41. Fire! by Hideko Mizuno

Fire! by Mizuno Hideko

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! by Mizuno Hideko
Fire Wolf sings with Aaron under a tree.

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.

Fire! by Mizuno Hideko
Aaron watches Black Wolf perform.

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.

Fire! by Mizuno Hideko
Fire! finds their new bassist!

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.

Series Information

Fire! by Mizuno Hideko
Serialised in Seventeen, published by
Available via Ebookjapan



5 thoughts on “41. Fire! by Hideko Mizuno”

  • I was SOOO glad to come across this blog post. I’ve fallen a bit out of touch with manga, but always love the classic shoujo stuff and, somehow finding out (again late to the game) that Hagio’s Otherworld Barbara was being translated this Summer led me to look up some other fave titles–I don’t think I found anything major in English on Fire! the last time I checked for it online.

    This manga absolutely fascinates me–maybe it’s because I remember the one image and reading about it way back when I was 11 in the mid 90s in the first book on manga I could find, Manga! Manga! Ten or so years back a good friend of mine who had lived here in Canada and was going back to Japan after school asked me if there were any mangas she should keep her eyes open for me back there–and she ended up sending me the 3 volume bunko reprint of Fire–which, perhaps surprising to many–was on the top of my list, particularly as I never saw it for sale online.(Incidentally the third volume has an additional one off story from later in the 70s that seems to be… about Norse Gods or something? I have never been able to place it).

    Sadly, I still can read next to zero Japanese (one of my many unfulfilled life goals…) but I think I’ve still gone through every page of Fire! at least a dozen times over the years. It really strikes me as, from my somewhat limited knowledge, truly ground breaking and it’s no surprise that Moto Hagio mentioned it by name in one interview as one of the titles that as soon as it came out inspired her.

    Yet, because Hideko Mizuno is a bit older than the “49ers” like Hagio, it really does seem to be a bridging title between the 60s titles and the 70s titles (I guess literally, given its age). I’ve always meant to try to investigate Hideko’s work more, but it’s hard to find the resources though I know she continued to write for a long time. The only work I do know of hers is her earlier title Honey Honey–I grew up with the dub of the anime adaptation and randomly found one volume of the manga in a used manga bin at a Japanese book store. I’m sure you know it, but I don’t think I would have ever guessed they came from the same woman, and only 2-3 years apart. Honey is bizarre, cartoony, insanely silly (and also ridiculously charming) –and of course it was aimed at a younger readership.

    Anyway, I’m rambling, but as you mention in your great review, Fire! does have some of those elements in fact. I mean for crying out loud, from the best I can tell what gets Aaron thrown in jail is stealing a hat! (Of course, true to 1960s shoujo conventions, I *think* the hat was meant for his poor mother…) And then at the same time it has all these crazy 60s elements–I mean, again from the best of my reading abilities, he basically seems to end up insane at the end.

    But I love that about it–granted, I’m a sucker for those late 1960s doomed sex drugs and rock and roll story arcs–ending in a sort of disillusionment that the kinda free love paradise the characters seek and briefly obtain can never last.

    The art, too, is a mix of 1960s shoujo cutesy character designs with truly dynamic (I might even say sexy) character designs and killer layouts, especially as the story progresses. I can only imagine the reaction this title got when it came out even if (according to my friend) it’s somewhat forgotten even in Japan (this was ten years ago mind you, but she said it took a bit of work to even find the bunkos she got for me that were 1990s reprints–though that may have changed.) And yes, I definitely sense some homoerotic tension as you mention (another way this points tothe 1970s and Hagio, Takemiya, etc).

    Anyway–sorry my utter ramble–I’ve been wanting to talk about this manga for a long time even if now I’m having trouble articulating why it has always fascinated me so much. I know you posted this some months back, but I hope you see my reaction–and thanks again for the post. I’ll have to check out the rest of your blog.

    Eric

    • Wow! I hadn’t even realised you posted this until after I’ve read your other reply. Thanks a lot for reading and thoroughly expressing your insights! I guess that makes me feel that what I’ve written will make sense to someone somewhere sometime. XD I really appreciate it.

      I think the timing of Fire! was just amazing. It’s not her first work but it was such a well-timed work not just for capturing history but also its own historicity in women’s manga. Fire! had such an impact for many creators, Hagio included, which shifted girls’ manga, and even manga in general.

      I love your enthusiasm for this work and I think there are many secret Hideko Mizuno fans out there! She doesn’t get enough love compared to Hagio and Takemiya mostly because her works are hardly explored and are untranslated. But to be honest, I read some of Hideko Mizuno’s works and they’re certainly not as good as this one. ^^;; I am not sure how much of it is due to her creativity as a youth or editorial.

