Geishas are an icon of Japanese culture that, although their heyday is long post, continues to fascinate Westerners to this day. If you’ve wondered about the lives of these flowers of Japan’s bygone pleasure districts, you may want to consider Chika Shiomi’s historical/time slip manga, Yukarism.
Back cover blurb
Yukari Kobayakawa, an accomplished author at the age of 17, writes with amazingly accurate details about historical Japan. It turns out he has the ability to travel back in time…to his past life as a renowned courtesan in the Edo period! As he goes back and forth between the past and present, he unravels the karmic relationship he has with his beautiful classmate Mahoro Tachibana…
Yukarism is part time travel story and part historical but doesn’t perfectly fall into either category. The main character is 17-year-old Yukari Kobayakawa who has already earned acclaim with his novels about the Edo period pleasure district. Although the details in his stories are amazingly accurate, he’s never done any research. He hasn’t had to. He suspects he must have lived there in a past life, and his suspicions are confirmed when he meets his classmate Mahoro Tachibana. An avid fan of his novels, she begs to shake his hand, and when he obliges, her touch sends him back into his previous life–as the renowned courtesan Yumurasaki!
Yukari’s forays to the past are like dreams but not quite. His current body doesn’t disappear (he merely seems to pass out), but when he slips into Yumurasaki’s body, he actually interacts with the people of that world as opposed to reliving her exact motions. From that standpoint, this manga should interest history enthusiasts because he experiences the Edo period from a 21st-century POV. Shiomi-sensei’s gorgeous illustrations do an excellent job of evoking that era and focusing on the things most likely to interest a modern person. Shiomi-sensei also uses Yukari’s 21st-century sensibilities for comic effect when he “breaks form” and uses modern mannerisms.
Yukari has no control over these sojourns into his previous life, but despite their suddenness, they don’t trouble him. Rather he is amused by the opportunity to visit the world of two hundred years ago, and even being of a different gender doesn’t bother him. For a main character, he’s not very proactive; things simply happen, and astounding though they are, he’s merely amused. In truth, he is a kind of spectator to the story. Thus far, his actions don’t drive the plot; Yumurasaki’s life and mysterious death do. However, she is already dead, and Yukari is living her next life so that doesn’t create much anxiety on his part.
As if to make up for Yukari’s lack of emotional intensity, Mahoro, Yumurasaki’s reincarnated body guard, worries enough for both of them. She essentially has the role of ordinary schoolgirl obsessed with the rich, talented, out of her league genius (Yukari is all these things). So when Yukari abruptly passes out or hugs near-strangers, she’s the one to put everything in perspective by having a freak out. The story looks like it will have a romantic component to it (Yumurasaki is a courtesan after all), but for now, there is no chemistry to be had between Mahoro and Yukari.
Extras include a bonus one-page manga, translation notes, and author bio.
If you enjoyed the film Memoirs of a Geisha, Yukarism might be up your alley. The mangaka’s done her research, and watching Yukari struggle through Yumurasaki’s motions does illustrate the skill required of a courtesan 200 years ago. The plot is a bit weak in that Yukari acts more like a spectator than a main character, but for now, his curiosity about his past life is enough to maintain my interest in the story.
First published at The Fandom Post.