I write this spotlight today with a mildly sore leg as March started with a big bump… in more ways than one.
I wonder if living life past a quarter of a century meant seeing your life in still panels with soft lines and endearing faces. Surely, my face was far from endearing, nor was the experience of being hit by a car in any way graceful. But strangely, all worries, anxieties, and fears disappeared as soon as I shared a meal with the lady who hit me with her car. And I can visibly remember the joy of eating food with someone, even if she kind of messed up my legs a little.
At that time, I felt that moment reminded me of a Yoshinaga Fumi panel, two people eating, healing pains and worries with a quiet but hearty meal and smiles on their faces.
Hence, in commemoration of being thankful for life, I put a spotlight on Fumi Yoshinaga.
My journey in writing this spotlight was nothing but enlightening. My rule of thumb is to try to read the artist’s work in sequence and try to see their development as a mangaka, both in art, their themes, their interests, and their stories. Strangely though, I have read Yoshinaga-sensei in various points in my life that when I started to look back, I couldn’t exactly see pin-point where she started. When I started asking if she had grown as a writer, in the back of my head, I was thinking… she had always felt mature as a writer.
So I went back, taking cues from the Japanese Wiki and tried to read most of her works in order. What I had thought as a flawless consistent act turned to be quite a growth of an artist.
Fumi the fangirl
As some would know, Yoshinaga’s beginnings started with doujin. She was a prolific doujin artist, known to participate even in Comic Market. Her doujin work is popular enough to sell for thousands in Mandarake. When I was in Osaka, her old MitKo Slam Dunk doujin was being sold for 5,000 yen. This said pairing was so popularized by her that it was even mentioned in Genshiken.
One thing clear is that Yoshinaga started as bubbly fangirl with homosexual fantasies. While this was obvious in her early doujins, this could also be seen in her debut work, Tsuki to Sandal (The Moon and the Sandals).
Her first published work was an interesting fantasy of lovers struggling to come to terms with their relationship, as asymmetric as it was. And while this debut was, the way I see it, virginal and pure, in more ways than one, Yoshinaga was one of the few mangaka who opened up issues of homosexuals in Japanese society in her BL works.
In those two volumes, she managed to explain the difficulty of homosexuals taking an apartment, being accepted in the workplace, and the possibility of marriage by means of adoption. To a degree (and I’m not saying a reality), she also opened up the difficulty of sexual orientation as Ida and Kobayashi experience their “first time”. Unfortunately the stories were still hazy, still tapering between reality and fantasy. What was perhaps disappointing was how sudden and instant things were happening that it was like reading through a fangirl fulfilling her fantasies with every chapter. You’re shown bombs rather than montages and while I have always admired her art, her first work was very crude, messy, and cartoony that it wasn’t as graceful as her cover.
It was a rough start, and not exactly the Yoshinaga that we actually have grown to admire. In fact, her works that came after, Don’t say any more, Darling and Truly Kindly were closer to experiments on what kind of stories were best for her. By reading these one shots we could see how she played with themes and characters that by the end of Solfege, she had stories to tell.
And her stories were fantastic. I believe every girl who read yaoi or BL will not deny how memorable her French Revolution series were. We loved Claude. We loved Gerard and Jacques. It was hardly their cleft chins, sharp jaws and regal standing that got us but rather the intense passion that she captured in every panel that she drew. Finally, she had given her characters life. Gone were the faceless and unmemorable BL stereotypes and here were characters that stood out and stuck to our memory.
Sure, the lines she drew were chiefly soft but one could swiftly be caught in the romance and wished they witnessed this passion first-hand. Most of us met Yoshinaga this way and we began to starve for her works however she was taking a different turn as soon as she was wrapping up Ichigenme. Perhaps it came with age and taste but the dreamy fag hag fangirl was slowly noticing other stories brewing in her heart. The wild scribbles were traded in for soft refined and calculated lines. Fumi the fangirl was growing up.
