As much as I appreciate all the great shonen and shoujo Viz has brought us over the years, what I truly appreciate are the times they take a chance on thoughtful stories for older audiences like today's selection.
ALL MY DARLING DAUGHTERS (Ai Subeki Musume-tachi), by Fumi Yoshinaga. First published in 2003 and first published in North America in 2010.
This anthology weaves together five stories from five different women and their various relationships: with their mothers, their sisters, their friends, their lovers, even their coworkers. This anthology covers all the joys, the difficulties, the hang-ups and the heartbreak that they endure.
I’ve made no secret of my love of all things Yoshinaga. Whether it’s historical dramas, josei, or BL, her works tend to make a big impression on me. One thing she’s not known for is anthologies, so I was curious to see how her talent applied to shorter form work. It should be no surprise that in its own quiet, understated way, it’s totally brilliant.
I always prefer manga anthologies to be tied together by some sort of theme versus just a loose collection of stories, and All My Darling Daughters is tied together in a very solid yet subtle manner through their personal or familiar connections. It’s bookended by stories about three generations of the same family, but it branches out to involve friends and friends of friends until it loops around again. The connections are subtle, but they are there if you pay attention to the people on the sides and backgrounds. It’s a nice reward to the careful reader and gives a sense of continuity to something that wouldn’t really have it otherwise.
The stories are all universally good, although few of them could be dubbed ‘happy endings.’ They involve everything from difficult relationships between mothers and daughters, dating woes, reconnecting with distant friends, compromising one’s childhood ambitions and dreams, death in the family, remarriage, single parent households, issues with insecurity, and other equally complicated scenarios. This sounds like a parade of melodrama, but Yoshinaga takes a light hand with things, and many an emotional moment is capped not with a dramatic speech but instead a single expression and a quiet moment of understanding. Thus, while it’s sad or sometimes frustrating it never gets to the point where it becomes oppressive or false. If it feels like I’m being vague, it’s partially because I want to avoid spoiling the entire collection and partially because the impact works best when you experience it with fresh eyes.
While Yoshinaga has written all sorts of good stories about men, it’s rare that she gets to focus exclusively on women, and adult women at that. This truly is a collection of adult stories – not in the sense of being explicit in content (though sex is certainly involved in a few of them), but in the sense that it’s all about complex adult emotions and relationships, and things rarely end in a satisfactory or even a complete way. Nonetheless it’s an incredibly effective and touching collection of stories and I’m glad that Viz was willing to share them with an American audience.
Yoshinaga’s art is as beautiful as ever. The cast is made up of her usual sort of lightly inked, wispy haired, square-jawed, attractive and expressive adults with a wide variety of styles (even if she’s not entirely comfortable with aging some of them as much as she should and faces do tend to look rather alike). There’s also more color artwork than one usually sees in her releases, and it's beautiful, and delicately rendered. The backgrounds are actually less sparse than usual, but she still knows how to frame important close-ups with enough blank space to highlight the necessary emotion. The panels are also smaller than usual, but her composition is tidy and clean enough that it’s always easy to follow.
All My Darling Daughters isn’t the sort of anthology you pick up for a good time, but instead if you’re looking for deeply affecting stories of womanhood that avoid the pratfalls of melodrama and look handsome to boot.
This book is published by Viz. It is currently in print.