KANTA ON MANGA / Searching for the stairway to adulthood

© Mari Okada/Nao Emoto 2017/Kodansha

By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterThe manga this week

Araburu Kisetsu no Otomedomo yo (For maidens in stormy season)

Original story by Mari Okada, illustrated by Nao Emoto (Kodansha)

Anime scriptwriter Mari Okada has been on my mind recently. She gained recognition for the 2011 TV anime series “Anohi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai” (Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day) — a masterpiece anime about a high school boy nicknamed Jintan who tends to be a recluse. One day, he meets the ghost of a female friend from his childhood.

The ghost is only visible to Jintan and the viewers, leading to a surprising and moving climax. It is set in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, which made the city a sacred place for fans of the work.

Okada also wrote the script for, and directed, “Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazaro” (Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms), an anime film currently playing in theaters nationwide.

The work is her directorial debut. I personally feel anime films are rarely successful unless they are directed by animators. I was skeptical before watching this anime, but am now convinced it will be the best or second-best anime film released this year.

Please excuse my long introduction.

The manga this week is Okada’s debut work as an original manga storywriter. It is about five female members of a high school literary club. Every time they meet after school, they recite from books by such literary giants as Junichiro Tanizaki, Yasunari Kawabata and Osamu Dazai, with an abundance of sexual descriptions. The girls appear bashful, yet their minds are about to explode with curiosity about sex. When discussing what they want to do before they die, the most beautiful girl of the group says she wants to have sex — a bombshell confession that shocks the others. Dazed and confused, they begin a search for the stairway to adulthood.

In writing a summary, it is quite hard for me to describe just what makes this manga so entertaining. But the most intriguing aspect of the work is the dialogue between the girls. For example, they come up with a new word that reads “es-e-batsu” (batsu meaning “x”) to avoid using the embarrassing word “sex.” In one episode, I could not help but laugh out loud at seeing them get in a tangle over their new word.

In an autobiographical book, published last year, Okada reveals that she refused to go to school all the way from elementary school to high school. Jintan and many of the other main characters in Okada’s scripts feel as if something is missing. How they recover is the theme of many of her stories. Indeed, their cries for help are also Okada’s.

Okada and her work were recently featured heavily in the cultural magazine Eureka. It is very unusual for a scriptwriter to receive such great attention in the world of anime, where almost everything is geared toward visuals.

Does this herald an epoch-making cultural shift? Or perhaps, in the minds of the younger generation, the words that have been shoved aside by visual images might suddenly be striking back.

This issue is worth more exploration.

Ishida is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior writer whose areas of expertise include manga and anime.Speech

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