Quite honestly, I am not really sure how to start of this blog post. I wish to clear up something really quick. I believe that have given off the impression that I only enjoy seinen or shonen manga. This is not entirely the case. While, yes, I do prefer these genres on a personal level, I am open to all types and genres. While I have yet to get into some of them, I have every intention of writing about every genre. Which shall start now!
A couple weeks ago, I had a friend randomly send me a message asking me if I was reading 7 Seeds, by Tamura Yumi and I had to honestly answer no and that it was on my list of "manga to read" (which basically gets updated every other day). The truth of the matter is that I had seen the manga at Book-Off for months now, but I looked at the art style and it kinda turned me off to the manga. I know my mother always told me, "Don't judge a book by its cover", but I was judging the art style. Tamura draws in a VERY old shojou style, I'm talking Sailor Moon style, which, while I was in middle and high school, was a style I was attracted to, now I am not.
After my friend asked me, I decided to check it out so that we could talk about it. I was so surprised about the depth of this manga. While it is a josei manga, that means it comes with emotional twisting drama and characters, it is also ment for older girls and young women and it dives into a theme that I haven't really seen any other josei or shoujo dive it, the apocalypse. After a little research, I learned that this manga has been running 10 years strong, which is only a little shorter than Naruto, and that it's an award winner. It's the 2007 Shogakukan Manga Award winner for shoujo manga and it is well deserved.
WARNING! THIS ESSASY CONTAINS SERIOUS SPOILERS!
The Multiple Themes of 7 Seeds
With any type of product, there is also going to be a target audience and the same is true for manga and the people who consume it. The problem with genres is that most readers tend to stick to just one. Readers can be creatures of habit and after they have found the few specific genres that they enjoy reading, for example mystery or historical fiction, they tend to stay loyal to them. The same can be said for those who love movies. All these genres are wonderful for readers and movie goers because they can find a niche that they enjoy and the know what books of movies to spend their time and money on. Yet, this aspect of reading and movie watching also proves to be limiting. Unless you are a true enjoyer of books or movies as a whole, a lot of consumers are those who know what they like and they do not tend to stray from what they know.
It is not just the consumers that this behavior belongs to, but also the writers. Many writers start and maintain their careers focusing on just one genre, which leads to fan loyalty and then fans bridging out to different authors, but within the same genre. Mangaka are must more limited in this behavior not just because of the way that they draw, but also the plot lines and characters they are good at creating. Tamura Yumi is a rather interesting mangaka in my opinion. While, she has fallen into this genre pit with both Basara and 7 Seeds, she has bent the genre of josei just a little bit. While most josei is all centered in the modern world and primarily focuses on relationships that involve the main characters, Tamura is able to add in what is usually seinen theme into her writing, the apocalypse. Not only just this theme of the apocalypse, she adds in so many different ideas within this manga that it a literal fountain of themes. It is this mixture of themes that elevates her work as not just a josei manga, but an award winning and universal manga.
Let us first look at exactly what josei manga is and what its usual themes are. Josei manga is a genre of manga that is geared toward young and adult women, usually from the age range from their late teens to their thirties. Typical themes are usually must contain much more sexually explicit and revolve around the themes of babies, office life, families, and romance is always a rather heavy part of the theme profile. Manga titles that are included in this genre are Kimi wa Petto, Walking Butterfly, and Usagi Drop. All three of these titles are set in modern times with women as the main characters and have some kind of relationship as the center plot line. Tamura Yumi knows how to make herself stand out within this genre. Not only does her artwork speak for itself, so does the setting of 7 Seeds. Imagine waking up one morning to discover that the world has finally been struck by another meteor. Ocean levels have risen to such an extend that only mountainous are left and the world has gone through the evolution process all over again. This setting, which is very science-fiction, is what sets 7 Seeds apart from other josei manga. Not only does it deliver on talking about relationships, but changes the dynamics of what could be called normal relationships by changing where the relationships develop. By bringing in the necessity of survival, the relationships between the characters are greatly affected by not only their personalities, but also their environment.
There are many underlying themes to 7 Seeds, when brought together, can be heart-wrenching. While being heart-wrenching is usually an effect of josei manga, the sometimes sheer amount of it is surprising. Both the reader and the characters are introduced to Tamura's vision of the post apocalyptic world at the same time through the eyes of Natsu, a very shy 16 year old girl, who wakes up underwater and has to recollection of how she got there. Through her, the reader is brought together with 6 others who are all in the same situation that come to be known as Team Summer B. These people, who no idea what has happened or where they are must survive in a most inhospitable world where there are new animals, plants, and no other people. Conflict is constant for these characters and in this world where they have found themselves.
