Poor Ed. First, we tried to record a group discussion about the historical manga Ayako (by Osamu Tezuka, published by Vertical) over Super Bowl weekend, but network traffic meant that the Skype conversation kept dropping. Ed and I did some testing of alternate methods, but by the time he rescheduled with the group the week after, I was in the middle of a cold. (Call it vanity, but I refused to be recorded sounded like that, plus I spent the weekend in bed sniffling.)
The podcast went ahead, but after, Ed discovered that his recording software had lied to him, and it hadn’t captured the conversation. So Ed has now posted his solo recap of the discussion.
My thoughts on Ayako are relatively simple: It would never have been published if Tezuka’s name wasn’t on it, because it isn’t very good. It relies on shock value — incest, murder, abuse — to say that the well-off, the rich and established in society, suck. Wow, what insight. Beyond that, the plots don’t make much sense, especially if you don’t have knowledge of Japanese society of the early 70s, and what U.S. reader does?
I think Vertical had a responsibility to include some framing material, an essay putting the work in historical context both within the culture and Tezuka’s career, and they didn’t. (What we get is one page of Tezuka biography and a one-page introduction that’s half plot description.) Perhaps that’s because the work is already immensely long — there is a lot of muck to wade through here in 700 pages of unpleasant behavior — and they couldn’t add any more pages, but it does both the work and the readers a disservice not to explain why they chose to publish it and why they think it’s significant.
If a company is publishing something historically important, especially when it’s so offensive to today’s readers and so unsatisfying as a story, they owe it to prospective customers to help them understand why it’s worthwhile enough to bring back into print and to spend time reading. Plus, without notes, many readers won’t understand the background events referred to. Anyone who remembers the early 70s setting is over 50 by now, so many readers won’t be clear on what was standard and what was Tezuka’s invention. I suspect this may have been downplayed or omitted because the U.S. occupation are shown as the bad guys. It would also have been helpful to know what the critical reaction of the time was to a work designed to outrage.
The main point of offense for me is how badly the female characters are treated. Beyond the sex slave treatment of the title character (the girl is raised in a locked basement and winds up throwing herself at her brother, who is one of her jailers), all of the women are plot devices, with no agency or choices of their own. They’re ordered around and used by their male family members, and most are overly sexualized. The treatment of women in the book can be summed up by one character’s quote from page 526: “You’re either a born harlot or a hopeless idiot.” Ed points out another example in the podcast, where Tezuka introduces a female character while completely dismissing her as so worthless she didn’t need to be named.