Friday, December 16, 2011

The New "Modern Family" in Miyuki

Adachi Mitsuru. He's name evokes dozens of different titles compiled in a career that has spans decades and is not finished yet. And I am completely late to the party. I was absolutely oblivious to Adachi Mitsurus works until my advisor handed me a book called 『マンガ論』by Yoshimoto Takaaki, who happens to be a very famous writer and father to Yoshimoto Banana (who is a very famous contemporary Japanese fiction writer). One of his essays talks about gender and family issues in a couple of older manga and Miyuki was one of them.

After I read the essay, I didn't immediately rush to my laptop and start googling up a storm but I started thinking about how little older manga series I have read. One of my habits is to head to tsutaya or book off and take pictures of manga covers that I think look interesting. It makes it so easy, maybe a little TOO easy, to look up the manga later. My "manga I want to read" folder in my bookmarks is ridiculously long now.

Back to the topic at hand, I was at book off when I saw the rather large section of Adachi Mitsuru manga. Since I was curious I looked through to see what titles they had and I saw Miyuki right away. Deciding that this was sign from the manga god himself, I took a picture of it and started reading it right after I finished Basara. How could I have lived to long as a manga reader without reading or even KNOWING his name?! I hang my head in shame and will redeem myself by reading as many of his manga as I can get my hot little hands on.

We shall start with the manga that started this movement Miyuki

Adachi Mitsuru's Miyuki

When I'm reading a manga, it is usually pretty obvious who the manga is being directed at and what gender the mangaka is. For example, when reading Naruto how unapologetic the drawing style is leads me to the insight, or assumption, that the mangaka is male and that he is writing for a male audience. Yet at the same time, Naruto is a manga that is is heavily read by girls and has a very broad reading audience. Adachi Mitsuru has this same quality is his writing and drawing style. While no where near as complicated or epicly long as Kishimotos Naruto, Adachi is able to attract an audience of not just shonen readers, but shojou readers as well. When a writer is able to push past a specific gender audience they are able to push their work not only into commercial success but also literary success. This ability to transcend gender bases shows Adachi's skill as a storyteller and allows him to give very clear depictions of different aspects of normal everyday life. Relationships with family and friends are always showcased in some way in his manga, but it gets a rather interesting view point in Miyuki.

Romantic comedies have always been considered a rather girlie genre. The “romance” at the beginning of the genre is the reason why. Romantic comedies are usually considered “chick flicks” when watched as films and most “chick lit” follows the same guidelines. Yet here is a very good example of a romantic comedy that can be enjoyed by both males and females. Miyuki ran for 4 years in a shonen manga magazine, written by a male mangaka, and has a male protagonist. Having a romantic comedy slanted to the male reader is actually something I've never read before. Most shonen that I've read are all action based with just a touch of romance on the side or have no romance at all; which reflects who the writer is targeting as an audience. Age of the characters also adds to this. At 16 years of age, most boys will forever be represented as being full of hormones. Masato and his guy friends are no exception. There are numerous panels of Masato focusing on some physical body part of stepsister Miyuki and girlfriend Miyuki. Fanservice runs amuck in shonen manga, but Adachi brings it in to further characterize Masato and his group of friends. As the story progresses, Masato is confronted with the amount of attraction Miyuki, his stepsister and his girlfriend, get from other guys. These confrontations are what bring in more humor for guys who have sisters and understand Masatos “brotherly” feelings as well as girls who are intrigued by the reverse harem that evolves around stepsister Miyuki.

