Ayako by the master of Manga – Mr Osamu Tezuka – is one heck of a graphic novel! First published in 1972, the story starts off in the late 1940s, in a post World War II Japan.
This is a roller-coaster ride about a rich rural Japanese family, that is so fucked up, that any other word apart from the ‘f’ word would be putting it mildly. Ayako is our protagonist, who we meet as a sprightly little 4-year-old. She is the doting daughter of the Tenge family patriarch, who is both her father & grandfather (yes, I did a double-take while reading that in the description/blurb). Maybe it’s only right to warn some readers that this book is a bit of an ‘incest-fest’. The author however does not glorify the twisted relationships that occur through the pages, but displays how rotten humans can become when they let lust rule them.
Ayako’s story unfolds over three decades and Tezuka surrounds the narrative with a lot of politics, protests, murders and the mafia. All of which Ayako is sheltered from, but under very pitiable circumstances. The pacy story-telling will keep you hooked to each page and you might find it hard to keep the book down. Each character in the Tenge family is interesting, some very despicable, and even the righteous ones have their fall.
While one gets interesting insights into Japan’s politics and policies of the time, what really stands out is the way women were treated like inferior goods. A woman’s fate seems to be completely dependent on the men around her and Ayako symbolizes the tragedy of her gender in an age where men reigned supreme in all walks of life. The climax was cataclysmic and there was a twisted sense of poetic justice in it – the men are punished for their sins.
The art-style is cartoon-ish and yet realistic when it comes to the setting where different scenes take place. If a scene is taking place in field, you will see crops, farmers and everything else that ought to be in the outdoor. Tezuka doesn’t skimp on the details, giving us a lavishly drawn magnum-opus of sorts.
Ayako has a 16+ rating, definitely not meant for conservative readers. But manga & graphic novel enthusiasts ought to have this book on their shelf.
Please check our podcast by the same name on YouTube – AbstractAF.
If you are a graphic-novel enthusiast, listen in to Episode 15.