Pointless Debate #7 – Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou

This post was probably in the queue of posts I wanted to write back in November 2008. Back then I was writing to a non-existent audience, so going against consensus opinion would have been a trivial matter.

The manga Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is considered by a good number of people to be one of the seminal works within the slice-of-life genre. My experience reading it, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment. As in it felt like I would never get those hours of my life back.

What follows are a few reasons behind a disappointing experience; probably certain to be disagreed with below, and may seem like reactionary rage at points, so feel free to rip me apart in the comments if you really have to.

Raised Expectations

One of the worst things that seems to happen whenever I come across something is having something banged into my head as almost certain to be excellent. Sure it works out pretty well a decent percentage of the time, probably about 60%, the other times, not so well. The part of me that eternally has a dim view of the world starts to kick in whenever there are raised expectations; there has to be a catch or something wrong with this, so I end up taking the recommendations of others with a bit of caution.

Seeing as this was the 5th-rated manga on MAL with an average rating right on that rare 9.00 line, the inner pessimist was going to be hard at work.

Mono no Aware and the Human Experience

Now into the actual story. Hatsuseno Alpha and the rest of the cast are essentially living on a version of the world that is dying, where only robots will be left in the end. Now, there’s no fundamental problem with this concept, but as there are still humans left and there’s no post-apocalyptic cataclysm at play here like The Road.

It could be argued that the whole setting plays into mono no aware, and there should be an inherent sadness at the passing of humanity. Personal experience tells me that the possibility of humanity silently accepting its own end is improbable; destroying itself in a blaze of infamy, yes, but silence, no. I was led to believe that there would be a calming aspect about this, I think it had the opposite effect on me.

Mailed-in Chapters

Ashinano Hitoshi has enough of a reputation for including very little, or almost no dialogue in general. I mention this because Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou was published monthly over the 12 years it ran. There was something I found troubling in the number of chapters which seemed to be page-after-page of wonderful looking scenery which concluded with one or two lines of dialogue. Part of me was thinking, “a month to come up with that? At least make it look like you are trying to put in a decent shift on the writing side.” This is probably a horribly unfair criticism, but not everyone has the luxury to work on this kind of schedule.

A Partial Story

At times as I was reading it, I felt I was only getting a limited vision of the world within the story. The adventures of those on the surface seemed limited to such an extent that it felt like the world of the particular panel was the only one that existed. Past experiences in the dialogue never seemed to be explained to a level of detail I would call adequate. The chapters on the airship seemed to serve only to put everything in a larger context, but even that left a lot of unanswered questions.

In the end, it felt like I had only read 140 chapters of a 900 chapter story. Call that missing the point or whatever you would like, I could just never get into the story.

10 thoughts on “Pointless Debate #7 – Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou”

  1. I can’t say I agree with you since I’ve never read more than just a handful of chapters of the thing, but one of the reasons why I didn’t read beyond just a few chapters of the thing is some subconscious fear of exactly what you have spelled out here.

    Put it in other words, it just didn’t grab me. Might be due to the same reasons.

    1. Those first few chapters I think made me want to continue in search of something that explained why their world became what it was. I probably should have put it away at that point.

  2. It would be difficult to argue with your experience because you’ve taken great pains to acknowledge your subjectivity.

    I had no such problems appreciating it. I thought that it was interesting how the effect of nothing happening contrasted powerfully with the looming inevitability that all humanity will die.

    Where was the desperation? Where were the heroic acts to not go down gently into the night?

    There weren’t enough people left and those who were left had not the stuff for these kinds of things.

    Confronted with this, and when I do finish a chapter (I didn’t marathon), I took some time to reflect, how much easier it actually is to let go of the struggle — not in the avoidance of responsibility the same way Yui and the rest of the Light Music Club are in denial of the consequences of the future, but to really just take quiet joy from the things that are left and how new they can still become.

    1. I think a lot has to do with post-apocalyptic fiction in general. There always has to be some sort of struggle to survive, or if the end is inevitable there has to be some sort of rational reason for it. In YKK, it just felt like humanity was quitting. I also probably made the mistake of marathon-ing it since I didn’t really give myself time to reflect or stop myself if it was going wrong. Getting to the end sort of became my reason for existing for a while.

      1. At times I caught myself rushing through it, but I figured out this was foolish. What’s fascinating to me is how there was very little humanity — as a collective — to speak of.

        There was no ‘on-page’ government that I can remember.

        Otherwise, the conflict exists outside of the text — I mean in the reader’s thoughts. As a reflection on mortality I think YKK is quite interesting. I do a lot of the thinking, provoked by what seems to me so little.

        As a verbose writer, I find this very impressive.

      2. The lack of an a government is actually one of the few things I could actually accept here. The actions of the remaining humans in such a case is not something I would see as realistic. I would tend to see people in such a case resorting to raping and pillaging since no one would stop them, but there’s absolutely no incidence of violence whatsoever.

  3. Yeah I think humanity has given up — one gets the impression they already fought the good fight and lost. The earth has reclaimed too much of its own territory at this point. It’s not the standard post-apocalyptic struggle for survival, instead it’s a very Japanese “can’t be helped” attitude, going very quietly into that good night.

    As far as seeing only the partial story, I think that’s actually one of the things I enjoyed. Rather than get a full explanation, we’re peeking through a keyhole into this world. I can’t quite explain why I like that method, but I guess it just puts the reader more in the position of a character rather than an omniscient observer, immersing you in the world and story.

  4. The “can’t be helped” attitude would be understandable in certain situations, but I don’t think the threshold for that was ever cleared. The partial story also made me feel disconnected from pretty much anything that was happening. I suppose it could be seen as the position of a character, but it would have to be from someone who hung around for years and never gained anyone’s trust.

  5. I actually liked the “going quietly into the night” concept, as it hasn’t been something that’s really been covered before in media that I’ve experienced. I wondered “what happened to make humans just accept what fate is going to give them?”, and what was also interesting about that was that in that giving up, you got the closest thing to a utopia that would probably be. Though I thought the world-building was solid in the work, there are a lot of unanswered questions about the world as well, and if you’re the type of person that is bugged by that, then the series can be frustrating.

    “There was something I found troubling in the number of chapters which seemed to be page-after-page of wonderful looking scenery which concluded with one or two lines of dialogue. Part of me was thinking, “a month to come up with that? At least make it look like you are trying to put in a decent shift on the writing side.””

    Yes my bias is included here, but I’m of the opinion that part of the idea of YKK is that some things don’t need words to describe them. Part of it is I guess appreciating things as Alpha’s appreciating them (re: all the time in the world), and I think it also highlights the slice of life nature of the work as well. Do you find yourself in places that you just “experience”? Places that you do nothing but relax and enjoy the moment? In Alpha’s world where her cafe isn’t as booming as she’d probably like it, it’s a good way to spend the time if you have that interest, and it’s something that works for her character, I believe. But hey. 😛

    1. I can see how a lot of people can find something which is almost all to do with appreciating surroundings and atmosphere. I generally don’t turn to relaxing and enjoying a moment through anime and manga, but through other venues. I’d also see Alpha’s cafe as probably unintentionally advocating some form of anarchism, but that’s likely way off the mark.

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