The Bitterness of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

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.

Recommended Reading:

6 Comments

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6 responses to “The Bitterness of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

  1. dm00

    It’s been a couple of years since I read it, but I remember it being a rather sweet, melancholy story. There’s an interview with the author over at JManga.com (along with a few of her other titles). Some of the whimsy comes from her having started her manga career writing 4-koma — she complains in the interview that having a punchline every few panels is a difficult habit to break.

    • Yeah Martin at Mono no Aware says as much, and I did chuckle a few times during the chapter I read. But as a standalone, if that were a one-shot chapter, that’d be the saddest one-shot I’d ever read.

      Thanks for the heads-up on that interview, I’ll be sure to check it out. And thanks for commenting!

  2. hearthesea

    Easily one of my favourite manga works. Such an excellent example of creating emotional power through simplicity/understatement, and even though it addresses some horrific events it feels strangely warming and utterly human. Sometimes I read or watch things that fade from my memory quite quickly — this is the opposite, a work that really stays with you.

    • I completely agree. For something so short it makes a lasting impact. It’s not something that will leave me anytime soon.

      Thanks for commenting! Sorry about the late reply, I’m kinda bad about that.

  3. Hey :D
    So I was thinking about this manga the other day, and I just can’t appreciate enough the author’s attempts to really bring to the reader’s attention how devastating that event was. It’s nice to read something with depth every once in a while. Thank you for introducing me to it! (and to Penguindrum!) Hope you have/had a great train ride back to Chicago!

    • Hey! Sorry about the late reply, I was going to reply earlier today, but I had school then went to the library and then… well, just sorry. No excuse.

      This story was really something, wasn’t it? I had difficulty reading it in one sitting even though it’s so short. If I remember correctly, you had a similar issue too, right? It’s nice to know that important events like the one that Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms talks about can be handled with such a deft touch, since it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the humanity behind what happened.

      And I’m glad you liked Penguindrum! You’ve probably noticed the ridiculous amount of words that have been typed for like 21 minutes of story each week, so you can tell we’re fans of it. I’m glad we were train buddies for a few hours, you were by far the coolest person I’ve sat next to on one of these trips so far.

      Oh, and I notice you have a tumblr! I’ll probably follow you if you don’t mind, you can find mine if you click on the “Pages We’re Fond Of” link at the top, and check out “Our Footprints” near the bottom. I hope you stick around and comment some more! If you have any questions on what to check out in any season, I can send you in the right direction.

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