Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations
After watching and writing about Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou back in 2022, it was exciting to learn that the original manga series which had at that point never seen an English print, would be translated brought state side officially. Though I was admittedly a bit inebriated which left me in a state of feeling a bit more warm and fuzz, watching the OVA adaptations of the series left me excited to get into the series proper. Now, through kind of forgetting about it because of school and spending the last few months doing other stuff, it is finally time to talk about this manga.
For those who are coming across this series for the first time and those who need a refresher, YKK tells the story of a future earth where natural disasters have drastically shifted the land and human society. Alpha, a humanoid robot, runs a small coffee shop which was made by her owner. Her owner, absent on a journey far away, leaves Alpha the shop to look after. Now, she must deal with the day to day of running the shop while finding out more about her self in his absence.
Damn, The Apocalypse has Never Looked Better
Mangaka Hitoshi Ashinano received the Seiun Award in science fiction for Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou after finishing the series in 2007, and while the exact criteria for that award are unknown to me, it seems likely one of the big contributing factors was the series’ beautiful art and scenic shots.
In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that the landscapes and backgrounds of this series contribute as much as the characters who walk and drive around on them. The world has shifted greatly in this future version of reality, and while the end times are often characterized by immediate devastation and hardship, the series pushes past that and looks at the aftermath, what is left behind and how these natural disasters shape the land and human involvement with it.
One of the series’ most iconic scenes involves Alpha staring down at a city that has been submerged under water due what is assumed to be tsunamis and flooding. While a story focusing on imminent danger and survival might focus on the horror of these scene, Ashinano instead enhances the beauty of the scene by showing the somehow still functioning streetlights turning on to glisten in the water, creating a lightshow of the bay.
An admittedly fantastical example, sure, but YKK is layered with shots of Alpha’s long drive over rural and previously developed landscapes, of humanity which has returned to a more immediately communal style of living. This new landscape is not just a byproduct of disaster, but endemic to there new way of life. Capturing these scenes and moments is itself a work of art beyond the story of the manga itself. That being said,
- The Witch from Mercury and Subtlety in Storytelling
- Turning Up the Creepy to Eleven in Blood on the Tracks Volume Three
- Last Gender: When We Are Nameless Volume One
- Finally Employed (and Figuring Stuff Out)
- Life at the End of the World – Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou Omnibus Volume One
Oh to Be a Robot Making Coffee
In stories like Yokohama Kaidsashi Kikou, narrative exists usually as a compliment to some primary objective and not necessarily as the main focus. Of course, how much a narrative actually matters in a given series as defined by its relation to theme is up for debate. Rather, this is to say that narrative remains less of a focus in and of itself. Still, the cliché that “nothing happens” is highly reductive.
Sure, Alpha spends a lot of time sitting in a coffee shop waiting for anyone to show up and give her something to do. In that sense, there is a bit of empty space in events. However, that empty space still progresses the manga’s overall story. Whether contemplating her relationship with her owner or reflecting on the found family she has in Takahiro and the old man, there is a sense of development turned appreciation, one that is implicitly juxtaposed against her immortality as a robot. Subtlety is by no means the only approach to storytelling, but it is an art form worthy of appreciation.
In this sense, Alpha’s bonding experiences with the other characters serves as the big moments that in other series would be payed off with a fight scene or battle of the mind. Her relationship with Kokone is another example of this. Being the only other robot she has met in a long time, Kokone allows Alpha to better understand herself and vice versa. It is not entirely clear at this point in the story that there are any romantic feelings involved, but like…c’mon, look at them. The two literally do music together along in their room. It does not get much more implied queer relationship than that.
Splitting the Difference
It may at first seems like there are a lot of disparate elements at play in YKK. New landscapes, humanoid robots, even magical creatures like the Osprey who seem content staying out of plain sight. One might even assume that a story like this would be far to busy to work based on the description just given. However, that is far from the truth.
At least so far, the story of the manga has allowed ample room for Alpha’s journey to proceed in a more open world direction. Each day is her own, and with each chapter comes a new adventure/potential friend with whom to share a moment. Still, the landscapes are never left to the sideline, and often become a focus of many of the chapters, such as when Alpha decides to try out the camera her owner sent.
In truth, whether or not I write about the rest of the series from this point on is a bit up in the air. Really, this was just an excuse to write a bit more one of my favorite OVAs. That being said, there is a lot going on given that this first volume has over 20 chapters. For my money, there is probably going to be more of a focus on Kokone and Alpha, as well as Takahiro and the Osprey.
Have you all been reading Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou? Let me know down the comments.
If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.
As always, special thanks to Jenn for supporting us on Patreon.
If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!