Masami Higashida was about to graduate high school but he was not smart enough to enter college nor was he strong or brave enough to be a yakuza; little did he know that his life would be filled with the color indigo, the color of the ink used to make manga.
Some years ago Masami Kurumada (of Saint Seiya, Ring ni Kakero, and BT’X fame) released a slice-of-life manga in celebration of his 40-year career which was an autobiography very loosely based on his life and the life of a Mangaka back in the 70’s. This was the first slice-of-life story he had ever done, since all his previous works were about “hot-blooded young men who fought to the end’’. So was this venture into a new genre worth it or a dud? Let’s check it out!
A Story about friendship and owning your own actions
While Indigo Period is a manga about making manga (like Bakuman, just set in the 70’s), at its heart it’s a story about friendship, that even if friends grew apart, the bonds they made are unbreakable. This is based on the perspectives of Junichi Kobayashi, a genius at school with a bright future on any career he chooses; Toshio Nakayama, a hot-blooded guy who dreams of being a Yakuza; and obviously Masami Higashida who is not smart or strong enough to be either, and only dreams of getting an average life. These 3 characters, while different, share a strong friendship that was born out of their love of Yakuza movies, and how each of them idealized such a lifestyle due to how the movies romanticize their way of life.
Of course, with the passage of the years, the three grew apart due to different circumstances, but they always had the memories of their friendship as youngsters so they could at the very least smile a little. While Junichi had the brains he did not have the ability or the healthy body to make his dream of becoming an artist a reality, and in a poetic way accepted his ultimate fate in life. He realized that this is how his life will be since he had always obeyed orders and never explored the things he wanted.
Toshio, on the contrary, achieved his dream of becoming a Yakuza only to find out that the reality is not as cool as how he envisioned it. While he had earned the amazed looks of another bunch of young and dumb high schoolers, he now knew that it was not worth it; a life where you will never be able to rest, where you have to stain your hands with blood, and where each and every time it’s for the desires of someone who gives no fucks about you. And when he met his ultimate fate (you can imagine how) he realized that maybe listening to the adults who always warned him about this dangerous lifestyle wasn’t a bad idea in the end.
Finally Masami, who always went with the flow, entered the manga business but it was not because he wanted to do it, it’s just that the door to such an opportunity opened in front of him by mere chance and he decided to give it a shot. He was always finding a new stone in his path, from his drawing and his writing, to dealing with the big publishers and its editors, as well as other mangakas and the cruel race towards chopping block since one week you could be a millionaire, and the next everything you have worked on could be lost.
Still, each and every one of them knew what they were doing and instead of crying or getting frustrated, tried (to different degrees) to improve their situation.
The life of a mangaka
Part of the manga centers on the life of a Mangaka, and how Masami has to fight not only against outside problems, but also his own. We are able to see the cruel world that is the life of a mangaka, especially an aspiring one. From people who know how to draw beautifully, but have mangas that are hard to follow or boring to read, to people who get an early success that eventually declined in popularity because they didn’t have any plan or story to tell. Masami also deals with how the big publishers like Jump or Sunday look at their aspiring authors as mere nuisances, there to make a quick buck and then be tossed aside the moment they stop giving them money. How inhuman are those waiting rooms where you have to arrive brutally early(sometimes without proper sleep or food), always waiting for an editor with enough free time to come and just take a quick look at your work only to tell you that it sucks and you should probably quit. And even then that’s only if you are lucky since more often than not it’s the cruel indifference and averting eyes of everyone that works in that office.
All of these experiences are told in a masterful way and it sort of feels like if Masami Kurumada is giving some advice to everyone trying to be a mangaka: knowing how to draw is good, but it is better to know the design and flow of a manga; hot-blooded stories are good, but will only take you so far if you have no story or path to follow; disappointment will be your closest partner when dealing with the publishing house; don’t limit yourself to Jump or Sunday, there are other smaller companies that might be interested in your work; just because you are famous today and everyone in the editorial licks your feet, it does not mean you won’t be tossed aside tomorrow; having too much craziness on your story might be fun at first, but it will bore your readers in the end; having too many real-life elements is nice, but remember that this is a manga, so having some fantastic element somewhere (ridiculous powers as an example) can make it more fun to read; and finally, make a work that will be remembered and unique, don’t try to always copy what’s popular today (like pantyshots or mazinger-like robots, remember this story is set on the 70's and Go Nagai was more popular back then).
These and a lot of other lessons are shown to us and our main character as he faces them or sees other people live and even die for their mistakes in order to improve in such a cruel world.
A Biography not so Biographic
As said in the beginning, Indigo Period is loosely based on Kurumada’s life as a mangaka, and I say the word loosely because not much is based on his life such as the first editorial where he was hired (Akita Shoten, when in reality it was Shonen Jump). What is real is that his first work that made him famous, Ring ni Kakero (a boxing manga that after Ashita no Joe and before Hajime no Ippo was THE boxing manga of its time) appears broadly and we see how it helped him in order to know how to deal with all the stuff of having a weekly manga. Of course other works of his like Saint Seiya appear in the form of cameos, but it’s obvious that the manga he focused more on this story is Ring ni Kakero.
A bad ending
While most of the manga is actually quite good, relatable, and fun, where it lacks is in the end, a very abrupt end that leaves you waiting for the next chapter. Now, I don’t know if it’s a nod to how most of Kurumada’s works have ended (with the exception of Ring ni Kakero and BT’X) in a very sudden way, either due to cancellations or due to a lack of interest on the part of the mangaka. While one can imagine that the way it finalized wasn’t the best since there is no closure, and a big revelation (especially a very heartwarming one) never delivered is quite bad.
Indigo Period- Once in a Lifetime is a very good slice of life manga that manages to feel like a Kurumada work (aka very hot-blooded) while still staying true to the roots of its genre, giving us an story that unlike some of his other works feels like it actually has meaning and a direction it wants to go in. Sadly a lot of the enjoyment is cut off for the abrupt way the story ends without closure.
Still, all in all, this loose autobiography is a good way for Kurumada to show us that even if not all his works are estellar (some arcs of Next Dimension or the Saint Seiya Gaidens as an example), he still has what it takes to make a worthy story!
Thanks to Edmunton for his huge help editing this article!