Seinen Manga Legend: Remembering Miyaya Kazuhiko

Originally published in Seishun Manga Retsuden (Legend of Manga’s Youth; Magazine House, 1997), which was later republished as Ano koro manga wa shishunki datta (Back Then Was When Manga Was Coming of Age; Chikuma Bunko, 2000)

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Translators' Introduction

The following essay from 1997 combines three different pieces that Natsume Fusanosuke wrote on the extreme gekiga auteur, Miyaya Kazuhiko1 (real name: Fuchigami Hajime), who passed away on June 28, 2022. Many manga aficionados, scholars and critics were greatly moved by Miyaya’s passing. We reached out to Natsume upon hearing the news, thinking that he might have penned an obituary (as he is often called on to do in the manga world; see his recent obituaries on Saitō Takao and Shirato Sanpei as translated for this site). He had not written one yet, and suggested that we offer TCJ this essay, where he tours the career of Miyaya as a reflection on his own maturation as a young man, having grown up reading important Miyaya manga in magazines like Tezuka Osamu's experimental COM. The first and third parts of the essay appeared, respectively, in the February 1995 issue of Maruko Pōro (Marco Polo) and in the March 1996 issue of Hato yo! (Oh! Pigeon!), while the second part was a manuscript especially prepared for the 1997 hybrid piece.

When we asked Natsume about Miyaya’s passing as part of our preparation for this translation, he explained that he was planning to write a new essay on Miyaya (for the website Manba Tsūshin) where he is going to try to reevaluate the artist for younger generations, who have often treated Miyaya as either hard to understand or provoking feelings of guilt from looking at his manga.

The first part of Natsume's essay slowly unfolds from his transition to adulthood to his discovery of Miyaya. Other essays in Legend of Manga’s Youth generally follow this pattern, much like Natsume’s earlier Readingology articles (see Drawing American Comics the Marvel Way for a translated example), in which Natsume charts moments from his own life in parallel to his critical discoveries. Natsume was born in 1950, and his love of Miyaya’s manga is presented as an important multi-step process in his life - his reading of manga shifts to a more passionate reading of gekiga, just as his reading of literature evolves into an appreciation of Literature. Natsume playfully writes Literature (bungaku) in block katakana, but he is talking about the sudden leap he is taking into so-called “pure literature” (jun-bungaku): that pantheon of Japanese litterateurs including Nobel Prize winner and anti-nuclear activist Ōe Kenzaburō (b. 1935), as well as Natsume’s own grand-père Sōseki (1867-1916), whom most Japanese literary scholars acknowledge as one of the greatest modern novelists of Japan.2 (Dazai Osamu, whose works have been adapted to popular manga by the likes of Itō Junji, is strangely discounted by teenage Natsume, though most critics and contemporary authors would acknowledge him in a kind of “top ten” of important 20th century Japanese novelists.)

Like Natsume, another member of his generation, the manga artist Hagio Moto (b. 1949), creator of The Poe Clan and The Heart of Thomas, was steeped in authors like Hermann Hesse as a part of the trend of “culturalism” in Japan in the postwar period.3 Ōe in particular was a new Japanese writer of the late 1950s and early 1960s who straddled the avant-garde and Japanese leftist spheres (unlike his contemporary, the right-wing Mishima Yukio). That Natsume turned towards Ōe is a clear indication of his awakened sense of Japanese heritage and a newfound sense of responsibility as an adult. Ōe would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994, following Japan’s first winner, Kawabata Yasunari (whom Natsume completely omits here), in 1968. But Ōe is also, to date, the last Japanese author to win the Prize (discounting the Nagasaki-born Briton, Sir Kazuo Ishiguro), perhaps signaling the end of the kind of pure literature which Natsume discusses here... or, at least, the “‘end of literature’ pseudo-debate,” a controversy that seems never-ending and never actually that controversial, according to John Whittier Treat, Yale Professor Emeritus of East Asian Languages and Literatures.4

All of this is to say that Natsume’s (and Miyaya’s) interest in Ōe shows the intersections of youth culture, literary culture, and international culture coming together for almost any young Japanese in the 1960s as they tried to make sense of what it meant to be Japanese in a turbulent world. It is no wonder that this essay forms the core of Natsume’s theme of seishun (“youth”) for Legend of Manga’s Youth. Like Tatsumi Yoshihiro’s A Drifting Life, Natsume writes autobiography as a history of gekiga. For Natsume, Miyaya’s gekiga form the pivotal “chapters” in his own life as a “manga youth” (manga seinen), coming of age in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s.

-Jon Holt & Teppei Fukuda

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A collection of Miyaya Kazuhiko’s manga stories. (Photo courtesy Iida Kōichirō.)

