May 3, 2015
acajou (All reviews)
If you have read or watched Bakuman., you might have learned a thing or two about manga. But while the series is quite insightful as far as the actual creating process from character design to storyboard to inking is concerned, it doesn't feel all that more realistic than other Shōnen Jump titles. After all, Ashirogi Muto make their big breakthrough while still in freaking high school. Granted, Bakuman. doesn't shy away from the truth that luck is a critical determinant on the way to publication. But in the end, it's a story fueled by the love of shōnen manga, and as such comes with a lot of that ferocious competitive drive, the inspiring rivalries, the showdowns.

Kakukaku Shikajika shares Bakuman.'s premise in that it's about the making of a mangaka. Taking the autobiographic approach, however, it tells a real story of detours, dead ends, and what makes someone slacken or persevere at different points in time. This is not to say that nothing was exaggerated for effect's sake. I'm sure a few things were, but the point remains that Kakukaku Shikajika is not so much an inspirational story as it a truthful account of one woman's life as an artist. There is some unpleasantness. It is neither glossed over nor is it over-dramatized. But while events are presented in a matter-of-factly fashion looking back from a more comfortable place, there is still a very tangible sense of embarrassment – shame even – as one reflects the choices of a younger self. The strength of Kakukaku Shikajika lies in its subtle emotionality, that tinge of regret running through the story that reaches a new intensity toward the end.

Higashimura Akiko is best known for Kuragehime which received both an anime as well as more recently, a live action adaptation. For Kakukaku Shikajika, she uses her real name Hayashi Akiko to retrace her drawing career beginning with her high school days and ending with the present, fitting some non-linear snippets in here and there. With one year left until graduation, Akiko has it all planned out. The goal is to attend the painting department of a prestigious arts college in Tokyo, make her debut as a shōjo mangaka somewhere along the way, use the earnings to pay off her tuition debt, and, upon college graduation, get married to famous actor Toyokawa Etsushi. What could go wrong, right? Phases of overconfidence, hitting creative blocks, poking fun at the ridiculousness of art school, doubts whether it is "worth it", your own as well as that of those around you, the stigma attached to drawing comics – there is a lot in here that the aspiring artists out there should be able to relate to.

But Kakukaku Shikajika also excels at depicting more universal struggles. The pivotal point of the story is the mentee-mentor relationship that forms between the author and Hidaka Kenzō, an eccentric old man who offers art classes in a tiny studio in a small town by the sea. Hard to get to if one does not have a car, Akiko is convinced by a friend that this is the place for her to be if she is serious about getting into arts college. Hidaka-sensei promptly informs an entitled Akiko that her sketches suck. He's the kind of man who will chew everyone out regardless of who they are, make them draw the same thing over and over and over until they get it just right, while hitting them with a bamboo sword. Nevertheless, he shows extraordinary acts of kindness from time to time, like when he carries an Akiko feigning sickness to the bus station. It is in retrospect that the author recognizes good motives also behind his strictness, and from resenting what he made her do goes to realizing that not only could he have been a more sympathetic teacher but she, too, could have been a better student. That willingness to think yourself into someone else's skin and ability to admit your own shortfalls is one of the most important aspects of maturity and in this regard, this is also a classic coming-of-age tale.

Given Kakukaku Shikajika has been fully translated, the number of people who marked it as completed came as a surprise to me. I'm writing this in hopes of being able to spark someone's interest in the manga, as it's one of the most worthwhile ones out there.