Shunju Aono – Viz – 2013 – 5 volumes

I’m glad this finished up in 5 volumes.  I was never quite sure what to make of this.  My roommate loved it, and found it inspirational.  I’m not sure what to make of that, either.  He’s too young for a mid-life crisis.

The other volumes aside, this one was really touching.  It’s not so much about Shizuo as it is the other people in his life this time.  The first part of the volume talks about his friend, Miyata, who opened a bakery to try and be close to his young son, from whom he was separated.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but God, that was really sad.  And shocking.  That it was so depressing and kind of a regular, unremarkable thing was what made it hit home for me.

Similarly, the final two chapters, told from Shizuo’s daughter’s perspective, were sad for the same reason.  They were just depressing, but in an average, everyday kind of way.  Again, I think it was the depressing realism that made it so hard to read.  I liked ending the volume/series this way, too, since we’re never sure what Shizuo’s daughter thinks of anything he does.

Honestly, we still kinda don’t.  But it was still a nice way to end the series.

Does Shizuo get published?  Well, this series has always been about the journey.

Again, I’m still not sure what the… tone of this series was supposed to be.  Funny?  Depressing?  Awkward?  Inspirational?  Autobiographical?

But it was something.  Something worth reading.  Will everyone appreciate its special genius?  Probably not.  But if you get a hankering for a depressing 5-volume series about a mid-life crisis, this is definitely your series.  I’m glad I found it.

Shunju Aono – Viz – 2011 – 4+ volumes

This continues to be a bizarrely compelling mix of deeply depressing and strangely motivational, as well as slightly too easy to relate to for its own good. Or maybe that’s just me. I have had both classmates and coworkers who are Shizuo.

Shizuo, after getting wound up over praise from his previous editor, gets a new editor who tells him flat out to quit. Shizuo is crushed. Genuinely crushed. It’s hard to tell with him, since he seems to take so little seriously and shrugs off criticism very easily. But having his editor tell him flat out that he should quit is a blow that not even Shizuo wants to face.

He gets depressed and carries out some self-destructive behavior, but his best and longtime friend stops him and forces him to think about what to do next. His friend has recently followed his dream of becoming a baker, inspired by Shizuo’s dream of becoming a manga artist, and is apparently doing quite well. He seems to be getting along better with his estranged son, too. In the middle of his euphoric living of his dreams, he encourages Shizuo the same way Shizuo encouraged him, and Shizuo goes back to his editor for another chance. This is heartwarming, in its way, but its rendered in the extremely spare visual and dialogue style of this series, so the reader is left to pick up on most of it. To Aono’s credit, it’s all there, though. The spareness is what makes this series so bizarre and ambiguous in places.

Sometimes to its detriment. It takes a volume like this to convince the reader Shizuo really and truly is serious about becoming a manga artist.

There are two flashbacks in this volume. One is the story of how Shizuo and his friend met, which is just about as bizarre, vaguely funny, vaguely sad, and vaguely sweet as the main story is. It’s not even really a noteworthy story. There’s some fighting, an attempted runaway, and a makeup scene with parents. There’s nothing extraordinary about it, and it runs exactly how you would expect it to. But even so, it’s endearing. I can’t explain it. And it upsets its own tone at the very end, in a very Shizuo-like way, by randomly cutting several years into the future and showing a page where Shizuo tells his friend his girlfriend is pregnant and he’s getting married. With no connection to the previous flashback, and no clue how Shizuo landed a girlfriend in the first place.

The other flashback is about the editor, and why she’s so hard on Shizuo. Her story is just sad, and I couldn’t tell if the saddest part played out in the present, or it was a memory that she thought over when she realized how harsh she was being on Shizuo.

But, at the end, there’s another manga contest, and how the outcome affects Shizuo is the cliffhanger into the next volume. There’s also a bizarre bonus comic that claims to be about a real singer, though my roommate doubts the authenticity of both the singer and the “concert pamphlet” that this comic appeared in. The intention behind it is equally funny to me either way, and the ambiguity is definitely part of the charm in this series.