Part 1

Jazz, the Ivy League, and Literature:
Miyaya’s "Seventeen"

THE first time I read Ōe Kenzaburō was in my third year of high school. It was 1968. According to what I wrote down in my old notebooks, in 1967 I was reading a little of Dazai Osamu,5 Somerset Maugham, tales of the mystery robber Lupin, and stuff like that. That changed in 1968 for me, when I picked up entirely new interests. Suddenly I started doing the “Literature thing” (bungaku suru), picking up Gide, Hesse, Dostoevsky, [Natsume] Sōseki, and Ōe Kenzaburō. It was entirely due to the influence over me by my classmate F., who was a true literary youth (bungaku seinen).

Truly, he was a guy cut from a different cloth. On the outside, he seemed like a foppish but good-looking guy. He looked like Mihara Tsunaki of the Blue Comets [a notable band of the western rock 'n roll-influenced Group Sounds movement]. When people would tell him that, he would flip back his permed hair and would wave his hand up and down [the Japanese gesture of saying “no way!”] and complain:

“Stop it! I look down on that face of his, lacking any intelligence.”

Things he said were often humorous, and you never really knew if he was pissed or if he was just joking.

There was one time when a group of friends from my class decided to boycott a teacher we had in World History. This guy was actually a good teacher, but we rebelled against him in part just to razz him, because he was the newbie teach.

When it came to the French Revolution, which just happened to be the topic of this teacher’s graduation thesis, he suddenly became pretty eager about the lessons, asking us “What exactly is the Third Estate?” and staring down each one of us in the classroom. “Nothing! They meant nothing (mu)!” he said, trying to satisfy his own vanity.

From that point on, because it cracked us all up so much, me and my buddies called the teacher “Mu” [“Nothing” or “Void”]. Even F. joined in with us, razzing and laughing at Mr. Mu.

One day, all of us conspired to wait with our backs turned on Mr. Mu in his class. But when it actually came down to it, the only ones who actually did turn their backs on him were me, the jester O., the born-to-be firebrand N., and the super-serious T.

“Fine!” Mr. Mu said. “Anyone who doesn’t like my class, you have my permission to get the hell out!”

Having been told that by our teacher, the turn-backs all stood up and declared, “With your permission, sir!” and we scampered off to the nearby campus café called Armando.

At that time, F. gave us a face like “You immature punks!” and he did not join us. That superior attitude of his really looked so cool then. That’s what moved me to start growing up by reading Hesse and Ōe, just so I could have “intellectual” discussions with a guy like F.

Ōe often has jazz references pop up in his writing, and jazz was a big thing for me too at that point in my life. Ray Charles and Nat King Cole: they were all I knew at that time. (Now that I think about it, that was exactly the thing I should be proud of…) Anyway, the people who truly taught me about the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) and Dave Brubeck were O. and N., who were one year ahead of me. Both of them had sicknesses that had forced them to repeat a year of school, so they were our two senpai (senior students) who joined our class.

O. and N., even in their ways of horsing around and thinking, seemed to us like they were extraordinarily mature; what’s more, this music of theirs called jazz had the smell of “intellectual” bad boys (chiteki na furyō). Yokohama was their hangout, and since I was Tokyo born and bred, their Yokohama stirred up feelings in me like I was visiting some exotic land.

O. did things like play music in a band, his band would play music at friends’ house parties, and other stuff that made us think he was living a life that only existed in American TV shows. He had already lost his virginity. Whenever O. talked about girls with us, his stories of them were full of interesting details.

Literature like Ōe’s, jazz, and girls had all long been things I desired, but those things had always been out of my reach; yet, in reality, in 1968, they were probably getting closer to me than ever before. This was a phase of my life where the objects of my desire had been only that and nothing real; but that phase was ending for me as a person, and for us as a society as a whole. Instead, the age was becoming one where we could finally try to articulate those objects of our desires in some form.

This was a time in Japan where things were in a process of change: we started to see people commonly have televisions in their houses for the first time; it was the era of the high-growth economy; things people wanted in their daily lives were getting closer to what they actually wanted. The landscapes of our cities were now approaching those of “the cities of the future”, which we had only dreamed about a decade before, mainly through the building up of freeways and skyscrapers. A rich kid like O. would have had an electric guitar; a boy of a blue-collar family would have had a folk [acoustic] guitar and played hit songs from musical scores featured in the pages of Heibon Punch (Everyman’s Punch) and songbooks sold in the market. It was a time in Japan where we saw the beginning of the mass commodification of self-expression.

AND the same could be said for manga, too. Young men (seinen) at this time were taking to manga as a way to express themselves. These young men tried to be readers and expressive people at the same time. It was the newcomer artists to magazines like Garo and COM that gathered a lot of attention; a large number of these manga army reserves were drawing manga for themselves (including me), and some of this army submitted their manga to those magazines.

