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the Complete Review
the complete review - comics



Tezuka Osamu

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To purchase Ayako

Title: Ayako
Author: Tezuka Osamu
Genre: Comics
Written: 1973 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 699 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Ayako - US
Ayako - UK
Ayako - Canada
Ayako - India
Ayako - France
Ayako: vols. one, two, and three - Italia
Ayako - España
  • Japanese title: 奇子
  • Translated by Mari Morimoto

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Our Assessment:

B- : some elements of interest, but huge jump in time undermines any sense of character-development, and story loses some of its thread

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 17/8/2013 David Cozy

  From the Reviews:
  • "This may make Ayako sound cumbersomely allegorical, but Tezuka, like the best of the Naturalists, knew how to cloak his bleak truths in a page-turner that is difficult to put down -- and is, in fact, never just a page-turner." - David Cozy, The Japan Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ayako begins in 1949, with Jiro Tenge finally returning to Japan and his family after the end of the war. His mother is pleased to see him, but family patriarch Sakuemon is disappointed that his son didn't do the right thing and sacrifice his life for the fatherland (and, indeed, Jiro's betrayals of his countrymen while a POW weigh heavily on him -- "I had to do that to survive", he explains, but can't even completely convince himself he did the right thing). Among the changes in the family Jiro finds is young Ayako, just four years old and presented as his sister; in fact she is also his niece, as his father fathered her not with Jiro's mom, but with Jiro's sister-in-law, his older brother Ichiros's wife, Su'e. Yes, as Jiro acknowledges later: "We're a warped family."
       Ichiro has his eye on inheriting the entire family estate -- the Tenge's are the most important family in the area -- while Sakuemon continues to have his eyes on his daughter-in-law (with Ichiro turning a blind eye to those goings-on, thinking just of getting his claws into the estate). Meanwhile, Jiro has his own secrets, as he finds himself drawn into some secretive political business -- which will also find him having to face his little sister Naoko, who has begun to be politically active (and has a politically active boyfriend). Jiro turns out to be a bit player in a larger, ugly scenario, with little idea of what he's getting himself involved in -- and not liking how he gets used.
       Ayako is an innocent little girl. As a footnote explains, in Japanese her not-so-unusual name is, unusually, written with the characters 奇子 -- which reads, literally, 'odd child'. In this family it would be hard not to be a bit odd, but the family winds up giving Ayako a good hard push to help her along, too. Friendly with the local mentally retarded young woman, O-Ryo, the two innocents see something they aren't supposed to -- O-Ryo is killed, but the only solution the family can think of regarding Ayako is to lock her up in the cellar and claim that she had died. "Would ya rather th' Tenge name get tarnished ?!" is the apparently convincing argument they use in favor of locking her away. So that's what they do, and that's where they keep her ... for twenty-three years.
       Sakuemon suffers a debilitating but not fatal stroke, and lingers on for ages, too, while Jiro goes his own way and becomes ... a mob boss -- "a man of influence in the Ginza underworld". Feeling guilty about Ayako, he never forgets to send (large amounts of) money to her -- but since she can't use it, it just accumulates.
       Eventually, after more than two decades, Ayako -- now a lithe bombshell, but completely unworldly -- emerges from captivity. She has a tough time adapting to the outside world -- preferring to retreat to her box, where possible (and, when she meets Jiro again, he makes sure that's possible even in the unlikeliest of circumstances).
       The past -- what Ayako saw, way back when, and what Jiro was involved in -- have not been forgotten, and still can cause problems, so even as the novel moves into the 1970s, the cat-and-mouse game from long ago continues, until it comes to the final (fairly creative) resolution.
       The story starts out reasonably compellingly, with interesting family dynamics at work -- but putting dad out of commission and sending Jiro away under an assumed name doesn't leave much excitement left (beyond tucked-away Ayako's fate). Almost all the characters are morally compromised, except the youngest family members, Ayako and her half-brother Shiro, who is eight years older than her; Shiro tries to do the right thing, but doesn't quite accomplish what he hopes to.
       The story of a once all-powerful family fraying after the Second World War has some decent elements to it. The Tenges certainly behave as though they are above the law -- or then, in Jiro's case, outside it -- but Tezuka also makes it a bit easy on himself by indulging in their arrogance (and official deference to it). Similarly, turning Ayako into a sexpot (of disturbingly childlike innocence and appearance) leads to some unsettling encounters (involving men who, of course, just can't help themselves). Translator Morimoto gamely but ultimately rather awkwardly tries to present the local dialect many of the powerful figures communicate in -- a language suggesting limited education and a fundamental crudeness --; here, as with much else in the book, it's entirely too obvious.
       The drawings themselves -- this is a comic-strip, after all -- are quite well done and effective, but the story itself remains too sketchy and limited for this to be anything approaching a real success. The fundamental story has some promise, but the presentation -- especially the transitionary periods in a novel that covers almost a quarter of a century -- saps most of the energy and tension from it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 June 2013

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Ayako: Reviews: Tezuka Osamu: Other books by Tezuka Osamu under review: Books about Tezuka Osamu under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Prolific Japanese cartoonist Tezuka Osamu (手塚治虫) lived 1928 to 1989.

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© 2013-2016 the complete review

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