All My Darling Daughters

By Fumi Yoshinaga
208 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

It’s nice to see some creators getting pushed by their publishers. I think that’s the case with Fumi Yoshinaga; her new series Ooku: The Inner Chambers began translation into English last year, and now Viz has brought out All My Darling Daughters, a one-off collection of five stories revolving around relationships. And while I enjoyed Ooku and Antique Bakery, I think that All My Darling Daughters is my favorite comic from Yoshinaga to date.

All My Darling Daughters is bookended with two stories about Mari and Yukiko, and they’re easily the most interesting characters in the book. Their mother/daughter relationship is the kind that will sound familiar to you, regardless of if you’re female or male. As they bicker and spar, it feels real because Yoshinaga neither sugar-coats nor sours their interactions with each other. There’s certainly a level of caring and affection there, but it co-exists with an adversarial overtone, the kind where only family can get under each other’s skin. As the plot itself kicks in, the exact sequence of events will probably feel less familiar to readers—unless your mother also went out and married someone who’s three years younger than you—but the emotions tied up in All My Darling Daughters still feel right. When the book finally comes full circle back to Mari and Yukiko in its final chapter, it’s almost a relief. There’s still so much more you want to see between the two of them, and Yoshinaga provides her most satisfying ending in the book with their story.

The rest of the book tells other stories about relationships, with characters connected to Mari and Yukiko. What struck me about those other three stories was how Yoshinaga doesn’t ever go for the easy or obvious ending. Instead, as her characters muddle through romantic and professional relationships, they end up in positions that you don’t see coming, with decisions that you might not make. I appreciated Yoshinaga’s willingness to not give her readers what they might expect or want; instead, it’s how Yoshinaga feels they would more likely end up. Yoshinaga does this while still remaining true to the characters she’s created, too; there’s no out of the blue twist, or inexplicable decision made at the last second. In each of the three stories, going back and re-reading them made their conclusions seem like that much more of a foregone conclusion that was hiding under the surface.

Western readers might also find All My Darling Daughters interesting because of how Yoshinaga showcases older Japanese traditions in a modern setting. Watching arranged courtships in what looks like a mixture of matchmaking and speed dating is a fascinating experience; it seems like something you’d see in a historical drama, but Yoshinaga shows how it exists in today’s Japan. Even minor events like the exchanging of end-of-the-year gifts between households (o-seibo) get their spotlight under Yoshinaga. While her primary audience was certainly fellow Japanese people, it’s an added bonus for people not as intimately familiar with all the nuances of Japanese society.

Yoshinaga’s art is gorgeous here, drawn in soft, gently flowing lines. The first few pages are in full color and they made me desperately wish for an entire full-color book from Yoshinaga. The colors just pop off the page, and the detail on skirt patterns or the folds of a blouse look that much more vivid as a result. Mind you, her black and white art is great too. She uses delicate, carefully drawn lines to craft her work, and I love the way she draws people’s expressions. Hope, indecision, fear, sadness, joy; all of them come to life under Yoshinaga’s pen. I first read All My Darling Daughters on a plane, and the person next to me at one point admitted that they’d been staring at my book for the last half hour, entranced by the art. I had to respond that I completely understood the feeling.

All My Darling Daughters is another strong book from Yoshinaga. With lots of little surprises along the way, it ended up being my favorite Yoshinaga book to date. All My Darling Daughters never takes the easy way out, and the end result is that much more of a reward for the reader. If you’ve been hearing all the praise for Yoshinaga but never read her books yet, this is an excellent way to begin. If Yoshinaga has created more books like this, I hope we see them in English before too much longer. Good stuff.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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