Miyaya Kazuhiko was one such person. He appeared on the scene as a kind of symbolic hero among these new artists who wanted to use manga to express themselves. Miyaya debuted with his “When I Fall Asleep” (“Nemuri ni tsuku toki”) in COM magazine, and was selected in the magazine’s second monthly newcomer competition in the May 1967 issue. COM had really only just begun that year when he emerged on the scene. He was warmly received by these manga young men as one of their artists, who would bring a new kind of expression to manga.

“When I Fall Asleep” did not give you the impression that it was done by a newcomer. Instead, Miyaya’s unique way of depicting people shows his strong characterization. The impression that went into his visual depictions generated interest in those young male readers because it was exactly what they wanted. Miyaya gave them things like images of trees reflected in the windows of an open sportscar (the Honda S800); background images like illustrations of Sonny Rollins; the Ivy League haircuts worn by his protagonists; and those cute girls of his (Figure 1.1). You could count them off, starting with the cars, then the jazz, and then the Ivy League looks. Add those items up and you get a catalog of all things desirable in those days. When you include girls on the list, it is almost like a table of contents from Heibon Punch.

Figure 1.1. Miyaya Kazuhiko’s “When I Fall Asleep” (“Nemuri ni tsuki toki”), featured in the May 1967 issue of COM.

The story’s protagonist is an F1 racer filled with wild ambition; he falls in love with a girl who is deaf. He sees himself much like a hungry African-American [i.e., a Cassius Clay or a Sonny Rollins], whose only forms of self-expression are jazz or boxing. In one race, right before he can claim his glory, his car has a major blowout, but the only person in the stands who cannot hear the explosion is his girlfriend.

It was easy to spot influences on him from the likes of Nagashima Shinji, but Miyaya always premised his stories on having a crisp entertaining quality, which is what endeared him to his young male audience. The details of the pictures he drew had a fresh kind of expression, deeply stamped in the kind of concrete aspects of what contemporary young men desired. What Miyaya had was exactly what was missing in typical illustrations done by other artists of contemporary culture, found in most manga at the time.

Figures 1.2 (top), 1.3 (right) and 1.4 (bottom), from Miyaya Kazuhiko’s “Seventeen” (“Sebunchīn”), featured in the July 1968 issue of COM.

Probably his story “Seventeen” (“Sebunchīn”), which was published in the July 1968 issue of COM, shows the best early-period Miyaya style - including its title, which reminds us of Ōe Kenzaburō’s short story.6 In it, Miyaya often inserts surrealistic illustrations in order to amplify the mood (Figure 1.2). He often exaggerates the strength of lines with his G-pen to produce a “rough” feel in his linework that looks like “quick sketches” (croquis).

The irritability of our protagonist, a delinquent young man, is truly brought out in that kind of linework. When we get to the scene in the classroom where he plays the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” (“Kuroku nure”) while lipping a cigarette, you can see how much detail Miyaya put into the rendering of his electric guitar (Figure 1.3). The protagonist’s fingering of the fretboards was not a copy of what was being done in manga at that time: it was Miyaya’s manifesting a whole new kind of reality in manga. This famous song title appears in the speech of the character, in which Miyaya intentionally writes “Paint It Black” as “Peinteddo Burakku”.7 We see the protagonist’s cigarette, which he holds in his fingers, drop its ash into an empty Coca-Cola bottle (Figure 1.4).

Miyaya’s detailed illustrations totally excited readers like me and left us in a dreamlike state.

Another thing that fascinated me with his picture details were the books you would see on the bookshelves of the protagonist: Ōe’s books; those of Haniya Yutaka; The Pale Horse by Ropshin [Boris Savinkov]; those of Kita Ikki. When I recognized those titles cribbed in the manga, it made me think: oh yeah, those are the guys I have to read next! Or so I thought without any real reason for doing so.

I guess you could say it was a kind of intellectual snobbery, but this was the time when manga began to create facsimiles of the very objects of “yearning” for us young adult men.


Part 2

Readers in 1969 Grow Up:
Miyaya’s Like a Rolling Stone

“...as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella!”
-Lautréamont, Les chants de Maldoror (Sixth Canto) [English translation by Alexis Lykiard]

DURING my university years, Surrealism was quite popular, especially with those hanger-on people around the student movement, the Zenkyōtō. Books read by these people were ones like Breton’s The Surrealist Manifesto and Lautréamont’s Songs of Maldoror. Within time, there was a palpable mood that made anyone feel that he had to read those works; and, that mood really permeated most of Japanese youth culture back then.

And so I too tried reading them, but those books went totally over my head. I didn’t get anything they were saying, particularly in works like Songs of Maldoror, which were poems that let fly the crazy language of Surrealism and had things going on with proxies like umbrellas that were trying to hit on sewing machines, somehow. Plus, all this stuff was originally written in French. So, then you have what they’re saying translated, and one wonders just what on earth Japanese people were supposed to make of it all. Honestly, I had my doubts.

