Friday, August 28, 2015

Of women and fiction; of patriarchy and war

This book is a real treasure since it collects two of Virginia Woolf's most notable essays namely A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas. They were both such insightful readings filled with memorable and philosophical passages that took me in an adventurous and stimulating journey about important issues that I damn well should care about. In fact, I was so incredibly enthralled by the essays that I ended up placing strips of sticky notes for the pages that have the most discussion-worthy quotes. I suppose this review will be littered by them as I write this because I want to take the time to explain how much Woolf's writing affected me, and the kind of lasting impressions it left. Please take note that I will be devoting more time in tackling A Room of One's Own and just briefly touch upon Three Guineas much later on. I enjoyed the first essay more than the second one.


"Literature is open for everybody. I refuse to allow you to turn me off the grass. Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind."

This is probably the only written feminist piece that resonated with me for all the right reasons mostly because it was written for and about women who aspire to write in literature themselves. I don't consider myself a feminist; even when I joined Gabriela Youth in the first two years of college, I simply didn't become passionate about the movement itself. It's just not a political identity I can strongly associate myself with, but I would be a negligent asshole if I don't at least acknowledge and be thankful for the benefits I'm reaping now which are mostly due to the long decades of dedication and hard work of earlier generations of women who fought for feminist values. That is why A Room of One's Own was such a meaningful reading experience to me now that I'm at this tricky point of my life where life-altering decisions depend most often on the small and seemingly inconsequential ones. I myself have always dreamed of becoming a fictionist. I want to write something publishable someday too. It's just a matter of fate for me to seek out the words of a respectable writer like Virgina Woolf, and what she could teach me.

Divided into six cohesive chapters, A Room of One's Own is where Virginia Woolf imparted a beguiling lesson on the status of women in both the real world and in fiction whilst providing very searing observations regarding their perceived inferiority, and the day-to-day oppression that they had to face throughout the centuries. Woolf also employed the 'stream of consciousness' type of narrative for this titular 1929 extended essay which was originally a series of lectures she delivered in Cambridge University about Women and Fiction.

The essay's title is derived from Woolf's assertion that a female writer needs to be financially stable and to have the space and privacy in which to write. It's also essentially a metaphor for the freedom 'needed for creativity and imagination to flourish' (Collins). The quoted passage below was taken directly from Chapter 5 of the essay where Woolf was reading the first novel of the fictitious Mary Carmichael as Woolf made notable criticisms on where she could improve and how to go about it. The commentary she provided for this part of the essay is one of my favorites. Sure, it was bizarre to read about a literary criticism on a novel that doesn't even exist, but Woolf made it work, using Carmichael as a way to further emphasize the points she wants to get across when it came to the formation of female writings. She assessed for any woman who wants to write:

"Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days."

To determine how and why women write fiction, Woolf traced how women have been represented in fiction so far as written by men. She took on the persona of Mary Beton. The first chapter gave detailed accounts explaining her experience in luncheons and tedious social gatherings she had to attend at a university, and how she seemingly feels at times misplaced in her surroundings. As Beton, Woolf distanced herself from her writing as she tried to establish the definition and constraints about women and/in fiction in general. This led her to some crucial and enlightening research about the several crises, challenges and disadvantages women have been subjected to that in turn stifled whatever creative heights they can accomplish as novice writers. Her research included and highlighted a great many essays written by men who argued that women have less intelligence than men, and therefore cannot sustain the discipline and other qualities needed to pursue a literary endeavor or anything based on an intellectual pursuit.

Quotes such as "Female novelists should only aspire to excellence by courageously acknowledging the limitations of their sex" can be both infuriating and amusing to read, and Woolf was very glib albeit sharply critical of such ridiculous sentiments coming from well-educated men who had internalized and perfected their chauvinist points of view into a near art form. To contextualize this, Woolf called out patriarchy to attention as an enabler for such a cyclical narrow-minded view about women and their role in civilization. It's interesting because, in her next essay about the needless contraptions of wars fought in the name of masculine gain and greed, Woolf held patriarchies in contempt, citing them as dangerous social constructs that allowed the fascist movement to take root and infest Europe. But I digress. For now, Woolf shared us these gems to illustrate the oppressive function that women were unwittingly placed upon:

"Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size...Whatever may be their use in societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action. That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if [women] are not inferior, [men] will cease to enlarge...and if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks, his fitness for life is diminished."

