Like with a lot of manga, YKK had the effect of reminding me how much cultural understanding I’m missing when I come at Japanese work for Japanese audiences. Like she’s a robot: ok, but what’s robotty about her? Not much, except she gets slightly different burn treatment, and, as Noah mentioned, fairly mild food allergies. What does it mean to her, or her friends, that she’s a robot? Not much, so far. She doesn’t look or act different, except for maybe more innocent (but you don’t get a frame of reference for how innocent non-robot postapocalyptic women are, so maybe not). Issues I’d expect, like technology or parts for her maintenance being wiped out, or her not aging in comparison to humans, also don’t emerge and there’s no reason to expect they will.
Why is she a robot? I imagine her robotitude means something to Japanese people that it doesn’t mean to me. It reminds me of P. W. Singer who wrote a book about military robotic weapons, who was on the Daily Show and Terry Gross recently. He used a lot of science-fiction canon metaphors, and I believe he mentioned in both interviews that American sci-fi robots are often implacable monsters while Japanese sci-fi robots tend to be lovable heroes. Maybe it is the Buddhist thing of non-humancentricity, that robots are humans without the destructive ego or dark Freudian drives?
Getting into Buddhist mind was the only way I could begin to appreciate the work, and I felt like I should have a few hours with every page. The art really is that beautiful. And even when it’s a portrait shot of characters, it reads like a landscape. This fits in with the idealization of passivity that is the strongest thing in the book. The characters are at their most beautiful when they’re not acting, or even interacting, but just being. When Alpha enfolds Takahiro to herself at the New Year ceremony, I thought for a second, what does it mean? Is this in or out of the bounds of their relationship? Is he attracted to her? Is she attracted to him? And then I saw the sculpture, the rock formation that their bodies made together, and realized that was the real point.
I’d probably read past the first volume (which was one of our metrics for new manga on the manga roundtable), but I think I’d continue to be impatient, getting in there with my Westernness and my feminism and my meaning-obsessed Jewiness, as often as I could manage to be serene, aware, and grateful like a proper Buddhist.