Published from January 1967 to October 1971, Jun (ジュン), sometimes called Fantasy World Jun, is considered one of Shotaro Ishinomori’s most experimental manga. Told with almost no text, Jun follows the story of its titular character as he laments over his father’s disapproval of his life goal: becoming a mangaka. In his melancholic state, Jun experiences surreal events, encountering characters and environments that seem more symbolic than corporeal. Jun won the Shogakukan Manga Award in 1968.
Over the years, the dreamlike world of Jun has inspired readers and mangaka alike, including the marvelous Keiko Takemiya. Below, Mel has been kind enough to provide a translation of Takemiya’s essay in which she expresses her gratitude for this important work.
What Jun Taught Me
Back then, Shotaro Ishinomori was thought by all of us to be the flag-bearer of our time. I was crazy about Mutant Sabu and Ryuujin Numa, and Cyborg 009 made me reach the decision that there were few trustworthy adults. When we became high schoolers, we wanted to be taught not by our parents, but by different adults who we chose ourselves. The start of all of that being in the world of manga was the reason I got so into manga.
Jun began serialization in “[su_tooltip style=”light” content=”Avant-garde manga magazine COM’s tagline”]the manga magazine for manga mania[/su_tooltip].” It was a manga with very little dialogue. With its revolutionary designs, fresh characters, few pages, its way of guiding readers to countless different worlds, and the way that when one is done reading it leaves a heavy impression, it was not only to me, but to a generation that was beginning to see manga as a means of expression, an undoubtedly groundbreaking piece.
The protagonist, Jun, both physically and mentally, was far from that time period’s ideal of strength. If anything, he resembled a dainty young girl. He was an androgynous person. He, who fits the phrase “stray sheep” perfectly, etched the desire to draw manga into my heart. Seeing him, who set sail into society’s turbulent seas as the mouthpiece for all young boys and girls, looking at the difference between dreams and reality, hurt and moved me to tears.
Thanks to Jun, we were able to predict the harshness of reality. No, thanks to Jun, I think we were able to achieve the resolution that it’s okay to get hurt. That’s why this work is so revolutionary. Even if this work’s surface characteristics (the number of panels, design elements, etc.) were put aside, the reason why this work exists is what makes it so revolutionary.
It’s not about if I realized it was revolutionary or not at the time. You could say that because I didn’t realize how revolutionary it was, that lesson was plunged even deeper, more precisely into my heart. In Jun’s stories, there is one story that I always try to bring up, even now.
In “A Fairy Tale for a Carp Streamer,” a carp streamer is attached to a string, always dreaming of freedom. One day, the string is cut, and it suddenly becomes free. Stretching across the sky, the carp streamer is able to see all types of sights. But eventually there is a strong wind, and it is thrust into the sea, and it sinks to the bottom of the ocean, crumpled and worn.
Back in those days, young people had a special longing for “freedom.” When I read it, before I felt any bitter feelings, I understood resignation to the roughness of the future and the worth of benchmarks that one needs to reach. When I later learned of the term “metaphysical,” I felt like people could understand it without knowing the word. I felt that manga as a medium could make that possible.
Jun continues to be a special work for me to this day. When I met Ishinomori-sensei, I thought, “I can only get one illustration from him,” so I asked for Jun. To me, who wanted to become a professional manga artist, there was no more appropriate character. I can never forget the trance I was in, the anxiety, and my resolve.
The short and largely wordless Jun stories taught me about many harsh realities and deep, profound meanings of life, and to this day, I think, “If only those stories and lessons could be conveyed to readers again through a different medium of expression.”
That illustration of Jun, smiling softly with an almost sad expression on his face, hanging on my wall to this day, the paper yellow from being exposed to the months and years, is always telling me those things.
The original Japanese text of Keiko Takemiya’s essay, “What Jun Taught Me,” appeared in the 2001 Media Factory printing of Fantasy World Jun. Limited copies are available on Amazon Japan.