It is a core aspect of fiction that it must have a relation to possession. The hero or heroine acquires: a lover, friends, realizations. The less fortunate protagonist has to live with what they lack: the aspiring artist laments their lack of talent; the worker enrages against their exploitation. The former earns because they are deserving; the latter learn the dignity to live with their condition. In some moral tales, the fool is blamed. We expect fiction to giveus something: characters must mirror this process for us to apply its lessons.
This is true even of the most trivial stories. Take Kin’iro Mosaic, a 4-koma about nothing more than a group of friends’ mundane adventures. From this description alone, it is transparent what they have: wonderful friends to spend beautiful days with. The characters go on treasuring their youth, and from them we learn how precious a time it is.
Asano Inio’s Reirakuis an example of the reverse: a mangaka in his forties struggles for motivation to keep drawing, sales for his works are going down: here, it is his lack of artistic possibilities, of an exciting future, that is at the core of the story’s problematic. In the end, the passion of a fan, naïve as it is, motivates him to keep working. He has not earned a solution to his problems; but he has earned what it takes to go on.
For us, this relation to possession is a fundamental assumption. But sometimes, works appear that make us notice this assumption.
This is the experience I had with Tamura Akane’s Tasogare Memorandum.
Takadori Eri is a normal, if somewhat lively, high school girl. She wants to become a journalist; good for her, she loves observing people’s lives. She has one precious possession: the remains of a meteorite. It’s actually a normal stone, but she doesn’t know—her friend, Yuu-chan, notices right away, but doesn’t have it in her to shatter Eri’s contagious enthusiasm. This story, which opens the manga, announces a pattern which will repeat itself for much of a manga: a story unfolds, Eri notices little to nothing about the truth of it, but someone else knows—we know.
One of the work’s best moments comes in the first volume when Eri and Yuu-chan run into a friend in the street. They notice her back: next to a girl’s? Did she have a girlfriend? They approach, curious—the girl turns out to be a boy? He (or she?) is embarrassed, but his (or her?) girlfriend covers up: she claims it’s simply her own fetish, which she is selfishly forcing on her boyfriend. Eri leaves, satisfied, but Yuu-chan knows the truth: the boyfriend is a girlfriend. Tasogare Memorandum’s world is small—a few selected pieces of high school life—but within it, we find the punctual moments of diversity, those by which we realize what a vast world we live in. This inconspicuous breadth is what makes it so enchanting.
The episode ends not on Eri and Yuu-chan, but on the couple: the girl, who is still a little shy about herself, thanks her girlfriend for her kindness. These pieces of life aren’t about what Eri learns from them; these people aren’t means to an end. They are the end themselves. But even this is not expressed as a lesson: we only ever see Eri living her life, and appreciate her purely for what she does. Perhaps we are not meant to learn from her, as long as we put her at the center of ourselves for the time of a manga.
Tellingly, until the epilogue—not even a main chapter—, she is persistently in love with Kuroki, her teacher. She well knows they will never be together. Toward the end, an alumni of his, who has had Eri’s experience, tries to talk her out of it. She answers: this is her life, and she’s not about to regret any of it. We cannot say that she belongs to the category of the “dignified poor”, that she is making an attempt to live with a lack of something: she has herself, and is fully accomplished within this world which she fills and colors with her cheerful, always curious attitude. For Takadori Eri, even a one-sided love can be fulfilling.
Hamano, a quiz nerd, had fallen in love with her. In the epilogue, she returns his feelings; after graduating from high school, in an additional chapter, she’s found a lover. But even this, in context, gains a different meaning: it is not, like for those shōnen manga protagonists who “earn” the heroine as a trophy to their peerless moral quality, a reward. Eri is all too gauche to be elevated to the rank of “heroine”, to be “deserving” of a “reward”. But even so, her unwavering passion for life attracts: it makes Hamano fall in love with her; it makes the reader want to enjoy every moment with her.
Hamano’s life is one she has observed, one she has encouraged, one she has embraced: from now on, she will be able to do so from a little closer. It is the culmination of everything else: lives that passed in front of her, and followed their path out of her sight; but lives she will never forget. It doesn’t matter whether she realized the truth: as long as she was with them, she put them at the center of her life. She wantedto know them more than anything, and that is enough. Her enthusiasm for observing the lives playing out around her is her sole, and most precious possession. She will never reject anything, always love the world as she finds it.
Tasogare Memorandumis perhaps the culmination of the motif which brings out the beautiful in the mundane, tells us to value the self-evident moments of everyday life. Tellingly, tasogareis the time of the day when the world of the dead and ours meet. But Eri meets no ghosts or strange creatures: always mere human beings of flesh and bones. It has something of ARIAfor us earthlings, but in truth it is even more stripped down: a little less dreamy perhaps, but for the length of two manga volumes, Takadori Eri is just as irresistible as Mizunashi Akari.