Woolf as Mary Beton proceeded to quote certain male essayists regarding on how they view women, the paradoxical ways that they women as muses on pedestal to serve for inspiration; but also as sirens or seductresses who lure them to to their destruction and ruin once a woman ceases to agree with him or worship his every word as if it's the only sacred thing. This for me is the singular, most spot-on assertion that anyone has ever said about men's idealization of women in fictional landscapes and sexist disregard of them in real life; something that could still hold true even in modern times:

"Women have burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning of time. Indeed if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some would say greater. But this is woman in fiction. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words and profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read; scarcely spell; and was the property of her husband."

Midway through the essay, Woolf as Beton then began to weave a fictitious tale about Shakespeare having a sister who is just as talented as he is but unfortunately was never allowed to study so she can learn to read and write. This sister was said to be just as creative but instead was forced into marriage which she promptly denied. Ber family disowned her and she was forced to leave in the streets, her hopes of being just as accomplished as her brother had turned into despair. In this fictitious Shakespeare sibling, Woolf merely wanted to showcase and drive home the point that the education and privilege afforded by men will always give then more opportunities and varied choices for careers, livelihoods and vocations. Meanwhile, women play the parts of a subjugated, separated species altogether in the background, only meant for homemaking and childbearing alone. In fact, Woolf cited poetry from possible women who lived in those times and the content of their poems she shared is depressing; almost all of them protest their stifling homebound lives that they consummately fixate on the unfairness of their chains, rendering them unable to write anything else. Woolf made an educated guess that if a learned woman (born in a high-class family) aspires to write, her stories and poems will always bear the tragic mark of her enslavement and would not create any kind of literary legacy. Such in the case back then for women who have creative inclinations.

"…a woman was not encouraged to be an artist. On the contrary, she was snubbed, slapped, lectured and exhorted. Her mind must have been strained and her vitality lowered by the need of opposing this, of disproving that. For here again we come within range of that very interesting and obscure masculine complex which has had so much influence upon the woman's movement; that deep-seated desire, not so much that she will be inferior as that he shall be superior."

In addition, Woolf also talked about how a fully-characterized woman in fiction should be depicted by her fellow woman as genuinely as possible, and that in order to be successfully understood, her value as a person should not be exclusively tied to her relation to a man at all in a story . This is still applicable today especially in male-centered narratives in certain genres like action movies where women are one-dimensionally portrayed as the men's love interests, sex objects or damsels in distress to rescue (hell, even all of the above so the story can focus on the male lead's journey and completion of goals; the worst of which is the "girl" is reduced to becoming a 'prize' he is entitled to claim). Sure, women both in fiction and real-life have a wider range of roles these days but the battle--to define ourselves without having to always contextualize male presence and perspective and how they contribute to our decisions and actions-is ongoing and is still being fought.

"All these relationships between women are too simple…almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women in fiction were not only seen by the other sex but seen only in relation to the other sex...indeed, literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have been shut upon wome. Married against their will, kept in one room, and to one occupation, how could a dramatist give a full or interesting or truthful account of them?"

Woolf also briefly referred to lesbianism which she surmised is natural; 'sometimes women like other women' and that's that. I'm also queer myself so Woolf writing about lesbian identity was a nice touch because I've always felt more emotionally compatible with the same sex though, ironically, I intellectually identify more with the literature written by men which brings me to this intriguing philosophy Woolf offers about bisexuality in men and women:

"…it made me also ask whether there are two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and whether they also require to be united in order to get complete satisfaction and happiness…in each of us, two powers reside; one male, one female...the normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co-operating…'a great mind is androgynous'. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all of its faculties."

As Virginia Woolf nears the end of her essay, she gives us this great advice to women:

"By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream. For I am by no means confining you to fiction."


