SATONAKA Machiko is highly regarded as the “godmother” who revolutionised the trend for “josei/ lady-drama equivalent” in shoujo manga of early days, when the manga industry itself was still under heavy influences of Ozamu Tezuka.
For me, the most interesting aspect of reading SATONAKA Machiko’s work is that her stories always seem to carry a simple but strong message, in particular about her views on (women’s) gender roles in society. Many of her stories involve dramas through which the depictions of psychologies of her characters are delicately shown – it is not hard to understand why the mangaka has a vast number of female readerships throughout the years.
Notably, SATONAKA Machiko’s works share a common core theme: her (romance) dramas are often about making choices between sense and sensibility as her characters being driven by lust and desires. Typically, her stories involve relationships between men and women happening at a wrong time/ in the wrong place, e.g. a relationship in the form of an affair, incestous, etc., and/ or in the setting of a historical era when relationships were strictly confined by conventional gender roles or other circumstances at the time. Somewhere along the storylines, the characters would often reflect on their situations and feelings, i.e. jealousy, hatred, fears, etc. (NB. Particularly in her earlier works, emotions of the characters were often depicted with a “Takarazuka” manner – a drawing style that was frequently used in 70’s (shoujo) manga!)
In short, brush aside the fact that there were many times when I did not agree on her (heroines’) views on certain things, I still found her stories captivating enough that I was willing to put the books down ONLY at the end… thus the sole reason why I have brought a number of her series for collection. : )
Tenjou no Niji (天上の虹)
I suppose the storyline of this epic* historical series can pretty much be summarised by its subtitle, Jito Tenno Monotagari (持統天皇物語), i.e. the story of Empress Jitou, Japan’s 41st monarch.
One of the good thing about not being a Japanese literate or a scholar of its history in this case, is that I would not have a chance of twitching/ frowning eyebrow should there be any “historical inaccuracy” spotted in Tenjou no Niji, especially given the seriousness of the storylines. Put that aside, Tenjou no Niji becomes a historical drama/ narrative about this young girl, Sarara being bestowed to Prince Oama who was also her uncle, and later became Empress Jito and succeeding her husband on the throne.
Whilst the begining of the series focuses on showing Sarara’s talents and qualities to become her husband’s ally and “advisor”, our heroine struggled to face the political conflicts with her own father. As the stories progress, it also shows Sarara’s increasing saddness and (hidden) vulnerability as her desires for love from her husband, and later her own son, became more intensive. After becoming the empress Jito, our heroine was confronted with conflicts of being a wife and a mother; she fought in political battles for survival for her son and herself, but only to be seen as cruel and calculating by her loved ones in return……
(*NB. Currently 20+ volumes, 61 chapters and is still ongoing since its first release in 1983.)