Yoshinaga is not a mainstream American manga creator. She is mostly beloved by the manga blogging community, a critical darling on many websites. Unfortunately (VERY unfortunately), this does not transfer to sales figures like it should.

I can vouch for this phenomenon. I picked up Not Love But Delicious Foods based on all the rave reviews it was getting from the bloggerati, but for the casual — dare we call them “mainstream?” — manga reader, it was definitely a harder sell. I remember its constant presence in the dying days of the Waikele branch of Borders, a single copy sitting forlorn and all but forgotten on the shelf, its neighbors constantly shifting as the percentage-off values steadily grew. (I can’t recall the exact percentage where it finally disappeared, but I think it was sometime during the second half of the sale.) Ooku volumes were also shelf-sitters in that sale. And when I bought All My Darling Daughters — separately, not in a clearance-sale setting — I don’t remember many copies of that sitting on the shelf, either. So why do we manga bloggers love these books that most people aren’t picking up, no matter how many good things we say about it?

Both of those thoughts floated around in my mind as I continued to read All My Darling Daughters. And then — as I mentioned at the beginning of this post — it all came together for me about two-thirds of the way through that book.

A bit of background: The story I was reading at the time was the one about Yukiko’s middle school friends whose lives ended up different from what they had envisioned. One of those friends, Yuko, insisted that she would work in a private-sector job until she could retire, saying things like, “It’s still hard for women in the workplace. Women who enter it now will make it easier for the ones who come later,” and “When it comes to housework or raising children, men only want to ‘help.’ Even if you’re both working, unless you ask, they won’t do anything.” The other, Saeki, once said her goal in life was just to work, so she could determine her own life and make enough to support herself. As the chapter progresses, we first see the friends broken up — Yukiko goes to a high school different from the one Yuko and Saeki attend — and then we gradually see the goals and wills of Yuko and Saeki broken down as they grow older.

As I followed the pair’s slow, sad decline, I realized: There’s a certain maturity and grace in the way Yoshinaga handles this scene and others in the books I read, carrying a natural flow that builds to a believable climax. The method carries the feeling that, yeah, this could happen in real life, and yeah, we can empathize with what’s going on with these characters. It’s not all serious drama, though — in other parts of All My Darling Daughters, and certainly in the self-deprecating way she renders F-mi Y-naga in Not Love But Delicious Foods, she’ll add a dash of humor to spice up things a bit.

It’s in that way that Yoshinaga’s works end up appealing to those who appreciate more mature themes in their manga, built for an audience perhaps a bit older than the “teen/young adult” sweet-spot demographic much of the industry tends to target these days. (You know, people like us older bloggers.) Somehow I doubt Yoshinaga will ever gain a mass following of fans like, say, CLAMP or Rumiko Takahashi, but you know what? Quality will always trump quantity.

And quality — like the chrysanthemum petal tea that Y-naga and her friend enjoy at one point — tastes quite refreshing and has a sweet fragrance, too.

4 Responses to “The Manga Movable Feast: 2 tastes of Fumi Yoshinaga”

  1. Kris:

    Thank you for your entry, Jason. I love it! The story of the poor little copy of Not Love But Delicious Foods on the bookshelf made me quite sad. I enjoyed it, as a hard core Yoshinaga fan, but I don’t see its appeal outside of that sector (or of serious foodies), so I was very surprised to find it licensed. Thrilled, but surprised. Not to mention, someone seeking it out as a restaurant guide to Tokyo may find it’s slightly dated, as it was published over 5 years ago. With the way the economy has been, there’s no telling what has happened to those places over five years.

  2. Manga Moveable Feast: Fumi Yoshinaga August 2011:

    [...] Jason S. Yadao from Otaku Ohana – Two Tastes of Fumi Yoshinaga (All My Darling Daughters, Not Love But Delicious Foods…) [...]

  3. Manga Moveable Feast: That’s A Wrap:

    [...] Otaku Ohana (via Star Advertiser in Honolulu, Hawaii), Jason S. Yadao posts his thoughts on Not Love But Delicious Foods… and All My Darling [...]

  4. Otaku Ohana - Hawaii News -

    [...] slowly sank into the oblivion of bankruptcy liquidation sales. Those same emptying shelves on which Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! languished for so long held on to another series deep into the sale as well: two volumes of Museum [...]

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