Love on the Edge of Admiration and Desire – Proto-Yuri Manga: Sakura Namiki (さくら並木)

January 17th, 2013

Everyone who pays attention to the historical context of manga and anime has at least some knowledge of the better-known periods of Japanese history. We know the Heian period for being the background to ever so many ghost/magic/supernatural tales. Of course the Edo period plays host to any number of samurai epics. The Meiji period was a time of intense upheaval and saw a rather abrupt “westernization” of Japan. The Taisho period was a time of economic growth and nationalism. Post-WWII Showa Japan is shown in a million fragmented ways, from emotional tales of war life to the most idealized (and deeply fetishized) backgrounds possible.

In the early 20th century, magazines for young women created a whole new feminine ideal. How to dress, act, what accomplishments were expected, all of these melded into a culture half focused on physical perfection and half on emotional well-being. Take a look at any rack of “women’s magazines” in America or Japan (and most other countries) you’ll still see the same pressure expressed through whatever is the fashion of the day.

In pre-war Japan, readers were introduced to idealized romance between girls in Yoshiya Nobuko’s works (Wasurenagusa, Yaneura no Nishojo, Hana Monogatari). Sakura Namiki (さくら並木) is a post-war look at the same themes. The book begins with art and design familiar to readers from the magazines they consumed. These artistic stills accompanied by narration were a direct descendant from Edo-period Ukiyo-e prints, especially those of the popular Utagawa artists. These prints, the pop culture of their time (which were, you might be interested to know, so popular that they were copied and sold illegally) often had a portrait image with accompanying text.

A child of  the post-war boom, Sakura Namiki is balanced deliciously between Ukiyo-e prints and modern manga, with both narrated stills and panels with dialogue.

We are told by the author, Takahashi Makoto, of the emotional trials and joys girls encounter at this particular private school. We are then introduced to our protagonists, Yukiko, first-year, her beloved onee-sama Chikage, a third-year and the conniving second-year Ayako, who gets between them. For a very excellent summary and discussion of the story, I’ll refer you to Katherine H’s post Marimite in the 50s. ^_^

I would like instead to talk about something else, as I so often do. ^_^ Today I am talking about the human ability to notice connections between things. (A habit that leads us to create connections where there are none. This is why conspiracy theories exist and remain powerful long after anyone who was affected is gone.)

Sakura Namiki is a tale instantly recognizable to any fan of Yuri. The hothouse environment of Akiko’s YWCA, Nagisa’s St. Miator, Yumi’s Lillian, Rie’s St. Azaria is once again explored in the guise of Sakuragaoka Girl’s Academy in, we are told, Osaka.

I’ve seen this setup so many times that it frankly had no effect on me at all this time. I remained wholly  unmoved until page 18 when we learn that Yukiko is currently in the middle of a sports match with Ayako. What a modern girl!

You know I’m always pining over the lack of sports Yuri. But if you’re a regular reader here, you know there is one recent sports Yuri manga…can you guess what sport?

Here’s today’s lecture punchline:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

– John Donne, Meditation XVII

So there I am, with the one sports Yuri manga I know of sitting on top of the “to be reviewed” pile and I start to read Sakura Namiki. At which I realized that no Yuri manga is an island entire of itself, either. ^_^

Without Akiko, we would not have Yukiko. Without Yukiko we would not have Nagisa, or Yumi…or, well…click here  for the next chapter in this saga.

In the meantime, we can relax and be happy with the knowledge that Yukiko and Chikage move into the future together as so many young women have.

Sakura Namiki, by Takahashi Makoto is available as a deluxe edition, packaged with another shoujo manga from the 1950s by Takahashi. It’s currently available on  Amazon JP in limited quantities. If you can find it, it’s worth it for another island in the Yuri archipelago. ^_^

Overall – 8

Futher Reading: Prolegomena to the Study of Yuri, Part 1

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9 Responses

  1. I can’t profess to understand much of what you discussed here, but I’ll say this: I really enjoyed the way you wrote this post. It felt different than others you’ve done. I had to check to see if it was a guest post or not. It seemed “brighter” than usual. Hopefully that means things are going well for you and yours :)

  2. Unknown says:

    This book is also available in digital form on ebookjapan for a reasonable price.
    It seems to me that japanese publishers are more willing to distribute older titles in ebook form than newer ones.

  3. Jye Nicolson says:

    I ran across this in the Kyoto International Manga Museum today, and while I couldn’t give it a proper read I gave it a very thorough skim :). The imagery wasn’t messing around (“daisuki” in a love heart word balloon is technically more explicitly romantic than a lot of what passes for Yuri, particularly in context). I particularly liked the girls dancing together in the stars.

    And thanks to hazily remembering this article I didn’t walk straight past it like the thousands of classic manga I’ve never heard of :)

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