You probably wouldn't think it's so hot if you knew who she was posing for.
Opening a few years after the end of World War II and covering almost a quarter-century, here is comics master Osamu Tezuka’s most direct and sustained critique of Japan’s fate in the aftermath of total defeat. Unusually devoid of cartoon premises yet shot through with dark voyeuristic humor, Ayako looms as a pinnacle of Naturalist literature in Japan with few peers even in prose, the striking heroine a potent emblem of things left unseen following the war.
The year is 1949. Crushed by the Allied Powers, occupied by General Douglas MacArthur
’s armies, Japan has been experiencing massive change. Agricultural reform is dissolving large estates and redistributing plots to tenant farmers—terrible news, if you’re landowners like the archconservative Tenge family. For patriarch Sakuemon, the chagrin of one of his sons coming home alive from a P.O.W. camp instead of having died for the Emperor is topped only by the revelation that another of his is consorting with “the reds.” What solace does he have but his youngest Ayako, apple of his eye, at once daughter and granddaughter?
Delving into some of the period’s true mysteries, which remain murky to this day, Tezuka’s Zolaesque tapestry delivers thrill and satisfaction in spades. Another page-turning classic from an irreplaceable artist who was as astute an admirer of the Russian masters and Nordic playwrights as of Walt Disney, Ayako is a must-read for comics connoisseurs and curious literati.
The book is one of many of Tezuka's that has been translated into English by Vertical Inc
. Pick it up at your local bookstore today (assuming you don't mind that the translator's attempts at dynamic equivalence
make half the cast sound like Appalachian mountain men trying to read Shakespeare).
Ayako provides examples of:
- Attempted Rape: Sakuemon's physician sneaks into Ayako's cellar and after unsuccessfully trying to get her to sign some documents giving him custody over her fortune, tries this, Ayako screams, and Jiro manages to chase him off with a scythe and some threats.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: The Tenges. Papa Tenge is an ultra conservative jerk who tells his son he should have died for his emperor rather than be made a POW, holds kangaroo courts in his courtyard, and 'buys' his daughter-in-law's sexual favours by promising her husband his estates. And he is hardly the only horrible member of the family. Hell, he isn't even the worst one. That honour wourd probably go to one of his older sons.
- Black Comedy Rape: Sakuemon's... arrangement with Ichirou and Su'e provides ample amounts of this. He seems to get caught or near caught every time he does it on page.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Tragically between Ayako and Shirou.
- Child by Rape: Ayako is the result of this. O-Ryo as well, presumably.
- Darker and Edgier: Than most of Tezuka's other works.
- Dissonant Serenity: Ayako gets really cheerful wile trapped in a cave with her family because she is used to it. This, of course, drives everyone insane with terror.
- Disposable Woman: Jiro's associate, later girlfriend.
- Downer Ending: Shirou eradicates almost the whole family (including himself) by trapping them in a cave to starve to death. Wile Ayako sings a sweet lullaby for them!
- Driven to Suicide: Su'e, thrice.
- Gratuitous Rape: Arguably.
- Ignored Epiphany: The Tenge's get many blatant opportunities to redeem themselves but they never ever stray from their horrible path. Ultimately, karma catches up.
- Innocent Fanservice Girl: Ayako becomes this in her isolation.
- Interrupted Suicide: Su'e again. Naoko catches Su'e in the process of hanging herself.
- Kangaroo Court: Tezuka accuses the far east tribunal of this by having a young Shiro naively argue in a mock trial that mute dolls can be the defense lawyers as 'there is no point in the defendants having lawyers, since none of their motions pass.' They are emulating the far east tribunal.
- Kick the Dog: Poor, poor O-ryo.....
- Leave the Camera Running: One scene in a bedroom never changes the perspective for multiple pages.
- Narm: Vertical Inc.'s translator's attempt to translate the Tenge clan and their servants' peculiar dialect of Japanese, which, as befitting semi-aristocratic rural landowners, is both rustic and excessively formal, ends up sounding completely ridiculous in English.
- No Koreans In Japan: Averted by Mr. Kinjo, the Korean spy turned gangster and right hand man to Jiro.
- Not So Different: Jiro, and later Shiro, realize that they are as corrupt as their father and older sibling.
- Older Than They Look: Su'e due to her unhappy marriage.
- Only Sane Man: Subverted twice: Jiro seems to be this at first but soon proves himself to be an A+ scumbag. Shiro keeps it up for quite some time but ultimately gets dragged into the web of his family's corruption by Ayako herself...
- Parental Incest: Only technically, not that it makes it much less disgusting. Sakuemon has a arrangement going on with his eldest son Ichirou and Ichirou's wife Su'e, Sakuemon's daughter in law that allows him to have sex with her.
- Pet the Dog: Their affection towards Ayako is most of the Tenge's only redeeming quality.
- Phenotype Stereotype: The one Korean guy in the series looks like a slant eyed monster. And the American soldiers are the only ones with lips, and their are as huge as their flirting is inappropriate.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Ichirou succeeds his late father, Sakuemon, as head of the Tenge family and obtains most of his wealth but he has to kill his wife, and before that had to prostitute her to his father, to obtain it and it leaves him paranoid and miserable.
- Sex Face Turn: Jiro does this to the female associate who tries to kill him.
- Sexual Extortion: Sakuemon did this to Ichirou as to get Su'e under threat of his inheritance. He also tried the same scheme on Jiro but fails as Jiro wasn't as interested in an inheritance.
- The Chessmaster: Sakuemon is introduced as, among others things, 'a Machiavellian', aside from his rape-plots this is mostly an Informed Ability though.
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Helps the Tenge's get away with declaring Ayako deceased.
- The Korean War: Jiro earns his fortune in this conflict, presumably though sabotage, espionage and illicit arms trade.
- Unperson: Ayako becomes this as the people who know of her continued existence die off.
- Wife Husbandry: More or less happens between Shiro and Ayako.