How far would you go to protect your family’s image, despite how rotten the foundation of that family’s honour might be? Ayako explores this in the context of post-WWII Japan as acclaimed mangaka Osamu Tezuka details the twisted attempts of the members of the Tenge family as they each struggle to maintain the family’s honour while coping with the twistedness of their being.
Arriving home after serving for the Japanese in WWII, Jiro Tenge finds that his family is more twisted than when he left it, having lost much of their land to redistribution by the American occupying forces. Jiro’s release after the war was conditional on him serving as an American agent, and he must navigate between his dysfunctional family life and the political tasks that weigh upon him. Alongside this, he discovers that the origin of the family’s youngest child, Ayako, is not as it seems as she become the focal point for the family’s increasing frustration and conflict.
Ayako will be of interest to people interested in post-WWII history in Japan, as well as those who enjoy twisted stories about dysfunctional families.
- The setting was interesting in concept, showcasing the negative and corrupt aspects of the American occupation and the tension created by the resistance of communist dissidents. In particular, the fictional account of the Shimoyama incident was fascinating and it was interesting to see this tied into the main plotline.
- I didn’t find Tezuka’s artstyle easy on the eyes or particularly pleasing to look at, but it did complement the presentation of the story effectively. Ayako is a story containing some truly messed up characters and the character designs adequately convey this as all the members of the Tenge family become suitably deformed over the course of the book.
- The Tenge family’s dysfunctional relationship is interesting to an extent but really fails to evolve or keep the plot moving effectively. The only character that really experiences progression is Shiro as his character arc becomes a main driver of the plot, but the rest of the family fails to progress in a similar manner. This might not have been bad if the family had not been such a focus of the plot, but it quickly becomes repetitive to see the same point of conflict over the family’s estate and Ayako trotted out again and again.
- The pacing of the story is uneven, bogging down in the middle section of the book as the sections about the Tenge family apart from Jiro go on for far too long. Scenes emphasizing just how messed up the family are overused and repeated, weakening the impact they would otherwise. Furthermore, the characters are extremely difficult to relate to because of their lack of depth and this makes the last two-thirds of the book a slog to get through, especially considering the plot has very little forward action and relies on the characters to drive the narrative. The one positive thing that can be said is the ending feels fitting and ties this weak story together in a way that feels satisfying, but is almost a better quality ending than might be expected considering the direction of the plot.
- The political plot outside of the Tenge family is under-utilized and shows flashes of potential but never comes to fruition. This direction would have made Ayako a much more compelling work but Tezuka neglects to give adequate focus on anything outside of the Tenge family. For example, Jiro’s exploits outside of the family could have been given much more attention and connected more clearly with the surrounding context of the immediate post-war period as well as the proceeding decades. It’s too bad that Tezuka did not go into depth exploring this aspect of the story and represents a real missed opportunity.
- Tezuka’s stylistic choice to have the entire Tenge family talk in a heavy rural accent may help convey the setting, but it quickly becomes an annoyance and a distraction considering how pervasive it is. Otherwise heavy dialogue loses its seriousness and quickly becomes a chore to read because of this presentation.
Ayako fails to make good on a compelling concept, presenting readers with under-developed and one-dimensional characters and a plot that fails to really go beyond emphasizing just how messed up the Tenge family is. If you’re looking for a compelling examination of a dysfunctional family or a political thriller, you’re better off looking elsewhere as Ayako becomes a bit of a slog to read through and never really progresses beyond its initial premise.
Ayako was created by by Ozamu Tezuka and published by Vertical Inc. on November 30, 2010. The series originally ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic from 1972-1973.
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