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Ayako

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Ayako

Ayako

© Osamu Tezuka

The Bottom Line

Set against the turbulent years after World War II, Ayako is the story of a powerful land-owning family and the corruption inside and outside the clan that leads to their destruction. As the youngest daughter of the Tenge family, Ayako has been locked away for most of her life to keep the family's secrets secret. But as she grows up, her family's dysfunctional hierarchy begins to disintegrate.

Ayako is a dark and sprawling narrative that weaves together real historical events with unspeakable horrors committed by a fictitious family. A dense and disturbing story for grown-ups.

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Pros

  • Tells an engrossing and disturbing tale of a dysfunctional, disintegrating clan
  • Skillfully weaves in many real historical events from over 25 years of Japanese history
  • Includes numerous examples of Tezuka's innovative approach to graphic storytelling
  • A massive 700+ page hunk of manga, beautifully presented in a hardcover edition

Cons

  • The female characters are frequently emotionally and physically abused in brutal ways
  • Ayako is a fragmented, emotionally incomplete character who is hard to relate with
  • An extremely dense, disturbing read that will leave you emotionally drained

Description

Guide Review - Ayako

After the end of World War II, Jiro, the second oldest son of the once-powerful landowning Tenge clan arrives in Japan after spending years overseas as a prisoner of war. What he finds when he returns home is a family deeply enmeshed in a web of deceit and decadence, and a 4-year old girl named Ayako who is the product of his father's illicit liaisons with his older brother Ichiro's wife.

Although he is disgusted by his father's behavior and his brother's willingness to look the other way, Jiro can't claim the moral high road either as he gets involved in a scheme to kill a man who is government dissident. Jiro's actions sets off a chain of events that leads to Ayako being locked away for most of her life.

As Ayako grows from a child to a young woman, her family's dysfunctional hierarchical structure begins to crumble and the horrifying secrets of the Tenge clan come to light. After years of abuse and isolation, will Ayako have the last laugh against her siblings?

Compared to the surreal plot twists seen in Ode to Kirihito or Apollo's Song, Ayako sticks pretty close to "reality," by weaving in real historical events with the fictional activities of the Tenge clan. The various members of the Tenge family become symbols for the dramatic changes in Japanese society after World War II, and the painful consequences of these changes. But while the male characters are the main catalysts for the action in Ayako, it's the female characters who suffer the most.

If Ode to Kirihito, MW and Apollo's Song hasn't already made it abundantly clear, Osamu Tezuka's graphic novels for grown-ups often venture into dark and decadent corners of the human psyche. Ayako is riddled with scenes where women are subjected to unrelenting abuse. The female characters in Ayako are humiliated, slapped around, raped, or killed in practically every chapter. In many cases, the women take this abuse and come back for more until they're killed. Tezuka has been accused of harboring misogynist tendencies and Ayako doesn't do much to dispel this notion.

Despite being the title character, Ayako is possibly the least interesting person in this story. By the time she reaches adulthood, this emotionally-stunted young woman has about as much personality as an android on power-save mode. Instead, this story is mostly about the men of the Tenge clan and how Ayako causes or witnesses each man's descent into depravity.

Ayako depicts horrifying events, but it is beautifully presented. Connoisseurs of comics craft will find much to admire in Tezuka's cinematic approach to paneling, pacing, and illustration. Peter Mendelsund's striking design gives this 1970's story a modern mood to attract mature readers.

Ayako isn't Tezuka' best work (I save that praise for Phoenix and Black Jack), but it is a fascinating, ambitious story. While it has its flaws, Ayako is a 700-page hunk of manga that is definitely worth reading and definitely worth talking about.

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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