“What is love?”Sings Vinicio Capossela: a question that has accompanied human beings since the dawn of time. But the answer? Different from person to person as much as the feeling, on the other hand, is universal. Love is everywhere, love is always (even if not “forever”, convinced matrimonialists will forgive us), love is for everyone. There is no creature that has never felt an iota of love at least: for itself, for its family, for another member of its species. Or who knows, of a different kind. Poets and novelists, composers and singers have written about it, they have painted, drawn, sculpted, told about it on the big and small screen. From century to century, from one era to another, of love has always been talked about. This primordial and absolute feeling, today, is also told through (considered) unusual means, such as comic strip.
So much so that, in the record edition of Lucca Comics & Games, at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni it was possible to visit the exhibition “Manga: Love & Other Stories“, Conceived by J-Pop Manga, with the patronage of the Municipality of Lucca. The sentimental education declined between cartoons and balloons, the bond of love expressed in manga (Japanese comics, those – to be clear – that are read backwards) is what was offered to the public through the splendid narratives of the great masters of the Sun Levante like Ryoko IkedaKeiko Takemiya, NagabeKabi Nagata, Waka Hirako, Keigo Shinzo, Aki Irie, Kaori Tsurutani and a new, but already very successful European mangaka, Tony Valente.
In Japanese there are many words to define love and in the exhibition in Lucca different storiesbut united by the intent to tell the strongest and most authentic feelings of affection, they have shown the various facets. Because no medium, like that of art, truly grants the freedom to talk about all kinds of possible love. That go far beyond that between a man and a woman.
One of the most known and loved comics of all time, also thanks to the television transposition: Lady Oscar of the mangaka Riyoko Ikeda From the pen of the extraordinary Ryoko Ikeda it came to life, starting from 1972, Lady Oscar, the French heroine born a woman but raised and treated like a man by that father who “wanted a boy”. A masterpiece that demonstrates the importance and strength of love, of whom he fights till death for their ideals and fights those who try to trample the feelings of others. A girl who immediately learned the hardness of a life spent between sword fights and palace affairs, deployed in defense of Queen Marie Antoinette of Austria. Oscar François de Jarjayes, commander of the Royal Guard, had established a strong friendship with the future wife of Louis Augustus, which many even considered love. But if the sexual orientation of the protagonist is never revealed (and indeed in the animated series taken from the manga even censored) what is certain is the feeling of her that she addresses, in this case as a rival of her own sovereign, to the Swedish count Hans Axel von Fersen, which they both fall in love with. But Lady Oscar is the protagonist, like her in a fit of female rebellion against that soldier’s life to which she had been forced since her birth, of an equally tormented story, with the squire. Andrè Grandierwho will declare his love to her on the verge of death, while the heroine reveals her desire to become his wife.
Love for herself
More recent is the work (a shojo) by Kabi NagataJapanese cartoonist known to the international public for having written and conceived “My first time – My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness“(2016, in Italy in 2019). Autobiographical manga, tells – as can be guessed from the title – the first sexual experience of a young girl who has never experienced sex, not even allowing herself to imagine it. The manga investigates various aspects of her life, such as the long period of depressionL’self-harm ei food disorders, due to a lack of personal fulfillment and to the oppression of society – but also of the family – of which she just cannot feel part of it. By now on the brink of the abyss Kabi, the protagonist inspired by the author, she understands that she cannot continue to “self-destruct“: Here is the moment of enlightenment, its difficulties come from the enormous struggles to create interpersonal relationships, he realizes that he has completely excluded sex from his life. Getting that part of herself to emerge will be complicated, as will finding someone who can help her along this path. How does it solve the age-old problem? Booking a date with a lesbian escort. This book was then followed by “Letters to Myself (after My First Time)“(2018, in Italy in 2020) and the My Alcoholic Escape from Reality (released in Japan in 2019, while the English publication took place in 2021).
