December 27, 2010

,   |  

All My Darling Daughters

Written by Fumi Yoshinaga
Illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga
Viz

Fumi Yoshinaga, one of the best creators at writing stories that reflect everyday life, is at it again with All My Darling Daughters. Five short stories revolve around Yukiko, a woman in her thirties, and her friends and family. As her mother decides to take life by the horns, Yukiko tries to do the same thing, with mixed results. Watch as her story interacts with others just trying to do their best in a world that often doesn't work out the way you expected.

In this collection of short stories, Fumi Yoshinaga does what she's best at--small slices of life that are funny, tragic, and touching all at the same time. They're stories that could be about you or the people that you know. The dialog you hear in her stories is the same dialog you overhear at a restaurant or as you're passing someone by on the street while they talk just a bit too loud on their cell phone. Yoshinaga crafts stories of the ordinary, and that's what makes her work so good.

The thing that separates Yoshinaga from others doing similar material, I think, is that while her stories often have negative moments at no time do they become maudlin. Yukiko's marriage does not end up as she'd hoped, but that doesn't mean she gives up. Instead, she reaches out, and we're left with the idea that Yukiko won't always be in a one-sided relationship. Another character decides she can't love one person more than anyone else, so instead of quietly fading away (as she might in other hands), she changes her life so she can love all people. Yukiko's mom is a cancer survivor whose first husband is dead. Instead of moping around, she moves on, gets a new, younger husband, and starts living life again. None of these options are from some fanciful world where everything works out perfectly. They're ideas that we can grasp for ourselves, if we only try.

(As an aside, how cool is it that we have a positive model here of an older woman marrying a younger man, and having it be shown as actual love? Sure, there's skepticism, but that, too, is as natural as anything else we see in All My Darling Daughters.)

This does not mean that everything in All My Darling Daughters is positive or resolves perfectly. The many struggles women of all ages must go through to find their identity and feel comfortable with it echo in these stories, even if one of the women is used as something of comic relief. Long-standing family grudges exist here, just as they do in real life, and we get to see some of the uglier comments, too, not just the life-affirming ones. There's a great sense of balance here, even with the knowledge that we can all be better people if we only try.

Long-time fans of Yoshinaga (and I consider myself one, as I was reading her as far back as 2006) will find plenty of her touches across the pages. We have the same expressive faces that often tell us as much as the dialog, brought up close to the reader's eyes. Yoshinaga uses a lot of head shots and closeups, because this book is about the interaction between the characters. You don't read her comics to get exquisite backgrounds, so if you're looking for detailed art, this is the wrong place to go. On the other hand, if you want to see the subtle changes we make as we speak, Yoshinaga will give those to you in spades, as even her exaggerated poses retain some sense of realism.

After reading two volumes of Ooku that were badly translated and mangled Yoshinaga's ear for conversation beyond readability (at least for me), it was so nice to read a book that captured her patter in a way that flows for English-speaking audiences. John Werry should be asked by Viz to go back and fix Ooku, but I doubt that's likely to happen. Yoshinaga's stories are driven by her words, and anything that gets between the reader and the dialog ruins the book. All My Darling Daughters gives us spoken lines that do not stop and start, unless that's what they're supposed to do. It always feels like Yukiko and her friends and family are speaking to each other, not through Babelfish.

I'm glad to see the Yoshinaga I came to know and love back in this collection. Ooku may be getting the press, but this is the kind of work that makes Yoshinaga sing. Just as with Antique Bakery or Solfege, we are drawn into this world because it could easily be our life she's describing. This is a must read for any fan of Yoshinaga. Those who are looking for an introduction to her work should definitely check this book out. It's Yoshinaga at her ordinary life best, and shows why she's definitely one of the best manga creators active today.