Saturday, November 24, 2012

Old School Shoujo in: Amakusa 1637

So hi, if you are here you have spent too much time on the Internet, but anyway I will be posting manga reviews on this blog. Sometimes I will cover mangaka, sometimes I will cover shoujo, or shounen, or seinen, who knows, because if I stick to a release schedule I'd better be paid for it. Which I'm not.

If there is a manga you want me to review though, just comment and I will consider the suggestion. Ditto if you have any questions or opinions about my posts.

Amakusa 1637
Michiyo Akaishi

Amakusa 1637 purports to be about six modern day teenagers who, stranded in 17th century Japan, decide to change the outcome of the Shimabara rebellion and save the 37,000+ casualties. What Amakusa 1637 actually is, is fucked up shit.

So six close friends on the student council of St. Francisco Academy are magically transported back in time via a shipwreck into the burgeoning stages of the Shimabara rebellion. We follow the perspective of Natsuki, badass independent tomboy girl stereotype who is dropped near the home of the old couple who have lost their son. Who looks just like Natsuki, and who is the prophesied hero of the rebellion.

Of the six friends, both Miyamoto and Yatsuka are smitten with Natsuki, but she only likes Miyamoto back and I, really, support that decision seeing as how he actually respects her, and it makes character sense because she can take care of herself, not being the clumsy flailing type and all that entails. Yatsuka, on the other hand, because he was thrown back in the past further than our heroine, has engaged in five years of death penalty offences when they reunite. Turns out, he fell in love with the man who bore a resemblance to Natsuki, initiated intercourse with the guy while threatening his family, and after a while strangled him because he feared that he might become his weakness. That's not taking into account the ruthless slaughter and arson he committed against Christians, whereabouts of whom he had gained through being from the future. Icing on the cake: Yatsuka also forcibly kisses Natsuki while she is being bound, and then she forgives him with a hug and completely converts him to her cause and it's sunshine and kittens again. It's like he crossed the line, crossed another one, and then drew another line just to cross it, and then she came and stomped all over those lines. Which, let's not forget, in the context of this story, she represents the messenger of the Christian god, so yeah, add Christianity to sexual assault and massacre on the list of stuff that's being poorly handled by this manga.

It all comes wrapped up in sparkly shoujo conventions, only the sharp contrast between youthful bravado and cold massacre comes across as more incidental rather than artistically purposeful. It's only so many times one character restates their mission statement after hinting at it for half of the book before you chalk it up to bad writing. Here's a newsflash: that Natsuki decides to stay and help the people isn't as a huge deal as it's portrayed if 1, the fact wasn't so obvious in its set-up, 2, the teenagers have no way of returning anyway, and 3, there was anything close to development in Natsuki's character. So no, if Amakusa can't pull off standard manga convention it sure as hell can't pull off touchy social issues.

Then there's the uncomfortable incestuous vibe. Not actually incest, no, but the circle of friends resembles enough a family unit that the rampant sexual tension becomes disturbing. We have Miyamoto and Natsuki as the de facto parent figures, but bookworm girl Eri crushes on Natsuki as Natsuki has protected her prince-style from childhood, and Yatsuka, when he's not hitting on Natsuki, threatens to take an interest in straight boy Eiji. While student councils have always been breeding grounds for romantic inclinations every which way possible, Amakusa breaks convention by the overt yet not obviously fanservicey sensuality, and that's like intruding on some kind of code that for once I would really prefer unintruded.

Last redeeming opportunity, this is a question which I try to answer with every manga: At Amakusa's heart,... there is no heart. Amakusa banks on too many hooks to tell its story, hooks which become disparate elements that grate against one another: Christianity, 17th century Japan, student council, adoration of the peasants, chaste romance, sexual assault, shoujo trappings, etc.

In fact, Amakusa feels like it's fumbling round established boundaries, in the state of experimentation that should have passed years ago. I was surprised to discover that Amakusa was written as late as 2001, also partly because of the clumsy storytelling and the distinctly dated art style. Perhaps it's not the students who traveled through time...

And if the premise seems confusing it's because the only salient fact about this manga is that you shouldn't read it.

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