Hello! It’s been a while. ; w;
Super sorry for my recent inactivity. I’ve been weaning from social media and such and its mostly due to the fact that I’ve been reading and writing a lot of stuff for my thesis and I’ve dedicated most of my energies to it. I’m not complaining. I’m really enjoying it. Especially when I cross amazing classic works mentioned in my readings. I’ve read a few new interesting titles but for some reason I can’t get my head out of my thesis space. So, allow me to share a really nice shoujo classic I crossed for my thesis — Hideko Mizuno’s Fire! (1969-1971).
Fire! is the story of Aaron Browning, a teen from a small town in Ohio who was helping his mother to make ends meet. One day, Aaron crosses the town delinquent, Fire Wolf, and unfortunately gets caught in the later’s shenanigans. Aaron is sent to juvenile prison where he discovers a life of hardship. During tough times, Aaron hears a song through the prison walls and discovers music that freed his heart. This inspires him to find solace in music and he sought the man who ‘freed’ him. He later discovers that it was none other than the man who brought him to hell, Fire Wolf. Despite their differences, Aaron is moved by Wolf’s music and it inspires him to follow Wolf’s footsteps in making music that freed people. Sadly, their salad days ends and Aaron leaves town and lives Fire Wolf’s legacy. In Detroit, Aaron meets other creative people who later showed him the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. With his band Fire, Aaron attempts to write music that liberated people. Sadly, the freedom Aaron sought for came with such a great cost that at the end, he loses his own freedom.
I must confess that my reading of Fire! was greatly influenced by articles and critiques about the manga. Scholars and critics considered this work as a revolutionary story as it was unafraid to portray social injustices, racial tension, and sexuality. It was the first shoujo manga with a male protagonist. It was also one of the few manga that featured black characters. Some even hint that Aaron’s admiration for Fire Wolf and their creative sync alludes to a very early version of boys love in manga. I can totally see where they’re coming from and while I think Chiba Tetsuya had his own fair share of depicting social and gender injustices in his shoujo manga, Mizuno’s Fire! executed it with such psychedelic flair and melodrama that it is admirable.
I love how Fire! is tied to America’s counterculture movement. That time in America’s history came with such life and vigor and Mizuno managed to capture a slice of that culture in Fire! Many of the characters in Fire! reminded me of great American musicians of the 1960s. Fire Wolf was like Bob Dylan, Maji was like Joplin, Diana was like Dusty Springfield, and the band Black Blood reminded me of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Mizuno herself adds that Aaron was inspired by Scott Walker who also came from Ohio and was known for his strong unique voice. Apart from this, Fire! was like a microcosm of American society in the 1960s. Aaron and many of his friends represented middle-class white America, however, Mizuno was conscientious enough to write a racially diverse cast. Black Blood, for example, represented African-Americans who were moved by the civil rights movement. One of Aaron’s girlfriends, Rita, was a young Puerto Rican migrant who went to America despite terrible labor conditions. There were also gypsies, hipsters, and even Hell’s Angels. This diverse ensemble made Fire! rich and vibrant, and kudos to Mizuno for writing them so organic to the narrative that they did not feel out of place. Not that I’m saying Mizuno aced her appropriation of minorities and American culture but I think she fared a lot better than some of us who tend to forget that we live in a multicultural world.
Given that this story was published during a time when the counterculture movement was reaching its peak, I find it amazing that Mizuno also had foresight to portray its end. Aaron was a fitting witness to this counterculture movement as he had the innocence to embrace it and the naivety to live its dream. For shoujo manga’s first male protagonist, Aaron was far from being a prince or a hero but he certainly was an icon of that generation. If anything, Aaron was like a rolling stone.
For all the success Mizuno gifted Aaron, she equally made him suffer. When I read Fire!, there’s a part of me that wished Aaron achieved his dream. His songs were moving and while I can’t imagine the sound, I can feel the heart of his songs. I think, to a degree, Aaron fulfilled this dream. However, the price of that dream cost Aaron too much. Aaron was like watching Icarus fly to the sun. His dream to free people (and himself) with his music was much too high for his frail spirit. Some people might see his pursuit for freedom as noble but as Mizuno drew his end, I can’t help but feel she punished him for his stubbornness. Reading the series was like watching a documentary of the 1960s where everything starts cool and it all ends bittersweet. There’s a part of me that thinks that this might be a reflection of Mizuno’s traditional view of the world, or maybe the realist in her who just knew that Aaron was too big for this dream. Perhaps this was also a reflection of her own view of gender where Aaron represents a masculinity that matched the weakness of shoujo heroines of that period. Or is this Mizuno acknowledging that each person, man or woman, has their own temperaments, and that any person is capable of being caught up in their own fantasies to the point of destruction? The thought of a broken dream is chilling. When I read stories such as Fire! that carry so much hope and dreams, it is disarming when I see these dreams crumble.
While I may have read this story with academic lenses, I personally find Fire! engaging, interesting, amusing, and moving. Mizuno’s illustrations bring life to the sound of Fire! Her panels had a rhythm and you can read the beat and atmosphere of Fire!’s music. In some cases, as seen in the earlier panel with Black Blood singing, typography also played a critical role in setting this rhythm.
There are also silly plots where I can’t help but roll my eyes, such as the overarching narrative of Aaron’s obsession with his girlfriends. The fujoshi in me believes that his desire to be accepted by his girlfriends was just a substitue for Aaron’s desire for Fire Wolf. This logic somewhat gets validated and this fujoshi was very pleased with that. Aaron’s drama was also amusing for it read like Sweet Valley Saga where there’s a part of you that recognises that it’s just cheeky trash romance but there’s something about the story that draws you to something greater. Realising that greatness comes after reading Fire!‘s dramatic ending which made me scream in fury, anguish, and sorrow over Aaron’s lost dream. Once my anger subsided, I realised that Mizuno used the fire metaphor so well. The first few pages started with a flicker, the middle was ablaze, and the end had a gentle warmth from what’s left of its embers. Beyond Fire!’s shoujo melodrama is a story that is richly complex — one that affirms my faith in the intelligence of shoujo texts despite perceptions of shoujo’s absurdity and mundanity.
Fire! by Mizuno Hideko
Serialised in Seventeen, published by
Available via Ebookjapan