This essay, on the other hand, expounds on the promotion of education for women so they can hold positions in more demanding careers and even in public office. This is contextualized in the eve and aftermath of the world wars. Woolf exposes the stupidity of war according to her opinion, and lays out facts she believes are indisputable when it comes to preventing wars, and that should start with the liberation of women. For example, she talked about finances and that a woman should be allowed independent control of money she earned:

(1) The daughters of educated men are paid very little from the public funds for their public services; 

(2) They are paid nothing at all from the public funds for their private services; 

(3) Their share of the husband’s income is not a flesh-and-blood share but a spiritual or nominal share, which means that when both are clothed and fed the surplus fund that can be devoted to causes, pleasures or philanthropies gravitates mysteriously but indisputably towards those causes, pleasures and philanthropies which the husband enjoys, and of which the husband approves. It seems that the person to whom the salary is actually paid is the person who has the actual right to decide how that salary shall be spent.

Once again, Woolf emphasized the limited roles of a woman during that time, particularly on how her individuality is automatically diminished once she is taught that marriage is her only calling and must therefore subject herself to the whims and ambitions of her husband.

"It was with a view to marriage that her mind was taught. It was with a view to marriage that she tinkled on the piano, but was not allowed to join an orchestra; sketched innocent domestic scenes, but was not allowed to study from the nude; read this book, but was not allowed to read that, charmed, and talked. It was with a view to marriage that her body was educated; a maid was provided for her; that the streets were shut to her; that the fields were shut to her; that solitude was denied her—all this was enforced upon her in order that she might preserve her body intact for her husband. In short, the thought of marriage influenced what she said, wha she thought, what she did. How could it be otherwise? Marriage was the only profession open to her."

I was honestly more enticed with A Room of One's Own than Three Guineas which I might have to re-read because I got decidedly uninterested midway through reading. Nevertheless, Woolf manged to write something exceptional and remarkable in these two essays and I warmly congratulate her for the insights she accomplished to deliver in her pieces, most notably in A Room of One's Own. I am so excited to read her fiction before the year ends. I'm undeniably compelled to do so now..


Monday, August 24, 2015

Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden by Yuu Watase

Back in sixth grade, the entire class almost religiously watched the anime Fushigi Yuugi every Friday night and then talk about it in groups come school day. The classroom would be filled with lively chatter about what happened in a recent episode, most especially when my best friend at that time would bring along merchandise such as posters, action figures and copies of the English translated manga itself she tirelessly looked for so she can share them with me. At first it started with the girls but pretty soon the boys joined in, mostly because the anime is scandalous in itself, featuring semi-nude and acceptably sensual scenarios that are not that aggresively sexual.

It's a love story about the star-crossed lovers Miaka and Tamahome that got the girls hooked while it's an action-adventure fantasy that the boys could enjoy. Three years ago, I re-watched the anime again and the nostalgic charm was still there. I was compelled to read the manga and also pick up the other spin-off series and I was glad I did because Yuu Watase creates really riveting female-centered stories. Though the very first Fushigi Yuugi is my first love, the third and final installment of the series Genbu Kaiden was ultimately the greatest love of my life, shoujo manga-wise.

I could compare the first FY to a high school boyfriend. He was your sweetheart and you grew up together but he will always belong in the past. Genbu Kaiden is the man you eventually settle down with and marry, and together you are partners celebrating and honoring your sacred union no matter the difficulties of every day life and obligation. This is resonant in the deeply contrasting ways Yuu Watase wrote the love stories between Miaka and Tamahome, and Takiko and Rimudo; the former was the definitive young love that often consumes itself and burns quickly while the latter is the kind of love that knows there are worlds outside its scope that are just as meaningful and so the lovers become mature enough to accept their relationship should not be codependent and they don't end up entiterly losing themselves in each other. They have other important relationships outside one another, and decisions to make where their love for each other sometimes don't have to be the only priority.

Takiko is the very first maiden to be whisked away during the 1920's in Japan, transported by the magical Book of the Four Gods into ancient China. According to an old legend, a woman from another world will appear as a prophecy foretold where she will become the priestess of a certain country, a representative of one of the four gods, depending on the geography she will make her appearance in. In the first FY, high schoolers Miaka Yuuki and her best friend Yui Hongo took the mantle as priestesses for Suzaku and Seiryuu of the South and East Kingdoms respectively. For Takiko, she became priestess for the West, representing Genbu. The storyline for this manga follows the same formula as its predecessors Fushigi Yuugi and Ayashi no Ceres where the young, impressionable maiden gathers the seven warriors of the god they are aiming to summon. The story dictates that the priestess is allowed a wish if she successfully gathers all warriors and summons the god. It's a premise as predictable and universal as any hero's journey, only this time making the hero in question a heroine and she always develops romantic feelings for one of her warriors, almost always the first one she encountered the moment she gets transported. The central conflict lies in how they endure the varied tests and threats to their blooming romance.