As the story continues, it comes to light that these 7 young people plus one guide were all apart of a last ditch plan formed by the Japanese government to keep humanity alive after scientists discovered when the meteor was to hit the Earth. Tamura puts the reader into a situation where they also have to ask themselves how they would react to such a situation. How does a person react when faced with the knowledge that everything and everyone they ever knew has been gone for what is most likely centuries? On this aspect, this manga is not only josei but also falls under the psychological genre. The reaction of the characters and also the reaction of the reader is heavily showcased in survival settings. Each person reacts differently and the levels of acceptance of their circumstances add to the development of each character. Tamura uses this mixture of josei, science fiction and psychological themes to elevate this manga onto new emotional levels.
Psychological themes within manga do not only grow from the plot, but also from the drawing style. Tamura has a beautiful drawing style and understands very well how to convey the beauty of this post apocalyptic world, yet she is able to balance out that beauty with the harshness of the world that surrounds our characters. This new world is a harsh environment, with danger possible at any given time. Death is inevitable for some in this type of environment and Tamura does not ignore this possibility. The enitre Team Winter arc showcases this perfectly. After awaking in Hokkaido, which is the northern most island in the Japanese archipelago, it is discovered that 3 members of the party did not survive the thawing process, leaving the team with just 5 members at the start. Soon after, 2 other members die leaving Takahiro, Mitsuru, and Fubiki to fend for themselves. In the end, Takahiro is the only survivor after having to watch his 2 friends die, he lives and survives alone for 15 years before the start of our story.
The strongest case of psychological drama within this manga can be is seen through the Team Summer A. The reader in introduced to dozens of young children who are all without last names in an unknown land at what would first appear to be an orphanage. These children have been together since birth and are all studying wilderness survival techniques. One by one the students who start having poor eyesight, injuries, and other “imperfect” qualities are taken out of the school. These children, who are all 17, have been raised to survive in the post apocalyptic world and they have been forced to learn the true meaning of survival of the fittest. In a rather “battle royal” ending, the final 7 are picked because they are the last ones alive. They have had to watch friends die and are faced with the reality that the teachers that they thought were helping them, were responsible for so many dead. When they are brought out of their induced sleep, they extract revenge on the one teacher that is sent with them to be their guide. Setting the tone of how this group of 7 functions in the new world. They have the survival skills they need to make houses and domesticate animals, but they do not hold the skills to work with the other groups. They see themselves as superior and it takes a drastic event to change their group dynamic. When Summer A is brought into contact with Spring, it comes to light that Hana's father was one of the teachers that ruled the lives of these children. Hana and the rest of the characters must come to grips with this development and Ango reacts the harshest. Mentally, he is still surviving the final test and takes out his anger against his old teacher through his daughter, almost raping her. These instances show the true psychological damage that this type of survival training has placed on what used to be happy and healthy young adults.
We must not forget one of the main themes in josei, relationships. Tamura draws the reader into the different relationship levels and dynamics within each team and between the teams as well. Of course, there are romantic feelings between characters. There is the development of Natsu falling in love with Arashi, but Arashi is in love with Hana, who is in Team Spring. This love triangle, sets the tone of the development of these 3 characters. Arashi and Hana are in love and it is stated that it was inevitable that they would have gotten married in the past. Throughout the plot, Arashi and Hana desperately stay to hold on to each other, even when they are unsure that the other is alive. That the love between them can last through the end of the world shows how strong the bond is between them.
Other types of relationships are also discovered and dissected within this polarizing environment that they teams find themselves in. Group mentality is strongly showcased within each group. Each team represents a different season and also contains very different individuals that have very different skills. Within each team there is a designated and unspoken leaders, followers, and divisions within each team. For example, when Natsu, Arashi, and Semimaru first come in contact with Team Autumn, they are amazed by the sophistication of their buildings, crops, and animal domestication. Later, as the 3 learn more about the team it becomes apparent to them that this team is slowly falling apart. Their guide did not show leadership when they first awoke, 3 years prior to the start of the story, and 2 other members took over and started leading in tyrannical style. This is a clear contrast with Summer B with the strong leadership of Botan and how well the team starts to work together throughout the manga. There are power struggles between members of each team and also between teams. This is shown clearly through the meeting of Summer A with the mixture of Autumn and Spring. While one team has the skills to survive, the other has the skills to communicate with others. This friction between the teams turns violent as well as cooperative the longer they are together. Tamura is stating that while having the survival skills is a very important factor in living in this post apocalyptic world, have practical knowledge and the ability to make choices is also important. The ability to make decisions is a skill that many youths do not know how to make. They have the skills to get a job, but they do not know how to make important decisions.
There are dozens of mini-themes hiding throughout this story. Tamura brings up ideas of the importance of the arts, worker mentality, Japanese identity, and what could really happen if the government started genetic profiling people to be in “perfect” physical condition. There are themes of loss of faith, building of self-confidence, the effects of abandonment, and the strength of humans interwoven with the overall theme of the survival of mankind. By interweaving these themes together, Tamura creates not just another josei, science fiction, or psychological manga, she creates a perfect blend that appeals to the mature reader , as well as others, through its complexity. Blending these genres together creates a world and characters that many readers can connect and identify with. The diversity within the characters and their personalities creates dynamic and complex relationships that display a depth of understanding of the human mind.