Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou

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It may be the most overused term in fandom.  But if I were writing the entry for “Slice-of-Life” in the anime/manga dictionary, it would be short and sweet: “See: Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou”.

Every once in a while I stumble on an older that caused me to ask myself one of my favorite questions – “How in the world did I miss this?” Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is a manga by Ashinano Hitoshi, which ran from 1994-2006 in Afternoon, the monthly seinen magazine.  It’s admired to the point of reverence in Japan, having won the prestigious Seiun Aware for best Sci-fi manga in 2007, and while never licensed in English, has picked up quite a few hard-core fans outside Japan.  But it flew completely under my radar until recently and when a series has the kind of impact on me that this one has, I like to share my admiration for it.

There is an OVA of YKK – two in fact, of two episodes each – but while they manage to capture a bit of the magic, without question the manga is the way YKK must be experienced.  I won’t try too hard to explain it, because YKK eludes capture in words the way only great slice-of-life can.  In brief, it’s set in a future where, for reasons Ashinano-sensei never describes in detail, mankind’s population has declined radically and most industrial and technological production has ceased.  There are hints an environmental cataclysm was at fault – certainly, sea level has risen drastically – and those that are left live a much simpler and humbler existence than today’s Japanese, passing through the remnants of man’s great achievements like ghosts.

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That makes YKK sound depressing, but it isn’t.  It’s a story filled with wonder, as Ashinano’s stunning art turns the bones of civilization into something beautiful. YKK has a wistful tone, but ultimately it’s about the unchanging nature of human kindness – ironic as the main character is a robot, Alpha.  She runs a coffee shop on the sparsely populated Miura Peninsula, which her unseen owner left to her to run while he set off on an unspecified journey.  Alpha’s android origin is a part of the story her human friends don’t ignore, but her true nature is extremely human – she’s clearly an emotional being and forms close bonds with the tiny community that surrounds her, especially young Takahiro, the grandson of the ever-smiling ojii-san that runs the only gas station on the peninsula.

That really doesn’t come close to doing YKK justice, because the only way to understand it is to read it.  It will be immediately clear to someone who’s watched a lot of anime in the last five years that YKK is extremely influential – it effortlessly achieves the archetypes of slice-of-life that lesser series try hard to emulate (usually with little success).  This is “pure” slice-of-life in every sense – the story ambles along with little regard for conventional plotting or narrative structure, acting as a sort of window through which we eavesdrop in the lives of Alpha and the humans she interacts with.  It also manages to be quintessentially Japanese while still being universal, something only the best anime and manga are able to achieve.

I suppose everyone will have their own conclusions about “meaning” and “message” when it comes to YKK, but for me it’s just about the experience of immersing yourself in the peaceful, sad and beautiful world for a little while.  Ashinano is a great artist, capable of creating gorgeous images that will imprint on your consciousness forever, and as a writer he creates something that feels totally natural and unforced, as if he himself was just finding out what was happening as he was committing it to paper.  It’s a remarkable series, and it would certainly be interesting to see someone attempt to make a full-length adaptation that does the manga justice.  I doubt that’ll happen after this much time has passed, but at least we have the manga – Ashninano-sensei’s vision in its pure form, waiting for us to experience it.  This is a series I recommend unreservedly.

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  1. w

    This series is excellent. I'm not as fervently in love with it as many others are, but even I can't say there's anything else like it, and no other slice-of-life related thing as good. It's a great pity it was never released in the United States, but even so I'm glad it exists.

    Ever read a webcomic called minus? It's a very different kind of comic, but it has a similar mixture of warmth with take no prisoners mono-no-aware bittersweetness. You can find it here:

  2. A

    my god this is the most amazing manga…
    it's perfection…

    My most favorite moment in it was when we first see that huge plane overhead. I got chills down my spine imagining how huge it would be in real life…

  3. A

    I have always loved YKK because it reminds us how wonderful and beautiful this world is, and how little we need to be able to enjoy it.

    When life gets hard and things don't go our way, a reading of YKK is a gentle whisper in our ears that everything is alright – because we are alive; because we are apart of this world.

    That is why it is the manga that I appreciate the most.

  4. I wish you'd signed that comment, because it absolutely sums up YKK better than anything I was able to do.

  5. A

    Really should read this. I've heard so many good things about it.

