I believe I’ve been told by one of my advisers that I shouldn’t write something that I’m obsessed about. Bias, after all, is one of the greatest sins in historical writing. It’s like a painted picture where everything is all right or all wrong and it’s hard to tell whether it’s the truth or not because of all the biases people have on it. Is it pretty? Is it ugly? Does the picture really translate the heart of what it’s trying to represent? Or are we simply translating what the painter wishes to portray and nothing more?
It’s hard to get rid of biases but when images sway you to the point of obsession then maybe, just maybe, that picture has more truth that it should hold.
It is in this obsession that I cannot forget Nakamura Asumiko. She draws a gaze that convinces me more than ever that she deserves this spotlight.
An Everwatchful Eye
It’s a little over a year since I caught Nakamura’s gaze and yet here I am still mesmerized and in awe of her as if it was just yesterday.
I remember sitting still with my head tilted at the side, staring at the strange cover of Double Mints. I must admit that it’s not a genius title but it was still a curious sight: two men forming a circle, one man latching on the other’s leg. The lines were smooth and clean but the short cropped boy on the cover had an unforgettable glare, as if he’s wondering why I’m looking their way, as if he didn’t want me to mess with their story.
I felt criminal just by looking at that cover. The longer I stared at that boy, the more I wanted to know why those eyes didn’t want me to go past the cover. In the end, I got a copy, read the comic and was blown away. Double Mints turned out to be with one of the best BL stories I’ve read.
My first encounter with Nakamura Asumiko was strong, sexy, powerful, and deeply provocative. She tackled BDSM so beautifully in Double Mints that she didn’t have to illustrate it with tacky whips and leather thongs. What best illustrated the obsessive relationship with the protagonists were those lovely pair of eyes.
Nakamura draws her eyes with a sanpakugan, irises that are so big that it divides the white of the eye into three. While most mangaka could be happy with just a simple blotted circle to draw the iris, Nakamura draws her eyes (including the eyelashes) with the finest of lines that you could not resist but be drawn in to her characters. Sometimes, I find myself wondering whether I’m drawn at those eyes or those eyes are looking at me. Needless to say, they’re stunning to look at.
Embracing the Dark
After Double Mints, I found myself hungry, if not starving, for her works. I found myself reading her older works which contained the same level of brutality and grace as Double Mints. Her earlier works under Ohta Shuupan such as J no Subete and Barairo no Hoo no Koro were not shy of approaching topics such as sexual aggression and obsession.
A friend once said that upon seeing just the images of her works, you could see a little bit of Keiko Takemiya in her. Like the Forty Niners, she was an artist who is not shy of tipping towards the taboo. She’s fully aware of the sensitive topics that she writes and she successfully manages to conceal it behind soft curls and lithe limbs. Looking at her earlier works do bring you back to the old school premises of the Forty Niners however unlike them, there’s sharpness in Nakamura’s works that her work is like a wolf against the Forty Niners’ flock of sheep. There’s something violent, almost masculine and carnal in her earlier stories that if you were to put them with Jules or Juli, the boys of the Forty Niners would crumble and submit to Nakamura’s boys. At times, her characters shock me as they deliberately choose destruction.
I always wondered why she had that side of her. It took another friend to tell me that it was perhaps the influence of the gothic lolita world unto her. My friend was an avid follower of gothic lolita trends hence when she found out about my fascination for Nakamura Asumiko, she told me that the woman has been consistently contributing stories to the Gothic Lolita Bible and that it actually surprised her that Nakamura had ventured outside of the genre and has moved towards BL. I managed to catch some of these gothic Lolita works which were quite… gothic (for lack of a better word) and almost philosophical in nature. If anything, my impression of Nakamura Asumiko is she’s one intelligent mangaka who has a taste for dark complicated stories. I honestly have no qualms with how she pushes her imagination with every story she’s written. One of the things I love about her is how she always pushed her stories to the edge but not too much that story dies with it. She knows when to stop her fantasies and the limits of her stories.
