Neighborhood Story Volume 2: Reunion



There are countless truths to this world. The sky is blue, the earth is flat, pigs can fly- well known statements, but perhaps the most resolute statement of them all is that an Ai Yazawa managa is guaranteed to be good. To that end, Neighborhood Story volume 2 (though really volumes 3 and 4) do little to betray such a universal fact. Fashion and appeal reign supreme in her work, and drama through Yazawa’s impossibly great character dynamics seeps into every corner and crack of each page. Truthfully, I could leave the review there and it wouldn’t be all that shocking to read. As I said, it’s a facet of the very existence of the world that Yazawa’s works will be good- but I think it’ll at least be a bit of fun to pick apart my interpretation as to why that may be.

I struggled over this way and that to present my argument, but I think the most interesting way to kick things off is with Makiko’s mother, Ruriko. She has a much more prominent role in Neighborhood Story volume 2, beginning after Makiko and Tsutomu finally quite beating around the bush. Quashing the distance that each kept from the other, Ruriko quickly becomes suspicious of the time the pair spend together. I think it’s very easy to read this as Ruriko being a playful mother aiming for comedy, but the latter pieces of this behavior betray her deeper emotions.

It’s not parenting that sees Ruriko aware of the time her daughter spends with Tsutomu- it’s fear. Fear of being alone, fear of being left behind by her daughter. It just doesn’t show like that because she’s able to exert control by being a parent in those situations. Quickly though, the facade begins to slip more and more. Makiko begins to reminisce over a father that left her behind, and her mother takes on more and more stress with her manga being announced for an anime.

Finally, it comes crashing down. Neighborhood Story volume 2 sees the many facades of characters fail in the face of love, but that doesn’t always mean it’s a positive thing. Sometimes it means being unable to let go, and visiting your ex-husband’s photography gallery under a false name, begging him to return home. Other times, it’s the fear that you daughter might no longer love you, causing you to drink yourself into a stupor, exacerbating a stomach ulcer. It’s a very fickle thing, but ultimately Yazawa is weaving a story of the importance of love, and how it can build up and break down the relationships in our lives. Some might be inclined to read it as the dichotomy between mother and daughter, and how Makiko and Ruriko differ, but I think it’s far more complex than that. Wherever you go, you’ll always find pieces of yourself and others in a person. However, not always is everything clear within a person. Take how Ruriko sees Makiko, for example. She sees her daughter as self-sufficient, strong-willed, and passionate. While from an outward perspective those things remain true, we know at her core what Makiko is like, and that Ruriko’s vision of Makiko is missing something- the love and protection of a mother.

I could spend hundreds of words explaining that sort of dynamic, but the point remains is that without love, true understandings will be difficult to find. And that doesn’t always need to come in the form of words. After all, for high school students they’re quite the challenge to wield effectively. All the same, at their cores they understand what they mean and want, and in the end they’re (usually) able to find a way to express them.

On the positive end of that spectrum for example, just take a look at how Makiko’s character and disposition change after accepting her feelings for Tsutomu. When her teacher comes to the flea market stall she was running and talks about why she makes clothes, things begin to click. Makiko has been very outward in defending her insecurities- all the accusations and claims are more than enough of an example for that, but in this case it’s her clothes. Here, she’s made clothes that only really fit her, and the teacher correctly surmises that it’s a way to defend her stature. Though, even if the nail is sticking out, it doesn’t necessarily need to get hammered to drive the point home. Makiko makes but a single sale at the flea market, but the excitement of having created something that another could love drives her to make those changes.

It’s what results in her making a shirt for Tsutomu, it’s a catalyst for a chance meeting with her father, it’s a part of how she picks up on the romantic troubles of others, and is ultimately what brings her mother back to her senses. Yazawa wields love as a form of communication, and that’s perfectly complemented by the struggles that faced Makiko’s parents in their past. Neighborhood Story volume 2 is a real jack-of-all-trades in that sense, pulling together all the loose threads from the previous volume and giving them form here. It’s really great, but at the same time really makes it a challenge to effectively condense the content of this volume, so I’ll just resort to sort of fluttering from point to point that I’m interested in making to collect these last few loose thoughts.

First of all, I love Makiko’s father as a character. He accomplishes a great deal in such a small period of time, and with such simple appeal. The whole idea of a gallery full of nothing but skies was so interesting. In one way, you could take it as his inability to get his head out of the clouds, a reference to the regret and guilt that he has pent up since the divorce with Ruriko. In another, it’s a rather straightforward representation of his character. Fluffy and bright, floating from place to place. Even more, though I suppose it’s rather explicit, is how he used clouds to represent his relationship. The one of a pair of clouds (him and Makiko) is especially poignant and heartwarming.

Secondly, I really love Yazawa’s dedication to the idea of love here. The series as a whole has a lot of it, but Neighborhood Story volume 2 really brings out the most in it, and carries itself really well. Love isn’t a tool that’s meant to “save” someone, but rather it’s always approach as a collaborative experience. Makiko and Tsutomu exhibit that quite well, Hirohiko and Ruriko approach it in their own dysfunctional way, and even the awkward trio of Mariko-Yusuke-Ayumi is able to express the sentiment quite well. Just one more way that Yazawa continues to show how ahead of the times she was- or more aptly, how much of a trailblazer and trendsetter she is in the medium.

And lastly, I’m just such a sucker for the style of this manga. In spite of how its aged, so much of it has retained an incredible degree of appeal and excitement. It couldn’t hold a candle to some of the work of today, but similarly, it’d be near impossible for others to pull off what Ai Yazawa can do with Neighborhood Story. It’s so permeated by the feel and nature of what the pinnacle of “cool” would be to high school kids that it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement or style.

So at the end, I’ve really only scratched the surface of Neighborhood Story volume 2, but ultimately I feel like it’s the best way to conclude this review. After all, I think the best sort of work is the kind that forces you to pick and choose what to explain, because it means that no matter my effort, there will always remains bits and pieces that only another person will discover or find interest in. Ai Yazawa remains a pillar of shoujo that stretches into the length of decades, and Neighborhood Story volume 2 a decoration of that feat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.