    I'm generally a huge fan of slice of life manga, with ARIA topping my list of favourite manga of all time.

  6. A

    This is one of those stories that I struggle to find fault with. Not that it is faultless, but the many strengths of this series far, far overpower any shortcomings, to the point where the faults are inconsequential.

    I've seen a summary of this story that goes like this:
    "Gun toting biker lesbian robots roam post apocalyptic Japan, searching for love." Factually correct, but oh so very incorrect in connotation.

  7. j

    They don't really do that much roaming, plus they ride scooters.

  8. Not to mention…

    Nah, I won't spoil in case someone hasn't read it yet.

  9. Very nice comments, which I guess is fitting for a series as thoughtful and understated as this one. Thanks, All.

    For anyone wavering on reading it, I would take issue with the last Anon's "factually correct" description a little bit… 😉

  10. R

    Enzo has read YKK, another reason to rejoice.

    This manga is the way I almost wish humanity would end. Not in some firey ball of doom, not some sort of apocalyptic demise, but an almost calm, peaceful ending, like falling asleep under the sun, but never waking up again. It's hard to explain. There's a definite sense of joy and kindness and exploring the realms of our modern age but from the viewpoint far removed. But the same time, it never fails to give me this sort of aching, bittersweet feeling, almost like nostalgia.

    It reminds me a bit of Mushishi (or should it be Mushishi reminds me of YKK? XD), but it's just the same wandering, kind, awe-inspiring, and ultimately somewhat painful trip through a ghostly world.

  11. L

    Enzo! I've been comparing ARIA to YKK for years, and I'm so glad you finally got to one of them. YKK is my second most favorite Slice of Life (Slife :D), and the feeling that Anon mentioned above about being alive in this world—that's certainly a theme I enjoy in my slife series.

    And if YKK is on your radar now, I sincerely hope you'll give ARIA a chance. Anyway, I'll ttyl on #rc or #mn.

  12. A

    I loved ARIA! Made me look for the positives in life and appreciate the world around me. I don't think I would've made it through my early days of University without ARIA there to support me.

  13. s

    What was the enabling factor that got you to pick up YKK, if you don't mind me asking?

    Reading YKK in large doses can be a mind-altering experience as I learned the first time I read it over the course of three days. Even today, when I'd pick up a random chapter, I find myself being able to get lost in it.

    I'd kill to see a true anime series done for it, even if the result probably couldn't compete with the manga; though, I think the group at Brains Base that makes Natsume could actually pull it off.

  14. You know, the funny thing is that I can't remember what got me into it at last. I might have seen a recommendation for it on AF, or a reference to it in an article somewhere… But I honestly can't for the life of me recall.

  15. D

    Thanks, you've just reminded me that I need to read YKK again real soon now.
    For me, it's one of those great stories doomed to be never published in English, and certainly if Kodansha did decide to publish an English translation it'd be a case of "TAKE ALL MY MONEY!".

    A full anime adaptation would go well too if it was made by the right people.

    You should check out 'Kabu no Isaki' as well.

  16. P

    How can you like this and not like ARIA? :p Maybe you could try reading ARIA's manga as well? Kozue Amano's art is reputed to be one of the most detailed in the industry if that helps. :p

  17. T

    YKK is the manga that got me started with manga and anime. It's a fine work the ranks up with the best of modern lit. The story contains a great deal of depth that plays out with a slow pace that give its feeling. Take you time reading it and let Alpha's experances unfold the feeling that makes this work so great.

  18. Y

    Hopefully I'm missing something obvious… Where can you find this manga? I tried Amazon and the local Kinokuniya (NYC) about a year ago but couldn't get my hands on it. :'(

  19. It's not licensed, so you would either have to buy the original Japanese edition or wish you lived in a world where scanlators translate manga into English and post it online at various websites.

  20. Y

    I hear you… 😉 But… Call me old school, I can't enjoy reading manga (or any comic book for that matter) on a screen… And even more so when the art is so good. If anyone knows of a way to get the Japanese version here in NY, feel free to chime in 🙂


  21. Ebay, for starters. And I would assume Kinokuniya can special order it for you, as they should certainly have it at their locations here. Heck. you can even search it on Amazon and check the "see all buying options" box, and find it used that way.

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