A master of manga, Fumi Yoshinaga, has created several titles worth raving about for their riveting and thoughtful/thought-provoking exploration of various characters and their lives. Antique Bakery, the story of four very different men starting a bakery, and, more recently, Ooku: The Inner Chambers, a retelling of Japanese history in which the women are the rulers and heirs, are two of her most famous works to be translated into English. Having read Antique Bakery and fallen in love with Yoshinaga’s excellent character and story craftsmanship, I quickly turned my attention to more of her work. This past holiday season, I was lucky enough to get my hands on many manga that could be considered “feminist,” including a book of short, ever-so-slightly connected stories entitled, All My Darling Daughters.
The book starts with a tale of a daughter, Yukiko, who, at nearly thirty, still lives with her mother. From the quick flashback at the beginning and interactions seen within the first few pages, mother and daughter seem not to have a warm, fuzzy relationship nor bad relationship, but one where they appear to be somewhat at odds with each other. Yukiko’s routine with her mother is changed suddenly when her mother announces that she decided to get married. That’s right, not decides, but decided; the deed is over and done with and, to the daughter’s horror, her mother has married a man even slightly younger than Yukiko.
However, this isn’t just a silly story about an awkward situation (although Yoshinaga does a good job with sprinkling in some natural humor). While many of the interactions are of Yukiko and her mother’s young husband, the core of the story is about Yukiko and her mother, Mari. Yukiko struggles with the changes taking place between her mother and her, a relationship that is revealed to be stronger than it appeared at first. Yukiko’s father died when she was fairly young so, her mother raised her as a single woman. In a moment that especially touched me, Yukiko discusses how her mother never saw herself as pretty. “She really doesn’t like her own face. When she was young, her parents told her she was bucktoothed, so she worries about it.” Then, in a quick scene with a closeup on her face, Yukiko admits simply, “But I always thought she was beautiful.” It’s quiet, rather subtle moments like these that Yoshinaga excels at and made me a huge fan of hers.
From the end of that chapter, the stories rotate between several other women who are in some way connected to Yukiko from a friend who seems to have it all–brains, beauty, and kindness–yet can’t seem to find a guy she wants to marry, a college student with low self-esteem who gets into unhealthy relationships, and a school friend from long ago who reflects on the courses she and her friends took in life. Finally, the book wraps up with another story about Yukiko and her family. Along the way, it touches on issues such as abuse, self-esteem issues, and how women’s lives are affected by living in a patriarchical society (for example, the phenomenon of women having to do the majority of household work even if both she and her boyfriend/husband are working outside the home).
All in all, I really enjoyed this one-volume manga of short stories. As always, Yoshinaga has created a beautiful tale filled with the wide range of human emotions and experiences–happiness, angry, sadness, love, friendship, family, and more. She does this in a simple yet impacting manner, exploring something as potentially mundane as various women’s lives. This creates a very relatable cast of characters both male and female in realistic situations. All My Darling Daughters is not just a story about mothers and daughters, but about women of various backgrounds trying to make their way through life. So, if you haven’t already, I definitely recommend you try Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters.