Opening a few years after the end of World War II and covering almost a quarter-century, here is comics master Osamu Tezukas most direct and sustained critique of Japans 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 MacArthurs armies, Japan has been experiencing massive change. Agricultural reform is dissolving large estates and redistributing plots to tenant farmersterrible news, if youre 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 sons 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 periods true mysteries, which remain murky to this day, Tezukas 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 well as 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:
- Ambiguous Disorder: O-Ryo, one of the family's servants, appears to have some kind of developmental disability and is repeatedly referred to as a "halfwit".
- 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.
- Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Ayako. After years of being raped in a cellar, she doesn't mind trying to do the same to Hanao the day they meet.
- 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 would 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.
- The Bluebeard: Ichirou eventually kills Su'e. While trapped in the cave, he hallucinates her ghost has come to kill him.
- BrotherSister Incest: Tragically between Ayako and Shirou.
- The Chessmaster: Sakuemon is introduced as, among others things, 'a Machiavellian', aside from his rape-plots this is mostly an Informed Ability though.
- Child by Rape: Ayako is the result of this. O-Ryo as well, presumably.
- Coming-of-Age Story: For Ayako and Shirou.
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Helps the Tenge's get away with declaring Ayako deceased.
- Corrupt the Cutie: Poor, poor Ayako.
- Darker and Edgier: Than most of Tezuka's other works.
- Dashed Plot Line: The story begins in the late 40s and ends in the early 70s.
- 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, while Ayako manages to survive, since she's used to being kept in small spaces, with one non-family member trapped with them implying she's getting her revenge on the family. Turns into a bit of Bittersweet Ending after Ayako is found, since Iba, the Tenge matriarch, lets her leave since she's still young and has a whole life ahead of her.
- Driven to Suicide: Su'e, thrice.
- Fauxshadowing: In the later parts of the story, Jiro shows that his missing eye has been replaced with a small bomb which can explode in a 30 meter radius if his head touches the ground. However, it is never used once after it's been shown.
- Gratuitous Rape: Arguably.
- Historical Domain Character: General Mac Arthur makes an appearance... in a very unflattering portrayal.
- 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, since she doesn't understand sex that well despite being 27.
- 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.
- Kill the Cutie: Poor, poor O-ryo.....
- The Korean War: Jiro earns his fortune in this conflict, presumably though sabotage, espionage and illicit arms trade.
- Leave the Camera Running: One scene in a bedroom never changes the perspective for multiple pages.
- Manchild: Ayako is a Woman-Child, due to her long isolation from society and being coddled by her family. One prominent example is when she gets excited and plays on a playground, much to the confusion of some mothers with their kids watching. She is also in her mid-to-late 20s at this point.
- Not So Different: Jiro, and later Shiro, realize that they are as corrupt as their father and older sibling.
- 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 genuine 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. The American soldiers are the only ones with lips, and they 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.
- Ripped from the Headlines: The manga deals with many important events in the history of late-20th century Japan, including the Shimoyama incident. This is also the reason for the aforementioned racism present in the work. Korean involvement in organized crime and rapes of local women by American soldiers (often black), were (and still are) a hot-button issue in the Japanese press at the time. While Tezuka was usually very progressive on racial issues, because of his experiences in WWII and the subsequent occupation, Japanese people being mistreated by foreigners on their own soil was a major Berserk Button for him.
- SexFace 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.
- 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.
- Younger Than They Look: Su'e due to her unhappy marriage.