Currently Reading: Yokohama Monogatari
Before we get down to business, I am happy to report that this blog won the SILVER award in MOB! I honestly can’t believe it. Thanks so much to everyone that voted for me! 😀 I should do something like this again in the future….after I secure myself an internship.
The manga I am about to describe isn’t exactly a new series. It was written in the 1980s, and it doesn’t have the 21st century look or feel to it, which would undoubtedly turn away a few readers from even giving it a look. But don’t be deterred – this manga is definitely worth a try.
Here’s a look at Yokohama Monogatari.
Summary: It is 1875 in the Meiji Period, a time when Japan is finally opening its doors to western influences and trade. During this time, seven-year-old Uno’s parents pass away, and she is taken into the home of the Kanou household to take care of the pretty (and pampered) Mariko. As the two learn and go to school together, Uno and Mariko soon come face to face with the expectations society has as to the roles women can have, and those roles aren’t necessarily what Uno and Mariko want. As Japan’s new openness allows for more exchange of culture and ideas, the path that Uno and Mariko were formerly meant to take is forged anew, and they find themselves walking paths they could never have imagined.
Thoughts so far:
This is a really good manga. I went into this expecting sparkle-doused romance, but I got something entirely different – a decent amount of social and feminist commentary. What I like about this manga is that it’s not overt in saying what the reader should think, but presents a situation in such a way that allows the reader to form their own opinions about the problems and situations that Uno and Mariko face.
At the start of the manga (and as the romances start too), Uno and Mariko seem like pretty normal shoujo constructs – Uno is the responsible, shy one, and Mariko is the outgoing, slightly spoiled one. What I like is that the changes the Kanou family goes through force the two to change their goals and expectations for life, realizing that men are not the sole determiners of their destiny as they once were within Japanese society. Prior to this period in Japan’s history, a good marriage was what cemented a woman’s future. However, this new era allows Mariko to use her family’s business to create her own independence, and Uno is able to pursue an education that would previously have been denied to her.
I think that the social change being presented within this manga in the form of connectedness with the outside world is the result of the author drawing parallels to 1980s Japan. A lot of what the manga says about women could be applied to women at that time – society has changed to a large extent, so it no longer makes sense for women to be shepherded into the same roles they were given one hundred years ago.
I like that this manga depicts the advantages and disadvantages gender roles of men and women equally, without depicting women as the primary victims of a patriarchal society. Although women lack the opportunities that are presented to men and are often forced to obey them, they are free from the pressure that society places on men to succeed professionally. Additionally, it seems like men would gain all of the economic and societal advantages, but it’s these advantages don’t always result in happiness, as seen with Kanou’s heir Ryuunosuke.
I really like Uno’s character. She’s a hard worker, she’s smart, pretty, and she’s likeable without bordering too much on the formulaic. I felt emotionally invested in her journey, and I genuinely cared about what happened to her. I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about Mariko to start though. Mariko’s character started off as a kind of 80s version of tsundere, except not quite as endearing. I know the author was trying to write Mariko as a character that doesn’t submit easily to others, but her temper and antics just came off as annoying. As her character grew up, this aspect of her personality largely diminished and she became a much more engaging character, but her childhood antics rendered her less likeable, at least to me.
In terms of the male characters, I found Shintaro to be nonthreatening, if not a little boring. He’s a typical shoujo hero, and there were no character flaws or strengths that really made him stand out. For Shuichiro, I really liked the complexity of his situation – he struggles with his desire to pursue his passion (art), as opposed to his family’s expectations to continue the family business, coupled with his love for a mixed Japanese woman. These problems result in his character starting off as a more childish version of the protagonist of Ningen Shikkaku, but he matures and starts taking more responsibility for the people around him (which I appreciated). As for Kai, I think the author kind of made him this series’ exemplar of masculinity – he’s strong, driven, and he knows what he wants out of life. I really liked his character because he had a sense of humor and he was a lot more fun to read than Shintaro (I understand why Shintaro is the main love interest, but he’s just not very exciting…). Overall, the male characters are a bit of a mixed bag, but there are certainly points of interest to be found.
Although some of the characters aren’t breaking out of today’s stereotypical roles for shoujo characters, I think it’s important to bear in mind that this series was written in the 80s – manga written in this time period were crucial in shaping the growth of the shoujo genre, and the character archetypes that would eventually become more popular, and thus, more used. With this in mind, I don’t feel as inclined to penalize this manga for featuring characters which, by today’s standards, would be considered a bit overused.
The art definitely looks 80s, if only for its eye style. Apart from that, the backgrounds (in terms of the techniques used by the mangaka, not the setting depicted) look pretty similar to Kaze Hikaru, which is much newer, and much more present in the shoujo manga reader consciousness due to its serialization in Viz’s Shojo Beat. Overall, I don’t think the art style of Yokohama Monogatari is dated enough to deter most shoujo manga readers these days, but it definitely doesn’t look current (not that that’s a bad thing by any means!).
Yokohama Monogatari is a manga I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to any shoujo reader. I think that the depiction of Meiji Era Japan is definitely a point of interest, and that the themes make this manga something unique in the shoujo manga spectrum. It doesn’t meet the standards for period manga that Emma has, but it’s still doing a pretty good job.
Score so far: 8.0/10