The One with the Tokyo Pilot’s Wife

sous-le-ciel-de-tokyo-1-delcourt_mSeiho Takizawa, Sous le ciel de Tokyo (2 vol., Japanese 2010, French 2017-18)

I have finished in one setting, this afternoon, a two-volume manga about Japanese war planes.

Should I repeat this sentence? Can you believe it? Ahem, which part of the sentence didn’t you quite believe? That I finished a book in one setting, or that I devoted an afternoon to a manga about war planes, of all things?

Yes, all this is highly implausible, but it did happen, just like snow in Paris last month. Weird and unusual. But I recently read 400 pages on Japanese war bikes, so I’m staying within the same theme, just switching transportation mode, right? Not exactly.

Just like the unclassifiable Taiwan novel, this manga is pretty much one of a kind. It’s a two-volume seinen manga (i.e. for adult men, but not porn) set in Tokyo during WWII. The two main characters are husband and wife. Husband Shirakawa is a test pilot in the Japanese airforce. Wife Mariko is a housewife with her own strong character. Their fairly balanced and realistic relationship is quite refreshing in a manga world that is often full of clichés. He is passionate about planes (and it gets as technical as you can get, for people who love this kind of subject – not me), but he also wants to eat during the flight exercise and the lunchbox Mariko prepares for him is often one of those small surprises that make the couple believable.

Mariko is devoted to her husband but also has her own interests and friends. She’s worried about him but it’s not everything in her life. They are suitably patriotic for the period, but they’re not brainwashed: the scene when Mariko as a pilot wife is called to lecture the neighborhood by the local safety committee is part comical part heart-wrenching.

What I enjoyed most is that the mangaka has obviously taken a lot of care to recreate the daily life in those troubled times, down to the food, the houses, the clothes, etc. (the last volumes present a few pages of detailed explanations). Also the planes, obviously, but that was not what interested me most. It was quite an interesting change to see the war in Japan but not to focus on Hiroshima and the nuclear attack. Mariko and Shirakawa allude to the event, and she tends to disbelieve it. Finally, it was great to end the book not on Japan surrendering to the US, but to follow Mariko and Shirakawa for a few months afterwards, to show what it meant for a professional air force soldier, the uncertainty of demilitarization and the difficulties of the after-war period.

I’m always on the lookout for atypical mangas and this one was a complete success for me. I’m not sure if it is translated to English.

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