Published by Image Comics on January 6, 2016
This page sets up a regular, six-panel page with each panel of equal size. The structure connotes the comfortable order of the Maki home during this time. Reinforcing the harmony of the house is the many smiles shared between family members and the warm color tones–mostly sepia brown with some red and yellow. There are blue and green tones, but they have a softness, indicating calm and the naturalness of grass and water.
The page introduces the joy and intimacy in the relationships between Makoto and his wife and daughters. The conversation isn’t incredibly deep–revolving around being on time and experimentation with muffin recipes–instead, the relationships are developed in the physical language as they speak. Smiles that go all the way up to the eyes. The cock-eyed smirks and winks of shared jokes. This is an idyllic pre-work morning.
In cell 1, Meiko comes down the stairs and finds Makoto with a steaming muffin in hand. She asks why he isn’t at work yet, indicating that on most mornings, Mack would be gone by this time. Makoto shushes her, but in a playful way. This is not the fatherly control of the Council. Her added height from being up two stairs suggests the more egalitarian power structure in the family. He tells her he can’t resist the fresh from the oven muffins in cell 2. The gold background fills the panel with a visual warmth akin to the kinesthetic warmth of the muffins.
Meiko exits for the kitchen in cell 3, asking if Mack left any for the rest of them. He jokes that he thinks maybe one. Again, this references what he could be like if he were to buy into the patriarchal hegemony of the society. Instead, it’s merely a playful joke. Yumi chides him, smiling with both mouth and eyes. Mirai is still a little too young to recognize the humor, so she enters into cell 4 by way of the stairs and a long, whiny “Daaaaaaad!! Those were for me!” Yumi turns to leave, reminding the girls that class starts in 2 minutes. Mack assures Mirai that he’s kidding, gets down on a knee and kisses her on the cheek, on her level, another visual indicator of equality. Meiko returns with muffins for her and her sister and wishes Mack a good day at work. He says, “You too,” and winks to indicate the subversive lessons the girls are heading into. The movement of family members around Mack on this page lacks any anxiety or tension. It’s a smooth, well-oiled machine, extraordinary.
On the topic of muffins: This is the second “backstory” one-shot. The first one, issue #3, was about Penny, and a big part of her relationship with her grandmother and her life right before being labelled non-compliant was muffins. In both this issue and that one, the muffins indicate familial love and connection. While I don’t know if the muffins will continue to cameo in future backstories, I appreciate the callback to Penny’s story here.
This page brings us into the girls’ lessons. Rather than the even panels of page 3, the six-panel structure is divided into 60% and 40% width panels, alternating with a row of the reverse. This allows the wider panels to carry more information and time and making the smaller panels feel like a compliment, a kind of grace note.
In cell 1, the frame gives an overhead establishing long shot of the girls unpacking their instrument cases at chairs with music stands. The established brown and gold tones are complimented by the teal of the floor rug, and in later panels, the reels of the tape player. Yumi asks why her girls are the latest to class. Meiko makes a joke, while Mirai apologizes semi-incoherently in cell 2 while stuffing muffin in her face. The two responses illuminate the differences between the two girls. Meiko is good-humored and a little bit rebellious. She’s not concerned about making light of her mother’s question. Mirai, though, shows the typical respect to elders, at least in language. Mirai is more dependent on her parents’ support and guidance. Meiko can thinking quickly and independently.
In cell 3, Yumi turns on the tape player and asks if Meiko and Mirai locked the door behind them. Why would they lock the door for music lessons? That will be revealed shortly. Music notes float through the rest of the panels, large and golden, indicating that the music is loud enough to hear outside the room and suggest the wholesomeness of learning to play music. Yumi tells the girls to get their books out in cell 4. This too strikes as odd. Not folders? Or workbooks? In cell 5, the girls reveal the contents of their cases–green physics books and red calculus books. The girls answer her by calling her “professor.” In cell 6, Yumi makes the situation clear by telling them they’ll pick up where they left off yesterday in their calculus studies.
Of course, this reveals a deep, knowing subversion being perpetrated by the Maki family. The fact that many girls are being educated in math and science along with the Maki daughters suggests that there’s a rebellious subset of the community surreptitiously educating their daughters in non-compliant ways. While this isn’t explored in this issue, it is an important note for the future of the series. A quietly subversive community could be tapped or inspired by “Eleanor” or the NC Megaton team to revolt.