I normally don’t judge a book by its cover, but I thought the cover of the first volume of Sapuri / Suppli was unusual and gorgeous af. It did its job; the artwork got me to pick up the tankōbon and read it while bored at work last night.
As unusual and standout as the cover is, I found the storyline to be the opposite–very… well-tred and stereotypical.
“Minami Fujii is an employee at a high-powered advertising firm. She’s good at her job but finds herself torn between the pressure and expectations of her career and her attraction to two of her coworkers: the younger, arty Ishida, and the classy, put-together Ogiwara!”
Except Sapuri / Suppli is a little bit more than a torn between two lovers story, but I’ll get to that after the spoiler break.
In manga, Japanese women seem to worry a lot about not getting married.
I mean, I guess we see something similar among the older gay men in Fumi Yoshinaga’s work–this preoccupation with having to reach a certain pinnacle of traditionally-defined success by age fill in the blank, but usually 30.
There is a thing that happens to a lot of people around the age 28-30. In astrology it would be defined as a “Saturn Return,” but a lot of people do some kind of “what am I doing with my life?” soul searching at that age. It’s a fairly common/universal conundrum.
My problem with how it often seems to end up being portrayed for women, in these particular manga, is that there’s a lot of unexamined, internalized misogyny.
Our heroine in Sapuri / Suppli, Fujii talks about not wanting to ‘dry up’ and basically turn into ‘an old hag.’ Fujii worries about not being cute any more, and tries to glam it up at one point (and gets mocked for trying to dress young by her officemates).
There’s a successful businesswoman in the office, who, on the surface (at least in the first volume), seems happy enough, who is the fear of every office lady. Don’t end up like her! Alone at 40! Like that’s some kind of death sentence. Worse, the older lady herself participates in this myth, by telling Fujii to go out to karaoke one night because, “you don’t want to end up like me!”
This might be more poignant, if she was was actually portrayed as sad. The only time we see her out of the office, she seems to be happily shopping for houseplants by herself. (Is that a cultural metaphor? If so, I didn’t get it.)
To be fair, a lot of this particular drama bounces off me as a queer woman. We get perceived this way a lot: washed-up, frumpy, alone (even when we’re not. In fact, given this scene and Fujii’s loving description, I briefly wondered if this was going to end up a yuri romance!)
But this whole drama also bounces off me as a nerd, a geek. We never like the things we’re supposed to, we’re also often seen as weird and lonely (again, even when we’re not. Lonely, I mean. Of COURSE we’re weird af.)
I think the last time I worried about ‘fitting in’ or participating in culturally-defined success was 1983, when I was in high school. (No, strike that, by 1983, I’d already found Gay Comix at the local head shop.)
This is not to say that I can’t sympathize. There is a secondary tension in Sapuri / Suppli about the pressures of work versus keeping any kind of social life. For Fujii, that means trying to continue to date, but it’s generally relatable in terms of how in your mid-20s (and, really, almost at any point in one’s life) the struggle of “does this job define who I am?” is real.
I am also endlessly fascinated by the work culture in Japan.
There’s actually a diagram in the manga, at one point, about how to form a stable napping platform out of three wheel-y office chairs. Fujii also demonstrates how to wrap your blazer around your skirt so you don’t accidentally give your officemates a free show, while you nap in the boardroom.
Fujii is regularly shown staying overnight at the office.
I can’t even.
There is no job on the planet I like this much. Even when I was writing full-time, I always took the weekends off (unless my deadline fell on a Monday.)
I’ll be honest, too. Despite her traditional obsessions, Fujii is a sympathetic character. The manga is well written. Enough so, that I ended up spending some time last night after I finished the first volume trying to find out how easy it might be to get the rest. Scanlation sites don’t seem to have much of it–the first few chapters of the first volume, at most. Amazon has English-language versions up to volume 5 (out of the 11 published in Japan.)
So, I mean, I might be able to pressure my library into at least finishing up the run of what they started (at least up to what’s currently available in English), but… I just don’t know that I’m that interested, especially if it ends with some kind of underscoring of traditional societal norms, you know?
It’d be boring to me if Fujii ends up leaving her career for marriage. Or, worse, if she settles with some dude just because she doesn’t want to grow old alone. That’s what people do in real life. Yawn.
What I’d rather read is the story of the career woman who is happily single, despite all the pressures to be otherwise. That’s a bit more edgy to me, a bit more exciting. I mean, smash the patriarchy, sister. Even if it’s just to defy everyone’s expectations and be a happy, well-adjusted singleton.
So, am I recommending this or not? I don’t know. It kind of looks like from the description of the J-drama this ends up a straight-forward romance. I guess we can all be relieved that Fujii won’t end up a lonely, old woman, eh?