Even so, these writers did not seem to trigger much doubt in other people, like I thought they would. Maybe it was just because I was unequipped to appreciate poetry? Perhaps that might have been the case. When it comes to verse written by Japanese poets, I do not remember ever once really being moved by a poem. It might be that my brain is made for novels instead.

And yet, I cannot get that there were university students—some of whom were not even French Lit majors—that really seemed to eat up those poetic translations of French-language Surrealists and praised them. I think that even if they could have appreciated some of it, maybe it was only because the Japanese translator had done such a good job, you know? But when I tried to share my doubts with people around me, they did not understand. Well, there was indeed a decent reason to be cautious about this tendency of the era. My father was the type of guy who looked down on Japan and would often say things like, “You know, this won’t happen in Europe” every now and then. From the feeling of repulsion I had for my father, I ended up hating those intellectual types that only worshipped Europe and America.

Within me running deep was a culture-education [inferiority] complex. Because everybody saw me as a grandson of [Natsume] Sōseki, I had to look sophisticated and cool. Such was the compulsion that was strongly rooted in me. The moment I went to university, all those senior classmates around me, with their “anti-establishment” attitude, suddenly showered on me the names of famous people, like Marx, of course; Lenin, and then Sartre, Breton and, oh yes, Kuroda Kan’ichi, Yoshimoto Takaaki (Ryūmei),8 and Haniya Yutaka. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that most everything my senior colleagues would say essentially consisted of quotes from the writings of those famous thinkers.

Influenced as I was in high school by my literary friends, and just like they inspired me to start reading Ōe Kenzaburō and Dostoevsky, the conversations of these college friends lit a fire under me, and so I tried to somehow read their authors too. However, these new authors were too hard for me, and I didn’t have the brains for it; I think especially the translated stuff was all Greek to me. I should point out though that eventually I did really end up getting into Yoshimoto Takaaki and Haniya Yutaka and started to read them, but that happened several years after I had left university.

SO maybe it is strange to say it like this, but Miyaya Kazuhiko was a mangaka that really rubbed the contemporary youth raw for their sense of intellectual inferiority. Having made his manga debut at least by 1967, he was like that for us up until 1969, the year when I became a freshman in college.

In the pages of COM in 1969, Miyaya had a serialized story with himself as the protagonist. It was called Like a Rolling Stone (Raiku a rōringu stōn), and Miyaya made quite a stir because he would draw the covers of stories and books like Ropshin’s The Pale Horse or Kita Ikki’s Theory of National Polity (Kokutairon) as a part of the manga story material. Readers freaked out, “Haniya Yutaka appears in manga!” because Miyaya tells of himself being a “believer” in Haniya, like a manga confessional. Even in other Miyaya manga, he would draw in things like Haniya’s [collection of critical essays] Government Seen Within This Hallucination of Mine (Genshi no naka no seiji, 1960), Kuroda’s Peace and Revolution in the Current Age (Gendai ni okeru heiwa to kakumei, 1959), and Lautréamont’s collected works (Figure 2.1). It was exactly like an “anti-establishment” reading list back then.

Figure 2.1. Miyaya Kazuhiko, “Round Dance” (“Rinbu”). Collected in the Seishokuki special issue of COM, 1971.

None of this is surprising. After all, the author himself would even have his persona in the manga say things like, “I proudly admit I am an intellectual militant leftist.” I so loved reading Like a Rolling Stone (though I would never openly say so), but according to Miyaya himself, the work was something he drew “to rape himself who had been compromised by capitalist ideology.”9

Within the work itself, Miyaya even writes that “Seinen manga is nothing other than an expression of the inner self (seinen manga to wa nai-teki hyōgen ni hoka naranai),” yet when we think about the story’s protagonist manga artist, who can also confidently declare that he is entrusting his hopes for the future to an anti-Stalinist-but-socialist revolution, it really does not seem possible anyone could do that. In Miyaya’s story collection Seishokuki,10 which was given a special issue in COM in 1971, the manga artist from Like a Rolling Stone is back as the protagonist with his girlfriend, who became pregnant sometime around when Like was published. Over the course of the stories, Miyaya ends up becoming a nude gravure idol with her. This Miyaya collection captured the mood as we went from the 1960s into the 1970s. With its titillation factor and its radical nature, this story set the new trend in manga and became quite fashionable.

What one often sees in Miyaya’s manga is him giving the reader reality just as it is, so much so that he will do things like draw in the books of Lautréamont and Haniya to excessive detail, as if to make the reader think, “Wow! He is going this far!!” After all, when he would do this stuff, it would really blow me away as a reader (as well as many others of my generation who loved manga like me).

