Nick and Billy’s dreams of being rock stars are a big part of their friendship, but when Nick steals Billy’s guitar and the take from their show and runs away, the friendship may never be the same. Can Joe, an aging former punk rock from the band the Rebels, help Billy hold it together long enough to try to salvage his dreams? If you wanted to know more about the cute rocker from est em’s story “Rockin’ in My Head” (from Seduce Me After the Show, published by Deux), then you’ll want to pick up Age Called Blue. It has six stories about Billy, Nick, Joe, and the late lead singer from the Rebels. The episodes skip around in time, with the very last one telling us how Billy and Nick first met. Like a lot of em’s work, they aren’t really romantic stories in the happily-ever-after sense of the word. Nick is a mess, unsure of who he is, unable to commit to anything but writing music. Billy obviously loves him, but is also completely aware of his faults and more than willing to call him on them.
The nice part about this collection is that we also get to meet the late, lamented Pete. He shows up in two stories, which amplifies the tragedy of his death. Joe and Pete are the older mentors for Billy and Nick, both in music and in life. Joe is gently understanding with Billy. He’s been there; he knows why Billy can’t give up Nick. But he also knows that Nick will drag Billy down with him if allowed the opportunity. Luckily Billy is smart enough to be able to look at Joe’s life and emulate only the parts that work. Not that em really ever tells us how the boys’ story ends. Like real life, their tale is always changing; there’s never a point where you can say, “okay, this is the final chapter.” That’s part of the strength of her work, part of what sets her apart from other creators.
The tale just before “Rockin’ in My Head” in Seduce Me After the Show is “Cafè et Cigarette.” It is the story of a young painter who finds himself unable to create and the gallery owner he meets unexpectedly in a bookstore. Age Called Blue offers us a glimpse of what happened just before that meeting in “I Saw the Blue,” though you do not have to have read “Cafè et Cigarette” to understand “I Saw the Blue.” Indeed, it was only at the end of the story that I realized the connection between the two. At first I wasn’t sure that I liked “I Saw the Blue.” It also is not a romantic tale, but the hopeful ending makes it work. I enjoyed getting to know more about Lucian, the gallery owner, finding out who he’d been in the past, what made him the way he is. And, for anyone who has ever said that manga is not art, show them the sex scene in “I Saw the Blue.” It is one of the most stunningly beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen, without being too explicit. In a two page spread, em captures everything that the characters are feeling and ties in the theme of art which runs throughout the story. It is breathtaking.
Em’s characters have a rough-edged beauty that perfectly fits their gritty stories. At one point in “I Saw the Blue” a character says to Lucian “You are beautiful.” And he is. All of em’s characters are. Their hard lives and broken hearts and dreams have imprinted pain onto their souls, but they refuse to give up or give in. It is powerful stuff. est em is, I think, one of the best manga-ka being brought over to the United States. Her grasp of pacing, plot, language, and subtlety put her in league with greats like Fumi Yoshinaga, who elevate comic art to art itself. If you have never picked up an est em title, now is the time. Age Called Blue stands alone, but I think that you’ll like her enough that you’ll want to pick up Seduce Me After the Show and Red Blinds the Foolish (also from Deux). And then, like me, you’ll be hoping for more from est em.
NOTE: This review was previously posted at an old blog of mine, Fujoshi Librarian.
Age Called Blue