      The melodrama of the hippie life was nice and was quite a beautiful observation of the period. There’s a part of me that thinks that this must be Mizuno’s pragmatism pulling her back to reality, but I think the entire book was a strong attempt to escape the burdens of reality. It was nice. Really nice. Certainly one of my favorite classics.

      • I admit, it’s been hard for me to find someone to discuss this manga with. My friend I mentioned–who’s a middle aged woman and grew up with it (she actually helps run some official Hagio club or something–I’m fuzzy on the details lol) is the only exception I’ve found, though I’m sure I could bug Matt Thorn sometime for more comments on it. Otherwise, English speaking wise, I’ve talked with people who have also said they’ve always been intrigued by it, but have never tracked down a copy. And yes, your write up was a joy to read (and actually filled in some of the details I never got before…)

        Right–I know that Fire! was not her first work, but, since the only earlier work I know is Honey Honey, I wonder if there was anything before Fire! that showed her evolving to trying a more mature work like it–because there’s zero hint of it in Honey. Well, except for the stealing a hat thing. I really should try to investigate her other titles more, like I said. I do know that right around the same time–1968-69, there were a handful of other more mature shoujo works suddenly (I’m blanking on names, but I remember even from Manga! Manga! one about an interacial romance in the US I think ending with the boyfriend getting shot or something. Side note–It’s interesting that at first they seemed to focus on the US especially, but then the 49ers, at least at first, moved that setting largely to Europe). Akage no Scarlet for example was 1968… Before that she did several rather juvenile looking American movie adaptations (Portrait of Jenny, Sabrina, Roman Holiday) and the completely bizarre late 1950s manga Gin no Hanabira whose plot description is wonky.

        But yeah, I agree that from what little I have seen of her other works, Fire! stands out. (I am curious about some of her historical works–I’ve always liked anything about Ludwig II though I’m not sure if she touches on the gay stuff–and some of her one offs look suitably bizarre–which I love).

        “There’s a part of me that thinks that this must be Mizuno’s pragmatism
        pulling her back to reality, but I think the entire book was a strong
        attempt to escape the burdens of reality”

        This is perfectly put!

        While anime adaptations of manga often don’t interest me (there are some exceptions, like the two Ikeda adaptations from Desaki) I suppose back in the early 70s there was no thought to adapting something like Fire! as a tv anime… But I wish there would have been–I can imagine what a retro blast an early 70s tv anime of it would be–I mean the OP titles alone!

        • Wow! You seem to be a classics fan! XD A classics reading list is actually quite amazing and if you can read Japanese, there’s a good number of them available online. Things I’d never imagined owning, such as a Takahashi Macoto manga, is available in http://www.ebookjapan.jp

          There’s an academic who is currently pursuing the Occidentalism seen among the 49 group and how, in some ways, they were in many ways as shallow as us when we first encountered Japanese culture in our youth. These artists had opportunities to travel abroad to expand this world but I think the fascination is fueled by the media itself who led their readers’ eyes towards the west. I mean I’ve seen old shoujo manga versions of Roman Holiday and pretty much incarnations of every princess in Europe. While I’m not sure how accessible movies were to most girls, I think shoujo comic magazines gave them a preview of these foreign films. I remember that Ishinomori Shotaro drew Aurora in one of his works but he gave her a different name and narrative, granted, she looked so close to Disney’s Aurora.

          70s manga anime’s quite interesting. XD I think a couple were animated and tbh, they were ghastly. Kaze to Ki no Uta was quite well made but Ace wo Nerae was like a nightmare! XD I think Oniisama E is available in Youtube! 😀

          • Right, Roman Holiday was on of Hideko Mizuno’s pre Fire! titles I believe. I always wondered if those adaptations were official. I did recently come across a long interview with Takeymiya where she said she and Moto Hagio (and others) started taking annual trips to Europe in the early 70s and were quite proud of the fact that they refused to go on package tours but I’m not sure how much their manga shows this 😛

            Thank you for the link! Yeah the Kaze anime isn’t bad (of course it’s done as a flashback and just has key scenes but that’s expected)–neither is the Porte a L’Ete (?) one. I still find it surprising either was made.

            Ha the early 70s Ace wo Nerae is a trip! It’s like if Hanna Barbara did anime–but I guess it got director Osamu Dezaki into shoujo and, like I said, I think he did a good job with Rose of Versailles (he directed the second half when the voice actress playing Oscar had a fight with the first director) and Oniisama.

            Thanks for the link. My Japanese reading skills need a LOT of work (to put it mildly) but I suppose it’s a good excuse to try.

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