Admittedly, my love for Emanon comes from a very personal obsession. One that I seem to share with Shinji Kajio, the original author of the book it's based on. I love traveling, especially with a backpack and a tent, and some of the moments I rembember more fondly from different journeys are random conversations with unknown people that surprised me in one way or another. When I first walked the Camino de Santiago, I met an old guy that had been walking for a whole year, all the way from Jerusalem, and my tendency to draw stuff in random places along GR footpaths has probably turned me into that person more than once.
Memories of Emanon first grabbed my attention because it came from the idealized version of such an encounter. An extremely engaging time with a stranger (mysterious and attractive, this does come from Kajio's thoughts after all) that takes place in the ethereal space of a journey, always framed in the knowledge that you may never see the other person again. A knowledge that only becomes conscious the moment before it's over.
After a few pages showing Emanon underwater in a not very subtle metaphor for birth, the story properly kicks off by showing us the character that will serve as our lens: a 20-something sci-fi enthusiast that's coming back home after a journey in which he's emptied his wallet. More importantly, though, it's the late sixties, and this manga makes a big point of it, especially through Kenji Tsuruta's ridiculously good art and the sense of place it provides. With that period piece feel it gives off from the beginning, Memories of Emanon gets you ready for a nice story about two people meeting in a journey, but that’s only really the baseline for something a bit bigger. After the declaration that she has 3-billion-years’ worth of memories, it becomes clear that Emanon is as much of a science fiction piece as it is a love story.
As their stay in the ship goes on, their conversation goes from topic to topic, ranging from baseball to economics and occasionally going back into the implications of Emanon’s supposed “power”. It’s a natural chat that stays away from the overblown, yet half-assed explanations sci-fi manga and anime are plagued with (aesthetically too, avoiding the awful graphs and visual explanations we’re way too used to). And that’s important, because Emanon deals with its themes in a more grounded, visceral way. It plants a lot of ideas in our minds while giving center stage to the increasing romantic tension. We kind of know where it’s going to lead, but ignore it and play along. An inevitable kiss happens in the final third of the book, leaving a bit more for me to talk about in regards to presentation*, and it’s not until the next morning that the bliss that is the ferry ride comes to an end.
By sunrise, Emanon is nowhere to be found and a short note saying “Good morning! Good bye!” is all that’s left. A timeskip happens, bringing with it the realization that we’d been cruising on the mono no aware ship all along and revealing a now much older MC who is married and with an alright job. In short, living a normal life. He’s not particularly sad or unhappy about it, but he does feel that slight existential regret that keeps piling up as stages of our lives go by. He one day meets a little girl that seems to remember him and suddenly, all the fantastic elements mentioned in the ship take on a physical form and come crashing down on us.
The themes and the story fully merge together. All of those casually thrown around questions about memory, what it exists for and what it means in the bigger context of time itself become pivotal to both us and the main character, who’s also facing the cosmic implications of existing as little more than a speck of dust in the infinite memories of someone that’s now completely unreachable to him. They’re not part of a crushing revelation, however, and the ending isn’t really tragic or sad. It’s nostalgic (in fact, nostalgia and melancholy are the mood Emanon is bound to leave one in), but it doesn’t leave MC caught in nihilism. With this little Emanon having to leave and him having a family to go back to, it’s pretty clear that their story together is over, but it’s not all bad. At least, someone will not forget him.
He may never see Emanon again, but he knows that even someone with an existence as ordinary as his will have meaning just by being part of someone else’s memories. Besides, for Emanon, a liftime is not that different from that dream-like ferry ride.
This is not the first time I've tried to write about this, but I've failed every previous attempt. I always feel like i'm either too impersonal or just talking about myself, and I never seem to find that balance between the two. Emanon's an extremely important work to me and I feel like nothing I write does it justice. In fact, I'll probably regret considering this "finished" the very second I publish it, but I guess there's no point in just not saying anything about it, so this is what we all get so far. Thanks for reading.
I seriously can't stress how important Emanon's presentation is. Everything in it has already been done before. Memories, love, journeys... they're all some of the things we talk about the most in fiction. It's in how they're portrayed that they gain their strength.
Emanon is a science fiction work according to its author, but it never quite feels like one because it stays away from sci-fi imagery. What could've been a collection of graphs, cute explanatory drawings and breathtaking vistas is instead a collection of mundane scenes in real places, with the night sky being the manga's highlight.. It's a story about people, despite its fantastic elements, and the composition treats its characters as such. The kiss scene that threw me on this tangent is a good example of it. It's the visual climax of the comic and it's important for the character that acts as our point of view, but still, it's not presented in a two page spread of the characters' faces during the kiss. It's their moment, and they're given the intimacy and the quiet they deserve. We still see it from afar, but the closest representation we get of the feeling comes from the enviroment we see while it happens. Despite that, it comes off as less voyeuristic or self-insert like and becoms a poetic representation that lets us in on the feeling without being invasive or titilating. The same kind of applies to all the comic, but I felt I had to talk about it a bit and the point's been made.