East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Growing up with Yoko Tsuno

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Today my heart broke for the second time for something that happened a long time ago – sometimes in the mid ’90s, my collection of Yoko Tsuno comics, the first ten volumes, was lost – my mom, god bless her, decided it was time to clear some space, and gave the books away, as a gift to the son of a friend of hers.
I was serving in the Air Farce at the time, and when I found out, it was too late.
Heart broken.
And today, a friend reminded me of Yoko, and my heart cracked again.

For the uninitiated, Yoko Tsuno was the main character in a series of comics created by Belgian artist Roger Leloup in 1970 – a series of science fiction thrillers featuring a young Japanese woman, an electronic engineer, as the main character. The series had a run of 29 volumes, the last being published in 2010. Leloup also wrote a novel about the character (and that I still have – hooray!)
The first adventure was The Curious Trio – in which we were introduced to the heroine, her team-mates and the blue-skinned aliens that would become a fixture of the series.

I was talking with a friend, as I said, and Yoko Tsuzo came up, and he pointed out that the series did not age very well – due to its focus on technology and innovation, many ideas got old fast, or did not survive the true evolution of our technology.
Through the decades, Yoko explored the depths of the ocean and traveled to space, plus the occasional jaunt through time, meeting – and sometimes fighting – a number of menaces, from runaway robots to mechanical dragons, to aliens. The series thus was for many kids an introduction to concepts relating to space exploration and oceanography, computers and automation, suspended animation, medical technology and genetic manipulation.

There were also episodes that dealt with the supernatural and the paranormal, but always with a very positivist and scientifically-minded approach.
And as you can see from the covers I am posting to illustrate this piece, the series was translated in a number of language, and was definitely a hit in Europe.

And yes, let’s sit here for a moment and let’s take stock of this – in the ’70s we had a series with a strong Asian female character (Yoko is an engineer and a practitioner of aikido, an accomplished archer, and she can pilot a lot of vehicles), solving hard SF problems with a mixture of courage, diplomacy and derring-do.
Today, the launch of such a series would probably get some people’s knickers in a twist, and cause rants about the insufferable interference of Social Justice Warriors, feminists and other bugbears in our kids’ wholesome comic book entertainment.
While others, probably, would decry the idea that a Belgian man wrote stories about a Japanese girl.

In the creator’s words and tag-line, Yoko Tsuno was

la bande dessinée d’action et de réflexion

The comic book of action and reflection – because if there was a point the series would make again and again was, brains trumps brawn ten times out of ten.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but reading Yoko Tsuno (and maybe having a bit of a crush on her), made me a better person. It stimulated my curiosity and my intelligence, and taught me to respect “the girls” and not dismiss’em (especially those with bobbed black hair).

And considering how many characters from Franco-Belgian comics have made the transition to movies – from Tintin to Valerian and back – it would be good to get a Yoko Tsuno movie. Set in the seventies, when we were probably more naive, and we were all gone for exploring the sea and space and ask questions and built incredible machines. Back when it was good being kids.
That’s the sort of comic-based movie (or TV series) I’d really enjoy.

Right now, the whole run of Yoko Tsuno has been reissued in a series of volumes with extra contents – sketches, articles and other wonders. The sort of thing I can’t afford … but I could sell my brother, and the cats, and maybe…

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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