Yoko Tsuno: Smart Women, Science and Space Ships

by Natacha Guyot

When I was eight years old, I remember getting a Millenium Falcon toy (which I still have) that was large enough to have quite a few details included inside and not just outside. The day I got it, I also received another gift: one of the volumes from the Yoko Tsuno comic series. It turned out to be the 20th volume, that included not only a time travel story but also bonus drawings with concepts for the previous books. I had no idea when I got sucked up into The Astrologer of Bruges that I would fall in love with this series and that its female protagonist would become one of my greatest inspirations, right up with characters such as Leia Organa and Mara Jade from Star Wars, Jo March from Little Women or Dana Scully from The X-Files.

The Yoko Tsuno series was created in 1970 by Belgian writer and artist Roger Leloup and it is still in publication, with the 27th volume already announced. Strong, smart, accomplished female characters have always been very important to me, just like diversity in other aspects is. The female protagonist is a Japanese electrical engineer, trained in martial arts and a Buddhist, who moves to Europe in the beginning of the series. She gathered many friends as years went on, starting with her male colleagues, Vic Video and Pol Pitron.

One thing I particularly like about Yoko is that her author never felt the need to reduce her to any kind of sexualized object. She carried on with many adventures and relied a lot on her friends and family as she can’t do everything alone. She also adopted a young Chinese girl, Morning Dew, as a single mother. Her intimate life never had to be brought to the foreground. There are several hints about her and Vic Video being an item, but the author always chose not to confirm the relationship so that readers could see it however they wanted to.

Yoko and Morning Dew. Image from http://www.amazon.fr/. Art by Roger Leloup.
Yoko and Morning Dew. Image from http://www.amazon.fr/. Art by Roger Leloup.

I like the familial dynamic that isn’t so orthodox either. The exact living arrangements of the main characters aren’t a focal point, but Yoko often travels everywhere with Vic, Pol and Morning Dew, and later on with Mieke as well, Pol’s fiancée that the young man met during a journey to the 16th century. So it is likely that Morning Dew grows up with quite the familial circle as they all watch after her. Yoko also befriended one of the Vinean women, who appeared in many stories since then, in the first one: Khany. I like their friendship and how the long distance/online friendship is pictured even years before the Internet as they aren’t able to see each other that often, but are still so close knit. I picture these two as sisters, even more than I do Yoko and the teenager from the future, Monya, that she meets later in the series, no matter how much I also enjoy this other female character.

The comic series gives a lot of room to science and technology, likely because of Yoko’s background. Some stories take place in a contemporary setting while others include time travel or interactions with the Vineans, a humanoid alien species introduced in the first volume. The different directions the series has adds to its richness and keeps it fresh. While regular and recurring characters show up in the books, one never knows what the next volume will be about, because there isn’t a strict order in when to switch from contemporary investigations to time travel to the Vineans’ stories.

Yoko and Khany. Image from http://amazon.fr/. Art by Roger Leloup.
Yoko and Khany. Image from http://amazon.fr/. Art by Roger Leloup.

I love how egalitarian (gender, species, era, etc.) values are so important in the series. At the end of the Titans (8th volume), the Vinean Khany explains that they chose one of Yoko’s lines to be inscribed on an alien’s tomb, because this is the ideal with which Yoko came to them and to others and that such ideas need to be transmitted to the Vinean children. Yoko’s words were the following:

‘The shapes that differentiate matter very little. Beings matter little if their thoughts ally to build a universe.’

Up to this day, only a few volumes were translated into English, and I would recommend to read them in the following order, instead of their order of publication in the USA:

The Curious trio (#1 Le trio de l’étrange), published July 2012
The Devil’s Organ (#2 L’Orgue du Diable), published July 2013
On the Edge of Life ( #7 La Frontière de la vie), published July 2007
Daughter of the Wind (#9 La Fille du Vent), published July 2009
The Time Spiral (#11 La Spirale du temps), published January 2008
The Prey and the Ghost (#12 La Proie et l’ombre), published July 2008
The Dragon of Hong Kong (#16 Le Dragon de Hong Kong), published July 2010
The Morning of the World (#17 Le Matin du Monde), published June 2011

If you can read in French, all the volumes are still available for purchase. One way or the other, if you enjoy solid female characters, diversity and Science Fiction, I highly recommend this comic book series.

And since I saw Pacific Rim, I want a movie or television adaptation made with Rinko Kikuchi portraying Yoko because she would be absolutely perfect for the part!

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