How long does a war really last, and how does a society become "post-war" after the smoke finally clears? Set in rural Japan, Osamu Tezuka's Ayako follows the deeply troubled Tenge clan as their household (and country) attempts to regain its footing after World War II. Spanning twenty-five years and seven hundred pages, Ayako unfolds like a Victorian novel by way of Alfred Hitchcock: dark family secrets collide with political espionage and create one of the most layered and nuanced graphic novels to ever reach our shores.
The drama in Ayako is pulled between two opposing forces, one of family honor and one of political onus. The end of World War II drew a line between these two themes, and the characters in Ayako struggle to decide which entity's protection is a more honorable cause. The novel begins with Jiro Tenge's return home from the war, who learns very quickly the despicable practices that his family had fallen into during the past five years. Jiro is surprised to see a new child in the Tenge household. Four-year-old Ayako is revealed to be the offspring of Jiro's father and his sister-in-law, a sexual arrangement made by Jiro's brother in an attempt to secure the Tenge inheritance.
Ayako finally escapes after twenty years and journeys to Tokyo in search of Jiro. Due to the absence of any social interaction during her upbringing, Ayako has grown into a relentlessly uninhibited woman and clashes with the social mores of contemporary Japan. Tezuka masterfully presents a country that has evolved faster in twenty years than Ayako herself has matured. Although newly independent, Ayako's existence is so tightly connected to pre-war Japan that she's unable to fit in to a world so desperately trying to move on.
"As y'all knows, there be a rumor that O-Ryo was killed by somebody. Ayako's actin' scared ‘n hidin' from somebody…she knows somethin' but she be too scared t'talk. Howev'r, whatev'r it be, I betcha it be somethin' dat shall stain the Tenge Clan's name if she were ever t'talk."
Whether this in an issue of Ayako's translation or Tezuka's original intention, Ayako's aural tone will surely have some readers divided. Ayako is so close to being the kind of graphic novel that transcends its intended audience and introduces new readers to the form, but instead will simply remain proudly on the shelves of comics and manga enthusiasts.