License request day: Song of the Wind and the Trees

May 28, 2010

As the current Manga Moveable Feast nears its conclusion, I thought I would consider the unlicensed Keiko Takemiya. It’s widely known that she was likely the first person to professionally publish a boys’-love comic, and yet her available-in-English work is science-fiction shônen. There are admittedly some shônen-ai underpinnings, at least in my view, but what about some unvarnished Takemiya male-on-male romance?

For that, I would love to see her Song of the Wind and the Trees licensed by some hardy publisher. In the current discourse on the manga industries various commercial woes, some have argued that boys’ love and yaoi seem to be relatively immune to the downturn. But this is a 17-volume series that’s over 30 years old, and it’s not clear to me that the yaoi audience is particularly interested in classic material. I’m not saying they aren’t; I’m just saying that I don’t know if they are.

It would take a publisher that’s demonstrated a commitment to archiving classic comics, which would point at Fantagraphics. Since that publisher’s manga imprint is being helmed by shôjo manga scholar Matt Thorn, and since Thorn is a colleague of Takemiya’s in the Faculty of Manga at Kyoto Seika University, the pairing seems even more apt. Also, Song of the Wind and Trees was originally published by Shogakukan, the publisher that’s partnered with Fantagraphics to a degree. Still, 17 volumes of 30-year-old manga is a risky proposition.

So what’s it about? Here’s a bit of what Wikipedia has to say:

“Serge Battour is the son of a wealthy man and a Roma woman. Taking place in the late 19th century, the story is a recollection of his memories of Gilbert Cocteau at Laconblade Academy in Provene, France. The story has themes of class prejudice, racism, homophobia, homosexuality, incest, pedophilia, rape, prostitution, and drug abuse.”

That entry also notes that Takemiya refused to allow it to be published until she was promised that it would be run uncensored. It was, and it won awards, and it’s widely considered one of the first major works of shônen-ai to be published professionally.

Here’s a link to Shogakukan’s nine-volume release of the series. It might be more reasonable to ask someone to publish Takemiya’s much shorter In the Sunroom to help fulfill the need for a representation of her boys’-love work, but why not dream big?