Storytelling: Ogasawara Uki

After I read Ogasawara Uki’s Black Sun Doreiou, I was really looking forward to getting to know her work better. There was a hint of it in Black Sun, but the more of her work I read, the more I confirmed it: she is just chock full of ideas. And who isn’t? But most people, writers–specifically writers with editors–don’t try to fit it all into one story. There’s always so much going on. But this is something I personally understand. I am the same way with my writing, particularly my fiction. However one of the differences between she and I is that she finishes the stories and puts them out there, tangents, accessories, and all. Whereas I, just turn those tangents into new stories and never finish them. And to be honest, this series* is actually just me organizing and parsing my thoughts regarding Ogasawara-sensei’s work; breaking them out into manageable and, I hope, cohesive bites as a means to avoid the cramming issue. So, shall we get to it?


The Cosmos and his fancy parlor tricks

She’s written about a slave of the Ottoman empire challenging a prince who was charging on behalf of the Crusades; a clash between historic and modern-day Japan that turns a kendōka into a blade-armed warrior; a Shinto priest, a prince, a talking tree, and a scion of sorts battling sodomizing demons for control over a kingdom; a failed ninja doomed to repeatedly die until he bests his teacher; a tattooing oracle who takes an interest in an art-loving doctor; and two musicians who couldn’t handle the pressure and countered their resentments with an ax. Most of these stories are filled with fantasy, legends, the supernatural, heraldry, gallantry, and enmity. I like to think that she was a master daydreamer as a child and probably still wanders off into worlds filled with waistcoats, shields, spells, and wings. Even if most of them fall under fantasy, I think that’s quite an array for a storyteller with only 10 titles listed on MU.

Because of her habit of packing it in, Ogasawara-sensei’s works tend to contain lots of hidden gems; many unexpected exchanges between characters and moments that make you wonder what was going on in her life at that time. So I’ve come to look forward to  finding out what new thing she’s gained interest in.

Just looking at her artwork from 400 Years Resort and noticing her affinity for other-worldly themes, I wondered if she’d ever write in a high school setting. Most yaoi mangaka have at least one in their collection; I just couldn’t see, but she did. It happens to be my favorite title by Sensei and is actually her only shoujo title that I know of. Tamashizume is about a high school girl who practices kendo and isn’t quite what she seems. One day, while tending to her team captain in the infirmary (it’s not what you’re thinking), she hears a voice coming from under the bed. With her shinai she pokes and out comes a disheveled, but handsome man. And so begins a battle of the ages, or rather between the ages; Yamato or old Japan seeks to take revenge on the descendants of the Ninth Clan, present day Japan. It’s a cool twist on a common shounen concept (with some BL undertones). Of course the fantasy element is present as well and I think that may be the only way Sensei would find any interest in high school life. I could be wrong, but it just seems that way to me.

The economy of words

“Don’t let a little penetration stop a meaningful conversation.” This could very well be Ogasawara-sensei’s motto. In the land of flesh and blood, people do carry on conversations that have nothing to do with the pleasure at hand. “Did you lock the door?” “How was your day?” “So-and-so said, ‘hi.‘” And for the workaholics, “I closed the deal” is nothing too hard to imagine when they’re approaching the throes of passion. But when we think of those intimate moments on the pages of yaoi, panting, moaning, teasing, nos, and yeses are more along the lines of what we’d expect. Even when it’s not so intimate you’ll read threats, words of struggle, and forced promises, but all of these things are directly related to the present situation. Such commonalities do not seem to hold sway over Sensei’s storytelling or structure.

Just as any other character would start a conversation while standing at the stove, continue it while eating, and finish it in the garden while basking in the moonlight. The characters of Ogasawara Uki’s stories would do the same while having sex. From the door to the floor; from the shower to the bed; through foreplay, fiveplay, to the very last sigh, it’s all one conversation that generally has nothing to do with the fact that these two people are generously gushing fluid from multiple orifices. Or if it is related, it’s the kind of thing that would wilt a partner in 3 seconds flat. Normally they would be screaming to the high heavens in pain and ecstasy in those moments. And yet she gives us lines like, “My last lover was a gifted maestro. As well you know. But they don’t all have to be.” Or, “I’d like to go to a third-world country sometime…and play for them.” Or you get a stalker telling his prey their life story. This one isn’t so out of the ordinary, but in such detail…I’ve never read. Of course she has those scenes where the discourse and the intercourse work in tandem, but the aforementioned type of economical use of space is rather fascinating and to such extents, particular to her.

I thought it was odd at first, but her bilateral objective actually makes a lot of sense. You have a story to tell, but only so many pages to tell it in. Do you cut out dialogue that, whether or not it advances the story, makes the story what it is? Or do you skim on the skinship that you render so well and that your readers have no doubt come to expect? As left-field as some of those moments may be, I can’t imagine any of her stories without them and the skinship…it doesn’t really need to make a case for itself. Creative conformity is something I can appreciate.


At a moment’s notice

Since a conversation need not be paused for penetration nor ejaculation, sex can begin and end at any moment in her stories. “Oh, we’re rushing into battle, let me take you from behind.” “I must avenge the Emperor. You like it like that, don’t you?” “From la petite mort to la grande mort in the blink of an eye. How do you take off these clothes?” Of course those aren’t exact lines, but I think they sum up the complete disregard for TPO that is prevalent in her work. Initially I wondered if I had turned several pages at once, so I thumbed the edge of the page in hand, but it revealed no extras. In reading the pages preceding the sex scene once more and again, I confirmed that, yes, sex did just happen. They were indeed conversing about important matters and on the next page they are birthday bare and thrusting and panting. This is an instance where understanding Ogasawara-sensei’s word economy can help you reconsider how the mechanics of a story are/can be implemented. Once you realize that the story is actually progressing during these double duty scenes an untimely interjections, they may seem less abrupt and you may learn not to mind them so much.

The meek shall inherit nothing

Ogasawara Uki’s worlds are peopled with all kinds of folks. They can be described as brave, silly, arrogant, lusty, idiotic, devious, obtuse, naive, crazy, sad, lost, jaded…they can be described as many things, just about anything, but never weak. She doesn’t write weak or fragile characters. Some maybe doing it silently, but they’re all fighting for and striving for something. Not that her characters don’t have weaknesses, they do, but none of them are defined by it. Thanks to that, I end up enjoying even a mediocre story more.

When all is said and done

Ogasawara-sensei writes some really good story lines and I’d like to see more of her work licensed in English. Due the her bounty and cramming of ideas, they’re not always executed well, but they are always interesting and entertaining. Some of the dialogue makes it very obvious that she’s laying out the plot or filling in the blanks before they even show up and I think it’s funny, but because her delivery is already so quirky, it doesn’t ruin the experience. She has a great/goofy sense of humor and loves a punchline, even if it takes a while to get there. And I’ll get more into this later, one of the other things that makes her stories so great to read is the artwork. The detail is engrossing and since most of her stories deal with the grandiose, there’s always something beckoning your consideration. My advice? Don’t resist.

* This was originally part of a series I wrote for a lead up to Yaoi Con 2012.

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