Adachi's mangaka career spans decades and Miyuki was one of his first major publications spanning from 1980 – 1984 in Shonen Big Comic. It was not until his publication of Touch in 1981 that he established himself as a leading mangaka and storyteller. All of Adachi's manga could be called a “slice of life” manga because of the fact that they all showcase ordinary Japanese through certain stages in their lives. He is a true master of depicting life. Miyuki depicts the life of Masato, who has been living alone for 6 years while his father and step sister moved around the world. The summer of his 16th birthday he is working at the beach when he meets a beautiful girl named Miyuki and hits on her. It is not till the next day that he learns that she is his step sister. The romantic comedy that ensues is a interesting depiction of the modern family; two step siblings, no Mothers, and an absent Father. In Japanese, there is no Japanese word for step siblings of families, it is a borrowed word from English. While borrowing words from other languages is something that the Japanese do really well, the lack of this specific term in Japanese is an indication of how Japan looks at these second families. Throughout the manga, Masato carries a copy of the family registry where it clearly states that Miyuki is an adopted child to his Father. Child custody laws in Japan are very sticky and unforgiving. When parents divorce there is no such thing as joint custody. One parent gets sole custody of the children or child and the other parent might hardly see them, hence why the concept of a “step family” is foreign to the Japanese and has to be borrowed from the West. Throughout the manga, Masato is constantly struggling with the fact that Miyuki is his sister, the family registry states it, but she is not his blood sister.

An interesting point that is unspoken through the manga is how thin the line is between family love and romantic love. Throughout the manga, Masato is constantly confronted with his own sexual attraction to Miyuki as well as everybody else being attracted to her. In the span of 4 years, Masato constantly struggles with this attraction he has for his stepsister. This is not the first time audiences have seen this type of storyline play out. Another famous example is the Brady Bunchs Marsha and Greg went through something very similar. During the battle for the attic space, both characters questioned if they were attracted to their step sibling. Even today, this question is in a moral gray area for some people. A step sibling is your legal family, but they are not your blood family. The main issue here is how the family and others would take it. Taking the awkwardness into consideration, Marsha and Greg did not end up dating, but the question was a difficult one for the rest of the fictional family. Masato and Miyuki are in a different situation. The question is constantly brought up by Masato and later the childhood friend in the fact that Masato has lived 4 years with the cute and beautiful Miyuki without having any kind of physical or romantic feelings for her. While Masato and the reader both know that that is not the true case, if the rest of the neighborhood and Miyuki's admires knew what was going on, I believe that there would have been a lot more interference by others.

Love is a rather fickle emotion. There are so many different forms and levels to love and emotions that it is not surprising that this issue of dating a step sibling as brought up some uneasy feelings and opinions in some. There are spoken and unspoken rules about who you should fall in love with, but everybody who has been in love knows that there is no controlling the emotion. Masatos constant struggle with his attraction to his stepsister is a strong showing of this. Families and parents have a very strong influence on their children. My example of Marsha and Greg is a good indication of this idea. While Marsha and Greg were attracted to each other, they had already been living together as siblings for so long that they could not look past those original sibling love. In this day and age, it is no difficult to raise children who are not biologically related to love each other like brothers and sisters. 

Masato and Miyuki did not have this influence on their relationship. Masato had always been aware of the fact that Miyuki was not his biological sister, the main question was if Miyuki was aware of it as well. Being constantly aware of the lack of blood relation between them, Masato struggles not with his brain, but with his heart to understand if he actually loves Miyuki like a sister or if he actually feel romantic affection for her. What Masato views as forbidden feelings are kept under lock and key until the very end of the manga and the arrival for his childhood friend Yuichi, who is the complete opposite of him. Yet love works in the opposite direction as well. There are thousands of people who have heard the words, “I love you like a brother/sister” from people that they loved romantically. Miyuki and Yuichi's relationship raises this side of the issue. Yuichi falls in love with Miyuki, but Miyuki only holds sisterly feelings for him. This two-folded issue brings a true splash of drama to the story as well as providing another level of connectivity to Adachi's characters.

Actors are well familiar with the concept the “fourth wall”. It is an imaginary wall that is in front of the stage or where the cameras would be while shooting a movie or TV show. A rather enjoyable part of Miyuki is how often Adachi breaks this fourth wall and inserts himself into the manga. There are light hearted jokes about him and his editor in the drawing process and he also puts himself into the manga as himself. Paired up with the amount of fanservice and jokes about how horny high school Japanese boys are, it fulfills the requirements for a shonen manga. Mixed with the romance and interesting family issue, Adachi makes Miyuki into an instant classic. 

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