The way he would blow our minds was a lot like the way my senior school friends would leave me longing for higher peaks (yet I know now they were full of shit). It worked on the same level with the same kind of coolness of its “thought” (shisō); it has the same kind of charm from the way he drew the hand of a person playing around with his glasses. Miyaya had this crazy skill to take something as basic as a panel containing only a G-pen and a Pilot ink pot and somehow make it look so fucking cool. In Like a Rolling Stone, the protagonist-artist is about to miss his deadline but he says this to the magazine editor who has come to collect his submission:

“My work—no, the work of any new artist—is really a great treasure for this world. What we do is get as close as we can with our own self-expression to the hectic pace of your commerce.”

In this scene, the artist puts on such airs while making the visiting editor wait on him. And yet, the scene comes off with amazing persuasive power by merely cutting away from the conversation to the tip of his G-pen and ink pot (Figure 2.2).

Figure 2.2. Miyaya Kazuhiko's Like a Rolling Stone, featured in the September 1969 issue of COM.

In a similar way, another really cool Miyaya trait is how he captures the playing of jazz music, cigarettes and their trailing smoke, a person’s fingertips as they hold the cigarette, a wristwatch on the arm, and the landscapes of a city that look just like photographs. The reality of it all is so convincing. As I finished up my second year of university, it slowly dawned on me that all my yearning for these cool things had nothing to do with intellectualism in itself, and that’s why I began to be cautious about the dangers of this type of coolness.

And yet, the lines from Miyaya’s pen had a hard, bitter taste for its time, precisely for its excess of feeling. It seemed to show how twisted and mixed-up all those feelings of longing, self-uncertainty, purity, and hypocrisy were. Miyaya’s art - you can call it either skilled or sloppy, that is another issue entirely, but there is always something strangely twisted in it, and I think we feel that way because of all those jumbled feelings that he throws into his pages.

Plus, the excellence that made Miyaya such a groundbreaking manga artist was his skill in pulling in his readers and talking to them. And yet, that excessive quality of his is what gets him flying headlong into “self-denials” (jiko hitei) that were very much a part of the mood of the times. He soon finds himself in a world where he must destroy his own narrative voice. “So what?” you might say. But, for me, that is where Miyaya became really interesting. Well, I myself possessed a similar attitude, so I supported his work openly and enthusiastically.

Figure 2.3. Miyaya Kazuhiko, “Round Dance” (“Rinbu”). Collected in the Seishokuki special issue of COM, 1971.
Figure 2.4. Miyaya Kazuhiko’s “Tale of Golden Death” (“Ōgon-shi hen”). Collected in the Seishokuki special issue of COM, 1971.

In his 1970 story “Round Dance” (“Rinbu”), we see the manga artist being playful by showing fragment scenes of his story while he speaks with his editor (Figure 2.3). In “Tale of Golden Death” (“Ōgon-shi hen,” 1970), Miyaya creates a montage of images filled with malice, like a girl cutting off her fingertip with nail clippers (come to think of it, this sequence is highly reminiscent of Lautréamont’s Maldoror), background scenery utterly unrelated to the story, graffiti, and other touches of parody (Figure 2.4). And then, in “Parrot Sings at the Foot of Mt. Fuji” (“Fujisan no fumoto ni oumu naku”), Miyaya breaks into a new level of insanity, where he creates a purely nonsensical parody of himself that rapes a yōkai monster birthed out of the anus of novelist Mishima Yukio right after his famous seppuku.

Miyaya’s manga represented its time. The manga was like the era itself. When the 1970s made a radical turn, his manga suddenly lost its charm, and today [in the 1990s] there are not many people who talk about his manga. There are not many people now who can tell the story of those days. However, Miyaya is one such author, an important artist because he embodied self-expression and mass entertainment, two themes of his age. At the next chance, I would like to discuss him once again, so I ask my audience to bear with me a bit more.


Part 3

The Manga Youth Signposts:
Miyaya’s “How Sad to See the Waterbird Fly Forth” and “Sex Mourner”

“What a shame, after all the time I’d kept it saved up…
“I guess I will start over with 5 cc….”

-Miyaya Kazuhiko’s “Sex Mourner”
(“Seisōsha,” Yangu komikku, 1970 [Figure 3.1])

Figure 3.1. Miyaya Kazuhiko’s “Sex Mourner” (“Seisōsha”). Collected in the Seishokuki special issue of COM, 1971.

THE above lines of dialogue come from a Miyaya work where the protagonist, a juvenile delinquent, has a tangled web of connections with a classmate, a female teacher, his stepmother, and even an American soldier, with whom he associates in order to get his hands on a gun. The protagonist carefully saves his own ejaculate in a way that truly symbolizes the sexual decadence of this manga, a quintessential avant-garde work of the 1970s. His sperm flows viscously, like glue.

But you know, that’s not quite accurate.

Even if you keep sperm like this, it will not be viscous (dorodoro). At some point, it would just change to a high-protein solution, becoming transparent; probably the better way to describe its flow is not “viscous” but “free-flowing” (sarasara). If you ask me why would I know something like that, it is because as a middle-school student I did the same experiment. When I tried storing my stuff in an empty ink pot, in no time it just changed to water. Stupid and gross, I know.

