by Asumiko Nakamura
published by Vertical; $18.95 US
Utsubora: The Story of a Novelist is a visually striking puzzle of a story playing with parallelism.
Shun Mizorogi is a noted author who, after a number of years blocked, has recently begun publishing again (a story called Utsubora, just as this one is). He’s also taken up with a beautiful young woman named Aki. At the beginning of the story, he’s just gotten a call from the police; Aki has jumped off a building and been found dead. When he arrives to identify the body, he sees her previously unknown twin sister, which shocks him.
The visions of the girls, all black hair and big eyes, are uniquely manga-esque and yet universal. The living one, Sakura, with cropped hair, reminded me of Louise Brooks and how her similar image became a classic.
Shun lives with his niece, who takes care of him. There’s a theme throughout the series of how young women offer devotion and caretaking to older men, which I would call a disturbing fantasy if not for that this book was written by a woman. Perhaps she’s reflecting on what women struggle with, being valued more for their looks than their work. As the book continues, we also think about men losing power, both creative and sexual, and what they’ll do to recapture it.
The story is one that acquires meaning from what the reader brings to it, which may frustrate or fascinate, depending on temperament. As it continues, questions arise as to Aki’s real identity, Shun’s motivations for indulging her as a fan, Shun’s reputation, and what happened to the book Aki was writing. You shouldn’t read this as a mystery, though, because it won’t satisfy, given the lack of concrete answers. (Much like life.)
Utsubora is one of those works that can be read at different points in your life with different interpretations, given its narrative unreliability. This time, I found it about the disillusionment of our idols, and it spurred thoughts on what creativity really means. Thankfully, Vertical published the complete story under one cover, making it self-contained. Also, it’s adult rated due to explicit sex scenes, but they’re presented to illustrate the characters, not to titillate. This review includes preview pages, if you’d like to see the style. (The publisher provided a review copy.)