“A mother is an imperfect woman.” Truer words have never been spoken and having them spoken by Fumi Yoshinaga, the reigning queen of thoughtful, artistic manga, makes them even more poignant. All My Darling Daughters is a collection of four stories about a group of interconnected women and men and their struggles with family and romantic relationships. The first and last story feature Yukiko, a salarywoman whose 50-something mother Mari has finally decided to get married. Much to Yukiko’s consternation, Mari’s new husband is an actor and former host club worker who is three years younger than Yukiko. As Yukiko struggles to understand her mother’s decision, she also begins to learn more about Mari’s strained relationship with her own mother.
Yoshinaga allows us to see that many of the problems that Yukiko and Mari have arise because they are so similar and because it was just the two of them for many years after Yukiko’s father died. The two women obviously care for one another and it is not that they don’t wish each other well. It’s more that they have begun to rub against each other wrong, like shoes left on your feet for too long. Mari’s new husband, Ken, is also a realistic character. He has his reasons for falling for an older woman, but they are not the devious ones most people, certainly Yukiko, first assume. Reading about these two women and watching them interact reminded me of my own mother, as I’m betting it will for most women. After all, as a woman, what relationship shapes more of your life, lasts longer, and changes more over time?
The second chapter is the only one starring a man. Izumi, a school friend of Ken’s, is an adjunct lecturer at a college who is suddenly propositioned one day by an awkward girl in one of his classes. She doesn’t want anything other than to be allowed to give him a blow-job. Their strange non-relationship continues until Ken begins to wonder if he might feel more than just physical attraction, but the girl may have her own opinions about their arrangement. Izumi’s story is silly fun, but is also a sharp look at a certain type of girl and the way that they approach relationships. By the end you will be wondering why this girl is the way she is and bemoaning the inability to “fix” her. Izumi, for his part, is not a jerk, even if he acts one at first. He has a good heart, though he is never allowed the chance to use it. The fourth chapter, which looks at the adult lives of two of Yukiko’s friends from middle school, also makes readers think about the part women, abused or not, play in sabotaging our own happiness.
Chapter Three is the section that broke my heart. Told in two parts, it is the story of one of Yukiko’s friends, Sayako, who has taken firmly to heart her grandfather’s admonition to not discriminate and to treat all people equally. As she begins the process of looking for an arranged marriage, her determination to never put one person above another begins to get in the way of her happiness. Yoshinaga has a way of writing stories that end perfectly appropriately for the characters, taking into consideration everything she has told us about them. This does not mean that those stories always end the way I want them to. I knew that was going to happen in this collection. It did and I thank Yoshinaga-sensei for it. People do not always do what we want them to do and it is good to be reminded of that occasionally.
Grounded by Yoshinaga’s graceful, expressive art, All My Darling Daughters is a magnificent collection. Yoshinaga always seems to choose just the right phrase–and I thank VIZ for the strong translation–and just the right image for her stories. Yoshinaga has the ability to speak whole pages of dialog in just the quirk of a character’s eyebrow. Subtlety in word and gesture makes her art more beautiful and her stories more compelling. Women looking for an intelligent, thoughtful look at relationships should look no further.
NOTE: This review was previously posted at an old blog of mine, Fujoshi Librarian.