Daisuke Imai, Sangsues (Volume 2, Hiru, Japanese 2011, French 2015)
I confess that I wanted to confuse you, reader, with Chinese black kids. The black kids I’m referring to here have nothing to do with African Americans.
It has to do with Chinese one-child policy (recently amended) that did not quite manage to stop families from having more than one child, but that effectively condemned the “surplus” child to a life on the margins of society, without legal existence, without ID papers, that forbids them to hold any lawful job with any protection or social security, to own property, to inherit, to marry or go to university. Pretty grim don’t you think? I was familiar with this concept in China, but I never really saw these population as characters in a fiction, much less in a non-Chinese fiction.
“Sangsues” (Leeches) is a 5-volumes manga, and the first volume I read during summer was thrilling and intriguing enough for me to follow the series. Considering I mostly ever read graphic novels (in one volume) and not series, considering I’m pretty bad at following book series in order, that’s no small praise.
Of course volume 1 left me with a huge cliff-hanger, and I wanted to know what would happen to Yoko, the young 21-year-old who’d decided to disappear and live in other people’s homes during their absence. She thought that she could enjoy an easy life this way, but things became more complicated once she discovered that she wasn’t the only one with this lifestyle, and that lawlessness ruled.
In this volume Yoko meets one of these Chinese black children, illegally smuggled to Japan by human traffickers. The manga still follows Yoko, but the part with this Chinese character manages to convey the sense of helplessness, jealousy for the legal sibling, revolt against this unfairness, bitterness against the parents for condemning them to this life. All these in a fluid succession of black and white stark images full of contrast and opposition and with sparse dialog.
I really enjoyed the chilly atmosphere of the manga and the fact that characters are never one-dimensional. Yoko, who often seemed naive and egocentric, in the first volume, gains some depth in this volume. She’s also able to care for others and question her own decisions, especially that to not return to her family. Her choice of an easy life as a freeloader gets a reality check, and the freedom she sought in this lifestyle is often an illusion, especially when she gets to meet people who are condemned to this life instead of having chosen it. She still gets by by luck and ingenuity, but she might be too caring for the world she’s entered in.
By now you’ve probably guessed it: I can’t wait for volume 3!