It is embarrassing to admit it, but I can trace my first masturbation to the night of August 16, 1964. I was a second-year middle schooler. I was late in my sexual development. If you also ask me how I should know the exact date, it’s because I have everything written down in my journal notebooks. Stupid and gross, indeed…

Let me also add: I had no idea how to do it, and I ended up spinning it hard with both of my hands, like I was working some potter’s wheel, sort of like a primitive man trying to make fire. It hurt like hell, let me tell you. With all the pain and the ecstasy, it was quite the complicated first experience.

In my journal, I seemed to have been recording an occult-like event:

“Evening. I produced sperm. It came out as many as three times. However, I did not feel anything like an ejaculation.”

I know: what a monkey I was. So true.

I wonder what was I thinking, but those three times were not masturbation counts. They were the results of three separate times I observed something coming out of my penis. Ok, let’s leave that aside. One might ask, how did the sperm come out without me ejaculating? Was this some kind of esoteric Tibetan or yoga technique? Of course, it was nothing of the sort. Instead, I think what I was expecting was that I could then see the sperms flicking their little tails and swimming around all visible to the eye in the liquid called semen. I must have thought that because I couldn’t see the sperm, I couldn’t call it an ejaculation. I had learned about the shape of sperm from a book I had read, but my knowledge of the size of the little guys was still pretty vague. Come to think of it, yes, I was an idiot back then.

Later when I figured things out more, I used a microscope to look at my semen. How should I put it? I saw them squirming and swarming around like tadpoles. “They’re alive! Alive!” I thought to myself. It really felt strange seeing them. As soon I realized all those little guys could somehow end up becoming my children, it made me feel empty, as though I had just crumpled up a sheet a paper and tossed it into the trash. I say that, but it is not as if I was able to quit masturbating; now that I am an adult, I think I can guess that it at least gave me pause and made me want to try to save up what I had ejaculated.

However, that kind of stuff is not something that females can experience, right? I couldn’t imagine a woman doing something similar, like taking an egg that came out of her body and putting it under a microscope. It is because a man can easily observe his second self hanging outside of his body that he becomes so easily trapped by abstract notions of looking at himself from outside of himself. It’s because he can observe a part of himself outside of himself. That was the kind of stuff I was thinking back then. Well, of course it was all bullshit.

Even so, Miyaya’s depiction of semen probably would have seemed quite realistic for a person who had never experienced something like that. The artist called Miyaya Kazuhiko is a person who could have extremely fantastic thoughts with darkly realistic ones all at the same time, and such a combination was suitable for the sensibility of the era of 1970, which had a drastic division between the ideal and the real. Miyaya was able to pull off bold and various manga expressions, ranging from the young male situation to action works, but also stories ranging from political allegories to intensely personal daily life stories. Miyaya stood at the vanguard, because he pushed the limits of manga expression like this. He was an idol for so many people, including young artists and diehard manga fans.

At university in my second year in 1970, of course I too closely followed Miyaya’s work. In short time, he abandoned the quality of storytelling and developed the techniques of overabundant details and a parodic touch. By doing so, he become more of an experimental author working in the style of surrealism. This was around the time that the Zenkyōtō student movement began to wane, and for people like me in the 1970s, we could see that all that ideological talk had had no effect, so what Miyaya was doing was creating a kind of chaos familiar to us all.

And yet, if Miyaya had ended his career just with this chaos phase, I do not think that I still now [in 1996] would be so attached to this work. Because what he did next was turn again to the problem of story construction, and in doing so he began to publish a string of short-story masterpieces one after another.

In “One Pair Plus One” (“Wanpea purasu wan”, published in Play Comic [Purēkomikku] either in 1970 or 1971), Miyaya tells the story of two guys—one, the African-American solider Mercy, returning home from Vietnam, and, a friend of his who is Japanese—and how they get pursued by the yakuza and go too far hiding underwater in a swimming pool The problem is that Mercy lost one of his lungs fighting in Vietnam, so he cannot stay submerged for too long. The Japanese man for a moment hates Mercy, but somehow he goes undiscovered by the yakuza. Mercy attaches his own handcuff to an underwater rail, and he ends up dying just so he will not float to the surface (Figure 3.2). He does it all so as not to let his Japanese friend get caught…

Figure 3.2. Miyaya’s “One Pair Plus One” (“Wanpea purasu wan”), as reprinted in Seirindō’s The Heir to Youth (Seishun sōzokujin) collection, 1977.

As a 20-year old man at that time, their hardboiled (à la Naitō Chin)11 male friendship brought me to tears. Again, it was just like something out of a French gang movie of the time. Miyaya was not a manga artist working in some experimental, avant-garde mode; no, Miyaya here is radically focused on being a pure-entertainment author. At this point in time, the leaders in Japanese manga were trying to take top place in the area of pure entertainment, which had long been occupied by the novel and the movies, but I think it’s safe to say that manga was at this point in the process of utterly surpassing these other media.

