18+ Warning: Includes graphic images of sexual violence.
Misuzu Hara, 24, is single and attends a high school. Her best friend Minako is engaged to Hayafuji and is determined to be an ideal housewife and wife. However, Minako does not realize that four years ago, Hayafuji imposed himself on Misuzu – and still secretly meets her for sex. When a rumor spreads in the school that one of Misuzu’s students, Nizuma, is having an affair with a middle-aged woman, the male staff insists on speaking with him. But Niizuma is very different from the abusive and manipulative Hayafuji; He is sensitive, insightful, and has a sexual complex when it comes to women’s bodies which he lets slip, perhaps hoping that his mentor will be able to offer advice or guidance. “So… you’re saying that men are to blame?” “Who else is there?” he says, answering her without wonder. However, she is not ready to stop there. “There must be a way to prevent sex from being a source of conflict. Otherwise, you and I cannot be saved. When he looked at his teacher, he saw tears running down his cheeks. But they are unable to offer words of support or comfort; quite the contrary—and he walks out and let her think, What you just did to this 16-year-old boy wasn’t a decent thing. This was the first time I had given a man a piece of my mind.
Unlike Misuzu, Minako wants to give up work to focus on being a housewife (certainly an old dream, really, for a young woman in the 21st century). She doesn’t understand the strong messages her fiancé sends her, especially when it comes to it no You want to have sex with her.
Meanwhile, Hayafuji takes intimate photos of Misuzu during one of her lunch dates, which gain an additional psychological impact on her. Then one of the beautiful chapters of Misuzu Tsubaki Midorikawa appeared on the cover and inside young jump Magazine in some revealing swimsuit shots. He encouraged the older male teachers to express their anger and then blame Misuzu, urging her to reprimand the young woman, seeing that she had done nothing wrong. Misuzu deeply feels the difference between a carefree student who sees no personal risk in making the most of her traits – and her own predicament. Especially since Hyafuji started texting her to remind her that he still had a certain picture of her…
First, this 2-in-1 volume deserves an 18+ rating and a warning because it contains images and situations that readers may find disturbing. It’s an uncomfortable and disturbing read and the mangaka intends it to be, with the goal of getting us out of our assumptions and preconceptions. But in doing so, does Akane Torikai give us a deliberately biased view of the daily life of high school teacher Misuzu Hara? Is this how Miss Hara sees her world? The high school students you teach are obsessed with sex. Same thing in the staff room. The older (male) teachers are portrayed as being so unsupportive that they are completely hostile (are there no older teachers in this school?) – but also watch the young man’s back girl. Her engaged friend, Minako, is inundated with comments confirming how lucky she is to have framed her husband, while also pointing out how unattractive Misuzu is to remain celibate. The irony, of course, is that it’s his fiancée Hayafuji who uses Misuzu as his “sidepath” and still performs, for reasons we – and we – don’t fully understand yet. Except that guilt and shame seem to be involved. Sex is used as a form of control, whether by the glamorous student Midorikawa, who controls the school, or middle-aged Mrs. Oda, who tricks Nizuma into his part-time job. But not once does anyone seem to be in a romantic relationship or actually enjoy sex. This is what makes this reading so frustrating. Of course, it may be that by the time we’ve read all the volumes, Misuzu will have overcome his trauma (completely understandably) and Hayafuji will be exposed as the manipulative abusive rapist that he is.
So we’re introduced to two people being used: Misuzu (who still secretly accepts with Hayafuji who puts her down but claims to have not been turned on by his fiancée) and his student Niizuma, the target of class bullying. Misuzu, as Niizuma’s main teacher, should be able to offer advice and support to the young man. They should – and can – be allies. However, the pressures placed on them by the unhealthy atmosphere inside the school (and I hope the portrayal of high school doesn’t mean all Japanese high schools are like that) make meaningful conversation impossible. Niizuma impulsively accepts a confession from classmate Mika – and begins dating her, hoping, perhaps, that being in a casual relationship means he’s left alone. When Mika, the quiet girl who lives on the plump side, who isn’t part of the crowd, tries to establish a normal “dating” situation with Niizuma, she finds that he’s not really invested in the idea and breaks down in tears. And I beg him not to break up with her, even if they keep pretending to be dating. But after Misuzu and Hayafuji are discovered in a cafe, Misuzu is now suspected of being stuck in an unhappy relationship… and for reasons he still doesn’t understand, he knows he wants to protect her. This is where another classmate, Mika’s friend Kana Misato, begins sharing (or does that get in the way?)
This is Akane Torikai’s first book published in English, which comes as a bit of a surprise since it debuted in 2004. Since then, Torikai has published over a dozen books and worked as Minoru’s assistant. Furuya (Ping Pong Club, Ciguatera) for a year and a half. She does her best to stir up the repressive atmosphere around Misuzu: condemning sexual crimes in the media; A thief steals her pants from the laundry. Unhelpful and hostile attitudes of fellow male teachers.
This 2-in-1 vertical edition has two translators: Morgan Giles and Arthur Reiji Morris who capture the high school students’ voice well. There are matte color pages at the beginning of the book and halfway where the second volume begins. The art of Akane Torikai is so successful that we have the impression that we know the main characters well through their interactions and reactions. I have to reiterate that the 18+ rating exists for a reason and there are scenes of sexual violence that some readers may find disturbing or erotic, so it is in no way recommended for all adult readers. I also wonder if they need to be represented graphically. The manga has an agenda (in 2013, the #MeToo movement of 2017 hasn’t taken off yet, so in some ways it was way ahead of its time) and it will still be visible in future volumes, if that agenda overshadows the story – telling in a subtle way or making it relevant and pertinent .
It’s unclear exactly how the mangaka will continue to develop its themes over the next three volumes (all 2-in-1), but this volume ends with Minako asking a guiding question for Misuzu. I hope that not all male characters end up being portrayed as villains and that not all women are shown as victims or constantly trying to compete with each other. (Will these students graduate and graduate? Nobody seems to be paying attention in class or doing homework. I’m just saying…) Volume 2 is due for release in July.