Fumi and her cafe
Yoshinaga Fumi dreamt of other things as soon as she started writing outside of Biblos Eros. It was fascinating how her move to Wings, a shoujo magazine, was not a complete change but rather just a small shift in the way she built her stories. Hence Garden of Dreams, Kodomo no Taion and All my Darling Children were explorations on fragile human relations. The works were nostalgic and picturesque. At the same time, Yoshinaga manage to capture the emotions of her characters luring our sentiments and sympathies towards their stories.
The gay did not disappear (it honestly never disappeared!) but has now taken a different position in her stories. They’ve now become a part of an ensemble – not characters in the background, but part of a whole.
In reading Antique Bakery, we read her first ensemble: Tachibana, Ono, Chikage, and Kanda. The story of Antique, while light-hearted, presented real questions on love and life. It was honestly a strange read at first as fangirls were hoping to get some action only to find simple and heart-warming servings that made people hope for a better day, one cake at a time. Suddenly, you wished you had an Antique nearby. Suddenly, you started craving for whatever pastry Ono just made. Suddenly, you wanted to dance and seduce someone under the rain. Suddenly, you wanted to forgive, forget, smile, live, and say “It’s going to be a beautiful day.” Japan, and eventually the world, was enchanted by this little pastry shop that as soon as the series ended, we were hungry for more. And we got more! We got a TV drama, an anime, and even a Korean version of the movie which was thrice better than the Japanese TV drama (the drama didn’t even make Ono gay!) Her success in Antique opened tons of opportunities for Yoshinaga however she stuck through familiar elements and honed her craft further under Wings.
Her stories in Wings showed a great ensemble of people who seem to teach us a little or two about life, one chapter at a time. The ensemble allowed Yoshinaga to move away from being just another BL writer to someone who had a grasp of people, and not just gays. Yoshinaga focused on the banality of everyday life and highlighted the small but wonderful memories that we often taken for granted. Flower of Life was such a story that it was clear that Yoshinaga was more concerned with reminding us about the important things her stories.
This sense of nostalgia and sentimentality became her trademark under Wings. It captured a lot of people’s hearts enough to give her prestigious prizes such as the Kodansha Manga Award and even an Eisner. I’m not exactly sure how much she is of a household name in Japan but in my experience, the mention of her titles more often than not bring smiles unto people’s faces.
Fumi today and beyond
I really began to fully appreciate Yoshinaga’s style and genius when she started to venture outside of Wings and wrote Kinou Nani Tabeta and Ooku.
Ooku is a brilliant work that takes manga to the levels of Taiga. It was something unexpected for many but for those who knew her love for history, knew that this was a story that was only meant for her and only her. I don’t think any other author can pull off something like this without compromising either the story or the sensuality that comes out in these volumes. Yoshinaga’s art manages to tell the delicate situation of this alternate time without making it feel too boring or too simple. It’s an elaborate world filled with complex social striations that she manages to capture so flawlessly. I love it even if it makes my head ache everytime I read it. She’s quite a poet in Ooku and I can’t help but feel like I’m reading some old Japanese story when I’m reading this manga. It’s such a shame that in English, her poetry was misappropriated as Shakespeare.
No one knew that she was capable of doing these things for we have only read her simpler trivial slice of life stories. However, we believed that she was someone who was capable of telling complex situations because of we knew how she understood people. If there’s one thing she really understood well and managed to illustrate well, it was people. She has a way with faces and expressions and it became more refined as she grew older.
Thus as such her everyday life tale of two homosexuals living together was nothing but heartwarming, if not a filling read. Unlike her other stories, Kinou Nani Tabeta basks in everyday life and does not find any closure beyond that of the dinner table. It’s a lovely read that takes on the formula of Antique but with a far more sophisticated, if not mature altogether. To be honest about it, it feels domestic. More so, unlike Antique, Kinou Nani Tabeta puts as much focus on food as it does on its character. Then again this was expected of Fumi. She is a foodie after all.