One of my favorite Miyaya works is his 1973 Tokyo Butchers’ Elegy (Tōkyō Chomin erejī), which is a series of stories. In these works, we see a new kind of protagonist unseen before in Miyaya. Breaking the mold of his either super self-aware intelligentsia young male or the wild and excessive juvenile delinquent type, we now get the sullen and utterly average middle-aged (chūnen) male type.

For example, in “The Sighing Kamen Rider” (“Nageki no Kamen Raidā,” featured in Play Comic, 1972), the protagonist is a middle-aged guy who long ago wanted to write literature but is now unemployed; he takes on being the ghostwriter for the autobiography of a snobby member of Parliament. At the beginning of a research-gathering trip, a tactful secretary assigns to him a geisha. The man has a wife, who has a debilitating sickness, and so, being the faithful man that he is, he refuses the geisha’s “service” to him, deeply bowing and apologizing to her (Figures 3.3 and 3.4). I’ve always loved this Miyaya scene.

Figures 3.3 (top), and 3.4 (bottom), from Miyaya Kazuhiko’s “The Sighing Kamen Rider” (“Nageki no Kamen Raidā”). Collected in Tokyo Butchers’ Elegy (Tōkyō Chomin erejī), Buronzusha, 1973.

This time, there is no juvenile delinquent who stores up his semen; there’s no self-conscious character saying things like that he will decadently bear the burdens of his generation; there is no beautiful self-conscious male character who kills himself to protect his buddy. No, all we get in this story is a truly pathetic, but also truly gentle old geezer. This story really makes you feel that Miyaya fully matured as an artist.

Figure 3.5. Miyaya's “How Sad to See the Waterbird Fly Forth” (“Mizudori no ukabu kanashi”). Collected in Tokyo Butchers’ Elegy (Tōkyō Chomin erejī), Buronzusha, 1973.

In “How Sad to See the Waterbird Fly Forth” (“Mizudori no ukabu kanashi”), Miyaya calmly depicts the feelings and emotions from the everyday life of a father in his two-person family of just himself and his daughter. He struggled to raise her on his own and she is soon to get married, but the father knows that with his stomach cancer he has not much time to live. While out on a walk with his daughter, they go to a speedboat race. He has something hard to tell her, but in the end he never does. You keep turning the pages and then you get to its final scene. Miyaya only draws one panel, with the scenery of the speedboat race and a single bird flying forth, all of it merely hinting that the old man was able to live long enough to be able to see his daughter marry (Figure 3.5).

Miyaya could often effectively bring out sad but real daily life nuances in his stories with panels of the city and the landscape—often with them having nothing to do with the plot directly—and they were so intensely detailed that they looked like photographs. For that, he was able to get away from that flippant naïveté that he had as a cool new avante-gardista. This is when he came into his own as a solidly entertaining storyteller.

This technique of boldly having almost illustration-like pages of densely rendered landscapes can be seen in other artists like Mizuki Shigeru and Tsuge Yoshiharu. When they do it, they use those panels to pull the reader into the Other World (Ikai), which they see as secretly lurking behind the veil of everyday life or bleeding into quotidian daily life. Like Miyaya, they have their stories close with densely detailed landscape panels because all of these artists all want to make their readers fully absorb the greater point, conveying a nuanced message that this is the inevitable ending, even if it will not fully conclude the human drama. (By the way, this kind of construction technique was already established by Tezuka Osamu back in the 1950s.)

“Waterbird” is one example where Miyaya uses this illustrative technique in an entertaining urban story. In this way, he completely entrusted the image of the mood and the times to the panel and its pictures. And that is how Miyaya could leap over others and raise the bar for pure-entertainment manga. I know it is tough for readers these days to like his stories, because they give off such a heavy, depressed feel, but I think that is due to the fact that Miyaya was bearing the zeitgeist on his shoulders in the most honest way possible for him.

In 1972, before my graduation, I was trying to plan out how I might make a living through manga. There was something of a hint for me in the way that Miyaya had pulled away from his experimental phase and found a path for himself making works of pure entertainment—and they were superior works—using the techniques he had developed from that previous time. There was not anything necessarily contradictory about his combining experimental avant-garde aspects with purely entertaining elements. Such combinations are exactly what makes manga so interesting. Those experimental delusions that Miyaya worked and reworked were just the things that fired up “manga adults” (manga seinen) like me.

