Sand Chronicles volume 1 – the Shojo Beat Manga Edition


By Hinako Ashihara, adapted and translated by John Werry & Kinami Watabe (Viz Media)
ISBN: 978-1-4215-1477-2

It’s never too late to take another look at first love and this subtly potent and marvellously engaging traditional romance proves once and for that all humans are basically the same when the lightning bolts hit…

Crafted by Hinako Ashihara, nostalgic, introspective love story Sunadokei (“Hourglass”) was serialised in Japan’s Betsucomi from 2003-2005; a beguiling and forthright exploration of how kids actually grow up…

It appeared in translation in 2007’s Shojo Beat magazine #26-29 before being gathered up in ten collected digest-sized manga volumes. The tale also spawned a TV series and a movie.

The story starts at ‘Age 12, Winter: Making a Wish’ as self-conscious big-city kid Ann Uekusa angrily packs a few of her most precious belongings before leaving for a scary – and probably deadly dull – existence with her mother for the country. The child is still ashamed and reeling from her parents’ divorce and blames her mother. Miwako Uekusa seems to have been dealt a mortal blow by her dream life’s ending…

One odd knickknack which somehow ends up in Ann’s bag is a little hourglass her mum got at the Sand Museum years ago when she was her daughter’s age. The memories it shakes up are powerful and painful and indicate that – in terms of love and marriage – this family seems destined to repeat its mistakes…

Her grandmother in rural, bucolic snow-stifled Shimane is a harsh-tongued woman keen to share her feelings of deep disappointment. Ann feels even more alone after meeting all the weird-talking yokel kids but eventually starts to adapt to the new situation. For one brief second the icy wastes warm for her as she almost befriends a cute bunny, but the moment ends when a boy – just as cute but in a different way – galumphs into view through the snow. He helps her catch the rabbit but then tells her it will be tonight’s dinner…

Daigo Kitamura will remember that meeting for years. Even after he became part of the school judo team years later, nobody ever left him as bruised and battered as the crazy town girl…

Seeking an escape from Grandmother Misayo’s harsh carping, Ann delivers a gift from the old lady to the wealthy Tsukishima household and subsequently sees how a proper family acts. The annoying lummox Daigo goes with her and somehow takes most of her attention…

Shika Tsukishima is Ann’s age and rather nice and her parents are wonderfully warm and welcoming. The nervous townie barely notices Shika’s quiet, studious older brother Fuji… but he notices her…

They join the family for a sumptuous meal but the repast is ruined when hasty word comes that Miwako has collapsed. Her mother’s problems are both physical and psychological. The matron has strived incessantly to provide for her child, to the permanent detriment of her health, but the shame of abandonment and divorce has broken her spirit…

To help, Ann takes a menial job with the Tsukishimas and is soon beavering away, blithely unaware of the shy attention Fuji is paying her…

Increasingly depressed, ailing Miwako takes Ann to the shrine she attended years previously and tries to get her reluctant daughter to make a votive wish for the future. It only reminds the troubled divorcee how badly her own heartfelt prayer failed to come true…

The episode tragically, horrifically ends the only way it can and in the awful aftermath Ann is stuck living alone with her mean but deeply chastened grandmother…

Following light-hearted and informative featurette ‘About the World’s Biggest One-Year Hourglass’, the drama resumes two years later.

‘Age 14, Summer: Thunder, Get Over It’ Ann and Daigo are much closer: genuine friends who enjoy being together. The little town girl has blossomed and integrated, attending the junior high school with her hulking first friend, who has turned into a human monolith and star of the judo team.

One unexpected consequence of their friendship is that female judoka Ayuma Narasaki has inexplicably become a pervasive pest: taking every opportunity to have a go at Ann, from snarky comments all the way to physical assaults. Ann can’t understand why…

The semester is ending and the entire school is buzzing with talk of the forthcoming summer camp. Feeling pressurised from all sides, Ann can’t decide whether to go or not. Grandmother is no help. She keeps going on about pointless cost and worrying about her granddaughter’s periods. The girl had just started before Miwako died, but there’s been nothing since. It’s like she’s going backwards as a woman…

In the end it’s easier to attend the gathering than stay behind and, apart from Ayuma’s constant veiled attacks, Ann actually has fun. She even takes Shika into her confidence over her problems – social, physical and especially emotional – but as the kids all boisterously let their hair down she again begins to feel the crushing pressure of her mother’s mistakes.

Dejected, Ann wanders off to be alone, straying too near a dangerous precipice which seems to call to her – just as had happened to her mother. She’s shaken out of her bleak reverie by Fuji Tsukishima who guides her back to the others.

A major storm is forecast and the supervising adults hurriedly gather the kids under shelter and bed them down for the night. Fuji however is restless. He pensively recalls the stormy night as a little boy when he caught his mother in bed with a man not his father… and what followed…

Wandering the vast cabins he meets Ann again. She too is overwrought, now obsessively thinking about Daigo. To calm her Fuji takes the agitated girl to a place of startling natural wonder and she briefly forgets her beloved lummox and everything else….

And then the worst thunderstorm in living memory suddenly erupts around her…

One of the activities planned for the campers was a huge scavenger hunt and now jealous Ayuma takes advantage of it: stealing Ann’s precious hourglass and sending her out in the storm, chasing clues to retrieve it…

By the time furious Fuji and Daigo find her, Ann is clinging to her life by a thread, but she only notices her wonderful lummox…

To Be Continued…

Fun, tense and suspenseful it also includes witty asides by the author and a full ‘Glossary’ providing cultural background and perspective.

Sharp, beguiling and strikingly illustrated, this charming tale about humanity’s most common shared experiences manages to be mature yet charming, fresh yet potently foreboding.

This book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.
© 2003 Hinako Ashihara/Shogakukan Inc. All rights reserved.