- GUTTERFAGS -
Quarterly reviews of sequential art about
dude-on-dude lust and love
What Did You Eat Yesterday?
by Toshinaga Fumi, translated by Maya Bosewood
reviewed by Kyle J. Campbell for Gutterfags
Disclaimer: Before I begin this review I believe it is important that I declare that I am merely a fan of yaoi and not an expert of Japanese culture nor the language itself.
Kinou Nani Tabeta?, or, rather, What Did You Eat Yesterday?, is the latest manga from the highly successful Yoshinaga Fumi. Fumi is perhaps best known for her popular manga series Antique Bakery. What Did You Eat Yesterday?, in many respects, continues Fumi’s tendency to fixate on food and the complex narratives that develop around this culturally-significant good. There is something rather refreshing, though, in Fumi’s new work, which makes it stand out from other yaoi. Just like a well-prepared meal, it is Fumi’s attention to details that turns What Did You Eat Yesterday? into a comical and enjoyable read that illuminates aspects of life that are often forgotten in the hyper romantic genre of yaoi. The term yaoi is often understood in relation to “Boys’ Love” and is in fact an acronym for “YAma nashi, Ochi nashi, Imi nashi". This phrase roughly translates into “no climax, no point, no meaning", illuminating the layers of meanings that are strangely encapsulated in the term “yaoi”.1 This is perhaps what makes Fumi’s new series unique because it is through “mundane” and “normal” aspects of life that she is able to capture unique moments of tenderness which challenge the claim that yaoi is, in fact, meaningless.
Western readers may at first find the uneventful narrative that Fumi creates in What Did You Eat Yesterday? rather shocking, especially when compared to the hyperbolic tropes that typify yaoi manga. Yet to people familiar with the anime Azumanga Daioh and films like Gabriel Alex’s Babette’s Feast one can see how these commonplace moments of life have great emotional impact and meaning. After all, food functions in this manga as a way to unify and connect the diverse range of stories that develop around Shiro Kakei and Kenji Yabuki who are two gay men in their early forties. Just with this premise, Fumi makes this manga stand out from other yaoi as the genre often focuses on younger men and how they fall in love. Sometimes yaoi manga will continue past this initial romantic arc as in the case of Shungiku Nakamura’s Junjou Romantica and Shimizu Yuki’s Love Mode. Such series, though, are the exception rather than the norm within the yaoi genre. What Did You Eat Yesterday? is able sustain its narrative partially due to its focus on every day conflicts and relationships, instead of fixating on a hyper romantic ethos that would be difficult to sustain. This is perhaps why I found Fumi’s manga so endearing because she is able to focus on complex issues relating to modern life while remaining connected to the simple pleasures of a home cooked meal. Fumi is able to do so by often providing pages of illustrations of Kakei simply preparing a meal and even provides a copy of each recipe at the end of each chapter. These choices allow the reader the opportunity to actually replicate the same experiences as Fumi’s characters, which breaks down the barriers that separates the textual from the actual.
Perhaps from the description given so far one would expect What Did You Eat Yesterday? to be a merely picturesque manga and lacking any real substance. Yet as Tomkoyo Aoyama writes in “Food and Gender in Yoshinaga Fumi’s Manga”, “[Fumi’s] ‘Cooking’ highlights various relationships–not only interpersonal ones but also those between group/society and individual, ideal/fantasy and reality, convention and innovation and many others. By doing so, she subverts phallocentric and heteronormative myths and stereotypes”.2 Aoyama, in her writing on Fumi, focuses on how Shiro and Kenji are not reducible to cliché roles, which allows the manga to challenge certain social norms. While Aoyama is absolutely right on this front, I was also struck on how strangely progressive and authentic the exchanges between heterosexual and homosexual characters felt throughout What Did You Eat Yesterday?. Perhaps the best example of this dynamic can be found in the first chapter, when Shiro receives a phone call from his mother Hisae. In this exchange not only does Hisae inform Shiro that she had seen the film Transamerica, but that she also went to “a support group for parents of people with gender identity disorders”. Shiro responds to this news by exclaiming, “I’m not like that either, mother!!” Yet instead of being ashamed of her son’s homosexuality, Hisae pushes her child to “Proclaim it loud and proud! Being homosexual is nothing to be ashamed of!” This exchange is both uncomfortable and extremely funny as a voyeur, providing an odd moment of comparison later on when Shiro asks Kenji about how his mother reacted to him coming out of the closet. Kenji explains that “she chased me with a broom just as you’d expect, yelling ‘Is this how you repay me?!”, which incited Shiro to say “How nice. Yours is easier to understand in a way”.3 Moments like this are continually found within What did You Eat Yesterday?, but instead of being awkward I found these exchanges to be closer to the actual experiences of real gay men. Thus, in a genre that can in many respects be thought of as homonormative, Fumi’s manga proves to be a rather queer through its authentic dialogue and complex character development.
Diet, both literary as well as culinary, is often a matter of taste. The cliché is that variety is the spice of life, and in the case of Yoshinaga Fumi’s What Did You Eat Yesterday?, this claim is valid as her manga explores a wide range of conflicts. Despite Fumi’s ability to create real life narratives, her manga remains rather asexual as coitus remains regulated to the gutter of the manga, hinted at, but never visualized. One may be up in arms at being deprived of the opportunity to see Shiro penetrate Kenji or vice versa. Due to the culinary nature of What Did You Eat Yesterday? I can’t help but draw the comparison between Fumi’s work and vegetables. Broccoli may not be one’s favorite food, but to forsake this vegetable outright could be bad for one’s health. Therefore, like a parent pleading to a child, I hope you pick up Fumi’s latest culinary manga in the hopes that you will realize that, despite the lack of sexual spectacle, that What Did You Eat Yesterday? is not only an enjoyable read, but also able to satisfy other emotional needs that are often unfulfilled by yaoi manga.
1 - McLelland, Mark J, Kazumi Nagaike, Katsuhiko Suganuma, and James Welker. Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan. 2015., Pg 5
2 - Ibid, 234.
3 - Yoshinaga, Fumi. What Did You Eat Yesterday?: vol 1. , 2014. 18-19
- About the reviewer -
Kyle Campbell currently calls Burlington, Vermont home, where he spends his time working with autistic youths and riding his bike, but will be moving to New York City in the fall to pursue a Doctorate in English at Fordham University. Kyle has been reading queer comics since he was a teenager. Recently, Kyle has turned them into a secondary academic interest because his encounters with his family weren’t already awkward enough; adding the visuals have made silences last even longer.