This premier work from an author celebrated for his portrayals of today's youth in Japan offers an invigorating picture of young men rising up, unarmed, against cruel reality. A series of eight interconnected tales, it follows a year in the lives of four 14-year-olds—Naoto, Dai, Jun, and the narrator Tetsuro—set against the backdrop of Tsukishima, a bayside district of Tokyo that runs the gamut from impoverished wooden tenements to sparkling high-rise apartments.
Naoto, the son of a wealthy family, suffers from Werner syndrome, a premature aging condition; Dai is an overweight child troubled by his penniless father's drunken violence; Jun, a gifted student, is the foursome's natural leader; and Tetsuro is average in every respect. The four boys encounter all sorts of events as they ride their bicycles through Tsukishima, helping one another and growing up bit by bit.
Their sexual awakening forms an axis running through all the works. In Bikkuri purezento (Surprise Present), when Naoto celebrates his birthday in the hospital, his three friends send him a visitor: a teenage girl engaged in enjo kosai, or "compensated dating." Jun spends time on a website for connecting with lonely housewives in Juyonsai no joji (An Affair at Age Fourteen), coming to know a 34-year-old woman suffering domestic violence at the hands of her husband; he determines to help her, with his three friends to back him up. Sorairo no jitensha (The Sky-Blue Bicycle) sees the three friends rescuing Dai, suspected of murder after he throws his drunken, violent father out of the house to freeze to death on a bitterly cold night. In 2009 Ishida followed this work with 6teen, portraying the four boys two years later.