“‘Love isn’t that tepid and lukewarm thing people like to talk about, I don’t think. It’s a tough, severe, scary and cruel monster. So is ‘capitalism.’ But being scared of them, like a kid who can’t swim is scared of a swimming pool, is lame. If you just fearlessly dive in, strangely enough you can swim all right!”
-Kyoko Okazki, in the afterword of Pink
With this thought in mind, Yumi, our protagonist of Kyoko Okazaki’s Pink, has never had trouble diving in. She doesn’t just swim “all right,” but navigates the tricky Tokyo currents with impeccable form and style.
Yumi is an office lady who moonlights as a call girl in order to pay to feed her pet crocodile, Croc, and anything else that she may desire. She desires many things, but is willing to work hard to acquire them, even if her means are not particularly socially acceptable. Most exceptionally, Yumi is content throughout the piece. Yes, there are a few hiccups that she must deal with along the way, and yes, she is not incandescently happy for the entirety of the story; however, there is a nice air of contentment surrounding Yumi that is seldom found when a story focuses on a single woman. When her single, female coworkers complain about wanting more money, the discussion inevitably leads to dreaming of how someday their prince will come and take them away from their dull, pink collar lives. Yumi nods along accordingly, all the while thinking to herself that, were they willing to turn a few tricks, they too would be able to lead whatever life they wanted.
Numerous times while reading, I found myself thinking, had Pink been written by anyone other than Kyoko Okazaki, how it would have differed from the charming story that I was so pleased to read. Another manga would have focused on Haruo’s journey from aimless aspiring artist to successful novelist. Yumi would have been his manic pixie dream girl with her crocodile and side job as a prostitute, providing the much-needed spark for Haruo’s career as a writer.
“It’s a pain in the ass to write, so I’m cutting and pasting other folks’ books.”
-Haruo, Pink, page 175
Instead, Haruo provides a contrast to Yumi’s impetuous nature in his inability to do anything on his own. He contemplates telling Yumi off, but doesn’t have the guts. He contemplates killing Croc, but doesn’t have the guts. He tries to earn money by having sex with Yumi’s wealthy stepmother, but finds himself unable to perform. He contemplates writing a novel, but is admittedly boring and unable to express his own thoughts beyond, in his words, “mumbo-jumbo jibberish and rambling mumbling.” When Haruo does get around to writing his masterpiece, it is literally cut and pasted bits from other books, as if he is too afraid to write the words himself. It is hard to discern whether Haruo cares for anything at all, especially when compared with Yumi’s desire for anything and everything.
“The difficulty of leading a ‘normally’ happy life plagues everyone in present-day Tokyo. But me, I’m not afraid of ‘happiness’ because I’m a Tokyo Gal through and through.”
-Kyoko Okazaki, in the afterword of Pink
Additionally, Yumi’s love and consumption of things is not always equal. She too has things that she is willing to protect fiercely – above all, Croc – and when these things are taken away from her, she is noticeably melancholy. However, she snaps out of her depression on her own, without any help from Haruo. When she discovers the culprit behind Croc’s demise, there is no hesitation in her exacting revenge. Where Haruo contemplates, Yumi does. She goes out and earns her happiness.
A more pertinent contrast to Yumi can be found in her stepmother. Their relationship plays out like the narrative within a fairytale – Stepmom goes as far as to set her plans in motion with an apple pie in a nod to Snow White – with the two pitted against each other due to both personality and circumstance. There’s a message of caution from Stepmom to Yumi, as the former represents a portrait of what the latter could become. That being said, Yumi’s happiness is brought on by her own attitude and actions, where Stepmom’s relies solidly on the reactions of others. It’s a subtle difference – especially when one considers the derogatory things that Yumi has to say regarding her stepmother’s relationship with her father – but it’s there. When Yumi looks into a mirror, she sees herself being silly. When Stepmom looks into a mirror, she sees all of her flaws as deemed by the society that she lives in. Yumi eschews her role as a would-be Snow White, while Stepmom relishes in playing her wicked part.
Only time will tell if Yumi – worn down by growing older in a world that relishes youth more than anything – will make the transition from capricious stepdaughter to a more jaded figure like her stepmother, and time is the one thing that the manga doesn’t give us. Pink ends abruptly, but without a feeling of loss or sadness. One senses that Yumi will simply grab the handle of her crocodile handbag and continue swimming, regardless of whatever life has in store for her. Like Kyoko Okazaki herself, Yumi is hardly afraid of happiness, being a Tokyo Gal through and through.
Pink is available from Vertical. I highly recommend picking it up.