HER, by Yamashita Tomoko, is a series of character portraits, loosely strung together by everyday circumstances.
The story begins with a woman who wants to be loveable – and loved – and who has a fixation on shoes. Her hairdresser’s fear of the future is the subject of the second chapter. A schoolgirl whose hair she cuts sees her older female neighbor kissing her female lover goodbye. In the past, the neighbor had a difficult relationship with her mother. The neighbor’s lover was rejected by her first love. The couple sitting next to them at the cafe have their own issues.
As an omake, each chapter is summed up by a one-line subtitle with an accompanying 4-panel comic: i’ve not known HER; i’m detested by HER; i’m nothing like HER, i gonna get at HER; i still love HER; i always lost to HER. [sic, in all cases]
The lesbian chapters are quite excellent. They realistically portray an older woman, Yoshiko, who has already reconciled herself to the choices she’s made and can discuss them honestly with a young woman who doesn’t know what to do about her own life. Even as Kozue realizes that everyone she goes to school with can, in one way or, another be considered “strange,” she comes to realize that her neighbor Yoshiko isn’t that “strange” at all.
For one thing, Yoshiko is older – as in late 50’s-60’s. Not only is it not typical so see women that old in manga at all (even mothers seem eternally 30 unless they are 70) but almost unheard of to find a lesbian that old outside a “lesbian bar” scene. For another, Yoshiko is not bitter, regretful, or…well…anything. She’s just a person, as Kozue begins to understand. Yoshiko has thought about kids, for instance and, for several reasons, has not pursued having them. She’s a photographer, she grows flowers. She’s not moralizing, or warning Kozue away from the life – she’s just living her life as honestly as she can. Ultimately, that’s what allows Kozue to accept her.
The chapter about Yoshiko’s youth is not about her sexuality. It’s not about coming out. It’s about her discomfort with her mother’s behavior and the many reasons why she rejects an offer of sex from a guy she otherwise trusts and likes.
Yoshiko’s lover, Honmi, in her younger days had fallen in love with a straight co-worker. Despite her attempts to be a good friend, she’s suffering when the woman she loves suffers, more so because she can’t really do anything to comfort her. Although she’s long moved past this, that first love lingers on in her heart.
HER is a great example of skilled story telling. It’s a book that begs for a re-read or two, so one can pick up things missed on the first or second read. It’s the kind of book that – were it in English – I would give to an adult, female friend who doesn’t read manga. Readers of Octave who enjoy the story for the adult interactions of the characters would also enjoy this manga.
There’s nothing here to appeal to children or children in adult bodies. This is a story for adults, about adult choices, becoming an adult and most of all…what it’s like to be HER.
Art – 9
Story – 8
Characters – 9
Lesbian – 9
Service – 0
Overall – 9
Like a whipped cream, sprinkles and cherry on top of the yummy ice cream of this series, this book was sponsored by Okazu Superhero Dan P – the first of several from my Amazon Japan wishlist. Thanks Dan, this was way awesomer than I anticipated!