In 2008, the manga artist Setona Mizushiro [水城せとな] turned 37 and began serializing Shitsuren Chocolatier [失恋ショコラティエ] and Black Rose Alice [黒薔薇アリス]. Both of these titles mark a dramatic departure from her earlier works and style. In the distant past after her first debut, she had been known primarily for BL short stories; between 2004 and 2008 she began (in my opinion) a good but not great psycho-mythical drama After School Nightmare [放課後保健室]. With the launch of Shitsuren Chocolatier and Black Rose Alice in 2008 however, she suddenly burst forth as a mature creative force to be reckoned with. Incidentally both of these titles deal with the singular phenomenon of unrequited love dragging on for the best of an individual’s biologically limited procreative life – just when do you call it quits?
A quick summary of Shitsuren Chocolatier. The protagonist Souta has been in love with the same girl for 10 years from the age of 15 to 25. The girl is named Saeko and they were at the same high school together. Because Saeko loved chocolate above all else, he decided to become a chocolatier. (As he said to her at some point in the story, “if curry had been your favourite food, I guess I would have become a curry chef instead.”) However, Saeko was a talented seductress even in high school and had set her sights higher. After being rejected by her, Souta travelled to Paris to become an apprentice chocolatier and buried his sorrows in chocolate-making. Five years later, he returned to Japan to open his own chocolate shop in order to woo Saeko once again. He does not give up even knowing that Saeko is already engaged to be married…
(By the way, if you want to understand human beings, study their gods. What you see here is a typical Hephaetus-Aphrodite pattern. The smithing god creates objects of beauty as gifts to Aphrodite, who spurns his love.)
Souta has a friend from Paris named Olivier, who is of a philosophizing nature (and often acts a mouthpiece for Mizushiro-sensei). Olivier thinks Saeko is like a muse who spurs Souta to artistic creativity; and, unrequited love though it may be, it is in itself a laudable thing. Olivier also has his own unrequited love to contend with; he is in love with Souta’s sister Mari and this is the way he philosophizes about it:
“No matter how much money, what good looks and dreams you may have, you can only fall in love at people whom you actually meet, and the people you could possibly fall in love at in life are surprisingly limited in number. It is like – hamsters can only hook up with other hamsters in the same cage. If even so you manage to come across someone you fall in love at, I think you are already lucky and should be happy, even though it is unrequited love. I thank God for putting Mari and I into the same cage.”*
Aware of the paradox that “sadness” seems to be always bringing him something wondrous, Souta even goes so far to design a chocolate cake on the theme of “sadness” and decides to promote “sadness” as a theme for his creations for the Christmas and Valentine seasons. (Who is to say that Christmas and Valentine does not evoke melancholy?) Now, readers who know me ought to know that I always foam at the mouth in praise of how beauty and sadness in the Japanese aesthetics always come in one set, like fish and chips. The Heian poets of old thought it bad taste to write about a happy love affair; instead they wrote about either anticipating new love that has not yet begun or lost love that is all in the past. Anything in between was not interesting to them.
Men have fallen over girls no more interesting than turnips, and I am happy to say Mizushiro-sensei has given Souta a girl as enigmatic as Saeko. I personally think she is the highlight of the story. She looks like a nice girl whom everyone adores, but what little glimpse we have of her inner thoughts reveals that she is actually some kind of supercomputer when it comes to calculating human interactions. The first monologue from her is when she was dressing up for shopping trip with Souta. She thought of Elena (Souta’s “friend with benefits”) whom she dumped into the other day, but decided that her strategy was not to compete in glamorous, fashionable looks like Elena’s, but to dress down a little like the girl next door. If you take a moment to unpack her thinking, you may see that her strategy is grounded in a cynical view that men tires of what is familiar and yearns for what is different. If Elena is X, and she would have to be the opposite of X to attract Souta.
Likewise, when she was picking shoes to wear for the shopping trip, she thought of the difference in height between her and Souta, and chose a pair high heels so that she could talk into Souta’s ear when they walk together.
Saeko is not book-learned or intellectual or even “smart” in the worldly, business sense of the word, but she has an innate genius in creating desirable images of herself in other people’s minds. She is clever in a way that is not recognized by schools or the workplace, and she is invincible in the dating game. But even an ace like her comes out as a different human being by the end of story, and that for me is the most interesting part of the story.
The manga was adapted into a television series in 2014, which I also quite enjoyed. The actress Satomi Ishihara [石原さとみ] cast as Saeko delivered the most captivating acting I personally saw out of jdrama for the whole 2014 (I did not watch everything). I thought it a pity the television adaptation did not give Satomi Ishihara a chance to make as full and dramatic a turn as a character as in the manga original. Such a chance would have been career-defining for her.
Even when this manga series was still ongoing, I wondered what would become of Mizushiro-sensei and what would be her next challenge after the series is finished. There is more thought-provoking philosophy in the story than I can summarize here, and as life goes, the brightest fruits on a tree have a way of hanging from the most fragile branches. As of the writing of this post, she has been silent for nearly a year and a half, which makes me wonder if she is heading the way of Kaoru Fujiwara [藤原薫], another profound manga artist with incredible aesthetics. In the case of Kaoru Fujiwara, there had been a 9-year period of inactivity before we got to see her most recent work Sono Saki no Fuukei [その先の風景] in 2013.
* I know “fall in love at” sounds strange in English, but English does not seem to be as rich in vocabulary as Japanese when it comes to one-sided, unrequited love.