Welcome to Day 5 of the Manga Moveable Feast celebrating Fumi Yoshinaga! Today I’m going to highlight some favorite picks. I’m completely unable to separate out favorite titles by Yoshinaga, so instead I’m going to talk about my favorite characters. That’s a much easier list to make, and I’ll have a blast making it. There will definitely be arguments over one of my picks, judging by some reviews I’ve seen this week, but maybe I can change some minds.
Arikoto (Ōoku: The Inner Chambers )
This handsome monk, who is blessed with great patience and compassion, is dragged against his will into the Inner Chambers of Edo Castle. To force this humble man of high birth to break his Buddhist vows and become a concubine of the Shogun, the Senior Chamberlain of the Inner Chambers, the Reverend Kasuga, violently slays one of Arikoto’s attendants and forces him to lie with a woman or have the deaths continue. Not wanting anyone else to die for him, Arikoto painfully consents and beds a woman, thus revoking his priestly vows. When he is brought into the Inner Chambers some time later, he is met with a petulant Shogun, a girl about sixteen years of age. With seemingly unlimited patience, and an immense capacity for understanding, Arikoto gently deals with the intensely lonely Chie, realizing that her life has been filled with tragedy and pain. The monk who wanted to reach out and change the world, to provide succor for all those in need, found that though such a path was cut off from him, that he could still help one who was in need – the Shogun Iemitsu, Lady Chie. Under Arikoto’s guidance, Chie eventually matures and becomes a strong woman, and the two even fall deeply in love. However, it is Arikoto’s duty to get the Shogun with child, and he proves unable to do so. As a result, the two lovers are forced apart, and Arikoto is made to stand by and allow other men to bed Chie for the sake of the country. Even until the end, when Arikoto can take no more and removes himself from Chie’s bedchambers permanently, they remain in love, and Arikoto watches over her in his way, and then over her child upon Chie’s death. It’s one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read, and it’s handled with great care by Yoshinaga. The story arc involving Chie and Arikoto also provides one of the most heartbreaking moments in any manga I’ve read. Arikoto, pained at having to put Chie in the hands of a man other than himself, takes his sword and destroys the inner walls of his room, too prideful to attack the front walls and allow others to know how tortured he is.
Ah, forgive me. Before I move on to my next character, I need to wipe away a few tears.
Kai Majima (Flower of Life)
You read that right. I like Majima. Half the time, Majima is an arrogant jerk, the rest of the time he’s a self-centered jerk. Yet surprisingly he has remarkable moments of maturity and understanding. Yoshinaga is clear that even someone so dark and twisted can have his heart as easily hurt or broken as anyone else. And it does get broken. There’s some humanity in him, though it’s hard to find, and it’s difficult to hate the guy when you watch his heart get torn out and stomped on. What really harms Majima is his complete lack of any social graces. As a hardcore otaku, he embodies many of the associated stereotypes, including applying manga clichés to real life situations, reading manga and art books right in the middle of class, talking ad nauseam about his hobby, and having no social skills what-so-ever. So why do I like him? Well, for one, he’s hilarious. He’s also such a stark contrast to those around him, who are striving to form defining friendships and are growing in maturity together. Majima’s journey happens in near total seclusion, as he lives much of his life. Yet, to be friends with the lovable bundle of joy that is Shota Mikuni, Majima can’t be all bad. When no one else would give Shota the time of day, Majima allowed Shota into his world, however bizarrely. In a weird, and absurdly aggressive, fashion, he encourages Sumiko Takeda’s manga aspirations, even though he certainly has ulterior motives. His actions do directly lead to Takeda’s inclusion into the main group of friends in the series; before, she was a loner and very shy about her manga creations. She blossoms quite a bit after the rather forceful way Majima initially drags her into everything. Then, of course, there’s his rather bizarre relationship with the gang’s homeroom teacher, Shigeru Saito. In a weird way, he helps Saito out of a bad relationship with a married teacher, which allows her to step back and examine her life up until that point. He does several helpful things, though usually unintentionally. Or…maybe not. His relationship with Saito sort of smacks him over the head with reality, and pulls him out of his 2-D world. He’s typically a total jerk, but he’s still human, and he awkwardly goes about things the only way he knows how, in a blunt and often brutal manner. But Majima is Majima, and he has a tender young heart just like all the others, which will blossom if he can convert himself over to the real world.
See? Even Majima can be a hero sometimes. Although, he did make sure he got a free dinner out of it….