But it’s easy to miss, and definitely not for everyone. But it can be inspiring, to those looking for reason in its pages. Shizuo, lazy as he is, is wonderful at motivation.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Shunju Aono – Viz – 2011 – 4+ volumes

I’m deeply conflicted when I read this series. I’m not sure if I find it inspiring or depressing. Is it funny or sad? Is Shizuo some sort of genius, or horribly lazy? Or is he just an average guy that believes?

But that’s the magic of I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow.

I’m not sure how many people this can or does appeal to. I read it with a sort of morbid fascination. My roommate loves it. It’s probably his fault I see any good in it at all, but sometimes, it also sneaks up on me.

The ambiguity can be hard to deal with. For instance, at the end of this volume, Shizuo’s editor finally approves a story. It’s a story about aging, and how you’re never too old to change your life, because in theory you still have a lot of it left to live. This inspires someone to get a sex change. I can’t tell if this is supposed to be a joke or not. Is the series that mean-spirited? If not, it’s kind of a sweet thing that Shizuo did.

Shizuo does inspire others to greatness. His best friend is obviously unhappy with his life, and undergoes his own major change. Shizuo finally gets tired of not being taken seriously, and really buckles down in this volume.

But then again, there are chapters where Shizuo has dreams about his younger selves berating him for being a loser. Then a tiny version of himself at 11 spurs him on to create more manga. There are scenes of him screwing up at work in the most obvious ways, but these lead to disciplinary actions that make him so angry he draws more manga. His friends berate him. His editor cuts him down over and over again. Still, he draws. He makes a smidge of progress.

And that’s why it’s inspiring, in its way. Shuzuo is pretty average, and a little lazy, but he has a dream. And he’s going to follow it. And that’s probably the great thing about this series. In the end, as ridiculous and ambiguous as it gets, it somehow always finds its way back to that.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Shunji Aono – Viz – 2010 – 4+ volumes

This is… this is a weird series. Much like the main character’s life, it seems a little aimless and happens across all the plot points it addresses, but it’s still very compelling. I’ve read criticisms of some slice-of-life stories along the lines of them being mundane to the point of making you want to put them down and live your own life. This one has that effect, but not because it’s uninteresting. No, I felt a little bad for staying in and reading a comic because I felt just one step closer to Shizuo that way.

Bizarrely, I think Shizuo’s lifestyle isn’t always criticized by the characters. He has certain outlooks that sound almost positive (living for the day, liking yourself, stuff like that), but on the other hand, he is terrible at what he does and doesn’t work very hard at achieving his dream of drawing a manga. If possible, that’s downplayed even more in this volume. He does visit editors twice to deliver scripts, but the characters have mostly ceased talking about it, including Shizuo himself. Usually, his lifestyle reads more negatively in the context of his father and daughter’s company and positively when he is in the company of Shuichi, the twenty-something he befriended last volume. Granted, he lives with Shuichi and sponges off him most of the volume. Shuichi is mostly stoic and gives off a somewhat angry air, but also seems fond of Shizuo, and Shizuo somehow gives him a lot of good advice. Most of which he needs to hear.

I love Shuichi, by the way. It’s almost impossible to get a bead on what he’s thinking or how he is reacting in any situation, but I love the way he contrasts so well with Shizuo’s situation. He’s got no direction and can’t hold a steady job, and neither can Shizuo’s situation. He can’t hold a steady job, and neither can Shizuo, but it bothers Shuichi that his life doesn’t have direction, whereas Shizuo sees this as a positive quality.

I couldn’t get a handle on the tone of the story, whether the portrayal of Shizuo was supposed to be positive or negative throughout (I think it’s neither, in the end, I don’t think the storytelling passes judgment on Shizuo, you’re meant to draw your own conclusions), but even among all the meandering, there are still genuinely touching moments. Shizuo and his father really don’t get along, and in a very clever transition (we see his father praying at an altar after Shizuo falls (?!) out a window), a flashback starts where we find out about both of them about 25 years ago, along with Shizuo’s mother. Their relationship was much the same, with both antagonizing one another, but the moments of love were pretty extraordinary. Between father and son the love is awkward and strange, but still there, and both clearly love Shizuo’s mother.

