Manga Review: "Ayako"

Updated on October 24, 2019
RachaelLefler profile image

I've studied anime, manga, and Japan for over a decade. My favorite anime/manga are sci-fi and seinen (mature).

Ayako Plot Summary

Ayako is a story of a family's corruption, which stands as a metaphorical representation for the corruption of post-war Japanese society as a whole. When World War Two ends, the wealthy land-owning Tenge family is pissed off because their land is being divided up by the government. The head of the family is ashamed that one of his sons is returning from being a prisoner of war, when it would have been more honorable for him to die on the battlefield. One of their daughters also seems to be sneaking off to work with some communist group.

The Elephant in the Room...

And then there's the elephant in the room... the fact that he has a daughter by his own daughter-in-law: Ayako. Due to the shame of her true parentage, the family eventually decides to hide her existence, letting an old doctor friend of the family help them fake Ayako's death. She is kept in a cellar for many years, afterward.

Our Main Character—Jiro

Our main character is Jiro; the disgraced WWII POW. As Jiro gets older he can't seem to stay out of trouble, and gets caught up in mafia business and espionage. When he makes big profits from some activities having to do with the Korean War, he sends money to Ayako, eventually helping her escape and live with him. Ayako is pursued romantically by both another brother of theirs and a man who is the son of a police chief and is hot on Jiro's tail. Ayako, due to her extremely isolated childhood, develops an adult body but retains the innocence of a child.

The question becomes, who deserves Ayako? Who will "win" her? The story is about Ayako as an adult woman, gaining consciousness, surviving, and eventually getting a sad kind of victory. This story is a heart-rending tragedy of dark family secrets and victimized women. But as I said before, this story also alludes to the larger picture of corruption of certain old, powerful Japanese families.

"Ayako" Publication Details

Osamu Tezuka
Date Published:
Big Comic Magazine, owned by Shogakukan
Adult/Seinen, Crime, Drama

Ayako Review and Discussion

Ayako has a message that reminds me of that of Macbeth: that evil deeds follow you forever, and the past is inescapable, no matter how hard you try to bury or forget them. But in Macbeth, the evil is more or less limited to Lady and Lord Macbeth. In Ayako, there seems to be a kind of family curse upon the whole Tenge family. The ones who are innocent in the family, the women and youngest son, are victimized by the older men of the family. These men, especially the head of the family, are afraid of losing their status and respect following the war. Unable to do anything about their nation's loss or their personal loss in the aftermath, they abuse and bully people they can lash out against. This escalates to rape, forced isolation, and murder. This family is no place for the innocent or the weak.

I interpret this as Osamu Tezuka's bitter critique of post-war Japanese society. Through fiction, he was able to safely take shots at conservative land-owning families, as well as the internal corruption the country faced. Much like Ayako herself, there exists a reality they've tried to cover up, lie about, and hide. So Ayako is a manga saying that no matter how much you try to cover up past deeds, they always find a way of coming back to the surface.

Rating for Ayako: 8/10


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