Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fumi Yoshinaga: The Jane Austen of Manga

What Did You Eat Yesterday? also deals
amusingly and pragmatically with getting older.
If  Jane  Austen was alive today, I'm sure she would write manga. And she would likely write manga like Fumi Yoshinaga's.

I'm a huge fan of the delightful What Did You Eat Yesterday? which is tender, ironic (though not as much as some of Yoshinaga's other material) as well as engagingly informative about Japanese culture and cooking habits. I have a similar reaction to the wonderful movie Bread & Tulips, although in that case, I learn more about Venice.

I commented on What Did You Eat Yesterday? on Eugene's blog:
My favorite slice-of-life manga is What Did You Eat Yesterday? in which the "problem" of the local supermarket going out of business comprises an entire vignette. A vacation to Kyoto becomes a longer vignette but is so comparatively unusual that romantic Bingley-like Kenji is convinced that practical Darcy-like Shiro is only taking him on vacation because Shiro is dying.
There is precious little angst (thankfully), not because Shiro and Kenji's lives are ideal but because they are relatively ordinary. And that's okay! Getting up and going to work and buying food and visiting a friend and complaining about one's health is what most of us go through most of the time. And because What Did You Eat Yesterday? focuses on food, whenever something a little upsetting does occur, well, that's what cooking and eating a good meal is for: to reset a person and that person's companion for the next day.
I love the reference to Anne of Green Gables!
Yoshinaga is comparable to Austen because she focuses on everyday life; she is also comparable to Austen because she adjusts her characters, content, and style to a series' particular tone. Austen has been accused--then and now--of not including sex in her novels due to spinsterish-social-repression. The truth is that Austen chose to write as she did (other novels of the time period plumbed the depths of intimacy). In addition, while Austen's family were not more melodramatic than any other family of the time period, they certainly weren't less. If Austen had wanted to write emotionally overwrought stories filled with steaminess and sin, she could have. She deliberately confined her view and her tone to a specific milieu and purpose.

Yoshinaga--who writes everything from steamy romance to sci-fi--is similar to Austen in the sense that whatever she is writing/illustrating stays within the bounds of what it is supposed to be for that genre/series/audience. So Antique Bakery (scene below) remains the surprising psychological drama/comedy that it is; What Did You Eat Yesterday? remains the utterly clean and sweet-tempered slice-of-life that it is. Flower of Life remains the high school teenage drama (utterly natural teenage drama) that it is meant to be.

Oddly enough, the one type of manga I don't much care for from Yoshinaga is steamy romance. Her yaoi is well-plotted and amusing but almost too much so. "Oh, Lord, what fools these mortals be!" pretty much sums up the narrator's perspective. I like a little more affection in my romance mix.

Appropriately, however, Yoshinaga is the only mangaka I've encountered where the intimate scenes in her steamy romances are in and of themselves funny. I don't mean that characters (only) make jokes. Or even that the characters (just) behave in slapstick ways. Other manga do this. Rather, in Yoshinaga's work, the characters' interactions highlight that, in the end, we are all kind of odd and funny creatures, no matter what we are doing.

Just as Jane Austen believed!