The same thing happens to Takiko in this manga, much like Miaka was with Tamahome. The glaring difference, however, is the characterization and development of their individual arcs and as a couple's relationship. I would like to believe that Watase has learned from her mistakes with handling Miaka and Tamahome's love story which was essentially a really flawed and superfluous one.

"I'm sorry but I don't have magical powers of my own that you can absorb from my body. That light you see is simply my heart's way of expressing how devoted I am in becoming the priestess. And nothing will take that away from me."

As a supposed prequel to the original FY but written much later on, Genbu Kaiden retains a freshness and vitality to it most likely because of its lead character Takiko. Unlike the unassuming Aya, clumsy and fickle Miaka and the vengeful Yui, Takiko was instantly likable and admirable in her courage and purity of the spirit. I think it's her family situation that enabled her to deal with things more maturely. Her mother has consumption while her father has always been neglectful of her, always buried in his work. Her unrequited love for a childhood friend remained unfulfilled after he married another woman, leaving Takiko generally all alone and ignored. After her mother fully succumbs to her illness and dies, Takiko's father returns but was more concerned with publishing his latest translation on an old story about the Four Gods of Ancient China than attend to the funeral arrangements. Angry and betrayed, Takiko takes away the copy of the book from her father and boldly questions him if he wished she was a son and if she was indeed male, perhaps he may have paid attention to her; even love her. Her father acquiesces that this was true which forever devastated Takiko beyond words so she tries to rip the book in two but ends up getting magically transported within its pages.

In ancient China, she encounters a strange man who can control the winds and even turn physiologically into a woman. She then meets one of the bounty hunters looking for this person and was caught up between their rivalry immediately. Later on, she discovers the purpose of her coming to this land; about being a prietess foretold to save the kingdom from destruction and ruin. Unlike Miaka who agreed so she can wish herself home or Yui who wanted to take revenge, Takiko readily accepted the prophesy as her calling because of the most heartbreaking motivation ever: SHE WANTED TO FEEL NEEDED AND BE OF USE TO PEOPLE. She cared for her sick mother as a young girl and never felt like her father wanted her (which she had confirmed before coming to China) and was relieved--joyous, even--to feel like she can help people if she took the role of the priestess, not fully aware of the consequences and repercussions of such a role. It's all because Takiko's inherent brokenness lies in her desperation to give love and hopefully, mercifully, receive a piece of it in return.

In spite of such a sad and seemingly defective trait, this is actually what makes Takiko such a well-developed and compelling heroine to root for. This girl is unafraid to pick up a weapon and fight. She has some training in kendo so she is capable enough to hold herself during duels which is great to see because she never has to be a helpless damsel in distress all the time. Most of all, what I believe is the most amazing thing about Takiko is her compassion that enables her to identify with people's suffering and spiritually heal them. In Genbu Kaiden, people consider the priestess prophesy to be a bad omen. Anyone they discovered to be one of the potential seven warriors of Genbu was shunned, ostracized, exploited or driven away from their homes. This is the greatest challenge of Takiko's journey in finding them: some of these warriors already hate Takiko because of her priestess role and would never join her cause…until Takiko finds a way to touch their soul and make them believe they have a place in the world, that they do belong and they matter.

I get so choked up in every encounter she has with a Genbu warrior who all have tragic tales to tell about being outcasts and victims of their fates. Reading Takiko reaching out to them and earning their trust and devotion is so wondrously thrilling and emotionally resonant, further strengthening my admiration for Takiko. She is a person who knew rejection so well and has become loving and patient because of it. Each Genbu warrior knew rejection themselves firsthand; either through their own families or at the hands of their own clan/community. Takiko finds them and saves them, gives their lives meaning and urges them to fight not for glory or reward but merely for the sake of their countrymen even though many of them despise the Genbu warriors for what they are.

