Octave (Manga) add (All reviews)
Sep 10, 2013
A little attention goes a long way.

We want to be noticed. Some more than others. Whether it's desiring to be a national sensation or wishing that the girl at the laundromat would remember a shared handshake, that recognition does something. Keep that in mind during a reading of Octave.

Existing somewhere in the cracks of Tokyo's urban oblivion is Miyashita Yukino, a teenager who has dropped out of high school and works as an office assistant at a talent agency. There's probably nothing more that can cement you as a faceless nothing than having menial grunt work in a big, big city. But it stings a lot more when there was a time you used to be somebody. For Yukino's past reminds her of that faint glow of somewhat-stardom. At sixteen she made a pop album with some other girls (basically one of those many girl-bands that Japan churns out and they matter for a year or two and then they're ground into obscurity). The band wasn't particularly successful and so they were dismantled. Having known what it's like to have everyone's attention and becoming an absolute nobody is enough to mess with anyone, far less an eighteen-year-old living on her own with a rather jaded world view. But loneliness, as Akiyama Haru sharply details in her work, can bring people together.

Despite lacking in visual impressiveness, Octave takes readers on a very real journey of palpable, recognisable emotions. In one of those "of all the laundromats in all of Tokyo" coincidences, Yukino happens to meet a woman who will change her life. It's not a stretch to say that she actually helps Yukino HAVE a life, one outside of the memory of past failures. Yukino meets a present and a future. This woman is Setsuko: older, rational and very cool. She sees in Yukino someone who wants just a bit of attention, and she gives it to her. What starts off as a one-night stand becomes a very hard lesson in life and love. Sometimes things just get fucked up -- there's no soft or pretty way to put that. But what matters is how much you're willing to pay some mind and put aside some pride in order to make things work. Octave might give you the lesson of a lifetime when it comes to relationships.

During the course of this manga, we follow Yukino's highs and very low lows over the next year and some. This is not about her rise out of the ashes or rise to back to stardom. Octave doesn't do that to us or Yukino. It's about making her realise that life is worthwhile even when all you can afford is a ramen dinner. That it's worth more to have one person love you than have a filled-out stadium of adoring fans. It's understanding that you need to take care of yourself. Octave is about self-acceptance just as much as it is about accepting others. Yukino's growth is slow, often infuriating. But when she's able to smile at the idea of tomorrow, that's when you know, with relief and even with pride, yes -- she's done it. She's grown up.

Yukino's development takes centre stage, but Setsuko's evolution from just the object of affection to an extremely strong, complex character deserves a spotlight. Setsuko starts off reliably as the "cool older woman" who seems to have everything together and knows what she wants. And in a way, yes, she is always that. But she's not just that. She can be wounded as much as anyone else.With very little to care about and certainly nobody to think twice about, Setsuko got by making music and just going through the days. That changes when she meets Yukino. She experiences everything she doesn't want to; worry, betrayal, fear and heartbreak. But in that same breath, she also experiences what it's like to turn to your side and see a smile meant only for you.

The rest of cast is made up of Setsuko's kind-hearted but strange twin brother, a quiet, nice chef, and women who are big parts of Yukino's past and present life. These characters do well for support, and give us more perspective into the leads and their personalities. They don't take up much of the story, but without them, there'd be no Octave as this series is entirely about human interaction. We're often lost in Yukino's thoughts, and it's important to observe that most of the story is told from her understanding of the world. It's absolutely biased and flawed. Men appear to be monstrous at times, but that's not commentary on them; it's more so a very telling piece of information about the way Yukino perceives them. Because there are good men as there are bad ones, and good women as there aren't as well. We occasionally get the point of view of other characters, and this supplements how much of this manga is a reflective presentation of Yukino's experiences.

While the melodrama might be enough to make you want to slap Yukino to her senses, it's nice to remind readers that this is an eighteen-year-old with very little knowledge of the world to draw on. She'll make terrible, stupid mistakes. But the ending beauty of this is watching her own up to these and ask for forgiveness and try to move on.

It's easy to wallow in misery. It's hell and a half to try to accept your life. And Yukino comes to know, through a lot of things, that she can only be happy through that acceptance. Now isn't that a grown-up thing to do?
Reviewer’s Rating: 9
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