Monday, January 25, 2010

All My Darling Daughters

By Fumi Yoshinaga. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Melody. Released in North America by Viz.

I will admit that I'm a little behind in my reading of Yoshinaga compared to other manga bloggers. I've read Ooku, and think it's excellent so far, but Antique Bakery and Flower of Life are on my 'when I get some spare cash' list, and I was mostly unfamilar with her until recently.

That may change if her other books are as good as this one was. All My Darling Daughters is a short 1-volume book she wrote for Hakusensha, published in their gateway shoujo/josei magazine Melody, which features both younger shoujo titles for their Hana to Yume imprint and older josei works for their Jets Comics imprint. This title (and Ooku, which also runs in Melody) falls into the latter category.

The bookend characters are Yukiko, a 30-year-old salarywoman living at home, and her 50-year-old mother, who has recently fought a battle with cancer. The familial relationship between them is not only obvious, but also well written. Yoshinaga doesn't really beat us about the head with temper tantrums and storming out of rooms (even though both those things happen), and the book feels very realistic as a result.

As the book continues, we see Yukiko and her family's friends and old schoolmates, and I gradually came to realize that Yukiko is probably one of the happiest and most together characters in the entire book. This comes as a surprise, as she tends to walk through it with a perpetual scowl, but her job (never shown, only inferred) and relationship (misunderstood by many of her friends, but her guy seems very nice) show she's come through life well.

Many others who've reviewed this have touched on the longest story here, which deals with a sweet young woman trying to reconcile falling in love and the words of her old grandfather, but the one that hit closest to home for me was the fourth, which starts with Yukiko reading a yearbook showing two old middle-school classmates. She sends them a letter catching up, as she hasn't spoken to them in ages.

This leads to a flashback narrated by Saeki, one of the girls, in which we see Yuko, the other one, discussing her hopes and dreams, and how she's going to change things and make the world better for women. And then, over the course of the rest of the story... that just doesn't happen. We see Saeki as an adult gradually realize things that her childhood self didn't pick up on regarding Yuko's abusive childhood, and then we see her meet Yuko as an adult, now with a husband, and the wasted potential hits us full in the face.

The final image of that chapter, with Saeki reading Yukiko's letter and crying, was for me the saddest and best page of the entire manga.

Luckily, we get a more hopeful chapter to end on, returning to Yukiko and her mother, and also touching on her mother's own daughter relationship. Words taken to be deliberate cruelty are shown to have far subtler reasons, and the whole thing ends with a fantastic "I Love You"... even if those words are never said.

At times haunting, and at times very sweet, this book isn't easily classifiable. It even has some occasional humor, and I love Yoshinaga occasionally slipping into caricature when she's drawing Yukiko's snarling face. I'd love to see more titles like this from Viz, be they by Yoshinaga or someone else.

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