Takiko is never discouraged. She continues to thrive and serve her role faithfully…even if it meant never having a proper relationship with Rimudo, the first warrior she encountered and who gradually captured her heart and made it soar heights she never would have fathomed possible. Much like Takiko, Rimudo has upsetting daddy issues; his own father is having him hunt down to be killed all because of the prophesy that guarantees Rimudo will be his undoing. This is what initially drew the two together other than the usual physical attraction. Rimudo likes Takiko's ferociousness in accomplishing her tasks and the passion imbued in every selfless act of hers. Takiko likes Rimudo because he is burdened with a tragedy he constantly tries to overcome, and surprises her every time he puts aside his self-interest to lend her a hand in her calvary. Pretty soon these feelings deepened until they could no longer hide from their respective masks and costumes as renegade crowned prince on-the-run and savior priestess for long and they professed their love as they make a promise every day to stay in love even if duty and the upcomig civil wars have to be prioritized. I love the fact that they are both of independent will; they don't get so obsessed with each other that nothing else matters. Takiko and Rimudo were never selfish people that sometimes when they do get a little selfish, I encourage it because both deserve some kind of happiness as young lovers.

Genbu Kaiden is understandably not a happy ending in the romance side of things, at least not in a conventional sense. Takiko and Rimudo may love each other so much but have accepted that they could never be together at least not in body. The priestess after all has to be virginal. They could never be wholly together in heart and spirit either because Takiko is steadfast in fulfilling her role as priestess of Genbu and securing peace for the country. And, because Rimudo loves her for her unique courage, he decides to fight by her side for the good of all even if it meant losing her in an ultimate twist: if you have seen FY anime before then you know the price of summoning Genbu. Once Takiko discovers it, she never wavered from her obligation. She readily accepts its steep price and gives herself to the fate awaiting her to save her friends and the country and its people she has learned to love and be fiercely protective of.

Overall, Genbu Kaiden is intricate, heartfelt and engrossing with well-rounded characterizations composed of sensible conflicts and small yet satisfying resolutions in between. It has an empowered lead female character who is unafraid to define her relationships and not the other way around. It has an elegantly resonant and moving love story as its centerpiece but in spite of its love-story trappings, Genbu Kaiden is also a story about rejection and acceptance both from self and others as well as the transformative powers of friendship and community.

You can start reading the manga HERE and I hope this review will convince you. It's such a spellbinding tale about love in all its beautiful and often painfully cathartic forms. I guarantee that you will fall in love with Takiko as a person and root for her and Rimudo because they are inspiring individuals who luckily happen to be a romantic couple. The other Genbu warriors are also endearing and special in their own ways and their separate relationships with Takiko enhance the magic and poignancy of the narrative.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Kodama Yuki's KIDS ON THE SLOPE (Sakamichi no Apollon)

"Unlike love affairs, friendship is for life."

[NOTE: This review encompasses the entire series]

I'm a twenty-five year old woman who just finished the ten volumes of the shoujo manga Strobe Edge last month and realized it just wasn't my cup of tea anymore at this point in my life. It was cute, sure, but I felt like I wasted a good five hours reading through it. I think that's mostly because I read this series a few weeks prior to that (and the more riveting shoujo piece Orange as well) and, ultimately, Sakamichi no Apollon resonated with me in all the right places. First of all, it's a josei manga so the maturity level of the storytelling is already guaranteed but I don’t really have any strong expectations once I started reading this which was why it managed to take me for a breathless ride out of nowhere, and gave me a frightfully emotional spin.

Much like the manga Nana, this is a story about friendship and music. While the former is about two women who share the same name and one of them is a rock musician then they started living together, this one is about two high school boys back in the late sixties who develop a deep connection when one of them introduced the other to jazz music. Kaoru Nishimi is a reclusive and intelligent boy who comes from a wealthy family with an absentee father. He is very skilled in classical piano but has moved around a lot growing up that he became rather cynical about meeting new people let alone establishing ties with them. This has all changed when he meets the class delinquent Sentarou Kawabuchi whose cheerful and aggressive dispostion undermines a comparably lonely childhood. He spends his days playing drums in his childhood friend's basement and his encounters with Kaoru later increased especially when Kaoru expressed interest in playing jazz and soon both boys began to bond in ways that also allowed them to explore tender spots in themselves they have previously never been privy of.

