I spent the majority of the afternoon today reading this manga that I had picked up at a Borders fire sale earlier this spring. What took me this long to finally read, I can not say. And truth be told I’ve yet to finish it, but that isn’t meant to be a commentary on any perceived lack of quality to be found here, but rather the contrary. After about 35 pages, I nearly began to weep.
I finished the first of the three chapters, a chapter which concerned itself with the lovely lady Minami whom you see on the cover. She lives in Aioi-dori, Hiroshima, which in 1955 when the story takes place, was known as the Atomic Ghetto. The setting for the story seems to be at odds with the whimsical, painterly style that the manga is illustrated in, and serves to even further highlight the contrast between the carefree look and the depressing content within.
This is where again I stress that I’ve only read the first of three chapters so far. Reading what was written while paired with what were at first what I perceived to be very fanciful visuals, a dissonance began to form as I began to see the direction the plot was headed. Our main heroine was beginning to bud into the main flowering of her youth, as she came to know love with a coworker by the name of Uchikoshi. This is a sweet pair, a young and humble coupling that helps our heroine confront and ultimately come to terms with the survivor’s guilt of having survived the first use of an atomic weapon in warfare. Minami does not feel as though she deserves love, and at times she feels that she doesn’t even deserve life. The absurdity of her arbitrary survival weighs upon her as Uchikoshi makes his earnest advances, and she at first recoils. But through his insistence and affirmation of her worth as a person, a person deserving of both life and love, she opens herself to him fully.
This was heartwarming, and a wonderfully romantic moment that I’m hard-pressed to find an equivalent for in many anime, but I’m sure you can infer the fate of this pair from the fact that this work made me weep. There is a deep bitterness that runs through this work, or at least this first chapter. It was something that didn’t make itself readily apparent until a single line uttered by the humble and unassuming Minami on the second to last page. She’s a frugal girl who has made a habit of mending and sewing her own clothes, removing her shoes and socks before she heads home in order to preserve them, and fashioning a second pair of sandals modeled after a pair that were given to her so the better to preserve her treasured gift. She may want for much materially, but she keeps a mostly stoic facade so as to not inconvenience those who suffer just as much or more around her, and does all in her power to make sure that her aging mother lives in modest comfort.
It’s seeing this side of her character which gives that single line so much heft. There’s a heaviness to it that belies how almost lazily it was uttered. It betrays how the bitterness smoulders within her, as if born out of the smouldering ruins of her hometown that she sees in vivid flashbacks. I don’t necessarily see anger in it, justified as it may be in my eyes, but there is almost a sardonic edge to it. To be just on the edge of happiness, only to see it drift away from you through no fault of your own, would give anyone a cynical view of the world. She has no power over any of the circumstances in her life, and is subject only to the random cruelties of being born in the wrong place in the wrong era.
She does not deserve what happens to her, and unfortunately, the gods see to it that that includes love as well. This is among the finest tragedies I’ve ever read.