As a person in the pop culture writing sphere, I am fortunate enough to have new comic book and manga announcements land under my radar. The newest one is a story from Yen Press called The Garden of Words, which is a Japanese Manga that was made into an anime back in 2013, as society was edging into the Slice of Life explosion.
My eyes quickly read the synopsis (below) and I was intrigued. I love a swirling, swooning, deeply layered love story that tugs on emotions. But quickly after reading the summary, I found myself feeling…I don’t know…dismissive. After 20 or so years of reading stories from other countries (Japanese manga, Korean manga, and the many International titles Tokyo Pop has to offer) I felt a wave of “I’m so tired of reading superficial dramatic narratives brought to you by an awkward culture filled with bland relationship dynamics.”
As someone who cried when Haruka and Michiru held hands for the final time in Sailor Stars and bawled when Seiya asked Usagi “Am I not enough?” why in the hell would this shit run through my head? I love other cultures, I love stories and folklore and fables from other countries, and I’ve always surrounded myself with a pretty diverse stack of books and comics at all times. And why would I project this sort of awkward blandness onto a Japanese story? Hell, Japan has a deeply rooted culture filled with traditional theater and wildly dramatic stories. From Japan, we have intense Samurai stories with tons of layers. So many stories filled with wonderment, challenging our beliefs of what it means to be a human. Revolutionary tales of surrealist wonderment and beautiful stories of first time experiences.
So why, with that, does my brain think that The Garden of Words may not deliver?
It could be all me– am I a jaded Oldtaku bastard who is unimpressed by sweet tales of sad, lonely people experiencing an unconventional first love? Is it the idea of “Boy enters garden and also lonely dream girl is delivered to him?” Are we headed into a narrative filled with tropes in the way that the manic pixie dream girl saves you and all you have to do is be there, be bewildered by her spirit and contribute nothing? Am I preemptively protective of the female character? Would I feel more romantic attachment if this was a girls love yuri story? Would I then think it was a beautiful tale of ships in night?
Prove me wrong, manga. Am I just a cranky old bitch?
My best friend spent 8-10 weeks in Japan two years ago for school related immersion and returned with all sorts of tales of the upsetting awkwardness that is Japanese dating. Even without her account, I’ve read articles discussing gender roles, weird games girls play with men (making dating knowing they will cancel them), and more. According to some articles I read for the convenience of my point being proven correct in this piece, high scholastic expectations in Japan may stop some teenagers from dating until they are out of high school. Which makes first love high school manga in Japan even funnier.
In short? I like western love stories because we’re lunatics and go full-fucking-throttle. It probably comes from pulp novels and captivity narratives of the wild west, but I love western love stories because we’re god damn crazy people.
Because of all these confused thoughts of tumultuous self doubt coursing through my narrative sensibilities, I knew one thing. I think I need to extinguish the fire and just read the damn book.
Part 2: The review. Coming next month.
About The Garden of Words:
On rainy mornings, Takao can never bring him-self to go to school-instead, he spends that time at the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen gardens and finds a brief reprieve from everything else in his life among the trees and flowers. And on one of those mornings, he discovers a mysterious woman named Yukino in his haven, skipping work, and an unlikely friendship blooms between them. But though these two are the center of this story, they are far from the only ones trying to find their way in life. From director Makoto Shinkai comes a deeper look at his award winning 2013 film, The Garden of Words, full of additional scenes and perspectives to show a whole new side of the many characters who brought the film to life.
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