On the surface, this is a slice of life high school drama that has familiar genre elements of said narrative but Sakamichi no Apollon has a self-awareness and range of depth to its storytelling and characters that make it just as eagerly readable to an older and more experienced audience looking to re-live their own teen years plagued by crises, heartbreak and family conflicts. In addition, the set-up of Kaoru and Sentarou's story, and the development of their relationship, was highly romanticized much like in Nana with the two titular protagonists spending copious amounts of time seemingly in courtship. This same style of characterization applies to Kaoru ane Sentarou. In Western perspective, one can characterize this as a "bromance". It certainly has the right pieces for a more blatant 'boy love' story; shy and quiet nerd meets the bad boy of the class (only the situation is a same-gendered romance piece, like a formulaic yaoi story waiting to happen any moment. I'm not gonna lie--that's how it often feels while reading this series).

I bring this up because I believe this is the selling point for Sakamichi no Apollon; its lead men have an intensely emotional connection that can sometimes translate to some accidental (if not intentional) homoerotic subtext. The manga does not shy away from treating them like a young couple navigating the first-time highs and lows of their relationship and the writing for this is excellently conveyed and never cheapened. Their existing level of intimacy and tension was not created solely for underhanded yaoi fanservice. Theirs is a genuine budding friendship that just happens to be more romantic than people are used to when reading about men and their friendships with each other. In spite of the mixed signals readers might get from Kaoru and Sentarou's feelings and outright possessiveness for each other, the two are indeed heterosexual and Kaoru even has a female love interest (Ritsuko) who is an important character in her own right and helps enhance the relationship between the two boys since she both cares about them and believes they have something worth perserving. There are the standard love triangles in the mix but the series easily absolves these geometric complications in a mature way without needlessly drawing out the conflicts unlike in the typical fashion of most shoujo mangas.

Sakamichi no Apollon is primarily about Kaoru Nishimi's growth as an individual through his friendship with Sentarou and romantic pursuit of Ritsuko. Both of these things are equally explored although Kaoru's undeniable bond with his best friend is the front-and-center piece while the rest are often consequential of this. There's something to be said about the power and magnetic force that draw these boys together in spite of how different their personalities are. Their affinity for jazz music is joyous in a way it completes them and expresses the multitude of emotions they have that cannot be verbalized in any other way. When all is said and done, Kaoru and Sentarou's friendship is the best and most riveting aspect of Sakamichi no Apollon, and the symbolic "slope" in this series is a metaphor for how much they have climbed and overcome their insecurities and respective conflicts outside of each other in order to stay together, stronger than ever.

Theirs is a story of platonic relationship that is universal and timeless and will no doubt move readers in the best possible ways. In their alienation and regrets, Kaoru and Sentarou found each other and made each other feel unconditionally loved. It was never an easy climb but they always reach the top as long as they have each other. Basically, they are each other's "true love", just not in a queer, sexual way no matter I sometimes wish they just get together already. That's how strong their connection is and often frustratingly so. I just adore how refreshingly literate this manga series had been, able to tackle mature issues with earnest and well-informed insights that may even help readers deal with their own problems. Ultimately, Sakamichi no Apollon changed my life too.

Like most manga, this also has an anime adaptation that has twelve episodes that managed to summarize the highlights of the fifty chapters of the manga and I was able to watch that after reading this and I also highly recommend that if not only so you can listen and appreciate the popular jazz pieces incorporated within the expanse of the story. The wonderfully resolved ending of this series never fails to move me to tears. It's just fucking beautiful, okay? Everything about Sakamichi no Apollon is worth the heartache and pain and you should be reading this now. There are available online copies here so you don't have any excuses to procrastinate. Trust me on this and read the damn thing already! Heads-up: The best chapter of this manga will always be Chapter 12. That's when it starts to break your heart.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