Yusuke Ono (Antique Bakery)
Well, first of all, he’s a megane (glass wearing) character. That’s almost all that’s necessary for me. He’s also tall and cool looking. And talented. He can serve me cake (and, erm, anything else he wants) any day of the week. Alas, he’s gay, and terrified of women, so my chances are essentially nil. (He’s also a fictional character, Kris.) But a girl can dream, can’t she? Dream all day long…. Ahem. Sorry about that! Ono is a very charming, but also very complex, character. He’s also great for a laugh. He’s either timid and elegant, or suave and oozing with sex appeal. Which are completely opposite states, but Ono embodies them both. By day, he’s an exquisite pastry chef, and by night he is the Gay of Demonic Charm, capable of seducing any man, whether gay or straight, that he sets his eyes on. He’s also had a rather traumatizing past (though it’s not as dark as Tachibana’s), having caught his mother sleeping with his teacher (whom he was in love with), been brutally rejected by someone he loved, treated poorly by the man he followed across the world to be with, chased out of job after job because of the fights his co-workers would get into over him…. Yet despite the trouble that seems to follow behind his every step, Ono is cheerful and relatively easy going (in a gentle way, not a lazy way), and puts his entire being into the delicious foods he creates. He takes Eiji Kanda under his wing and teaches him everything he knows, guiding him with a firm yet gentle hand toward becoming a first class pastry chef. But it’s his relationship with Chikage that brings out both the best and worst in Ono. At times, he can barely control his desires for the awkward man, and he can be quite cruel in his attempts to pursue him. When Tachibana slaps him hard across the face for hurting Chikage, it’s no more than he deserves for his careless actions. Yet he also shows Chikage incredible kindness, even overcoming his own insecurities when he sees the gentle man begin to have a nervous breakdown when the two suddenly have to take over the store front.
That’s the most inviting invitation to dance I’ve ever seen. It would certainly get me out into the rain with hardly a second thought.
Taka-Aki Tohdou (Ichigenme…The First Class is Civil Law)
And last but not least, the delightful Tohdou from not only one of Yoshinaga’s best works, but one of the best yaoi titles out there. In contrast to many characters of his ilk, Tohdou is patient with his love for classmate Tamiya. He never forces himself on Tamiya, and waits patiently for the other man to get comfortable with him before making any real moves. He’s incredibly kind and gentle with Tamiya, in their friendship, in their relationship, and in the bedroom. He’s careful not to rush Tamiya, even waiting seven whole years to have full on sex with him for the second time. Talk about patience. He’s a good friend, doing what he can to avoid dragging Tamiya into his problems, and he’s a good lover, devoting himself to Tamiya’s happiness. What he wants above all is a life of happiness with Tamiya, and he won’t let anyone drag him in a different direction. He’s also a good person in general. As the rich son of a politician, it would be so easy for Tohdou to be a spoiled, lazy, useless sort of fellow. Instead, although he is rather lax in his law studies, he breaks away from his father and sets out on his own, pursuing his own path under his own effort. His time in law school doesn’t paint him in the best light, but once he’s doing what he wants to do, rather than what his father wants him to do, he pushes forward with gusto. He’s also great comedic relief, particularly when he’s floundering in his relationship with Tamiya (who has trouble expressing his true emotions) and has to ask his coworkers and his younger brother for advice. Also, he starts wearing glasses in the second volume, which makes me a gleeful fangirl.
Poor Tamiya…. It’s OK, Tohdou will make you feel all better.
And now for your daily link round up!
Michelle Smith, at Soliloquy in Blue, talks about being engaged with the cast of characters in Flower of Life, and the lessons that can be learned from their growth throughout the story.
Sean Gaffney, from A Case for Suitable Treatment, also looks at Flower of Life, but sticks with the experience of the first volume. He also sent in links for past reviews of All My Darling Daughters and Ōoku The Inner Chambers volume 3.
A review of Ōoku The Inner Chambers volume 6 can also be found this week at Anime News Network.
And one I almost missed as it went into my junk mail for some reason…. Tony Yao of Manga Therapy talks about the role of women in Ōoku The Inner Chambers. It’s similar to a post I was thinking of writing, but maybe I’ll just be a little lazy leave it to Tony.
And, as usual, the archive!
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is published by Viz Media.
Antique Bakery, Flower of Life, and Ichigenme…The First Class is Civil Law are published by Digital Manga Publishing.
The Antique Bakery anime is licensed by Nozomi Entertainment.