While in Tokyo, I decided to have a look inside the bookstore by the Takarazuka-An in Yurakucho and I stumbled upon vol. 2 of Haruna Lemon’s Zucca x Zuca on the “new manga” shelf with a staff recommendation. I can’t tell you how surprised I was to see a manga created by an self-professed “Zuka-Ota” (ヅカヲタ, Takarazuka otaku) about the fandom. Of course manga-ka have written otokoyaku-like characters into their manga before: Oscar de Jarjeyes in Berubara, Haruka/Sailor Uranus in Sailor Moon, the Zuka Club in Ouran High School Host Club (jokingly)–but a manga about fan-life was something I’d never seen, so I bought volume 1 and was not disappointed!
The manga is a series of self-contained 6-8 panel comics. Rather than a storyline about a group of fans and their adventures, Haruna instead gives the reader a glimpse into the lifestyles of a number of unnamed female fans, many of whom seem to be office workers. (Haruna herself worked as a temp before becoming a manga artist.) The manga takes place around 2009-2010 in so much as the top stars and shows referenced are ones that were playing or were on DVD during that time period. Since I was living in Japan at the time and got to see a number of these shows, I got the jokes, but if you are new to the fandom or theatre, Haruna defines four terms out of each four-comic “set.” For example, on p. 32 she defines 宝塚アン, the used Takarazuka goods store; パック, the show Puck; 全国ツアー, the national tour; and 退団, retirement from the Revue; better still, the definitions are 2-3 sentences rather than the simple ones I’ve included here and give a fan’s perspective on the concepts.
I love this manga because it is written for fans by a fan. Haruna’s in-jokes about shows and fan behavior are spot-on, but more importantly, she treats her fellow fans with respect. While the mainstream Japanese media covers the stars in the entertainment section just as they do other idols and talents, English-language media coverage of fans and their activities is often lumped in with “weird Japan” and its “weird” herbivore men; the coverage can be derisive, because, in addition to being labeled as fans (geeks), Zuka fans have an added distinction of gender-bending, both in terms of the otokoyaku and in terms of the otokoyaku‘s popularity among straight-identified women.* In Zucca x Zuca, Haruna doesn’t try to explain the appeal of the stars, the fans’ behavior, or to convert readers to the fandom. Instead, the manga is about community through shared experiences–for instance, the following, which is based on a fan-favorite scene from the musical Elisabeth:
1 A: Ahhh, I won’t be in Tokyo for Mizu’s retirement—I can’t go on living!
2 B: “Then why don’t you die?”
A: Gyaaa! Just like der Tod!
3 A: Wait! I’ll be Elisabeth!– “What shall I do? I can’t go on living!”
4 “Then why don’t you die?!”
5 [throws aside the curtain]
A: Hahaha, you look just like her!
6: Mother: [heart-pounding]
If you aren’t familiar with this scene (SPOILER ALERT), der Tod (Death) has just informed Elisabeth that Franz has been cheating on her, to which she replies that she can’t go on living, to which he responds, hoping that he’s won her love and that she will follow him to the underworld, “Why don’t you die?” I can’t tell you how many times my Zuka-fan friends and I have discussed this scene: which der Tod did it best** (I vote for Mizu Natsuki and Haruno Sumire), the nuances in the line, the body language, the voicing of the line, etc. Unfortunately, this is not a good discussion to have around non-fans, because you essentially are telling the other person it’d be good if s/he were dead over and over, which is exactly the reaction the mother bringing the girls tea has. Even though I haven’t attained Zuka-Ota level of fandom myself, I found myself laughing along with all the comics–if you ever wanted to know what life as a fan in Japan is like, here is document-based evidence in convenient manga form!
Speaking of which, I found it quite interesting that comic was first published as a webcomic. I tend to think of webcomics as an American thing, since the US comic-strip industry doesn’t seem to be as historically diverse as Japan’s manga industry. Also of note is that Takeuchi Sachiko’s Honey & Honey was also originally published as a webcomic before being collected and printed. Most manga is published in chapters in large periodicals (monthly or bimonthly) along with other manga in the same category (shônen, shôjo, etc.) before being collected and published as books, but for manga like these, slice-of-life daily comics that appeal to a niche market, webcomics are a perfect format, especially as the markets turn to the Internet for information and to create networks.
Volumes 1 & 2 of Zucca x Zuca are available for sale in bookstores and on Amazon.co.jp (link below). You can read the comics that were not collected in these online (link below). Although such a slim volume (126 pages) is a little pricey at 980 yen, the illustrations are in color, and I’m happy to pay that much for a lovely book that has essentially documented my fan-life in Japan since I returned in 2009.
I’d like to end this review with an illustration of Yuuhi in the revue Funky Sunshine (2010), an image readers have seen on this site. Ôzora Yuuhi will be retiring this summer after her last show, so this illustration is extra special to me. Enjoy!
Text: This is actually just Yuuhi singing “I love you!” over and over.
*Though the overall fan base includes people of all nationalities, gender expressions, sexes, and sexualities, the media seems to be unnerved that straight-identified femme Japanese women are drawn to the theatre and especially to the otokoyaku. While media and reporters don’t get the appeal in a way that a reporter might not understand cosplayers at an anime con, the problem seems to be that Zuka fans problematize sexuality in a way that makes “nonkei” (ノンケイ- “no-type,” heteronormative people) uncomfortable. That is, no reporter would ever suggest on air that the fans might include women who identify as lesbian or bi, but the idea that a straight-identified woman could also be queer is far complicated for the mainstream news. It’s entirely possibly to be sexually attracted to only one sex but to also find someone of your non-target sex romantically interesting. We all have types for persons we would like to have as trusted companions, as romantic partners, and (barring asexual people) as sexual partners. The three types probably overlap to some degree for most people, but there are exceptions, of course. Dating someone who “isn’t your type” is brought up all the time, and yet “the exception,” the attraction to someone who isn’t your preferred sexual or romantic type, whether that’s body shape, gender expression, personality, or physical sex (cisgender, transgender, intersex, etc.), happens, I believe, to everyone whether we admit it or not. So, if we accept this idea, we can understand how fans who are not sexually attracted to women might see in the masculinity an otokoyaku plays on stage as a romantic ideal, the perfect life partner.
**You have to sign up for Nico Nico Douga to view this, but it is SO SO worth it. If you don’t want to register, a youtube user has kindly gathered some of the key Elisabeth scenes of a number of performances so you can compare them on her channel.