I’m back to writing on a bus. We’ll see how it goes! Just took me 15 seconds to add that exclamation point so that’s a good start!
I read the digital version of Yuureitou. It’s definitely one of the longest manga I’ve read digitally and I must say, I enjoyed the experience. I’m very glad I invested in a tablet I knew I would enjoy reading manga on. For me, there’s something just a bit more authentic feeling than reading on a laptop. But that’s probably just because I’m not used to a laptop in bed.
Why I Picked up Yuuteirou
For once, I have a good reason for picking a manga. It’s not just that I liked the cover.
A while ago I wrote a post about transmen in anime with a very silly title Where are all my Anime Transboys at? In the comments, EggheadLuna mentioned that their favourite manga stars a transman. And that manga was Yuureitou. That really got me curious. Sure, I think transmen characters are rather rare so I wanted to see how a manga would handle it. But mostly, I’m just generally curious when someone tells me that something is their favourite manga. And at 9 volumes, Yuuteirou is a reasonable investment. I figured let’s go!
In the 1950s, an old woman was brutally murdered on the face of a clock tower by her adopted daughter. Two years later, the clock tower is known as the ‘ghost tower’ and it is supposedly haunted. Through an unusual series of events, a young NEET man named Amano Taichi is attacked by someone or something in the same clock tower, and finds himself bound to the clock face to be killed in the same way as the old woman. Luckily for Amano, he doesn’t meet the same fate. He’s rescued by a mysterious person who claims his name is Tetsuo.
My First Impression
Oh, this is a penny dreadful. I don’t think I ever read any manga in the genre.
This is neither here nor there, but I quite like the saying penny dreadful, so I’m glad Yuuteirou gave me an excuse to sue it. And remember it!
OK so unlike a lot of my manga posts, this isn’t a first impression. I waited until I had completely finished Yuureitou to make up my mind about it. As such, I don’t think my usual what I liked, what I liked less format will work for this post. Everything is sorted of meshed together. Instead, I’ll do my best to give you an actual review.
Let me say right off the bat, I enjoyed Yuureitou. I was often looking forward to the next time I could pick it up again and found myself going “just one more chapter” on regular occasions. 9 volumes went by quickly.
I want to get that out right away because whenever I think about what I’m going to write in this post, it comes off as rather negative. So I want you to go into it knowing that in general, I liked the manga. There were just some aspects that I liked less and I happen to have a lot more to say about those than all the stuff I did like. Basically, if I don’t mention something, assume it was great and it will even things out.
Yuureitou is billed as a mystery, thriller. It starts off as a treasure hunt where the main characters are looking for clues to riches but quickly turns into a good old murder mystery finally settling into a gorey action thriller. If that sounds pretty exciting, it’s because it is. You really can’t fault Yuureitou with lack of action.
However, it’s a mystery in premise but not in construction. Let me try to explain. One of the truly impressive feats of classic mystery authors is that they can just sprinkle clues all over their stories that make it possible for a reader to figure out what’s going on, without making it obvious. When it’s well done, even if the reader does find out who did it, there is still a lot of fun in seeing how the whole story comes together. And if they don’t, then readers can think back on what they missed and realize that ooohhh that’s why he did that. It’s awesome. In case you didn’t know, I really love those types of mysteries.
However, Yuureitou is the other type. Most of the story is centred around an unknown mass murderer who seems to be stalking the two main characters. When their identity is finally revealed…well it’s a character we hardly know and most of the clues are only given after the reveal. So it’s more of a suspense than a mystery. It really depends on your personal preference on whether that’s a plus or a minus.
Either way though, I will say the story sort of jumps the shark towards the end. The last two volumes or so get pretty convoluted and any pretense of a serious mystery goes down the plotholes. It’s pretty funny in parts and very operatic.
I don’t think I can talk about Yuureitou without mentioning the 3ntire transgender issue. Akira’s (or Tetsuo) trans identity is pretty core to the story and by far his most important character trait. There’s no real story without it.
I’m a cis lady so obviously, take everything I say on the subject with a tub of salt. To me, Akira seemed like a really well-done representation of a transman. He got a bit maudlin and exaggerated at times but that was in keeping with the rest. Still, his motivations and anxieties rang true and were consistent. In the text, Akira is a great Trans character and the story treats him with earnestness and respect, even when the other characters do not.
However, in presentation, it’s a completely different story. Akira is constantly sexualized in a very feminine way. Any excuse to show the character fully naked is valid. Both leads take a bath, guess who has 5 panels dedicated to all possible angles and who is shown only fully clothed with a towel around their neck to give the idea of a bath.
And it’s not just in the canon. Every chapter begins with a pretty detailed splash image that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the action of that chapter. In just about all these images it’s a glamour shot of Akira in a compromising position. Chained up with his shirt thorn completely open and a large man caressing his cheek. Nope never happens. One chapter talks of flowers so the image is a single flower covering Akira’s…virtue as he stretches out naked…
It’s like the author understood up to a certain point what a transman is and wanted to portray that, but it went completely over the head of the editor or publisher. Who probably only wanted to encourage sales but ended up presenting Akira in the most classically feminine way they could. There’s a real dissonance between the way the story is written and how it is illustrated. I’m not sure I have seen that before.
Oh and the rest of the representation is a bit questionable. There is one gay man who is presented as heroic. He definitely gets a very kind edit. But he also explicitly says he’s attracted to boys…as in before they get leg hair. He wants to create a world where he can pursue that without being judged. Everyone is super cool with it…
The end of the story also introduces a transwoman and she is pretty much a collection of all the unsavoury transwoman tropes from the past decade. She’s a heartless psychopath, she’s clearly autogynophillic, she’s basically a better-educated and cooler Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. And once again I’m confused.
Why do we have one character that has all this depth and understanding? Shown with both qualities and flaws that deeply humanize them, and then the otherness of all other characters is reduced to clichés. And not the fun clichés…
At this time I would like to remind you that I enjoyed Yuureitou. It wasn’t perfect but there was a lot to like. I really thought the friendship between the leads was delightful for instance.
Fact is, Trans representation is still very uncommon in manga. Even gay representation is often just relegated to BL and Yuri. So in that sense, Yuureitou is pioneering something. Moreover, it’s combined with an action-packed historical thriller which is also not that common a genre. When you put it all together, it’s a unique offering. I certainly can’t think of another manga like it.