As I’ve mentioned before, when I was younger I was super into Viz Signature to the point where I bought everything under the label. If it had the imprint logo on it, I had to buy and own it. It didn’t matter what the story was about, what the target audience was, and heck, sometimes I didn’t even know the basic premise of the manga — I ended up buying it anyways. This practice did end up causing me to buy some rather odd books…
In particular, a single volume series called All My Darling Daughters. This small series is a Josei type manga, which is a series aimed directly at older women (a target audience I don’t exactly fall under). The series is written and drawn by the extremely famous and prolific authoress, Fumi Yoshinaga. She’s won many awards, even being nominated for an Eisner for her most famous book, Antique Bakery. So, with all of that said, let’s see what this series has to offer us. Is it good?
All My Darling Daughters (Viz Media)
Written and Drawn By: Fumi Yoshinaga
Translated By: John Werry
All My Darling Daughters follows several different characters and their lives: A woman in her thirties, who still lives with her mother, is shocked to learn one day that her mom is not only getting remarried, but to a guy younger than herself; a teacher at a college finds himself in a rather strange relationship with a student who is extremely desperate for love and pleasure; a woman starts wondering if she should get married and whether or not she can really fall in love; an old childhood friend reflects on the past, thinking back to the days when she and her friends were middle-schoolers who talked about their reasonable, modest dreams for the future.
I know some may read those descriptions above and think that this manga is a soap opera or some kind of romantic comedy. While the soap opera thought isn’t too far off, I would say this whole manga is more akin to a slice of life tale coated with some romance, drama and comedy. The whole series is an anthology about these unique and differing characters, which all in some way connect back to Yukiko, the woman whose mother got married to a much younger man.
Each chapter (with the exception of a two parter) focuses on one particular character, looking at their current life and struggles or most often, the romance in their life. Sounds sappy and boring, right? Surprisingly, no. That’s because of two very big reasons: the first is that, honestly, the manga never plays up the stories in any overly dramatic or emotional way. The tone, the feeling, and the emotion is written in a very natural way. The romance and relationships are all complicated, with no easy answer to any of the situations and plenty of frustration to go along with them. The drama comes across rather naturally given the personality of the characters and the backstory we’re given about them. Nothing is forced, contrived, or played up in the decisions that are made or what happens to people. It all just feels rather real, just like real life.
I can’t tell if she’s shocked because of how harsh that sounds or because of the notion that her parents don’t appear to be human.
The second thing that makes the manga good are the characters. The closest All My Darling Daughters comes to a main character is Yukiko, along with the supporting cast of her mother named Mari, and Mari’s new husband named Ken Ohashi. Although those characters have two chapters dedicated to them, every single lead in the book is interesting, memorable, unique and complex in their own way. Not one person is alike, having their own problems in life and romance and their own personality that shapes their decisions. You can really grow attached to each person in the book since they are so well developed and established, fully grasping their situations and Yoshinaga’s skilled characterization has you really wishing the best for them in the end. Their tales are sometimes a bit silly, sometimes sad and complicated, and sometimes happy. While you may not always be happy with their outcome, you can understand the reasoning and sometimes even wonder about your own life.
Of course, none of this would be as good as it was if not for the writing on display, which is quite exceptional and amazing in areas. Like stated, the characterization is beautiful here. The writer knows how to get the most out of a character through simple actions and conversations between friends and family without having to spell it out to the audience. Like Maiko from the second chapter, who just seems a bit out there and crazy at points. However, as the story continues on, you really get to understand why she is acting the way she does and why she even rejects the teacher at the end. It’s subtle and well handled, even though it’s a bit sad. The dialogue is just as impressive, really building up the characters and establishing the right mood. It only ever slips up in a few moments, like during the third chapter when the woman is on a few separate dates and some of the guys go a bit on a tangent. However, it’s never really bad nor does it take you out of the comic. The pacing is nice and the book is capable of balancing multiple tones throughout, knowing where the right bits of comedy should be so it doesn’t interfere with the drama, while also providing levity in the right areas.
Seriously, it’s very distracting when I’m trying to have a conversation.
If there was one real negative to the writing it would be some of the story structure and transitions. A lot of the scenes tend to jump forward a bit, often rather randomly and sometimes during the middle of a scene. It breaks up the flow and mood of the moment, to the point where it caused me to be taken out of the reading experience. It gets even worse though when the comic dives between different time periods to show a flashback or even when the comic jumps forward in time. At some points, you can’t even tell if the comic is in the present or if some time has passed, which is irritating.
There are exceptions though with the story structure and even with the jumpy transitions. Where this style worked was more in the fourth story where a woman is reflecting back on her childhood with one of her best friends. The scene often starts with her best friend doing something rather foolish, but assuring that she would make up for it in another way. However, the story would cut to panel where the woman relates that her friend didn’t do what she said she would and then cuts to the next part of her life. This constant jumping forward, combined with the woman saying her friend kept on not doing what she planned with her life, was actually rather effective and really let you feel how sad and disappointed she was becoming. If more of the scenes where better handled like that, it wouldn’t be as bad.
Then finally comes the artwork and it’s pretty dang good. Sure, it really often lacks in backgrounds (seriously, there are a lot of white voids in this manga) and sometimes the necks on people in certain panels look extremely long and inhuman, but the art is pretty strong. Yoshinaga is quite capable of depicting her characters well, making them all look unique in their faces, hairstyles, and even outfits. It’s a rather simple style and there’s not much to really comment on beyond the characters, but the art does what it does so well that it really doesn’t matter in the end.
Is It Good?
All My Darling Daughters is a fantastic manga, focusing on the lives and romances of some rather unique and very well defined characters. While it has a soap opera-ish vibe to it, the story and drama is handled exceptionally well and feels more real and close to life than you would expect. It’s not a series that can be easily recommended to everyone, especially since it was aimed at an older female audience; however, if you are looking for a very mature and smart character drama with romance thrown in that treats its audience like adults, then this is probably one of the best mangas you can get that’s currently out there.
All My Darling Daughters is available from Viz Media. Another series from Fumi Yoshinaga, Ooku: The Inner Chambers (a period piece set during feudal Japan) is available from Viz as well. There are also a couple of other mangas written by Yoshinaga that are available from other companies, like her other currently running series called What Did You Eat Yesterday? from Vertical Inc.