Adi Tantimedh writes,
I've actually waited years to write this column.
Moyoco Anno is one of my favourite creators of Josei manga, comics aimed at a 20something female readership that enjoys a huge market in Japan but is still underexploited in the West. She's a far bigger deal in Japan than comics fans in the West realize. She has created a huge body of work, only a fraction of which has been published in the West.
We've had Happy Mania, her comedy about a woman looking for Mr. Right in all the wrong places, Flowers and Bees, a dark comedy about an insecure, masochistic man in search of a girlfriend who pays a pair of sadistic women to improve his image, Sugar Sugar Rune, a kids' series about young witches and Sakuran, a punkish portrayal of a headstrong, rebellious Geisha in feudal times. Her biggest series, Hataraki Man, a comedy-drama about a workaholic devoted to her magazine job at the expense of her personal life, had spawned an anime and live action TV series and other media spinoffs, is on indefinite hiatus and remains untranslated in the West.
The insight in Anno's work is often hilarious but also unflinching and merciless in its examination of the self-deception and self-destructive tendencies of men and women, sometimes even at the cost of her real-life friendships. Her gaze is no less merciless on herself. In the creator's afterword comics at the end of her collected manga trades, she draws herself as a neurotic, bad-tempered baby even though in real life, she looks like the fashionably-dressed professional women of her manga.
Insufficient Direction is lighter fare, a collection of humour strips about her marriage to anime director Hideaki Anno. For most Western readers, he's probably best-known as the renowned creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion where he not only deconstructed the giant robot genre and exposed its tragic psychological subtexts, but also very publicly played out his own mental breakdown and struggle with near-suicidal depression in the climax of the anime series itself. He married Moyoco quite a few years after the end of Evangelion and by all accounts had recovered from that depression.
Autobiographical comics about comics creators' marriages is not a new genre. We've had Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb drawing each other in their collaborative strips together, which inspired Gilbert Hernandez and Carol Kovinik to do the same in Love and Rockets. The most recent example has been AdrianTomine's Scenes from an Impending Marriage.
Insufficient Direction is a slice-of-life comic about the couple's marriage starting with their wedding where he cosplayed as Kamen Rider and she cosplayed as a bride. She draws herself as an impatient, neurotic baby again, calling herself "Rompers" (which I find hilarious and endearing) and him as a schlubby, overweight oddball named "Director-kun", not the most flattering portrayals of oneself and the spouse but not without affection. The series proceeds to depict how an Otaku couple would behave, with their love for comics and anime, their routines devoted to binge-watching boxsets and reading whole series to keep up with their geek obsessions. She worries that her chances of becoming more normal are now nil, having hoped to marry either a jock or a non-geek but the heart chooses what it wants. She was always more self-sufficient and hygienic than he was, and part of the marriage involves forcing him to eat properly, to devote proper hygiene habits and how to dress. He, on the other hand, brings out all her latent geekiness that she kept partly suppressed and they go through their lives singing theme songs to classic anime series and quoting lines from their favourite shows. There's also his tendency to strike superhero poses from Ultraman and Kamen Rider. Substitute those names with "Batman", "G.I. Joe" or "Transformers" and you'll find something no different from the habits of geeks in the West.
That the book is getting an English translation is a major event in manga publishing in the West. It features an exhaustive 20,000-word index explaining all the manga and anime references the couple make throughout the comic that serves as a crash-course in hardcore Japanese otaku culture for beginners.
While the comic strip is told from her point of view, the real capper is Hideaki Anno's afterword. Here he confirms that what's shown in the strips really happened, and he often suggested she exaggerated some of the details to make them even funnier. He also points out that the strips are the opposite of escapism. They reaffirm reality and the desire to be in the world rather than escape into a fantasy that comics and anime frequently offer. That is the value of the comic on top of the laughs.
And in the end, his last words say it all:
"My wife's public image is that of a strong woman, but actually she's very sensitive, fragile and weak. She constantly has to face her difficult past, and she couldn't escape the reality of having to provide for her family. It's just that she needed to don a piece of armor called "toughness" over her heart. I can sense that deep inside she battles loneliness and alienation and she is barely holding her emotional balance in check. That's why I want to devote whatever time I have outside of work to my wife. That's why I got married to her, and I want to protect her with everything I have, forever."
Slicing at life at email@example.com
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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh