Reiko Momochi, Daisy (2 volumes, Japan 2012; French 2014)
I stumbled upon this two-volume manga at the YA & Children library. It was in the kids’ manga shelf and belonged clearly to the Shojo genre: the one for young girls, with cute design, big-eyed, long-limbed heroines whose primary concerns normally revolve around boyfriends, BFFs, pop culture idols and pets (from my adult perspective I guess). It has a pink cover and a flower’s title. But it is not what it seems.
This one is indeed different, since the four heroines, Fumi, Moe, Aya and Mayu, are high-school seniors in Fukushima, where in March 2011 the tsunami caused the nuclear plant to explode and contaminate the whole area. Set at the end of 2011, they struggle with the aftermath of the catastrophe. Not only do they have exams looming and university choices on their mind, but anxiety, displaced or separated families, radioactivity, prejudice and feeling of powerlessness. Not your typical shojo indeed.
Reiko Momochi is a manga artist who is not afraid to address big subjects, and she has visited several high-school classes in Fukushima to prepare the manga. She has chosen four ordinary girls, not victims or refugees themselves, but Momochi’s political denunciation of the situation is all the more chilling and moving. The invisible threat of radioactivity lurks everywhere and gnaws at every family, every person. Small kids are forbidden to play outside, but how long can they live this way? The older refugees miss the homes they won’t ever return to. Those who leave the region feel as if they are letting down their neighbors and friends. Yet when they are outside of their province other Japanese people look at them with distrust, they refuse to accept them, to buy food grown in the area, to marry women from the area. And the government says everything’s fine.
I challenge anyone to read both tomes with dry eyes. It’s the first time I read such a political manga and I can imagine (and hope) that it’s very effective to transform young people’s attitudes and make them understand with nuance other people’s hardships. Even while talking about deeply tragic and complex situations, the manga still manages to be positive and hopeful.