A one shot in manga is more commonly known as a single, sometimes standalone story. It is the manga equivalent of a short story and an excellent way for readers to get a feel for a manga creator’s storytelling and art style. I thought of a one shot story that made an impact on me from more modern works that I wanted to write about: Kaori Ozaki’s Love Letter one shot, found at the back of volume three of The Golden Sheep.
Note: This editorial will explore the characters and plot in the Love Letter one shot. Please know that while I do not spoil the entirety of the manga I reveal and elaborated on certain details. To avoid any spoilers, please consider reading this brilliant one shot in the manga I mentioned above and returning to read this editorial if this caught your eye!
Trigger warnings: child neglect, child death, suicidal ideation, implied coerced sex work, implied released incarcerated child abuser, in work and in the written editorial below
Love Letter by Kaori Ozaki
Kaori Ozaki’s Love Letter is a heart wrenching tale that speaks of unconditional love, radical forgiveness, and the bonds of mother and child. It follows a soul that chooses to continually be reincarnated to be able to see the mother that abandoned them in their first, short life. The manga short begins in heavenly paradise where God with his angel assistants reside in the Birth office. This is a place where souls, just cute little non-descriptive blobs, stand in line to gain the chance to be born.
These pages that place the first location in the manga are fun to look at as Heaven looks massive, with countless souls. It is also where readers are introduced to all the ‘mother catalogs.’ These are catalog books handled by the angel assistants and what souls look at to choose their future mothers. They are physical books, and there are shelves and shelves of them. Hilariously, an angel questions God in why they haven’t gone digital as the catalogs won’t take up so much space, but God simply replies that he ‘prefers analog.’
One little soul in particular looks at the catalogs and chooses its mother on the spot. God reveals that she’s a seventeen-year-old runaway named Asako Uonuma and mentions that their life might be a difficult one at the start. Nevertheless, God wishes the little one luck and sends them on their way. Coming into this world, our little soul is finally born as a tiny baby boy who first opens his eyes to his mother’s exhausted face left in awe of the new little person she’s helped create. What follows is the rough start the mother had in the first years and the changing homes and circumstances mother and child had.
Their final home together as a family was a small apartment where the child remembers much happiness with their mother. Unbeknownst to him, Asako faced increasing pressure as implied in a panel of a Jenga tower pulled at precariously. There’s another panel where she is standing in only underwear, hugging herself with a word box revealing: “But to pay the rent, She had to do work that was very difficult”. This makes me think she was perhaps coerced to do sex work or some line of work that exploited or left her in harm’s way.
“Love Letter touches upon flawed motherhood, happy beginnings and tough truths.”
The big reveal in Kaori Ozaki’s Love Letter is that the little soul returns to heaven after it is revealed that his mother abandoned him and left him all alone. This resulted in his short life ending. A short montage of the two in a cluttered apartment and with him always happily greeting Asako at the door leads to a page of her locking the door one day and never returning. Once back in heaven, our little soul meets God and a very angry angel who chastises the little soul for his choice of a mother, whom by all accounts wasn’t a very good one. When questioned about God about the fun parts of his life, the little soul recounts his happiest memories with his mother: the simplicity in going high on the playground swings with him in her arms and the gentle care she would use to clean his face after eating the only dish she knew how to cook.
Once back in heavenly paradise, the little soul is told that he can be born again – be reincarnated if you will – and is asked what new mother he desires. Yet, this happy-go-lucky soul wants to be reborn into the world of living with Asako, his first mother: the very one who abandoned him and led to his life ending. However, that’s not possible as a quick look down reveals that his mother’s actions have consequences as she’s to face imprisonment for her crime of his death. He’s lived a life too short to know about the scales of good and evil and just wants to be with his mother again. “Well, I don’t care what they say about her. I love her,” he says with an assured happy look. Readers could interpret this as innocent naivety or uncompromising love unjustified for such a woman.
What follows in Love Letter is this little soul continuing to return to heaven with God and that very same angel assistant and the childlike pestering to return him to his mother in so many different and creative life forms. In his second life, he returns as a little black kitten born under the porch of a house his mother comes to live at after being released from prison. This kitten also has the misfortune of being abandoned by his cat mother. As Asako starts to observe the cats, she likens herself to the mother cat: giving birth in an unorthodox place. After the mother cat is gone and the kitten is left to fend for itself, Asako also likens herself to the cat as it is alone. In a world where she is demonized and tolerated, this little kitten sticks to her: “You might be the only one in the world that likes me.”
“Love Letter speaks of unconditional love, radical forgiveness and the bonds of mother and child.”
Yet when his life as a kitten comes to an abrupt end, the soul makes it his mission to return to his mother again and again. From a flower on the side of the road that she sees and brings home to the spring breeze that plays with a piece of her hair, this darling soul chooses to come back into his mother’s life in many ways over the years, in small and perhaps insignificant ways to us, to live with her even if only for a few brief moments. In the later pages of the one shot, we see Asako is living her life and is reminded of her guilt and her child lost to her terrible decisions.
Seeing the local news story about someone arrested for abuse and seeing a mother on the street with a young, smiley child makes her guilt eat away at her. Asako looks haggard, her face downcast as she stands at a train crossing where she is behind the safety bars. Her body posture leans forward, and it begins to rain. One of her feet lifts off the ground as a train approaches. It is then, at what I perceived as a possible stand of life and death with a train coming, that her child, this determined little soul, appears once again in his briefest and perhaps most significant reappearance in her life.
As quickly as he comes, he leaves; however, his short message to her rings true and she stops, stunned. Her life is saved, she looks above, and is startled to see a beautiful rainbow arching across a now clear sky. The symbolism behind rainbows varies: love, solidarity, and hope are just a few meanings. Biblically, rainbows represent a sort of promise between God and his flock, or his children, if you will for better days and of his deep, ending love. I interpreted this to be a vivid, breath-taking sign of her child’s love for her and a clear sign to keep hope alive.
Love Letter doesn’t ask you, the reader, for judgment or even sympathy for Asako, the wayward mother. You can cast it on the page when you look upon her, but it won’t reach her. Instead, I believe Kaori Ozaki’s brilliant one shot focuses on the pure, uncompromising love that children have for their mothers that transcends all misunderstandings and shortcomings. Our darling little soul was born into a world and left too quickly as a young child to truly understand how he was wronged and how the world truly works. Never to make light of abusive persons or parents who neglect and leave children to harm, this manga one shot makes me think of the weight of a child’s words and feelings and why they are important. I leave reading Love Letter with a bittersweet taste each time I reread it. I don’t believe that there is any right or wrong way to feel in your interpretation of the one shot and why you feel that way. I feel as moved by the child ‘s heart as I do feel angry for him on his behalf.
“Love Letter emphasizes how grief, along with guilt, can sit with us, long after those we loved or failed are gone.”
I think of motherhood in Love Letter and the flawed, tragic example of Asako and what led to her child’s death. It feels incredibly ironic and even poetic in the darkest way that the mistakes of a mother also birthed her salvation. While difficult to read, Kaori Ozaki’s manga focuses on the redemptive manner in how love can save us. Ozaki’s manga emphasizes how grief, along with guilt, can sit with us, long after those we loved or failed are gone. This one shot quietly builds up this relationship of mother and child and how it transcends human logic and even that known above. I am always left immensely impressed by the mangaka’s decision to illustrate choice and where it takes different people at different stages of their lives. There is a sincere dedication to another here on these pages: a literal love letter for someone who certainly needs it, whether or not we, the readers, feel deserves it.
Love Letter can be found at the back of volume three of The Golden Sheep which can be found where most manga and comics are found.
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