Story/Art: Kyoko Okazaki
Translation: MAGAZINE HOUSE, Ltd.
What They Say:
Yumiko moonlights as a call girl because her day job doesn’t pay enough to feed her pet, Croc. Haru, an aspiring writer who has nothing to say, sleeps with a woman his mother’s age not just for the money but to work on his “powers of observation”. So when Yumi’s step-mom turns out to be Haru’s sugar-mommy, it is time for shenanigans. A little bit of drinking, a little bit of blackmail and a visit with Croc is enough to change lives and maybe add some color to a comfortable but bland life.
Published at the zenith of the Bubble era, women’s comics legend Kyoko Okazaki’s representative work captures, like no other graphic novel, the spirit of its times, when a nation lost something for good amidst the prosperity that made her the envy of the world. While the Bubble burst, that cynicism — and pink — have endured to this day.
Content: (please note that the content portion of a review contains spoilers)
Yumi has a good job as an office girl, and her father gives her the cash for her rent. But it’s still not enough for Yumi: with a hungry pet crocodile to feed and all that nice stuff she wants to own, she works nights as a call girl to supplement her income. She has a close relationship with her half-sister, the daughter of the woman her father slept with behind her now-dead-mother’s back, and finds out from her that the evil step-mom is sleeping with a young man. In comes Haru, a college student and aspiring novelist who’s had many dreams, but managed to give up on just about all of them. The two of them wind up sharing an apartment — first in Yumi’s, as she holds him there with Croc as a kind of punishment, and then in his after she manages to destroy her place and get kicked out. Then begins a strange relationship as they abruptly but somehow naturally begin to fall in love. For a while, Yumi’s step-mom is ignorant to this arrangement, but when she finds out, her sinister side emerges full force.
At the beginning of the story, I was sure I didn’t really like any of the characters. Yumi’s night job didn’t throw me, but her reasoning for it — she wants to feed her dangerous pet and buy pretty stuff — made her seem shallow and flat. Haru isn’t much better, with no more than a forced interest in the world, plus he kind of sleeps with one lady after another after another without any acknowledgement how uncool or squicky it is. (Nailed the step-mom and the daughter! Oh boy.) Then at some point, around the middle, they really started to grow on me. First, Yumi is fantastically straightforward about being a call girl. Needing to buy clothes, she digs up some clients to get the funds. When Haru questions how she bought the clothes since she has no money she says, between bites of dinner, “I went out and made some.” There’s no moral dialogue about whether what she’s doing is right or if she has a low self-esteem. It’s simply what she does, because she wants extra cash. Haru took a little longer to win my affection; he can’t make himself come to terms about Yumi’s side job, and he’s generally so frustratingly ambivalent about his ability to actually write a novel. When he does pull it off, to awesome success, you’re still not thrilled for him — he just kind of sent it out there, and happened to win a bunch of money — but then his first reaction is to tell Yumi, who’s been down, and offer to buy her anything she wants in order to cheer her up. Basically, his growing ability to love makes him redeemable.
Two other characters play important rolls in the manga. Keiko is Yumi’s half-sister, and though you’d assume they’d have a poisonous relationship — Yumi despises her mother, after all — they’re incredibly close, with Keiko staying over at her apartment and later taking it upon herself to coach flailing novelist Haru. Again, I’d likely hate her if I met her, an in-your-face grade schooler who expects to get the things she demands, and her biggest use is as a plot device, delivering the dirt that her mother is sleeping with Haru and accidentally cluing her mom in to Yumi’s new relationship. But she does spike the energy and add humor when she arrives. The step-mother is the one with no redeemable qualities by the end — like Yumi she basically looks out for herself and her own pleasure, but when things don’t go her way she turns into the evil queen, ready to inflict harm when she feels slighted. Not that she falls flat, though — anxious over her appearance, needing to feel superior by crushing someone else, she simply proves to be the most damaged one of all.
Pink was first published in 1989, and there is a definite older feel to the illustrations with the sketchy art and heavily used, loosely placed screen tones. This results in a look that’s messy, but also down-to-earth and appealing in an unartful way. Despite the main character’s occupation, there aren’t many explicit scenes outside of a few bare chested ladies, a couple butts, and a once or twice shot of full frontal nudity. It’s the text, in dialogue and inner thought, that is actually more explicit and a little cringe-worthy, as when Haru mentally comments on having sex with Yumi while she’s on her period.
The weird story, relatively light for most of the book, takes a darker turn toward the end as two tragedies affect Yumi. The first is brought on by the evil step-mother’s cruelty. This first wears her down, then drives her to brutality as she figures out who was behind it, but the Yumi personality we’ve come to know — only thinking of the next moment — seems to let her bounce back. The next tragedy isn’t as clear, however. Occurring in literally the last handful of pages, this final drama is sudden, shocking, and bit frustrating for the reader, since you’re left with a deep sense of unfairness. This can be perceived one of two ways: either Okazaki was being lazy, and wanted to end her manga shockingly; or, she knew what she wanted to get across, that “love is a rough, severe, scary and cruel monster,” as she says in her afterword. The manga ends with Yumi, oblivious, unaware that another horrible thing has happened. She got over the first problem so fast, maybe after she figures out what happened she’ll be able to get over this, and start trying to find happiness again. That’s what I left hoping.
A prostitute with a pet crocodile and her step mother’s young lover fall in love. With a plot like that, it’s hard to come up with an expectation for the story. Something odd, for sure, which Pink certainly provides. The manga’s populated by weird, selfish people, who you can’t imagine liking in real life, and no one really grows. But all their flaws gather together to morph into a cast you surprisingly don’t hate. The story is weirdly straightforward, too: Yumi is a prostitute, but there’s no diatribe on the morality of it. She doesn’t need it, it’s just something she does to afford the stuff she wants. A little strange and a bit horrifying, but also so refreshing in the way it simply is. At the very end, after the tragedy, I found myself angry not only for myself, blindsided as I was by the conclusion, but on Yumi’s behalf as well, because despite being whiny and selfish she’s had things she truly cared for yanked away, and I realized suddenly that I’d been rooting for her for a while. It’s a bumpy story with some non-conventional characters, but Pink won me over by the final page.
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A-
Text/Translation Grade: B+
Age Rating: 18+
Released By: Vertical
Release Date: November 26th, 2013