If you have seen Sakamichi no Apollon (Kids on the Slope) you are aware of Kodama Yuki’s work. She is the mastermind behind that amazing anime, the creator of the original manga. I’ve just finished reading another series authored by her called Tsukikage Baby and was once again amazed by her engaging portrayal of teenage love and drama. In both these works there are many similar themes, but one main connection stands above the rest— Kodama Yuki triumphs in bringing passions outside the mainstream to the forefront.
Many people know about the hit anime adaptation of Sakamichi (directed by the renowned Shuichiro Watanabe) so I won’t focus on it much here. Instead, I want to talk about Tsukikage Baby, the story of teens in a small Japanese town with a passion for Owara— a traditional dance performed during the nation’s Kaze no Bon festival. Like Sakamichi, Tsukikage Baby is filled with teen drama, tragic pasts, and characters striving for self-fulfillment but, this time, through the lens of this native art. It is refreshing to see all the townspeople, including adolescents, so enthusiastic about this ancient tradition. Owara is the catalyst for the characters to meet and share their story; it is the string that connects generations of families, friends and lovers.
Seeing this story unfold within this context is exciting for the audience, especially for myself as a western reader. I knew nothing about Owara before reading this; half the fun was learning about the festival, the dance, and how one event can shape the people that care about it. Although Owara is widely unknown, the manga is still relatable. Everyone has something they’re passion about, whether it’s baseball, dance, music, or anime. Although the subject of admiration is different, the feelings surrounding a passion are universal. You can find this in Sakamichi no Apollon; you did not need to know about jazz to understand the obsession and excitement Sentaro and Kaoru had for their art. It is the same sentiment with Tsukikage Baby's main characters Hikaru and Hotaruko. They illustrate the universal human need to love what the do and be expressive in any time or place.
I admire Kodama for using her profession as a platform to showcase unconventional activities and expand their audience. Her works remind me of one of my recent favorite manga, Chihayafuru. Would I have heard of karuta or its beautiful poems without this series? Probably not. Likewise, I would never had seen Owara without Tsukikage Baby. Some people may not have heard of some of the jazz artists mentioned in Kids on the Slope before reading it. Her most recent work Ao no Hana Utsuwa no Mori (not available in English yet, unfortunately) is based on people who create ceramics and pottery. Kodama is bringing these niche stories— small stories about passionate people that would not be heard otherwise— out into the open for the world to see.
That is one thing I love so much about anime and manga. It is the perfect narrative vehicle to make any kind of story impactful. If the talent of the writers and staff is there, you could feasibly make an anime or manga about anything and have it mean something important. It is an art form that can touch people no matter the topic.
Tsukikage Baby and Sakamichi no Apollon are injected with human spirit, creating thoughtful narratives around their subject matter. Kodama is a master of identifying different groups of people and finding the traits that connect them. In this vast world, there is truly something for everyone to love. Kodama’s stories prove it.