Last summer I turned 31 and as soon as I entered my second trimester of life I realized how limited my options were now that my youth was behind me. Mind you, I have lived a decent life so far. I’ve visited five continents. Had opportunities to experience my share of World Cups and MLB playoffs in person. I have hung out in a few publishing houses, drank with a couple mangaka, partied with editors and their printer friends… So yeah the first thirty weren’t that bad. However, while the future holds tremendous potential, from here on out the opportunities will become fewer. Reason being is that there are more people to compete for the same number of opportunities.
First and final lesson in life: don’t grow old, kids.
If the realities of middle-age sound depressing from someone who is just initiated, why would manga readers in their twenties want to read about the dark truths of life as a forty-something? According to mangaka Aono Shunju, life is practically over for someone that age. This is why his lead character has no other choice but go all in when playing the game of life by attempting to become a professional mangaka at age 41!
In Ore ha Mada Honki Dashitenai dake (literally translated as “I Just Haven’t Been Serious Yet”) main character Ohguro Shizuo is quickly approaching middle age. In the game of life Shizuo, like many other forty-something males, feels he has lost, and lost big-time. He’s a fat, divorced father of one living with his own single father. If Shizuo was cynical he could take comfort with his managerial position, but then again he works at H Burger. He has no direction in life and there is no purpose. In everyway, to Shizuo, age 41, life is slowly becoming an agonizing affair. But that’s only because he has not been serious about his life.
Japan right now. He’s like many men in their middle-age who were given the idea for a secure future in exchange for their hopes, dreams and creativity. As a salaryman, Shizuo was what his company made him to be. He could never be an individual or a free-thinker. Break out of the mold and you’re looking for trouble. Without that safety net, he is searching for who he could have been if he was given the chance twenty years ago. And he has figured that even young people, even creative people, and people with hope and potential can live miserable lives… If they do not give it their all!
As a story-teller, Shizuo is easily influenced by his moods. One week he could submit a sports drama, the next a samurai gekiga and the next week it could be a shoujo inspired romance. His range is what has intrigued his editors, but his inability to remove himself from his stories has prevented him from making a formal debut in the industry. So instead Shizuo meets with his Chuugakukan collaborators weekly, reinventing himself and his craft every single time they meet until they can find his true masterpiece.>
If life were like a manga Shizuo’s attempts to stand by the sea exclaiming his ambitions would eventually work out. His feelings for that assistant editor at the publishing house would be accepted and reciprocated. His daughter would not be working for a fuuzoku either… Sadly life is not like manga and Shizuo spends his days at parks showing off to kids, thinking up new ideas for his breakthrough.
As strange as it may seem, life sometimes imitates manga. What makes Ore ha Honki one of the top 10 manga of 2008 is how Aono-sensei never forgets that art can reflect reality. Shizuo’s life is cliche in its more fantastic moments. Completely understandable considering that he is an aspiring comic artist. The down moments, the essentially depressing moments that inspire the most humor, present a world that is eerily real to an almost absurd point. Shizuo doubts himself and his parental skills. He dreams about talking to god (who share’s Shizuo’s fashion sense). He fights with his family and friends. Aono never lets his readers forget that life is full of hardships. Finding humor in that struggle is genius. You don’t have to give it your all to figure that out. But having suffered through at least 20 years of life’s horrors and bad shounen cliches might help.