ORANGE by Ichigo Takano

In the midst of the usual shoujo manga varieties that cater to the many shades and conflicts of school-girl infatuation and romance, Ichigo Takano's ongoing series ORANGE easily stands out. This manga's central romantic development, though more or less integral to the tale being told, is not Orange's real selling point let alone its primary focus. Instead, Orange is a rather earnest and at times painfully realistic story concerning a teenager's clinical depression told in the perspectives of his high school friends. In a bittersweet fashion with an understanding and depth of how mental illness truly affects a person and his social ties, Orange produced such a nuanced examination of depression in the character of Kakeru Naruse. It's not just a mere plot device to get two people in a relationship or for the lead heroine to go on a journey and fix the guy with tender love and care. It started out with that premise but progressed into a more meaningful and even darker path where lead girl Naho Takamiya along with four other friends discover that often times love and friendship is not enough to help an individual so fundamentally damaged.

There's also a science fiction element to Orange's premise, however. The story opens with Naho Takamiya who received a letter from her twenty-six-year-old self, informing her of the future ten years from now. She disbelieved it at first until each entry acccurately described a specific day and the notable events that transpired, especially when it concerns the new boy in class whom she eventually develops feelings for. The chapters alternate between showing the present in high school and the future where Naho is now a wife and mother but continues to reminisce her deepest regrets about the boy she loved at sixteen. Right from the very first chapter the readers become privy to the devastating fact that Kakeru had passed away ten years later and how Naho felt as if she could have done something about it. The truly moving parts of the manga, of course, happen every time any of these young people would make an effort to make their friend feel loved and accepted, hoping it would be enough to prevent the inevitable. The most heatbreaking thing is when it doesn't seem enough. That's when Orange chokes you up. Every single chapter has left me misty-eyed. I was always in the verge of tears when reading this manga.

It was only when we keep reading that it was revealed that, according to Naho's letters, Kakeru is increasingly becoming more reticent and withdrawn without his classmates' knowledge until one night he got ran over by a car as he was riding his bike. There were also small revelations in between where Naho's group of friends find out about Kakeru's mother committing suicide on their first day of school and how deeply he had blamed himself since and that it had also driven him to attempt to take his own life once. These details were revealed to the present Naho via letters and whose actions since learning these things gradually improved Kakeru's perspective about himself and others. She now has a personal mission to save her friend. With only letters from her future self to aid her, Naho is determine to create an alternate world where Kakeru could live happily and still be with her and their friends a decade later. It sounds like a noble plan but Orange was inquisitive enough to show that depression is an ongoing battle that a bunch of well-meaning teenagers can't absolve by themselves.

You can't just tell someone who is clinically depressed to "get over it" or do everything in your power and sacrifice so many things for the betterment of that person's life and believe that's all it takes for him to shake it off. Personally, I think Kakeru needs serious counselling and professional therapy and I certainly hope that the manga will deal with that in the upcoming later chapters. If you're interested to read Orange right at this moment then you are in luck! The online site kissmanga has amazingly translated pages of the story that's ready for your enjoyment. I personally also read the comments and discussion among the readers below each chapter, and their insights and their arguments among themselves also happen to increase my emotional investment on the story and the struggles of the characters. It's interesting to read about what fans think of certain scenes and how easy it is to misunderstand Kakeru himself whom some readers feel is too much of a downer and who cannot appreciate his friends's efforts to make him happy.

There are readers, who know enough about depression either through personal experiences with loved ones or as people who suffered from it themselves, who quickly come to Kakeru's defense, citing that he is not fully in control of his emotions and that, really, these are all a bunch of kids during puberty which only adds to their helplessness and confusion. If the writer finally updates with a new chapter, I could only hope it will touch upon about the more complicated issues and dangers of trying to help someone with depression when you yourself don't have enough experience or maturity such as Naho and her friends, in spite of their good intentions.

Nevertheless, I myself would gladly buy and wear a shirt that says SAVE KAKERU because I want the best outcome from his story because I've also learned to care about what happens to him and whether or not he can survive. We all want happy endings, or at least a manageable life for Kakeru who has tons of adjustment to cope for, and years of therapy ahead of him. But at least he will live.

Here are some sample pages:

Orange is a splendid, humane tale about friendships and self-love and I can hardly wait to read where the author intends to take this story next and how the pursuit to save Kakeru Naruse's life will be resolved. IMPORTANT: As I post this, a new chapter is out and there's only one last chapter to go!