At the end of last year, I voted a trio of Takemiya Jin-sensei’s works in as the #1 manga of the year. Of those three, Seasons (シーソンズ) is quite possibly my favorite.
Like so many of my favorite manga artists, Takemiya-sensei started her career as a doujinshi artist. There are several ways in which a doujinshi artist can transition into a professional career, but the one that seems to be the most effective is this – draw original work. Manga publishers are less likely to want to publish look-alikes than, say, US book publishers, who so often are running after the latest trend, rather than creating the next one. Artists I first encountered as doujinshi artists include Hayashiya Shizuru, Morishima Akiko, Morinaga Milk, Nanzaki Iku, Nishi UKO, Mitou Kana and Kitao Taiki and many, many others. There’s only one, in fact that I haven’t seen make the transition to pro that I expected to, and weirdly, he’s gone the other way, from really well-conceived derivative serials to kind of crappy porn. Oh well.
So when I saw Takemiya Jin, who I have been following for years as Junk Lab, take the leap into the pro world, I was thrilled. For her – and for us, the readers. She’s got great short-story ability, honed by years of standalone doujinshi and can carry off a series with some chops.
Seasons is a collection of several doujinshi…a few of which I have. It gives the collection a feeling of meeting old friends and making new ones in one book. ^_^
The first few chapters follow Shirai-san and Kurozawa-san as they do the usual fall in love, be incoherent about it, not get together and get together in the end. Nothing ground-breaking here. What I found especially good about this series is Shirai-san’s friend, Asaki, who (maybe) inadvertently causes a massive crisis between the two main players. Asaki, it turns out, has a female lover and a whole life that Shirai-san is unaware of. And, Asaki is clearly part of the lesbian culture in Japan, as she and her lover both use slang in their conversations. Asaki gave it away to us, the readers, when she tells Shirai-san that Kurozawa-san is “nonke” (i.e., straight.) At that point, my slangdar pinged. Straight people do not refer to each other as “nonke.”
Let’s back up for a sec. I believe I’ve referred to this before, but here’s the deal about “nonke.” When a person is part of a culture in Japan, they are referred to as being whatever”ke” or “ka”, for instance a person who does Judo is a “Judoka.” You may remember we discussed the implication of “Kocchi no ke” in relationship to “Honey Mustard,” Morishima Akiko-sensei’s story for Yuri Hime that was collected into Ruri-iro Yume. “Kocchi no ke” is pretty much analogous to an American gay person saying “that person is ‘family.'” (The “ke” kanji is similar, where “ke” or “ka” 家 – as in mangaka 漫画家- means “house” as in the “House of Windsor.”)
So, “nonke” (ノンケ) is non-“ke,” i.e., “not one of us.” It’s use always implies that the user is, by default, “one of us.” So, when Asaki calls Kurozawa “nonke,” it’s pretty much saying that she is ke.
Asaki and her lover also use reba, neko and tachi, all slang words. For definitions, feel free to check out my Okazu Glossary of Terms. (I just added “nonke” there, as well.)
Following this story are a number of shorts, one- and two-shots that deal with a variety of “Story A” scenarios, and a few stories of couples dealing with a crisis in their relationship. A multi-part story about a girl falling in love with her class representative is a pile of well-used tropes (dress them up, then get jealous of them, the group date gone bad, misunderstood feelings, etc) that was nonetheless charming.
Almost the entire second half of the book is a look at a high school girl and a middle school girl who meet on the train (when a pervert starts to harass the younger girl) and their relationship over the next year. Unsurprisingly, the younger of the two is relatively immature, and causes no end of difficulties, but ultimately, there is a happy end that allows for the presumption of a happy future.
As I said in my write up of Takemiya-sensei’s work for the Top Ten list, the inclusion of gay slang in this book is one of the qualities that catapults her work to the top for me. Anyone can write a Yuri story, but it’s still pretty rare when we get a Yuri story with visible ties to Japanese lesbian community.
Art – I’ve always liked her art, so for me, 8, but your mileage may vary
Story – Variable, we’ll round it to 7
Characters – In most cases, I would invite them over for lunch – 8
Lesbian – 10
Service – 2, there’s some nudity and presumption of sex
Overall – More than the sum of its parts, Takemiya-sensei’s Seasons is a 9.
I’m so happy she’s gone pro. Here’s to more great work from her!