Title: The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet Life 生き残り錬金術師は街で静かに暮らしたい
Mangaka: Usata Nonohara, Guru Mizoguchi, Ox
US Publisher: Yen Press
Reader’s Advisory Tags: Seinen, fantasy, not recommended.
Content Warnings: This manga depicts slavery in an uncomfortable context. There is torture and abuse of slaves, as well as a main character justifying her purchase of a slave.
So, I’ve had a long list of manga I needed to review. I had plans to review xxxHolic, My Love Story, and Hana-Kimi for awhile now. But this past weekend at Anime NYC a publisher gave away a volume of manga that you will probably want to not purchase for a school library. (Anime NYC was great and merits its own post, but this is the thing I feel most pressed to write about.)
Let me say, generally, I don’t normally feel comfortable advising fully against a series. Most of the time, I think any book has value so long as it’s not pornographic or depicts morally reprehensible acts. This is the first time I was actively given a free book that I then chose to not add to the collection because I felt its contents would be actively damaging to my population.
My population is 95% Black. This book depicts slavery, and the main character actively purchases a slave and reasons that his enslavement is in fact useful to her. It perpetuates the horrific trope of “the good master” by having her be a sweet, young girl with magical talents.
The premise, of a magical young woman who survives a disaster by being in suspended animation for 200 years and wants nothing more than too have a quiet life, only to discover she’s the only one capable of her branch of magic was a premise I was into as a manga reader myself. I love gentle fantasy and characters. See my review of Flying Witch as proof. But this gets actively destroyed by the introduction of slavery to the narrative.
Slavery as a national form of economic development in the United States is only a century in the grave, and its wounds are still felt. Compound this with Japan’s own past as an imperialist power which committed atrocities. The enslavement of comfort women and manual laborers from surrounding territories in the 20th century is in the living memory of many Asians. The depiction of slavery in a work of fiction coming from Japan cannot be separated from the Japanese denial of responsibility for their atrocities, which has lasting socio-economic repercussions to this day.
I love anime and manga, and I love so many facets of Japanese popular culture. Japan has many of its own wounds, perpetuated by the nation I was born in. But that does not mean I’m blind to all media from Japan and willing to accept it as something on my school library’s shelves. Slavery is still an issue in the 21st century, and no matter how sweet, talented, and wholesome a master may be, they are still a master. There’s no escaping reality here, and I won’t have books on my shelves that depict slavery as anything other than the highest form of moral depravity.
I’m pushing this out because I know Yen Press is going hard on this title. It was a giveaway at their panel at AnimeNYC, now considered the most prestigious anime convention in New York City. I have a notepad with the character and title on it that was given to me by Yen Press. I feel like the descriptions of this manga and marketing have in large part obfuscated the prevalence of the slavery subplot in the text. There are many other titles being published now that are far better suited for school libraries. Skipping out on this one title won’t have much of an impact.