.Riyoko Ikeda article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 5, No. 4, March 2002
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

As a girl, Riyoko Ikeda read Marie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig. By doing so, she changed her life and the face of manga forever. Ikeda was so moved by the book, she wanted to write a story set in pre-revolutionary France. In 1972, after persuading her editors to give historic fiction a chance, Ikeda's childhood vision came to fruition. The dramatic epic Berusaiyu no Bara (The Rose of Versailles, see Animerica Extra 4.1) became not only a hit but a sensation. It inspired a TV series, countless Takarazuka* performances, even a French film adaptation, and it made Ikeda one of the most influential shojo manga artists of all time.

One of the primary forces behind the continued success of The Rose of Versailles is the irresistible appeal of Ikeda's fictitious character Oscar Francois de Jarjeyes. Born a woman but raised to be a man, as Commander of the French Royal Guard, Oscar becomes embroiled in the life of Princess Marie Antoinette. To survive, Oscar has no other choice but to be a powerful, passionate person. As such, Oscar's experiences with the future queen cause her to sympathize with this girl thrust unwillingly into the harsh social intrigues and petty power plays of the French aristocracy. When her mother is used as a political pawn and her manservant becomes the scapegoat of a noble riding accident —punishable by death-- Oscar does not hesitate to confront those she serves and speak her mind. She is willing to risk her rank, her station, and her life for what she believes in. And when the disparity between the nobles and the commoners of France becomes so terrible that aristocrats can kill peasants without repercussions, Oscar's sense of justice and her loyalty to Marie and the noble class begin a profound emotional fission within our stalwart heroine. Combined with the duality of her gender role and true gender, Oscar's life is thick with multilayered conflict, producing an undeniable emotional impact both on those around her and readers.

Almost all of Ikeda's work shares this quality of emotional intensity. It is not enough that a character be an adopted orphan, she must be an orphan who is in love with her adopted brother and is dying from tuberculosis during a period of political upheaval. Aside from Ikeda's innate ability to create characters with dramatic internal and external conflicts, early on, Ikeda developed her own system of artistic iconography to heighten the emotions of her characters. Swirling lines emphasize misery and malice; sharp and jagged lines intensify scenes of shock and conflict; stippled halos elevate pure and poignant moments; and Ikeda's use of flowers to express feelings has become a staple of shojo manga. Ikeda also broke out of the box-oriented layout style common to earlier manga. A dramatic, borderless montage of images can express a moment's wealth of feeling or summarize a traumatic event with more impact than boxy panels and text. By employing such techniques, Ikeda further accentuates the most dramatic moments of her stories.

After creating a classic like The Rose of Versailles, it's difficult to repeat your success. Choosing the years preceding the Russian revolution as the setting for her next big series, Ikeda's Orpheus no Mado (The Window of Orpheus, a.k.a Das Fenster von Orpheus) is every bit as intense and engrossing as its predecessor. Like The Rose of Versailles, The Window of Orpheus begins during the calm years before the storm. Instead of royal and military characters, the cast is made up of the students and staff of a music school in Regensburg, Germany. To add an extra layer of interest, Ikeda begins the series with the Greek myth of Orpheus. Drawing on this music-oriented myth, there is a legend about a window in the school's old tower --those who meet at the window will fall in love, but that love will end in sorrow as did Orpheus' love for Eurydice. While entangling the reader in the emotional lives of the characters, Ikeda adeptly weaves the history of the era into the plot. Although it was never animated, The Window of Orpheus was also turned into a Takarazuka show, and it's the only title to win Ikeda major awards --the Blue Ribbon Award in 1976* and the Japanese Manga Writer's Society Award of Excellence in 1980.

Ikeda has worked on many other historically based stories. Eiko (long o) no Napoleon - Eroika (Napoleon of Glory -Eroika) humanizes Napoleon in the same way The Rose of Versailles humanizes Marie Antoinette. Jotei Ekatarina (Empress Catherine) is Ikeda's interpretation of Henri Troyat's Catherine la Grande, a book about the famous Russian ruler. Ten no Hate made -Poland Hishi (To the End of Heaven -Poland's Secret History) explores the period of Poland's collapse during the late 1700's through the life of an aristocratic military officer. Shotoku Taishi (Prince Shotoku) is about the seventh century Japanese prince attributed with culture-altering exchanges with China. Kasuga no Tsubone -Keifuzo Kataku o (The Kasuga Courtesan -To Step-father's Burning House*) takes place during Japan's reunification and Tokugawa eras. One of Ikeda's current series, Jo-o (last o long) Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth), is being drawn by Erika Miyamoto. Miyamoto is also working with Ikeda on Niburenku no Yubiwa (The Ring of Nibelung), a manga interpretation of the Norse myth inspired Der Ring des Nibelungen, by composer Richard Wagner. In each case, Ikeda brings the era to life with engaging characters, cultural detals and human drama. These titles and more have made Ikeda the seminal historic fiction manga artist.

Not all of Ikeda's stories are historic fiction, but most incorporate social issues which add a weightiness to her work. Onii-sama e (To My Brother, a.k.a. Brother, Dear Brother), the only other Ikeda series to be animated, takes place in modern times. Nanako is an extremely intelligent girl who has tested into a prestigious school. Starting at Seiran Academy as a high school freshman, Nanako faces a great deal of alienation from the other girls who mostly have been attending since elementary school. Worse, for some reason she is selected to join the school's sorority, a group of the school's brightest and most talented, the social elite. As the story progresses, Seiran becomes an exaggerated microcosm of the world, exposing the school's underlying caste system as the social cancer it is. Nanako must face the circumstances of peer pressure, drug abuse, eating disorders and more.

Remarkably, even Ikeda's short stories manage to encompass large problems in society. Ai to Tatakau Onna-tachi (Women of Love and Conflict*) is a recent collection of Ikeda's best. One of the stories, Wedding Dress, involves a heavy woman having to deal with facing her thirties alone when her best friend gets married. In a country which considers any single woman past her mid-twenties an old maid, the heroine's experiences demonstrate it isn't easy to rely solely on your job for personal fulfillment. Another story in the collection is Zakuro Zansho (long o) (Pomegranate Afterglow). The heroine, Chika, is the only child of a woman who works at one of Japan's many cabarets. Mom's alcoholism is bad enough, but exposing Chika to her take-home clients and her co-dependent relationship with an abusive lover make life hellish. When the lover tries to rape Chika, she kills him and ends up in jail. Her salvation comes through art.

One of the renowned group of women who broke into the world of manga in the late 1960s, Ikeda helped wrest creative control of shojo manga from the hands of the men who had dominated the medium, and influenced the shape of things to come. Ikeda's stories have a depth and complexity which reflect her background in philosophy, her passion for history, and her well-read intellect. If you're looking for a story that compares to a full course meal, as opposed to something that's just dessert, Ikeda's an author worth trying.

Unlike traditional Japanese theater, which is performed by all male casts, Takarazuka is an all female theater group.

I haven't been able to confirm what the Blue Ribbon Award is. It's listed in Ikeda's section in the mangaka encyclopedia. Can you see if anyone knows for sure? Taking its reference out is fine, too.

Or however you'd like to translate it. One fansite translated it "Kasuganotsubone: Fire of Unrest".

Or however you'd like to translate it.