Profound Tale of Being Mangaka with Deceptively Cute Drawing

The cover of the first volume of “Yako to Poko” by Etsuko Mizusawa

Yako to Poko (Yako & Poko)
By Etsuko Mizusawa (Akita Publishing Co.)

“Yako to Poko” (Yako & Poko) concluded in seven volumes last August. I let time pass since then, but seeing that none of the various manga rankings at the end of 2022 gave it much attention, I decided to introduce it since letting such an interesting manga go unnoticed would be a shame.

Poko, a cat-shaped robot, is an assistant to mangaka Yako, who specializes in girls’ manga. All new robots come with an initial setting that has three modes to choose from: “perfect,” “so-so” and “no good.” Once the owner sets the mode, it cannot be changed.

Yako chooses the “so-so” mode for Poko, who therefore constantly makes careless mistakes in both coloring and pasting screen-tone sheets. Whenever something goes wrong, Poko feels despondent and wonders why Yako didn’t select the “perfect” mode.

Poko is like an unreliable version of Doraemon, and the drawings have a heartwarming touch. But as I read further, I realized this manga is about mangaka and it has a surprisingly bitter and dark tone.

A successful mangaka is introduced whose work is serialized in the same manga magazine as Yako’s. She shreds to pieces all the insulting fan mail she receives, stashes it in a large space under the floor and, when the space becomes full, “swims” in those scraps of paper while exclaiming, “Thanks for your valuable feedback!”

Meet another mangaka, whose series is discontinued due to it being unpopular. Her editor cheerfully encourages her, saying, “Let’s work harder for the next series!” With a stiff smile she retorts: “What kind of determination do you have … to kill my babies?”

The drawings are quite cute, so the contrast between them and what is being conveyed is stark and striking.

In admonishing Poko, Yako says, “I’ll definitely lose my job someday” and endeavors to be thrifty. And yet, she did not set Poko to the more efficient “perfect” mode simply because she did not want to leave her work in the hands of others.

Their futuristic society at first looks like a fairy tale, but the setting is brimming with sharp satire. The internet was banned in the aftermath of a catastrophe, and personal computers became relics of the past. Information searches are done manually by a mass of people, and cars can be driven up to only 20 kph.

And there is a so-called Yukko pen, a now-discontinued series of pen that appears as a mysterious collectible. Every Yukko pen has a different ink color that is given a unique name related to a certain situation, and the saying goes that if the color of a Yukko pen matches the color of that situation in the memory of the pen’s owner, the owner will find happiness. Will Yako and Poko find the pens that bring them happiness?

The author, Etsuko Mizusawa, became popular with the manga series “Hana no Zuborameshi” (Hana’s sloppy meals), which had an original story by Masayuki Kusumi that introduced many corner-cutting easy home cooking recipes.

In contrast, “Yako & Poko” is more unassuming overall and lacks any easy-to-understand emotion or catharsis, even though it does have some action scenes. If read carefully, however, the manga’s complex flavors eventually become addictive.

I think it is quite rare to find a manga that exhibits a mangaka’s resolute determination to continue as a true pro. Serene but hot, it is unimaginably far from the cover artwork, which doesn’t reveal what’s in store for readers. Pick it up by all means. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.