Torch Song Ecology
Ikuemi Ryo has been drawing manga for a few decades now and there’s lots of titles to choose from if you want to sample her work. Torch Song Ecology is one of her newer series. The art is gorgeous and the tone of the work is interesting: it’s a mix of slice of life and supernatural. You have a man adrift in his own life who begins to hear a song in his head. The source is a young girl’s ghost that no one else can see or hear.. unless they are approaching their own death.
The story follows Kiyotake, a man with no aim or accomplishments in life. He’s an actor who lands extra roles at best, works multiple part-time jobs to barely support himself, and has few personal attachments. His best friend Shun died when he was 19 in an accident and he now has a few casual friends. This expands when an old acquaintance moves in next door, but they didn’t exactly have a great relationship before. Kusaka had a crush on Shun and they tried chasing her off by pretending to be gay.
There’s no ill will left between them and they start to hang out. There’s just one weird thing about Kusaka…
A ghost child appeared along with Kusaka, but Kiyotake is the only one who can see, hear, and talk with the young girl. Who or what she is, why only Kiyotake can see or hear her, her purpose.. all these things are a mystery. The only other person who could even hear the child died soon after.
Kiyotake looks weary, rough, and beaten down by life, but there’s still this underlying gorgeous scruffy man thing he has going that I love. Seemingly worn out, he meanders through life and the story matches this pace until the ghost girl joins the scene. She’s often seen hanging (or floating) around or singing. She appears harmless for a supernatural being until she did something surprising:
The girl can channel other ghosts–her form changes and she becomes another ghost, complete with the personality and memories of that person. Kiyotake is confronted with a young Shun, just as he remembers him. Shun died while things were left unresolved between them, so this might be a chance for Kiyotake to find some peace and gives us a glimpse about the ghost’s existence.
It looks like a beautiful story so far, both in content and in presentation. Considering manga is a series of static drawings, I don’t think a lot of mangaka outside of the action-based titles utilize their layouts to skillfully illustrate movement or progression of a scene beyond what is contained in the speech bubbles. Ikuemi Ryo is both a veteran and prolific artist, so her paneling and use of space keeps the story moving along and establishes a certain atmosphere, even when there’s few words involved.
To illustrate, here’s a short scene where Kusaka makes curry, texts Kiyotake to invite him over, and is met with the silence of no response. It’s read regular manga style, so start with the page on the right.
Even the cover scene is built up from the back of the book. Other than loving the art and coloring, I didn’t fully understand the illustration without that context.
There’s an impressive level of detail and range of emotions that are skillfully illustrated in the characters’ facial expressions. Sudden changes, subtle changes, freezes.. all the characters are animated.
From what I’ve seen, these are all fairly common features of her body of work. It makes for a smooth read.
We’re left with the question about Kiyotake and the ghost–the only other person who heard her song died soon after, so what does that mean for Kiyotake’s fate? If Kiyotake opens up and tells Kusaka about the mysterious ghost child floating around, how will she react? As hinted in the title, a torch song is sentimental and laments lost love. This girl’s song and the story is similar–it’s lovely, but there’s a hint of regret and sadness.