Since the fateful evening when Satoko saw a young boy practising his soccer alone in the park when he should have been safe at home, four long years have passed. Mashuu, that solitary boy, has benefited from her support/mentorship – even though their unlikely friendship led to her being sent back to Sendai by her boss after a series of unfortunate misunderstandings with Mashuu’s widower father. Even though Satoko has agonized over being accused of meddling in the family’s affairs, she also doesn’t regret getting to know Mashuu one jot. Perhaps she’s secretly identified with him too; after all, she’s also the eldest in her family of two siblings, the one who has to behave responsibly and endure the criticisms of an overbearing parent.
Yet now both Satoko and Mashuu are in sunnier times, putting the anguish and guilt (on Satoko’s part) behind them and able to bask in the warmth of their mutual friendship. Mashuu’s father is still grumpy and critical but his elder son has learned ways to humour him. Satoko has become far more self-accepting, able to distance herself from her mother’s critical attitudes and be her own person. Even Mashuu’s classmate, Nao Ogata, who has nursed a crush on him since they were in elementary school, has come to a better understanding of herself, doing her best to overcome her disappointment. “You really adore that woman, don’t you?” she says to Mashuu about Satoko, who replies without hesitation, “Yes. I do. But… I can’t hide the fact at all… so I might not be ‘in love’ with her.”
There’s also an imaginatively drawn chapter all about Satoko, entitled ‘Me’ in which she faces up to the fears and challenges of her past life from early childhood onward, each stage personified in her mind – and reaches a kind of reconciliation with herself.
It’s fitting that when Mashuu and Satoko next meet up, he’s found the football she gave him so long ago and wants to return it, although she’s reluctant to accept it because of the less happy memories it evokes. In the end, they go to the park to pass the ball to and fro between them to see who should keep it. But each pass is controlled by the asking and answering of a question until they discover a notice warning that ball games are forbidden! So they continue their game on Line, sitting side by side on a park bench, talking and laughing together. It’s a lovely and fitting metaphor for where their relationship has taken them
Right up to this concluding volume, mangaka Hitomi Takano has kept her readers wondering exactly how the story of Satoko and Mashuu was going to be resolved. Even though Mashuu has grown into a responsible young man, he’s still at high school and with his future ahead of him, not ready to embark on a romantic relationship with his beloved ‘Miss Satoko’. And yet, these two know each other so well that they seem like a predestined couple, soul-mates on an intellectual and instinctive level, who just happen to be separated by several years in age. Little glimpses of domestic life in Mashuu’s home show us how helpful and sensible he’s become, uncomplainingly aiding his grandma with cooking, washing and shopping, gently admonishing his father who’s not much use at domestic tasks, while his younger brother Ryouichi plays the rebel and makes their father fret.
The cover art shows both Satoko and Mashuu against a sunset sky, the soft colours highlighting their smiling faces as they talk easily together – but their story ends at a fireworks display. Takano uses the bustling crowd at the summer festival as a lively background as Satoko meets up with her fellow office workers and Mashuu with his family in the final chapter. We ‘hear’ all kinds of voices and random exchanges, as if we were being carried along by the crowd too, except the cell phone acts as Mashuu and Satoko’s means of keeping in touch. They’re ‘there’ apart and yet together. I sense that it’s meant to convey to us that, whatever happens, they’ll always be together in spirit. Is the chapter’s title ‘To Be Continued’ something of a let-out clause on the part of the mangaka? Perhaps it’s more of a graceful stepping aside rather than an abdication of duty to provide more of a finite resolution than this ‘life goes on’ conclusion. It was always going to be difficult to resolve this story with Mashuu still in high school without raising issues of a very different nature, so it remains a marriage of true minds story. However, it’s impossible not to feel that My Boy has deviated from the edgier implications in earlier volumes and played things in a very safe and societally acceptable way – and some readers are going to be disappointed by the choices the mangaka has taken.
The translation for Vertical Comics (Kodansha) is by Kumar Sivasubramanian who delivers a very readable version, as before. Kudos also to the (unnamed) letterer for doing a great job from phone-screen text to inner monologues and meaningful exchanges.
And so, My Boy brings its main characters to a place of resolution from which, it’s implied, they can move forward in a positive and life-enhancing way. This was, maybe, not the ending we were hoping for and its open-ended final chapters imply the possibility of a sequel. However, at present, Hitomi Takano is writing a josei manga (not yet available in translation) with the intriguing title Gene Bride, so I don’t envisage that happening any time soon.