This post is kind of a cheat, but I realized that if I kept Pink’s analysis with its review post, it would probably never get read. So here it is again, amputated and grafted back into this blog.
Pink is an influential josei manga by Kyoko Okazaki that was published in the 1980s and released in North America by Vertical in 2013. Its story centers around the travails of Yumi, a young office lady who also works as a part time call girl to supplement her income. Pink’s main narrative arc follows Yumi’s changing relationships with her family, her lover and her pet crocodile as the characters cross paths, each attempting to influence each other’s lives.
Analysis [warning: spoilers ahead]
Pink can be read solely as a work of entertainment. However, it also offers, as I’ve alluded to above, a critical examination of capitalism without being prescriptive in any way.
The character that drives Pink’s narrative is actually Yumi’s pet crocodile, Croc. At first glance, Croc may seem like a quirky/absurdist device for comedic relief, but in actuality, Pink’s narrative hinges upon this voracious creature of corporeality and appetite. I’ve read another review suggesting that the pet represents Yumi’s relationship to capitalism but Croc seems to me to be more a symbol of Yumi’s own consumptive appetite. It embodies a hunger that simultaneously enslaves and liberates her: Yumi must continually commodify her labour and her body in order to feed her desires and yet, it in doing so, Yumi lives independently, on her own terms, outside of sexist, social expectations and the clutches of her familial home. In a society where all stuck out nails get hammered back in, it is Yumi’s appetite that launches her into a radical, neo-liberal free fall of autonomy and self-fulfilment above all other pursuits.
It’s important to note that as fun as Yumi can be, her entire life is centered around her individual happiness, which is defined by satisfying her constantly renewing appetites and desires. Notably, she does not keep any friends and more tellingly, she demonstrates no need for them. Save her relationship with her half sister, Keiko, her only motivations to engage with others are either unavoidably obligatory or based on personal need. As if to emphasize the dominance of her ever-present hunger, Yumi’s characters all reference Croc’s constant feeding, almost as if it is a refrain in the narrative. To feed Croc is to survive – unlike Yumi’s mother, who failed at this project and committed suicide.
For this reason, I think it would be a mistake to read Croc as simply a manifestation of consumerist desire or capitalist consumption. It is more complex than that, showing how Yumi’s greater wishes for her own life, love and happiness co-mingle with her lust for material commodities. Capitalism has a kind of colonizing logic that pervades areas of our lives we usually deem separate from commerce: sex, love, creative work, all of which are bound up with capitalism in Pink. It’s an apt observation for the late 1980s, almost foreshadowing how pervasive the logic of branding and concepts like “aspirational consumption” would become in the decades to follow. I’m guessing this is why Pink’s characters often comment on how out of place Croc is in Tokyo, and why Yumi believes Croc is waiting to return to some fantasy tropical island, some imaginary paradise. It’s fun to have your libidinous life so bound up in easy purchases, but it’s also unnatural and perverse.
It is telling that Yumi’s most abusive john precedes the disappearance of Croc. During this encounter, Yumi’s john orders her to shut up and goes on to describe her as a piece of meat, a filthy animal, an insect. In this brutal transaction, the logic of capitalism is laid bare: Yumi is nothing more than an object for serve someone else’s pursuit of consumptive happiness and it is only through this reduction that Yumi is able to climax “for real.” After her john leaves, Yumi turns on the television and sees him speaking, learning that he is an advocate for animal rights. Not only was this same man calling her a beast and treating her without any regard to her personhood, Yumi recalls that he also owned a crocodile leather wallet. The contradictions are clear. In a capitalist system, nothing is sacred; everything is reduced to commodity. And rather than getting worked up into some kind of moral indignation or sinking into a deflated sense of self worth, Yumi’s response is to giggle. At the end of the day, she’s still getting hers; she’s getting off and feeding that crocodile.
Pink’s narrative pivots when Croc is kidnapped by Yumi’s evil stepmother. Without Croc, Yumi plunges into despair. Lacking her appetite, she loses all purpose in life. Without the vehicle through which she was able to marry all her contradictions, Yumi’s world completely falls apart. The artwork at this point is spare and unrelenting:
Yumi’s life takes an abrupt shift when her stepmother returns Croc in the form of a chic luggage set, transformed from a living, beastial creature to a dead commodity. In the end, this is the logic of capitalism, where our very needs and desires themselves can become manufactured and commodified. It is at this point that the separation between Yumi and her own appetite collapses; Croc is absorbed into a different type of consumerist narrative, a more conventional one. Abandoning her independence, Yumi dreams of finally travelling to her tropical island with her lover, the first real step outside of her self centeredness. What she does not realize is that her lover has died in an accident on his way to meet her. And in an ending both touching and scathing, we conclude with Yumi waiting, waiting like Croc once waited, for a fantasy that will never arrive.
There’s so much more in Pink I haven’t even touched upon – her relationships to her step-mother and Keiko; her lover (and step-mother’s “kept boy”) Haru and his parallel journey; changing gender roles in the bubble economy; the constant blurring between work, love and sex – but I’m almost clocking in at 1,500 words [edit: including the original review] here so I’ll end this post by saying I wish all comics I read were written so well…