The Ethereal Worlds of Keiko Takemiya

The Ethereal Worlds of Keiko Takemiya

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In 2012, I had the opportunity to visit the Kyoto Manga Museum and stumbled upon a cast of Keiko Takemiya’s hand, along with an original drawing of Soldier Blue from Toward the Terra (地球へ…) , in a glass case. Needless to say, I got pretty emotional (read: I cried in public). She is my favorite manga artist of all time, after all.

Soldier Blue from Toward the Terra.

Keiko Takemiya’s Toward the Terra left a lasting impression on me when I read and watched it a year prior to visiting the museum. It quickly became my favorite series of all time. I collected everything I could—DVD sets, the movie adaptation from the 80’s, artbooks, anything. Her art style is what initially drew me in, and still captivates me now. On my most recent trip to Japan, I was lucky enough to find a copy of Cherish Gallery, a collection of her prints, both original and from her manga series.

A member of the Year 24 group, Keiko Takemiya is a prolific shojo and shonen manga artist. She is credited with being the first artist to include a male-male kiss in a shojo manga, which appeared in her short story “In the Sunroom” (サンルームにて) that debuted in Bessatsu Shōjo Komikku (now known as Betsucomi) in December 1970.

Her landmark works, Toward the Terra and Kaze to Ki no Uta (風と木の詩), are both award-winning manga. Characters walking through the dark expanses of their own minds, flowing lines, and entire pages of black with small hints of stars and asteroids are a simple few of the design aspects that make Toward the Terra come to life. Kaze to Ki no Uta uses the same method of using the environment to portray certain emotions, in particular, using trees and flowers to surround the characters; bright and vibrant, or dead and blowing in the wind.

Toward the Terra is a sci-fi shonen manga that takes place in the distant future. As the Earth slowly became uninhabitable, humans began to spread throughout the solar system and colonize different stars and planets. It was then that the Mu began to appear: humans with psychokinetic abilities. Political order is now maintained by computers known as Superior Domination, which seeks to eradicate the Mu race. A space opera, the series spans a large number of years, focusing on two different protagonists and forcing the reader to consider if any one character is truly correct in their ways.

A particularly powerful Toward the Terra panel to me: Keith, leader of the Humans, stands atop a staircase and gazes at Matsuka, a Mu he harbors in secret.

Another classic, Kaze to Ki no Uta is Takemiya’s best-known shonen-ai, or boys love, manga. Because Takemiya refused to censor the sexual elements of the story, it took nine years to be published. The story focuses on themes such as racism, homophobia, and pedophilia, all under an overarching coming of age theme. It focuses on Serge–the son of a Roma woman and French viscount–and Gilbert–a promiscuous, objectified boy with a tortured soul. The story revolves around the bond they form and their romance at a French all-boys academy.

There are countless reasons why Takemiya’s works, especially Toward the Terra, are so important to me. One of the main reasons is because of how respectfully she deals with such grave topics. Even today, authors from all over the world deal with these topics with much less grace. To me, that, along with her incredible use of space and line, was her biggest contribution to the world of manga.

In 1978, Toward the Terra and Kaze to Ki no Uta won the Shogakukan Manga Award for shonen and shojo manga respectively. The same year, Toward the Terra also won the coveted the Seiun Award for science fiction manga. Given her variety of works in both shojo and shonen publications, Keiko Takemiya is considered to be “one of the first successful crossover women artists” by contemporary critics.

Gilbert and Serge from Keiko Takemiya's manga, Kaze to Ki no Uta.
Gilbert and Serge from Kaze to Ki no Uta.

Of her work spanning 1968 to 2000, only Toward the Terra and Andromeda Stories (アンドロメダ・ストーリーズ ) have been licensed and published in English, both by Vertical, Inc. Andromeda Stories was written by Ryu Mitsuse and illustrated by Takemiya. We’re still waiting on an official English publication of Kaze to Ki no Uta, though an Italian edition was recently announced.

In a 2003 interview, Takemiya said that through shonen-ai, or boys love, it is possible to express the “dual personalities” of humans, meaning their masculine and feminine sides. She says that when one represents the relationship between love and sex through a straight couple, emphasizing their genders is unavoidable. But Takemiya believes it is possible to discuss the relationship without limitation through shonen-ai. She also believes it is difficult to talk about these “dual personalities” with men and women because there is “reality, such as childbirth, after the achievement of love.”

In 2014, Keiko Takemiya was awarded the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan for her stunning contributions to the manga industry. Other recipients of this award include Katsuhiro Otomo, author of Akira and Isao Takahata, co-founder of Studio Ghibli.

Presently, Keiko Takemiya works as the President of Kyoto Seika University after serving as the Dean of the Faculty of Manga from 2008 to 2013. She has taught at the university since 2000.

But I can only do her work so much justice in words. I don’t recommend things lightly, but I absolutely recommend picking up Vertical’s beautifully done three volumes of Toward the Terra under the name To Terra… if you’re up for a gorgeous, heart-wrenching story.

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