Fumi’s not just about love but all about food
One of the things I find amusing about reading all of Fumi’s works is that this food does not fail to mention food at any given point in her stories. In Tsuki to Sandals, there were doughnuts. There were tons of cakes and pastries in Antique. Even bento looked great in Flower of Life. Of course we can’t forget that she dedicated Kinou Nani Tabeta to the act of eating and cooking plus there was her restaurant hopping escapades in Not Love But Delicious Food.
This woman loves her food and I can feel her heart skip every time she has the opportunity to explain how a particular food is made and why it is awesome. I love her passion for food and while this is mostly seen in Kinou Nani Tabeta, I think anyone who has read Fumi would have also grown to appreciate food.
Fumi is the fangirl that I wish to be
If there was one thing that made this spotlight really delayed (beyond my accident) was how I had so many things to say about Yoshinaga Fumi. On one end, I want to talk about her representation of homosexuals and how she has captured a movement in the least politicized manner that I have seen in comics. I can go on about the social relevance of her works and how she had a flair for kitsch and so on and so forth but I thought overthinking her work defies the heart of her work.
I believe that at its core, Yoshinaga works simply wished to portray the beauty of humanity, in all of its simplicity, banality, and its complexity. Her art is simple not because it’s her style but I think it captures how straightforward our emotions are that even the simplest of lines can portray our sadness or happiness.
Personally, as a fujoshi, I’d like to be in that same age of maturity as she is. I’d like to appreciate the porn without compromising the story and the emotions of the characters. I’d like to poke fun at my fangirl self and have a laugh at the couples I adore. I think to a degree I have turned into the fangirl that she is but at the same time, I am much like her who still manages to squee and dream about the possibilities of the love that’s never said. In her heart of hearts, Yoshinaga Fumi is a fangirl and that fangirl was never lost. She just matured in a very graceful and elegant manner.
It is this very gracefulness that made her one of the 20 important shoujo mangaka of this day and age. She was unlike the 49ers because she did not bask too deep in a fantasy. On the other hand, she was not too hardcore to over dramatize the reality. She was the perfect example of a contemporary author who was dealing with post-modern concerns of identity, banality, and meaning. However she did not have to write an existential piece for us to appreciate it. She merely wrote down fascinating personalities living their lives as they believed it. I personally feel she paved the way of other BL mangaka who also managed to present great slice of life stories driven by great characters: Nakamura Asumiko, Basso, Est Em, and Yamashita Tomoko. And I think I’m more than grateful to her for giving me not only some of the best stories I’ve ever read in manga but also the best lessons in life.
I do have one heartbreak with her… she didn’t give me closure for Ono and Tachibana in her doujins. :<
The Reading List
Fumi at her BL Best: Tsuki to Sandal (The Moon and Sandals), Lovers in the Night, Gerard and Jacques, Don’t say Any More Darling, Solfege, Ichigenme wa Yaruki no Minpou (First Class is Civil Law)
Fumi at her Foodie Best: Antique Bakery, Not love but Delicious Food, Kinou Nani Tabeta
Fumi at her Best: Flower of Life, Garden of Dreams, All my Darling Daughters, Ooku
About my favorite panel
I believe it was Melinda who asked me what was my favorite BL panel ever and I told her that it had come from a Yoshinaga Fumi manga. As I have lost my copy of the Japanese version, this panel does not capture the exact amazing of the Japanese hence I modified this English copy to mimic that scene in Japanese.
This was taken from my favorite Yoshinaga BL story, Ichigenme wa Yaruki no Minpou volume 2, and as you guys can see Tamiya’s panting “haa… haa…” before screaming “hazukashii!!” which means “it’s so embarrassing!” It just sounds a lot better in Japanese because you’re not exactly sure if he was panting or he was soooo embarrassed that it was it was a mixture of both. It’s gold and I think it led to one of the hottest BL scenes I’ve read.
That said, I want to ask, what are your favorite Yoshinaga Fumi moments and why do you love her work?
Note: This spotlight was intended for February so this counts as the February Spotlight. 😀