That of Keiko Takemiya is a well-known and intense manga, which is divided into its first edition, published from 1976 to 1984, in seventeen volumes full of events and characters. The series “The poem of the wind and trees”Is recognized as a classic of the genre shōnen’aibeing among the first in the genus a combine romance with sexualityas well as being one of the very first homosexual love stories published. Innovative to the point of becoming scandalous for the “overtly sexual” scenes between the protagonists, it took nine years before the publisher agreed to market the manga, as the author categorically refused to cut and censor the elements more openly. sensual story (including a scene in which the two protagonists show up naked in bed, which he did a stir in the environment of the masters of comics). A historical drama within a school context, in which the lives and personal stories of two adolescents, the kind Serge and the handsome dark Gilbert (ephebe with a very bad reputation), students of a rigid male college in Provence in the late 19th century. The first, the son of a French viscount and a gypsy woman, sincere and loyal, loved by many in the academy where he pursues the dream of excelling at the piano. The other, secretly admired but publicly humiliated by the other students, for the poor scholastic results but above all for the mercenary sexual relations with students older than him. Destiny will make them meet and in the dormitories of the college, between sins of lust and jealousy, the two become lovers: but we are in the nineteenth century and their daily life will be full of conflicts, desires and despair, until the end. Ostracism and intolerance, but also poverty, prostitution, dependence drugs and finally death are intertwined and articulated the events that, once he becomes an adult, Serge will remember during a visit to his old school.
He was among the most anticipated guests of this year’s edition of Lucca Comics & Games, so much so that he caused kilometers-long queues every day to enter the J-Pop pavilion to have his own drawing. The young man (born in 1993) but already famous all over the world Nagabe master with his manga transports us to fantastic worldspopulated by more or less known creatures, which they break conventions of the ‘normal’. In “Wizdoms“(2020) and”Monotone Blue“(2022) the protagonists are anthropomorphic animals, who weave relationships of friendship and more, even love or simply of affection or sex, more or less solid bonds but above all not always ‘legal’. In the first work, consisting of a whole series of stories set in a school of witchcraft, the reader learns about a whole series of characters, each struggling with some thorny love affair. In the first story we see the insecurities of a character in love who, despite fearing not to be reciprocated, does not want to give up on having that feeling. Then there are those who live daily in the balance between love and fear, those who feel happy to spend innocent precious moments with the person they admire most, those who are willing to sacrifice to take care of the other, those who carry heavy burdens that prevent them from living freely, those who morbidly crave the love of those who seek only admiration, those who discover the purely physical pleasure and those who manage to love themselves despite evident personal differences. In “Monotone Blue”, on the other hand, Hachi, a bored high school cat meets a lizard named Aoi who hides a secret and that only he will be able to discover, suddenly awakening from the torpor and …
And finally, a quote from Nagabe’s most famous manga himself could not be missing, “Girl From The Other Side“, The eleven-volume series, recalling the atmospheres of the Grimm brothers on the one hand and the illustrations of a children’s book on the other, possesses all the charm of a timeless fairy tale. In a world marked by the presence of one curse who turns those affected into monstrous black creatures (the Sons of the Dark) humans find refuge in the inner kingdom to protect themselves, while outside, unaware of everything, a mysterious and candid little girl named Shiva lives together with one of these cursed creatures, whom she calls “Master”, in a small house near the woods. The fulcrum of this unique dark fairy tale, where the dreamlike and surreal tones take shape and substance in the drawings, dominated by the strong contrast between black and white (transposition of continuous thematic dualism between good and evil)is the relationship between the two protagonists, the sincere affection that unites them and the purity with which a world so cruel is seen from the eyes of a child.
There is no single reading key, but for example lto contrast between beauty and monstrosity of the protagonists, offers a modern variation on the theme of “Beauty and the Beast”, where Shiva redeems the ugliness of the Master by subjecting himself to various tests which he successfully overcomes. Among these the most emblematic can only be that of the physical contact between the two (Belle’s kiss to the wounded Prince, remember?), With all its load of meaning on theacceptance of the otherof the different from itself, and on the need to tear down walls (real or metaphorical as they are), in the name of a universal sentiment. Guess which one …
But the boundary between light and shadow is more blurred and blurred than one might expect: the Master in fact, more than an evil black monster seems to embody a feeling of love almost parental in her effort to educate Shiva, trying not to mortify his innocence, and the grandmother’s entry into the scene reconfigures the archetypes of the timeless classic Little Red Riding Hood, reinterpreted here in a whole new, more melancholy and dark key. And then in the sentence that presents the work, “The tale of the creature and the little girl who linger as evening fallson the border between day and night… ”, lies the whole real meaning of this delicate but profound story, beautiful in its intensity.