Forewarning for some, this is going to be a bit heavier discussion that deals with death, but it is uplifting in the end.
Many of my generation joke about how old we feel when there’s new Internet lingo we don’t know or some younger generation doesn’t know one of our favorite artists we listened to when we were in high school. It’s fun to joke about and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. However, the feeling of growing old is a very real thing. Visiting my own grandparents, my grandmother would discuss at length the struggles she faces as she grows more frail and watches those she was closest with pass on. It’s hard to accept the inevitability of growing old, let alone make the best of it.
Sanju Mariko is a story about this, dealing with the loss of your own ability as well as the loss of those around you, yet still finding a way to go on and enjoy life.
Mariko is an 80-year-old author, still writing for a living and residing in her family house she and her husband built along with their four generations of family. Her family is suffering from the ordeal of all having to live in the same cramped space while also trying to make ends meet. After coming home from a funeral for an old friend, Mariko feels that living with her family is becoming a burden to them and decides to strike out on her own. With independent living spaces for elderly hard to find, Mariko ends up without a home and on her own until she meets a mute cat whose owner passed away. Mariko and her new companion start a new adventure to live their lives with the time they have.
Sanju Mariko is incredibly blunt about the issues it deals with. There are no punches pulled about the constant looming issues Mariko has to confront. Her age and her health have declined and she is always acutely aware that she doesn’t have much time left overall with her life. However, she personifies this “I’m not done yet” energy that I adore. Not only does she decide to strike out on her own, but she wants to make this adventure matter by doing more. Taking shelter in a net café, Mariko goes on a tirade reading all of the most popular novels of younger artists, taking inspiration for her own stories. When she first meets the cat Kuro, Mariko immediately decides to take care of her on her own, even going so far as to sneak her into the net café to live with her while she finds her own home.
Mariko is determined and always willing to enjoy the change around her. She may be sad to see her own past feel farther and farther away from her but she’s incredibly open to trying new things, like enjoying how the city skyline has changed from a high up hotel room, or appreciating how nice she finds a net café. Mariko never looks down on those younger than herself and always is full of life, even more so than some of the others around her. She has a open-mind but a stubbornness for her own independence shown easily with her constant refusal to go home or inconvenience her family. It’s only when there’s no other option that she relies on the help of others. However, like when the owner of the net café reaches out to her, she is not too stubborn to not accept a helping hand.
In many ways her attitude reminds me of my own grandmothers who, even with extremely disheartening health conditions, are still spry enough to want to try new things and, in the case of one funny vacation, hit on the younger guys. I feel it’s wonderful to have the mentality to celebrate life, even when it can be horribly unfair and cruel to our bodies as age gets all of us. Mariko is very much this personified. She does get down and depressed about her family, her age, and all of the friends she’s lost. Yet, she continues on and makes the best of her new adventure.
Unfortunately, while this series is fourteen volumes, ongoing, and award nominated, it seems it hasn’t been licensed here in the West. More so than many other series I’ve written about on this site, I implore anyone and everyone who has the ability to give us more of this series to help out on that front. When I initially read this online years ago, there were multiple chapters and people still supporting a translation. The story touched me dearly at the time. However, it remains incomplete and with even less chapters out there than what I initially read as websites have come and gone.
I would love to see this story picked up by someone for us non-Japanese scrubs, as it’s a lovely and endearing adventure about a woman determined to live her life rather than waste away, and Mariko’s determination and hopeful attitude is amazingly lovely to see. This series deserves so much more love. I’ll take a page from Mariko and keep on hoping that this series ain’t done yet.