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  1. English readers will most likely be familiar with Miyaya from the chapter on him in critic Udagawa Takeo's Manga Zombie, as translated by John Gallagher in 2007.
  2. Murakami Haruki, in his 2006 introduction to Penguin Books’ collected short stories of Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (Akutagawa Ryūnosuke: Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories, translated by Jay Rubin), lists Natsume Sōseki (who was Akutagawa’s mentor) among the ten most important modern Japanese novelists. Natsume Sōseki's Botchan, per Murakami, “is read by virtually everyone in Japan who receives a middle-school education.” Natsume Fusanosuke would struggle for many years to fully embrace his grandfather’s literary legacy. But after he became established as a manga critic and scholar, Natsume would fully come around, writing two books about his literary inheritance in Sōseki’s Grandson (Sōseki no mago; Jitsugyō no Nihon Sha, 2003) and The Grandson Reads His Sōseki (Mago ga yomu Sōseki; Jitsugyō no Nihon Sha, 2006).
  3. See Rachel Thorn’s 2005 interview with Hagio in The Comics Journal #269.
  4. In The Rise and Fall of Modern Japanese Literature (University of Chicago Press, 2018), Treat writes that “grumpy” literary critics like Masao Miyoshi in the 1990s saw a threat “of the degradation of high-cultural literacy” in Japan. However, Treat deems these arguments disingenuous, insofar as arch postwar Japanese fiction, “by using ‘Ōe Kenzaburō’ as a synecdoche, had been influenced by America… Fitzgerald, Carver, Pynchon, Capote, Miller, and Mailer–all their footprints are there.” (See pg. 275.)
  5. [Translators’ Note] Donald Keene, who was the doyen of Japanese Literary Studies in North America, published two important translations of Dazai’s novels, No Longer Human (Ningen shikkaku) and The Setting Sun (Shayō). The rite of passage of a Japanese reading Dazai’s No Longer Human is probably comparable to an American’s reading of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. This can be easily attested by the sheer number of reprints of Ningen shikkaku, and how, as a cheap paperback, it is still featured every year in Japanese bookstores for summer reading. Murakami Haruki, in the Akutagawa introduction mentioned in Footnote 2, hesitates to fully include Dazai in his top ten novelists list (“Less certain of a place might be Dazai”), but such hemming and hawing nonetheless reveals the celebrated author’s anxiety about offending Dazai's fans, who are legion in Japan and even outside of her borders.
  6. [Translators’ Note] Natsume is referring to Ōe’s 1961 novella, Seventeen, which can be read in English in Two Novels: Seventeen, J., translated by Luk Van Haute (Blue Moon, 1996). Ōe’s Seventeen is about the radicalization of an adolescent Japanese male whose fanatical right-wing ardor for the Emperor is fueled by his auto-eroticism. Such biting work brought Ōe much hate and even death threats from the Emperor-worshiping members of Japan’s right wing. They were, Van Haute writes, “infuriated by his insults to the emperor and his depiction of their young hero as a compulsive masturbator.” Though a two-part story, Van Haute and Blue Moon refrained from publishing a translation of the second half, “A Political Youth Dies” (“Seiji shōnen shisu”), because “the reason Ōe gives for his reluctance to reissue it [even in Japanese] is the threat of the right wing, which is very much alive even today…. Under the circumstances, Ōe’s cautiousness must be respected.”
  7. [Translators’ Note] Natume sees significance in that Miyaya wrote the English title “Paint It Black” with Japanese spelling (“Peinteddo Burakku”), instead of “Kuroku Nure”, which is how the Rolling Stones’ song was commonly known at the time in Japan.
  8. [Translators’ Note] Yoshimoto Takaaki (1924-2012; literary name: Ryūmei) was one of the most influential intellectuals in Japan’s postwar period. An author of over one hundred books and a constant contributor to Japan’s intellectual journals, he wrote on a wide range of subjects, but he is particularly well-known for his studies of Japanese literary figures. John Treat, in his The Rise and Fall of Modern Japanese Literature (see Footnote 4), makes frequent references to the writings of Yoshimoto Takaaki on canonical Japanese writers and even manga-ka. “Arguably postwar Japan’s most important intellectual” (pg. 181), this “prominent and controversial poet and critic whose ruminations on... Japanese mass culture… were standard reading for intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s” (pg. 227). Not quite carrying on her father’s legacy, the novelist Yoshimoto Banana (b. 1964) is well known even in the west for her novels, such as Kitchen, with a much lighter and enjoyable writing style.
  9. Manga Communication (Manga komyunikēshon) No. 3: Miyaya, Raiku a rōringu stōn, 1971.
  10. [Translators’ Collective Shrug] It is difficult to translate the nuance of Miyaya’s playful title, which puns on “sex organs” (seishokuki; ki, or “instrument/tool” with ki, for “record or annal”). Multiple interpretations can be made of the title, although “Record of Sexual Ruin” might also be a good way to understand the theme of the eponymous short story, as well as that of the greater anthology itself.
  11. [Translators’ Note] Naitō Chin was a popular Japanese comedian at the time whose catch phrase was “It’s hardboiled!” (“Hādo boirudo dado!”).