.Yumi Tamura article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 5, No. 1, December 2001
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
Imagine if Frank Miller of Batman comics fame was Japanese, female, and had a sense of humor. This would only begin to describe the distinctive style of shojo manga artist Yumi Tamura. She has a raw texture to her art which emphasizes the edgy quality of her stories and a remarkable knack for creating flinty but sympathetic heroines. Best of all, she excels at stories involving action. Although her epic Basara, a post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure, was wildly popular in Japan, Tamura still seems to be dwelling in obscurity on this side of the Pacific. Hopefully that will soon change, for this issue of Animerica Extra presents Tamura's most recent action-packed series, Chicago.
Tamura has written over sixty volumes of manga, including half a dozen series and multiple short story collections. Within her many short stories, Tamura explores a wide variety of genre. A critical component in most of the stories, and all of her series, is action. Whether the scenarios are inherently action oriented or seemingly tame, Tamura manages to find a way to add an element of danger.
Basara is one of the most dire, action-packed shojo manga ever published, and at twenty seven volumes, it's by far Tamura's longest series. Post-apocalyptic Japan is ruled by the sons of the despotic Great King. When, at the birth of twins, a blind prophet declares "this is the child of destiny" who will defeat the Great King, everyone assumes it's the boy, Sarasa, who will do this. When Sarasa is killed, his sister Tatara must pretend to be "The Boy of Destiny" and overcome difficulties ranging from surviving blizzards to fighting full-fledged battles. For a more detailed description, see the Basara In Depth in Animerica Extra Vol. 2, No. 10.
Sandy is a dancer engaged to a romance writer in the short story Wedding Bell wa Kikoenai (Silenced Wedding Bells). As the title suggests, even this seemingly happy situation will result in grievous circumstances. Shortly after Sandy realizes her fiancÚ is a vigilante, he goes after a gang who has figured out his identity. During the skirmish in a New York City subway station, he is killed by police. Sandy wants the world to disappear, and without regard to her own life, enters the subway in her wedding gown to gun down the surviving gang member responsible for her fiance's death.
Like most shojo leading ladies, Tamura's heroines are not the coolest, most beautiful characters in the cast --qualities which are often reserved for rivals or role models-- but neither do they tend to be bubbly, cute or klutzy. Instead, Tamura's heroines have attitude. They're made up of a balance of light and dark characteristics and are capable of being glum, grim, and even nihilistic. Considering some of the things Tamura puts them through, it's understandable.
Ozeki (long o), the lead of Supernatural Powers Wild Com., never smiles. She has always kept her ability to control fire a secret, denied it, hidden it deep inside. As a result, many of her emotions are also subdued. Her lack of expression and secretive nature have kept her from making friends, reinforcing her self-imposed isolation.
The title character of Tomoe ga Yuku! (Tomoe Will Go!) is gutsy enough to roller skate down freeways for thrills. After losing a friend in a roller skating accident, Tomoe joins a stunt group called Green Ship. Although still mourning her friend's death, Tomoe has no reservations about embracing a relationship with the group's leader, Kazusa. Soon she discovers Green Ship is a front for an assassin training camp. She must flee her new life and love and rekindle her fiery spirit in order to fight against the organization which wants her dead.
ART OUTSIDE THE LINES
Remember as a kid how you were taught to color within the lines? Well, pitch that idea out the window. Such limited thinking is not a part of Tamura's artistic psyche. The loose, gestural quality of her art allows her to express action and emotion freely, emphasizing the mood of a scene or the feeling of a character in a way a more precise style cannot convey.
When Isami, the athletic heroine of Chotto Hero Shite Mitai (A Little Like a Hero), first meets the suave, motorcycle-riding hero Yusei (long u), the magic of the moment is expressed by the delicate sketchiness and the use of pale, off-center tone as much as it is by Isami's expression. The moment, like the image, is lighter than and separate from Isami's everyday routine. In contrast, when bikers trash the tennis court where Isami practices, the tones are dark, the lines are thick and forceful, expressing the violence of the scene through style as well as in the actions depicted.
The rough, two-toned panel of the bus crash in Box Kei! (Box Group!) highlights the surprise and terror of the talented youths on their way to auditions. The accident causes the lead, Zeze, to be too late and scruffy for her audition. A similar technique is used to emphasize Zeze's determination and exuberance as she dances in silhouette behind the stage curtain so as to be seen but not interfere with those already performing.
In Boku ga Tenmshi o Unda Wake (The Reason I Gave Birth to an Angel, a.k.a. Tamu no Nandemo Capsule 7), a wildly eccentric and demanding mother forces young Ryuzaburo (o and first u long) to maintain the household himself, accompany her in her luxury travels, and be a school kid. As a result, he has a resilient resolve which allows him to deal with the surreal situations which pop up regularly in his life. Throughout his half-dozen volumes of amusing adventures (Tamu no Nandemo Capsule 7-12), Ryuzaburo (o and first u long) is regularly abstracted for humor's sake. It's only in more serious moments Ryuzaburo (o and first u long) is given any of the detail and definition the other characters enjoy.
Despite her action and drama-oriented tendencies, Tamura has a distinct sense of humor. As fans of Basara are aware, she's comfortable enough with her characters to poke fun at them, whether it's in the story directly or in amusing side skits. Even in her most dramatic series, Tamura usually incorporates humorous qualities into her characters -such as Shuri's oddly chummy relationship with his horse in Basara - to keep the intensity of the stories from being overwhelming.
Tamura's first major heroine is school girl Noko (first o long), who stars in all the stories of Tamura's first published short story collection, Shinwa ni Natta Gogo (The Afternoon I Became a Myth, a.k.a. Tamu no Nandemo Capsule 1) as well as several later stories. Noko (first o long) is bright but highly eccentric. In her first story, Tenshi Kamosherenai (Maybe She's an Angel), Noko (first o long) sets her turtle on top of a car for a moment, then observes a kidnaping involving said car. She rushes to the local police box -not to report the kidnaping of the child but of her turtle! Even more amusing, Noko (first o long) interrupts the police officer on duty just as he is about to hang himself. While later Noko (first o long) stories become more dramatic, they never lose their humorous edge.
Tamura seems to enjoy using even her coolest characters for a laugh or two. Although Chicago's heroine, Rei, is a resourceful, well-trained woman of action, after a dramatic leap from a second story flat, she lands on her face in a pile of garbage because she was distracted by someone watching her. While it may not be too funny for Rei, it's humorous all the same.
Whether it's the amusing adventures of characters like Noko (first o long) or the brutal struggle of Sarasa against the Great King, Tamura's stories have action to spare. From soldiers to school girls, her heroines are strong and capable of dealing with the difficulties Tamura throws at them. The range of her artistic style, from delicate to coarse, heightens the drama of her stories. For shojo action, you can't do better than Tamura.