Light at the end of the tunnel
As I continued my journey (fangirling) towards Nakamura’s works, it seems that in recent years she has thrown her gothic laces and wore a red nose. Not that she has given up her dark side (Utsubora’s a fantastic reminder of that!) but it seems that she doesn’t mind lightening up her stories for some good cheeky fun.
Her recent fans are most familiar with her Doukyuusei series (the other title is Sotsugyousei which has 2 volumes), a light-hearted comedy about an unusual couple who sort of found love in the classroom. We’ve seen this all before and there’s really nothing new in this genre. What makes it fresh is her art (which takes you back to the springtime of your youth) and her own witty humor.
Her previous dabbles with humor were either poignant or sardonic but it’s quite surprising how she managed to pull off some classic comedy routines. I, for one, could not believe that this was the same girl who wrote those hot dark romances filled with tragedy and misery. Her comedy is tastefully done, nothing insane, just enough for a good laugh. If I can compare her comedy to something, it would be close to a Richard Curtis (writer for Four Weddings and a Funeral) romance comedy: it’s hilarious, raw, real, and unapologetic at the same time. One of her later works, Anata no Tame nara Doko made mo, is a sexy yet crazy cat and mouse chase between a detective and a swindler who manages to distract the good well-meaning detective with sweet little kisses (and some some).
One might think that because she has changed her stories, her style has changed as well. She didn’t compromise her art for these comedies, although she manages to switch those pretty sanpaku eyes for some cartoonish reactions. Her lines remain thin, clean, and wispy and she still manages to seduce us with those lithe frames and soft curls.
Can a mangaka write for lots of genres? Of course they can.
I believe it was in my Yoshinaga Fumi spotlight that I mentioned something about how it was a great ability for a mangaka to move outside their comfortable genre. Yoshinaga, as we know, is one of the first few who have done this. Nakamura Asumiko has also done this in her career.
Her earliest series started in Manga Erotics F (currently, her series Utsubora is running in this magazine) but she has also started to write for other manga magazines such as Opera (where her Doukyuusei series started) and Morning (where her new series about sumo wrestling Yobidashi Hajime is running1).
Beyond that, just early this year, her contributions for the shoujo anthology Rakuen Le Paradis by Hakusensha were compiled to a manga. Tetsudou Shoujo Manga is a lovely compilation of stories about various kinds of love found along the Odakyu railway lines. Beyond this, she has an upcoming work for web magazine named Poco Poco under Ohta Shuppan as well. Then we also have to consider the illustrations she does for books such as Moedanshigatari.
As you can see, Nakamura is not only good at BL but she also has the talent to cater to a lot of genres. She even did a bit of yuri in Tetsudou Shoujo Manga! According to her Japanese Wikipedia page, she’s got quite a lot on her hand that she’s taken a break to take care of her health. I’m quite sure that once she got some rest, her stories will be rolling, we’ll be seeing more and more of her.
Nakamura Asumiko’s an amazing talent that comes once in a blue moon. The critics have not yet sniffed her work for a Taisho or a Kodansha award but I’m quite sure that give it some time, she’ll be in the same ranks as her predecessor, Yoshinaga Fumi. The balance, humor, and versatility that she shows in her works as well as the care that she puts in every art makes her one of my favorite mangaka to date.
What I’m surprised though is that US publishers haven’t caught on to her work. Not even David Welsh has even requested for a license request of her works. If I may suggest,I’m hoping that Tetsudou Shoujo Manga would be picked up by Viz and the thriller Utsubora would be picked up by Vertical. The world needs to know more about Nakamura Asumiko. She’s a wonderful addition to the world of manga. I’m quite sure you won’t be able to resist her gaze once you’ve read her works.
The Reading List
The Lighter Side (For those who would like to read her funny, light-hearted stories): Doukyuusei, Sotsugyousei, Tetsudoh Shoujo Manga, Anata no Tame nara Doko Made Mo, Yobidashi Hajime
- Yes, I did just mention she’s currently writing a series about sumo wrestling. She seems to be passionate about that. [↩]