I like it. I like it a lot. It is strange beyond words, and I can see how a lot of people would read it and not know what to make of it, but I do love it for being a slice-of-life story, and also for leaving its themes ambiguous. It’s not something that leaves me with a burning desire to pick up the next volume immediately, but that’s not its nature. All the same, I’ll definitely keep coming back for it.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Shunju Aono – Viz – 2010 – 3+ volumes

I don’t exactly know what I was expecting from this, but the synopsis about a middle-aged man who wants to be a manga artist coupled with the title of the series made me think I’d be in for a treat.

Have you read Solanin?  If you haven’t, you really should.  Inio Asano is great for portraying very realistic struggles with identity, death, and purpose.  This series is like Solanin, except less triumphant.  The main character has less of a drive to succeed than the girl had at the end of Solanin.  I’ll Give It My All is also more of a comedy, except very often it can be just as depressing as Solanin when real life intrudes on Shizuo’s fantasy.

It starts off a lot like Solanin, with 41-year-old Shizuo quitting his boring office job simply because he grew weary of doing the same thing every day for 20 years.  He lives with a pessimistic father and supportive daughter, and it doesn’t take him very long at all to decide that being a manga artist is definitely what he wants to do with the rest of his life.  He doesn’t seem to give the decision much thought at all, but once he’s made it, for as flaky as he is otherwise, he sticks to it like glue.

The first chapter is a little more optimistic than I was expecting, with Shizuo given an incentive to continue on the very last page.  It deteriorates after that.  Shizuo never doubts his ability or desire to become a manga artist, but he finds himself in frequent “slumps” that require him to be outside playing baseball with children, out drinking with his friends all night, enjoying pornography, or ladies, or wasting money and time in other ways.  The formula for the chapters are pretty simple, with Shizuo working himself into a problem (usually of his own making) and finding inspiration in the few words offered by his daughter, so that the chapter finishes on a high note.

The tone… is strange.  Shizuo is clearly not a “winner.”  No commentary is offered for what he thinks of situations, or what other characters think of what he’s saying, and a lot of what’s going on is Shizuo offering advice to others that is just so bad that the pause is there while everyone digests what’s going on.  Usually the advice is offered alongside a terrible habit Shizuo himself has, for instance the lecture he gives one of his co-workers about picking up ladies after the co-worker lets him know he should bathe more frequently, or the litany of advice he offers a young man who is struggling to find a job.

Shizuo does draw manga, it’s just not very good.  One of the highlights is the nicest editor on earth who breaks the bad news to Shizuo in such a way that Shizuo thinks himself a genius (for instance, after submitting a horror story, a romance, and a bancho story, the editor tells him he is a master of all genres and simply needs to find his perfect subject matter).  He also occasionally helps people, such as in the last story.  But… it’s never clear what other people think of Shizuo, if they’re taking him seriously.  Probably they aren’t, but the ambiguity makes the situation so awkward that it’s hard not to relate to Shizuo, or at least feel a little embarrassed for him.  The awkwardness is what pushes this firmly into the realm of slice-of-life story, unlikely and creepy though it may be.

The other thing I liked about it is the relationship Shizuo has with his teenage daughter.  He knows nothing about her and can barely say two words to her, but she has no problem smiling and humoring her father, and is his biggest fan when it comes to his work.  It’s always her that puts him back on track.  She’s a wonderful character, and her positive influence is probably one of the key things that make the chapters work, because otherwise there would be an awful lot of doom and gloom.

I liked it.  It’s not an addictive read, but I loved the portrayal of the middle-aged under-achiever, and I liked the way he stuck to his dream while simultaneously failing at it.  For all its funny jokes, it struck me as pretty realistic.  Part of me wonders if it’s semi-autobiographical since I noticed that Shizuo’s first short story has the same title as Aono’s debut work.  It’s worth checking out though, and I would recommend giving it a look at the Ikki site.  Don’t sweat it if you can’t start from the beginning, the chapters do a pretty good job of standing by themselves.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.