Buffalo 5 Girls and Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen are two in-progress works by Anno Moyoco, each about ten chapters right now. Both tackle prostitution, sexual violence and slavery, and the challenges of loving men in a patriarchal world.
I’m generally not a fan of christening things “feminist” or “not feminist” — it’s rarely so simple, the world can’t be neatly arranged into good and bad categories, and arguing about whether or not an author/work belongs in the Club virtually always comes at the expense of actual thematic discussion and analysis.
That said, if you’re looking for manga with strong feminist themes, I haven’t encountered anything quite like Anno’s work. Add her gorgeous art on top of it and she’s easily my favorite mangaka right now.
(Both of these works are on Crunchyroll, and if anyone would like my login info to read them/watch shit just let me know.)
Both mangas (which started serialization in 2013) are very similar in plot and theme to Anno’s 2001 work Sakuran, which I enjoyed but felt was ideologically weak and has kind of a muddled ending. It doesn’t shock me to see that Anno wanted to revisit this story with 15 extra years of experience under her belt. Memoirs in particular is basically Sakuran set in France instead of Japan. But Memoirs is confrontational and even violent in the exact areas where I thought Sakuran started to falter. It makes me wonder if Anno was unhappy with Sakuran in retrospect and wanted another shot at it.
Memoirs follows a prostitute named Colette who came to the big city to strike out on her own but ends up falling victim to an abusive boyfriend who pushes her into prostitution and prevents her from escaping. All the women at the brothel are miserable in different ways, and have different ways of coping with it.
One thing I really liked about Memoirs that I felt Sakuran was lacking was an examination of how the men take their miseries out on women, while the women are forced to cope with both their own lives as well as the lives of the men around them with no respite. In one instance, Colette meets a Japanese man who becomes her client, and he gives her a diary, which he tells her to fill however she wants. She discovers she loves writing, but when the guy comes back, he tears into her, telling her the things she wrote were derivative and awful, and says he doesn’t want to see anymore. Having now lost the one thing that gave her comfort, Colette’s feelings of misery spiral out of control. We later find out that the man actually thought her writing was excellent — and he was furious at her for being better than he, a struggling author. But while abusing Colette makes him feel better, Colette is left with nowhere to turn. Colette’s abusive, money-grubbing paramour has a similarly poor, miserable life that he uses as an excuse to beat and rape women.
All of the women, though, are desperate for a way out of their situation, and because of that latch on to men who promise to help them, even if they know it’s unlikely. I thought one really interesting observation Colette makes is that because men are so dangerous and so clearly don’t see them as people, they women look for actual physical intimacy in each other. One of the women is heavily implied to actually be a lesbian, but even for the others “lesbianism has become a fact of life” because they have no one to turn to for closeness.
I also appreciated the different body types the women had, and I’m really interested to see where the last chapter — about a guy who likes to get off to a fat girl eating — goes.
This all brings us to Buffalo 5 Girls, which has a similar setting — except it’s the Old West instead of France — but starts with two of the prostitutes shooting a pimp and making an escape. The ever-optimistic Candy and the dour Suzy run for their lives despite the slim odds of escaping. Along the way they meet other women who want their lives to be different, eventually forming a quintet of beaten-down women who just want to be free.
If Memoirs asks how women survive male violence, Buffalo asks what it would take to escape it. The answers seem to be bleak. The women need the courage to rely on each other, but also the help of men who don’t wish to abuse their power — and those men need to not get themselves killed in the process.
But things take an interesting turn, thematically, when Candy accidentally takes a drug that grants her superhuman physical abilities — enough to fight off the bandits, hirelings, and pimps who would rape and kill her and her friends. And while the Lizard does seem to be enough to free the 5 Girls, it offers a somewhat depressing commentary on the lives of actual women: to successfully fight back, we need to not just be as good, but phenomenally better… so much better, in some cases, that it seems like only superpowers could free us.
Buffalo also takes on a similar question as Memoirs in asking what these women do for companionship. Both Candy and Ruby struggle with how much they can trust the men they care for, and ultimately both watch their lovers get gunned down. There’s one scene where Candy gets separated from the other women, leaving Suzy in charge, and as Suzy struggles under the responsibility and ridiculous odds, she thinks, “These are the times when you need a man,” not because they could do it any better, but because humans need companionship, need someone else to rely on, someone to turn to when life gets hard. A world of male violence isn’t just a dangerous one for women — it’s an incredibly lonely one.
Unfortunately Buffalo seems to be on hiatus and I’m not sure what the pub schedule for Memoirs is. Almost all of Anno’s social media posts over the past few months have been about her kids’ manga Ochibi-san. I do hope she finishes both series, as it’s likely that’s the only way they’ll get a print release in English (I’m still waiting on updates about the English re-release of Sugar Sugar Rune…).
Still, the material that’s available now is thought-provoking and very, very pretty. Check it out!