Tuesday, July 27, 2004


It's been a while since I've done one of these, for various reasons. But the manga that I'm reviewing today, Chihiro by Hiroyuki Yasuda, is an excellent one, which may make up for my delinquency a bit.

Chihiro, the title and main character, is a prostitute working in a brothel, which is in the middle rank of Tokyo's commercial sex establishments. But the book isn't pornographic by any means, though there are many explicit depictions of sex in it. Chihiro enjoys her work, not because she's a happy hooker-type nymphomaniac--we never see her come while working, with one possible exception--but because she enjoys making her customers happy, and takes pride in giving good service to all her customers. This may sound like she's naive or unintelligent, but she's neither. Nor is she the cliched whore with a heart of gold: she's strong-willed, and far from self-abnegating.

The manga is a single, self-contained volume about 360 pages long, twice as long as the average tankoubon (volume of manga). The first half of the book is a series of short stories depicting various minor dramas that arise in the course of Chihiro's work. In the second half, an overall plot takes shape. It's not an eventful plot, though; it's simply that Chihiro becomes dissatisfied with her work and her life. She suddenly quits the brothel; when she finds she can't pick up the relationships she had before becoming a prostitute, she goes to work for another brothel, where working conditions are worse and the customers don't appreciate her dedication to service; she compares herself to fish in an aquarium swimming endlessly in a circle. The book ends on an ambiguous note.

Yasuda doesn't ignore the downsides of prostitution, both physical--Chihiro twice suffers violence from angry customers, though the second time she gives as good as she gets--and emotional. But basically he portrays prostitution as a job like any other, with rewards as well as disadvantages. This is a viewpoint one rarely sees in Western depictions of prostitution, either fictional or non-fictional. Chihiro herself is not a case study, but a strong, likable, and very individual character.

I was originally attracted to Yasuda, the creator of Chihiro, by his art. His style is quite distinctive: cartoony in a good sense, without resembling at all the big-eyed so-called "manga style." And his sense of design and composition is superb.

I own several other books by Yasuda. Konno-san to asoboh ("Let's play with Konno-san") is a collection of short stories about a young woman named Konno, which comes close to being pure cartooning; I hope to get around to reading it soon. Shomuni is a seven-volume series about a group of OLs (the colloquial Japanese designation for female office workers; short for "office ladies"). Tekkondoh! ("Iron spirit road") is also about a woman, though I'm not really sure what it's about aside from that; I own the second volume of the series.

Chihiro is published by Koudansha and its ISBN is 4-06-328771-8. It contains 360 pages of story (there's also an extra single-page throwaway strip), and costs 667 yen (about six dollars).

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