Thursday, September 19, 2019

Emanon volume 2 - imperfect but beautiful (Manga Review)

Emanon wanderer part one
Emanon Vol. 2: Emanon Wanderer Part One - 8/10

Emanon vol. 2 (Dark Horse) is the continuation of the manga adaptation of the well known Japanese sci-fi story series by original author Shinji Kajio and illustrator Kenji Tsuruta. This volume adds a gloriously illustrated full-color story and some interesting insight into the lead character's psyche.

Emanon tells the story of a young woman with no name (hence" Emanon" - no name backwards) who is born into a new body with each generation but possesses all the memories of each of her prior lives, all the way back to single celled organisms.

Volume 2 contains an 8 chapter story and the beginning of a longer arc over the final seven chapters. In the first, self-contained story, she meets a young boy whom she entrusts something precious to for him to protect. Years later, she finds out whether he has kept his promise or not.

The second story starts what promises to be a longer journey going deeper into Emanon's personhood. She has shown a full range of emotions over the first volume and the start of this, but there has also been something more cool and detached under the facade. In this story, we begin to lift that facade, as we learn about the time she was not born alone, but with a twin brother. Reuniting in their young adulthood, she shares about her "mother" - Emanon in the previous generation - and what happened to that woman after the current Emanon was born, the woman who was also her twin's mother.

He was abandoned at an orphanage at a young age by his sister. He doesn't take her explanation of why she did that or their mother's life afterward well, and yet we can also understand young Emanon's childhood actions from her point of view. I don't want to spoil the details, but it does give a much clearer understanding of who we are dealing with in Emanon, and begs the question of whether she has lost her humanity, or ever had it to begin with.

The writing is fascinating, insightful, and well translated (from what I can tell). The art is nearly unspeakably good. The first story, eight short chapters in full color, are a visual joy. Throughout, the art has vivid uses of black, strong lines of varying widths, great texture and crosshatching, showing a master draftsman at work. It manages to be both precise but also sketchy at the same time, qualities that gives the art real life. The art style feels very much of the times when the original story upon which it was based was written (the 80s). This is fine-art illustration, not mass-produced commercial manga art, at its finest.

But despite the quality writing, art, and printing, Emanon vol. 2 isn't perfect. The first story has our lead character, depicted in her current life as a young woman, naked nearly throughout. I'm not entirely sure the nudity adds anything to the story. Could it have been just as effectively written with her fully clothed? Or do we need to see her body, and her casualness with it, to support her sense of "otherness" - of being apart from other humans?

I had somewhat the same concern with the first volume, which is largely from a man's perspective, not hers, that there was something of wish fulfillment or presenting a woman as an untouchable idol about this series. Is this a man's fantasy of what women should be - perfect, cool, beautiful, wise, quiet, thoughtful, untouchable? Or did the author just choose to make the lead character female without actually wanting to comment on womanhood at all? I'm not sure, but there is an undercurrent of male gaze and feminine idealization going on in this series.

I've really enjoyed the first two volumes and I very much will continue reading, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't constantly bothered by that male perspective. But maybe she's not intended to be a woman at all, but just a timeless being in that form. Does that make it better or worse that it presents an unrealistic depiction of woman?

But I don't think I can let the creators off the hook so easily, some decisions were definitely made consciously or unconsciously, right? After all, the artist draws her as just about as attractive as humanly possible. She could have been a man. She could have been androgynous or intersex. She could have been disabled. She could have been 400 lbs. But instead, they chose to make her strikingly beautiful and just old enough to be legal while also dehumanizing her through her history, her nudity, and her at-times cold emotions. Conscious or unconscious, we need to wrestle with this depiction of a feminine form in literature.

For those reasons I can't give it a higher score than 8/10. But it is well worth that because it is so beautifully drawn and written. But know that it is also a glimpse at two men creating a fairy-tale about a woman who never gets old and is ridiculously beautiful. We can appreciate something while we also acknowledge its faults.


Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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