Nanaeko Sasaya teaches at Kyoto Seika University’s cartoon art department. In March this year she joined the protest against the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly’s plans to legislate on sexually provocative “visual depictions” of characters who sound or appear to be younger than 18 years old.
Prior to that, her name – and its earlier form, Nanae Sasaya – had shown up in interviews with other female manga artists. Matt Thorn, who has been a friend of Sasaya for many years, mentions her several times on his website. Other English-language sites repeat his mentions or note her participation in the mangaka protest, but offer little additional information. There’s a little more in other European languages, but, surprisingly for someone of her stature, not much.
In Japan Sasaya is regarded as one of the 24 Group, sometimes known in the West as the Magnificent 49ers. The 49ers are a remarkable clutch of female manga creators born around 1949, year 24 of the Showa era. Moto Hagio, Keiko Takemiya, and Yasuko Aoike are other members of this group.
Sasaya was born on 31 January 1950 in the coal-mining town of Ashibetsu on Hokkaido, the youngest of four children. She loved Leiji Matsumoto’s comics for girls, including Maria of the Silver Valley and Forest of Luna, and was inspired by Shotaro Ishinomori. Like Ishinomori, she started submitting work to magazines while still at school, getting an honourable mention in a competition in Margaret magazine.
All her siblings went to university, and her father was somewhat shocked by her career choice, but she was absolutely determined to draw manga. Her debut work, Seagull, was published in Ribon magazine in the January 1970 issue. By this time, the mining industry in her hometown was in decline and Ashibetsu’s steady depopulation had begun. The young artist was only one of a legion of Notherners lured away by greater opportunities for work.
She married publisher Toshihiko Sagawa. Her husband published Comic Amour, an erotic manga magazine for adult women, and founded the hugely influential boys’ love/yaoi anthology Juné. She doesn’t care for some of the manga produced for women; in 1995, in a discussion on erotica in manga and anime, Matt Thorn commented that “Sasaya finds it infuriating that there are so many women who like what she considers to be junk.”
Aside from comics, she loves film and animation. In 1978 she interviewed Leiji Matsumoto for film magazine Kinejun/Motion Picture Times, marking the release of Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato (Saraba Uchu Senkan Yamato.) There’s a translation online at starblazers.com along with an early photo. In 1981 she featured in Film 1/24, the journal of animation and comics research group ANIDO, discussing Chinese animation.
In 1982 she was one of the contributors to ANIDO’s Gekkan Betty, a one-shot magazine. A5 size, with 336 pages, it included 29 pages of storyboards from Sherlock Hound (Meitantei Holmes) drawn by Hayao Miyazaki, Yoshifumi Kondo, Tsukasa Tannai and Kazuhide Tomonaga, but its unique selling point was that half the contributors were animators and half “real cartoonists” (as ANIDO put it.) In 1988 she contributed to Bijutsu Shuppan’s book Fundamental Manga Technique Course alongside 31 other manga artists including Hisashi Eguchi, Naoki Urusawa and Kazuo Umezu.
Two years later, in 1990, she won an Excellence Prize at the Japanese Cartoonists’ Association awards for Superior Observation by an Outsider. In 1996 she changed her personal name to Nanaeko, and drew Frozen Eyes, a searing tale of child sexual abuse written by Atsuko Shiina, which caused considerable controversy and had a follow-up series in 2003. In 2004, she won the Avon cosmetic company’s Education Award.
Her works embrace the horror inherent in or underlying everyday life – suspense, black comedy, offbeat romances with a sinister twist, and compromised relationships. In Glass Penguin Noriko can’t express her true feelings and presents a false face to the whole world, even her boyfriend. He worries that the relationship will end so she agrees to get married, but her inability to be honest leads to trouble. Cosmetic Mandala is a horror story with shonen ai overtones. Oaf is the story of a boy who feels himself unloved by his cold and distant parents. Wraith is a high school horror story, complete with gossipy girls, persistent admirers and a haunted mansion.
Twenty of her works are listed on the Ultimate Manga Guide, with some publisher details. I’ve found dates for almost all of them, and added a few more titles. So far I’ve been unable to date Mr. Sun Doesn’t Have To Shine (Ohisama nante denakute mo kamawanai,) originally published in Asuka magazine from Kadokawa.
This list includes all the titles I’ve been able to find information for. If you can add further information, or correct any errors, please do so.
1970 Seagull (Kamome); Dartmoor Boy (Dartmoor no Shonen) both Ribon, Shogakukan
1975-6 Makiko, Princess, Akita Shoten
1977 Braggart’s Hometown (Tenriku no sato); Time of New Leaves (Wakaba no goro), both Star Comics, Daitosha; Kinpoge, Asahi S0norama; Gokumonjima, Shojo Comic, Shogakukan
1978 Can We Lose? (Maketatamaruka!) Shojo Comic, Shogakukan
1979 The Resounding Bell (Kane no oto ga nattara) Shojo Comic, Shogakukan
1982 Superior Observation by an Outsider (Okame wa Chimoku) Big Comic Lady, Shogakukan; Grapefruit Strawberry Petit Flower, Shogakukan; Gekkan Betty (contributor) ANIDO
1983 Silent Morning (Chinmoku no asa) Paper Moon, Shinshokan; Glass no Penguin, Be Love, Kodansha
1984 Kesho Mandala (Cosmetic Mandala) Petit Flower, Shogakukan
1985 Hello Guys (Konnichiwa Otokotachi,) Be Love, Kodansha
1986 Tenderness Stings The Eyes (Yasashi ga me ni shimiru) Be Love, Kodansha
1987 Refrain, Be Love, Kodansha
1988 Wraith (Ikisudama) Asuka, Kodakawa Shoten; To The Street of The Bellows (Tatara no tsuji ni) Petit Flower, Shogakukan; Being Far Away (Tooku ni arite) Kadokawa Shoten
1989 Village On The Surface of the Water, Nursemaid Below the Water (Mizumen kyo no, no mizutei mori) Petit Flower, Shogakukan
1991 Island of Spirit-Sending (Tamaoku no shima) Asuka, Kadokawa Shoten
1992 Minotaurus Asuka, Kadokawa Shoten; Ring of Angels (Tenshi no Wakka) You, Shueisha
1994 Welcome Home (Okaerinasai) You, Shueisha
1995 Frozen Eyes (Koritsuitame), You, Shueisha
1997 Ahondara (Oaf), Shueisha – this is the collected edition
2003 New Frozen Eyes (Shin Koritsuitame), You, Shueisha