- A Healing, Gentle Apocalypse: Yokohama kaidashi kikō
Postapocalyptic stories are a staple in anime and manga, usually presenting a depressing and frequently violent image of the future world. In the midst of these is a unique manga that depicts the view of a simple life in a gentle postapocalyptic world: Yokohama kaidashi kikō (generally translated as Yokohama Shopping Log). Created by Ashinano Hitoshi, Yokohama kaidashi kikō premiered in Afternoon Magazine in June 1994 and ended in February 2006.1
Set hundreds of years in the future, Yokohama kaidashi kikō centers on the quiet life of a female android named Alpha who runs a small coffee shop on the coastline in rural Miura. An unexplained environmental apocalypse of some sort occurred in the past, causing a rise in the sea levels and a drastic decrease in the human population, which is further diminishing with each passing generation. With fewer humans left to run things, the physical infrastructure of modern society is decaying and the technology of the past is slowly being forgotten. Alpha’s “owner” used to run the café but went off to travel (and never appears in the series), leaving Alpha to keep operating the café.
The opening chapter follows Alpha as she takes an overnight shopping trip to Yokohama to buy coffee beans for the café, thus giving the series its title. She rides a motor scooter over broken highways with grass growing through the cracks and has to take an alternate route when she finds the main road is under water. Yokohama seems much smaller now, though the seventy-story Yokohama Landmark Tower still remains. After buying the coffee beans and doing some window shopping, she spends the night sleeping by the side of the road outside the town, then rides back to the café. Thus the first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the series. There is not much plot or story. Instead, Yokohama kaidashi kikō focuses on creating the mood and atmosphere of this future twilight world. Nothing much happens, but that “nothing much” unfolds with amazing beauty, grace, and serenity. Over the course of 140 chapters (and about 20 years within the story), this world is delicately sketched in by showing bits of Alpha’s life and her interactions with her circle of friends, both humans and a few other androids.
Because the manga focuses more on the atmosphere than the storyline, it allows Ashinano to be more lyrical in his presentation of Alpha and her world. Frequently the only text for a chapter is a poetic narration by Alpha accompanying the images. In fact, a few chapters are purely visual with no text at all. There is a strong sense here of mono no aware (“a sensitivity to things”), the classic Japanese aesthetic sense of melancholy and an acceptance of the beauty inherent in the impermanence of things. Although common in much of Japanese art and literature, this concept rarely appears in manga or anime. An example of this mono no aware occurs in chapter 22, “Yokosuka Cruise,” where Alpha takes an afternoon trip trying to find the first place that her owner took her to see years ago (3:101–16). She ends up at a bluff overlooking the drowned city of Yokosuka where she [End Page 256] runs into her friend “Sensei.” Sensei, an elderly doctor and scientist, worked on robot research when she was young and helped develop the Alpha series of androids. As they watch the sunset, one by one the lights of the dead city begin to glow under the water until the expanse of the lost city can be seen stretching out into the darkened ocean (Figure 1). Alpha’s thoughts serve as an elegiac commentary on the scene. “These...