Yaketpachi’s Maria by Osamu Tezuka
Yaketpachi’s Maria by Osamu Tezuka was written in 1970 and recently translated and published in 2017 by Digital Manga, Inc., a company that has been putting out editions recently of Tezuka’s later works. It is about a young tough boy in seventh grade (though he has been held back a year), who gives birth to a formless ectoplasm that requires a body to speak and move around. So, they provide this creature with the body of a toy doll — of the adult variety! If you think that is bizarre, even more so is that the book is aimed not towards adults, but towards adolescent boys.
Yaketpachi, it turns out, longs for a female figure in his life ever since his mother died, and so that is given as the reason for his “giving birth,” for bringing to life, Maria. All sorts of antics and craziness ensue: The gang at school (made up of boys) is led by a young girl, “boss number one,” who has it in for Yaketpachi. Or at least she seems to. Actually, she has a crush on him and is jealous of Maria. Much of the plot involves this young “queen” of the boys trying to get rid of Maria and convince Yaketpachi to love her and admit she is more beautiful than Maria.
The book is full of visual gags, verbal jokes, and violence of the Three Stooges variety. Strange cartoon creatures pop out of nowhere to talk to the reader, fighting characters break though the panel borders, and Tezuka shows up throughout the book to talk to his characters and to his readers. It is great fun, to be honest.
However, Yaketpachi’s Maria, simply put, is a sex-ed book. The basic plot — with a main character who is a sex doll — sounds like it is written for adults, but it is actually aimed at young boys going through puberty. What will be surprising to American audiences is how sexually explicit and violent this book is. In the United States, a book with this sort of content would never be marketed toward kids, much less kids this young; however, in Japan, books that have this sort of content are often aimed towards this demographic. And it does makes sense: If you want young boys to read a sex-ed book, you might as well have content in it that appeals to those boys. And it is a real sex-ed book: You could almost use it today to educate young boys. It answers most of the questions they have in a very detailed and explicit manner with plenty of diagrams. So, the story is really just to keep young boys reading while Tezuka presents a textbook on sexual education.
What I find fascinating is that Tezuka spends much of the book also writing about the social roles of men and women. And those social roles, not surprisingly, are stereotypical. What is surprising is that Tezuka exaggerates those stereotypes so extremely that he makes fun of them throughout the book, calling them into question, and, in doing so, makes this book more up-to-date than you would imagine a sex-ed book from the 1970s would be. For example, the characters keep trying to teach Maria how to be feminine and gentle, because she is such a tough, rough character who often fights to defend the honor of her man instead of the other way around. Maria, trying to understand why this is not okay, finally cross-dresses as a male, even trying to flatten her chest, so that she can be accepted in her masculine role.
Tezuka questions other aspects of society, too. He critiques notions of female beauty. While writing about “child-bearing hips,” he also takes the time to make fun of male’s expectations that women’s waists should be tiny in relation to those hips. And he also critiques both the fact that young women are the ideal for beauty in our society as well looking at one of the terrible side-effects of this ideal — that grown men will find young girls attractive — a continued problem here in the U.S. and in Japan (the “Lolita Complex”).
How on earth do I evaluate this book? Do I give it five stars for being so ahead of its time and for managing to be a sex-ed book that would actually interest young boys, the target audience for such reading material? Or, in evaluating it do I give a warning about the content and say it is not appropriate for its intended audience (though I think it is, personally)? Do I say that the jokes and visual gags get repetitive for me as an adult reader when it is aimed at kids to begin with? Do I rate it high as historically of interest for those who study manga in general and Tezuka specifically? I do not know how to answer all these questions, so I will give it a qualified four stars — you might be an adult and find it repetitive and think it should earn three stars. Or you might think it deserves five stars for doing well exactly what it was intended to do. I will stick with four stars to play it safe.