While everyone is comparing careers and counting grey hairs at the high school reunion, two people stand strangely apart. One is Michiko, the one-time straight-A student who dropped out and now works as a lowly shop assistant. The other is Kenji, an average salaryman, who’s trying to put a brave face on his wife’s death in a Philippines car crash. Former childhood sweethearts, they resume their relationship, but this time their kids bring complications. Her teenage son Masahiko is a tearaway biker who shows her no respect. His son Kazuma is a latchkey kid, isolated by his father’s new-found love interest, beaten up at school because his mother never comes to pick him up. One day, as Kazuma walks home alone, he is hit by a car.
Nobody realises that the kindly biker who took Kazuma to the hospital, and has since been resolutely helping with his maths homework, is none other than Michiko’s wayward son Masahiko. Masahiko may be a scoundrel, but he’s inherited his mother’s lightning mathematical brain. Kazuma needs a mother, Masahiko needs a father, and Michiko and Kenji need each other. But ending it there would be all too easy – Masahiko cannot bear the thought of his mother having a sex life, and he’s going to have some growing up to do. He tries to scare Kenji off with his fists, finding out the hard way that Kenji used to be a boxer.
Born in 1947 in Yamaguchi, manga creator Kenshi Hirokane studied law at Waseda University, and dabbled in the college manga club. Supposedly leaving fandom behind him when he graduated, he was unable to put down his pen for good, and eventually began writing comics that drew on his experiences in the adult world. Section Chief Kosaku Shima depicted a salaryman at the sales division of an electronics conglomerate, not unlike the job that Hirokane himself held down for four years at Matsushita Electronics.
Hirokane’s heroes are wage earners like Kosaku Shima, lawyers, politicians and TV broadcasters. His Hello Hedgehog was transformed into the one-shot detective anime Domain of Murder, while his short story series Human Scramble, co-authored with Big Wing’s Masao Yajima, was adapted into a 13-part TV anime in 2003. But Hirokane’s manga have always been more suited to the live-action world. His greatest achievement, and my own personal favorite manga of all time, is Shooting Stars in the Twilight, a series of short stories which moves older adults, forties and over, out of the sidelines and into center stage.
There are comedies, suspense, horror, and ghost stories, all centred around the theme of older people finding love. One depicts a time traveller who falls for famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Another is near-future sci-fi, in which old people are encouraged to kill themselves with a suicide drug. But most of them are simple, modern-day romances ideally suited to live-action TV. One such story, the tale of our reunited high school sweethearts, reached Japan’s BS-i satellite network in 2002, under the title Classmates, alongside another Hirokane tale. These adaptations won’t be the last – with an aging population of manga readers, so-called “silver” manga for oldies are the new growth area. There will be more, and some day, you won’t mind so much.
(This article originally appeared in Newtype USA, October 2004)