Tuesday, December 21, 2010


These two volumes were originally published in 1990 and 1991. The first volume is one of the first Japanese-language manga I ever bought. When I bought it, as I recall, I did not know any Japanese and had no plans to teach myself Japanese; I simply bought it out of curiosity. I bought it used and it only cost a dollar, so my curiousity was easy to indulge. There's at least one more volume after the second, but I've never seen it. At any rate, though this is one of the first series I owned, I only got around to reading it now. The female creator of the series, Kei Ishizaka, also wrote and drew the two-volume manga I'm Home, which I've read and reviewed.

The protagonist of Money Moon is a wholesome and innocent-looking college student named Tsukiko Kinjo. (The first kanji of her family and given names mean "money" and "moon," respectively.) The English-language blurb on the jacket announces that "'MONEY MOON' is the story about a girl, named KINJO, TSUKIKO making it a rule to enjoy sex and make money, as much as possible." What this blurb doesn't make clear is that Tsukiko pursues both these goals simultaneously: in other words, she's a part-time prostitute. Her attitude is strictly pragmatic: if men are willing to pay money to sleep with her, why do it for free? Hence, her friend Erika's lectures on the evils of selling one's body go in one ear and out the other.

At the start of the series, she's only hooking casually. This changes when her father, a banker, flips out, takes his boss hostage, and forces the bank to dump 300,000,000 yen (which at that time would have been equivalent to about $2,000,000) from a helicopter. Not only does he go to jail, Tsukiko's family is obligated to repay that part of the 300,000,000 yen that wasn't recovered (which is most of it), which with interest amounts to 2,020,522 yen (about $13,000) a month for twenty years.

Since Tsukiko's father was the family's sole breadwinner, her family has is in a fix. But Tsukiko, who is self-confident to the point of cockiness, wolunteers to pay off the whole sum and support her family. Fortunately, she's already been in contact with a scout for adult videos, which promise to be much more lucrative than simple prostitution. And at first everything seems to be working out: her debut film is a big hit and she becomes a media celebrity, quashing objections from her mother and brother by tossing them money. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that performing in front of the cameras day after day gets monotonous, and she develops an attitude problem. And then, to make matters worse, her fans desert her for newer adult stars, and to keep working she has to appear in a bondage film, which she doesn't enjoy at all.

The nadir comes when her manager arranges to have her raped -- for real -- on camera. Fortunately, the assault is interrupted before she is raped. And while shaken, she retains enough sang froid to present her manager with an itemized bill for damages (and a threat to go to the police if he won't pay). In fact, the episode indirectly inspires her to come up with a new money-making scheme: making porn for women. The second volume ends with her searching for a male lead for her first production.

The series also criticizes the Japanese society of that time, portraying it as money-crazed. (The first volume was published in 1990, when Japan's bubble economy of the 1980s had begun to collapse, but would probably have begun serialization when it was still booming.) Tsukiko sees everything in terms of money. Nor is she the only one in her family to be preoccupied with money. Her mother belongs to a new religion which preaches that money is all-important, and promises that those who donate to the religion will be richly rewarded. And her younger brother, who is drawn like a gnome, has calculated exactly how much, in terms of lifetime earnings, each point on his college entrance exams is worth. Ironically, it is her father, from whom Tsukiko learned to respect money, who during the hostage negotiations denounces how money has become an end in itself.

There's also a romantic subplot involving Tsukiko and Ryou, her co-star in her adult film debut. To one familiar with manga romance conventions, they're clearly destined to get together, although so far neither has acknowledged having feelings for the other. The twist is that they've already had sex with each other more than once. Ryou is even more businesslike about sex than Tsukiko is. After their first scene together, she offers to "finish him off," no charge (there was no "money shot"), but he declines: he doesn't do anything for free. When she later tries to seduce him in real life, he demands that she pay him.

The art style could be described as "simplified shoujo." On the one hand, it has the formal properties of shoujo, such as rejection of the grid -- rectangular panels are the exception, rather than the rule -- and the use of "decorative" flowers and abstract designs. On the other hand, except for Tsukiko and Erika, the characters aren't drawn in the big-eyed style associated with shoujo; and in general the art lacks the emotional intensity which is shoujo's chief characteristic.

Despite its subject matter, and its having been serialized in Big Comics Spirits, a seinen (young men's) magazine, Money Moon isn't primarily intended to titillate. Tsukiko is youthful in appearance, but at the same time is clearly drawn as a young woman, not an underaged girl. And while she is often nude and the sex scenes are fairly explicit, they aren't particularly sexy.

Money Moon isn't a great series, but it's enjoyable and fresh. Tsukiko is an unusual protagonist, with her cockiness, fixation on money and casual attitude towards sex. However, the series is out of print, so I can't order it through the Japanese bookstore where I shop. Somewhat to my surprise, amazon.co.jp offers a number of used copies of the third volume, as well as the first two, for one yen apiece (a little more than a penny). But while I'd like to read more of the series, I'm not sure that I'm motivated enough to pay the high cost of shipping from Japan. If anyone wants to investigate for themselves, the amazon.co.jp pages for the first two volumes are here and here.

Money Moon was published by Shogakukan. Its 10-digit ISBNs are:

vol. 1: 4-09-182321-1
vol. 2: 4-09-182322-X

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