Manga: Maiden Railways
August 16, 2022 · 0 comments
By Shelley Pallis.
So many things came to mind when I saw the title of Asumiko Nakamura’s Maiden Railways manga for the first time. And I thought, well, it’s probably a thing about girls who are trains, or trains who are girls, or a bunch of witches who moonlight as train conductors, but no. It’s a series of short stories about maidens on railways – unconnected (or so it seems…) tales that happen to take place on or around trains, and have female leads.
Anthologies are often a tough sell in manga – but I have never been disappointed by one once I started, and Maiden Railways is no exception, right from the opening story, “All Aboard for a Romantic Getaway”, in which two completely different sets of travellers are suddenly flung disruptively into each other’s lives on the “Romancecar”. For those that don’t know, the Romancecar is the Odakyu express from central Tokyo to Hakone, so named, because the 80+ kilometre distance, back in the early days of rail, was just far enough to be a daytrip or something more…. In 1927, when the line was first inaugurated, it was almost magical – a couple of hours outside Tokyo to the bracing sea air of Odawara, a place for romance, or dirty weekends.
And on this journey, it could be either, because there’s a pickpocket in the carriage who sort of wants to get caught, as well as a couple that may or may not be cheating on each other. Nakamura’s opening story ties everything up neatly with a bow by the time the train pulls into the station, leaving this reader looking forward to more day-trips.
A woman features as the central character in every story, although her role in the plot can differ wildly, and Nakamura’s story-telling favours the Odakyu line’s association with romance or possible infidelities. In one, she’s a love-lorn teenager obsessing about a boy she hopes to meet. In another, she is a confused lady whose brief encounter with another woman on the train blossoms into unexpected love. In “Savarin Thursdays”, it’s the train itself that has an unexpected transformation, since the drama revolves around a train set in someone’s house, rather than a real-life railway.
Nakamura’s afterword speaks lovingly of the Odakyu line in all its glory, a sweet concentration on just one of Japan’s sprawl of trackways, but cherished here for its old-time history and its modern-day associations. It’s still a place for romance, clearly – an easy escape from the bustle of Tokyo, now extended up to the mountains at Hakone. Nakamura clearly intends to write a story that relates somehow to every station and every junction, which is such a sweet enterprise – I sort of wish someone would do one about, I don’t know, the Glasgow subway or the Elizabeth line.
Maiden Railways is published by Denpa and available in the UK from Anime Limited.