Monday, January 1, 2018

Collection Review: Yugi Yamada Oeuvre

There are books, movies, video games, artwork that everyone goes to when they've had a bad day or week. For me, those works include Moonstruck, Joe versus the Volcano, The Princess Bride, Bread & Tulips.

With manga, that go-to-place is Yugi Yamada's oeuvre.

It isn't so much that these works are Pollyanna "pick me ups" (All is Right with the World!). Rather, they come from a place of hearty realism (even The Princess Bride). Without being maudlin or even overly optimistic, they carry within them a joie de vivre that results, by its nature, in happy endings.

Yugi Yamada's works often include a full cast of
lovers, friends, cousins, friends of friends--
who fight, play jokes, lend support, and share taxis.
Yugi Yamada's characters are not perfect or in any way less than human. Sometimes they are even angsty and depressed. Their most consistent characterization would probably be . . . ordinary. They fight and tell jokes and get mad and fall in love and get confused. They have friends and babies and neighbors and cats and aspirations. They have normal lives where they don't become movie producers or do become accountants. They plan trips for two which turn into a trip for six because everyone else invited him or herself along. They feel outraged when a best friend is hurt even if they can't go anything about it. They feel outclassed in their chosen profession but keep trying anyway.

They also show up in more than one manga. One of the delightful aspects of Yugi Yamada's work is not only the illustrations, in which people actually look like they have flesh and bones, but the "guest" appearances of characters from other manga. The world feels real, full of people going about their everyday lives, falling in and out of friendships, maintaining relationships, and so on. Naoki, for instance, shows up in a number of manga and Yugi Yamada short stories, both as a main character and as a minor character.

Yugi Yamada's manga short stories were the first I encountered that struck me as fully developed (more than mere premises). Her stories are also the first I encountered which even when unhappy, avoided the sinkhole of despair. Because short stories have to resolve quickly, short story writers too often capitulate (in manga and other mediums) to death, despair, and a lack of resolution.

Yugi Yamada, however, manages to end stories, even if sadly, without implying that the world has also ended. Because often, the world doesn't end. Icarus falls from the sky, and the shepherd keeps plowing his field.

Naoki's story "Glass Sky" and later his part prequel, part sequel story "Wildman Blues" revolve on this idea. He is sad. The loss of his friend was sad. The loss of what-might-have-been (which is underscored by a sense that what-might-have-been might not have gotten better) is sad but not defeating. Life does go on.
Life goes on for the troubled antagonist in Dry Heat as well.