not simple

January 16, 2010

Natsume Ono – Viz – 2010 – 1 volume

Holy… just… what?  That was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever read.  Also, probably one of the best.  They just don’t write them like this.

The narrative is a little strange, starting at the very end and then going all the way back through the life story of Ian, and then the epilogue is a major event that was skipped in the main narrative.  Ian’s days are numbered, and for more reasons than it first seems.  Actually, not an awful lot about this story is as it seems.  It will start off with disturbing subject matter, and then somehow twist it so that it gets even more disturbing when we learn the truth of a situation.  Themes of incest, sexual assault, murder, alcoholism, STDs, prison sentences, divorce, death, and child abuse come up at various points in the story, and are dealt with in a more serious and somehow offhanded way than I’ve ever seen.

Ian himself carries the story.  I don’t really want to describe the plot since it will spoil it, but it’s enough to say that it’s simply the sad life of Ian.  Ian is a quiet boy of few words that has the most terrible things happen to him, but he takes everything as it comes without a sound.  Usually the points of these stories is to rail against injustice, but Ian doesn’t do that.  It wouldn’t do Ian much good anyway, since he has very little say about what happens to him as a child, and has no say whatsoever what happens to those around him when he gets older.  But despite all the terrible things, there’s something very solid in Ian.  People seem to find strength in him, and his sole friend describes him as being upbeat and pure, but not simple, despite how rarely Ian speaks or shows emotion.  Because he is quiet, he tends to be a loner, and the only people that speak to him are relatives, a friend of his sister, and one man who decides to be a friend to him.  Well, there’s a second friend too, but it’s the first man, a reporter who meets Ian when he becomes a track star, that stays his friend until the end.  He doesn’t have many words or any comfort to offer Ian, and others think that he may just be in love… but it doesn’t seem anything like that.  He’s just… there for Ian, as he searches the United States state by state for his missing sister.  He’s a friend.  He also eventually writes a novel about Ian’s life, which is supposedly the story we’re reading.  Eventually there is someone that Ian may be falling in love with, but there are various reasons it can never be, and the reasons are unfortunately not the most obvious ones.

It’s just a depressing read.  It becomes more and more of a downer as the story continues, and it finishes on the saddest note imaginable.  The sad note is something we know from the first chapter, but it becomes even more crushing when we find out everything behind it.  But the nicest thing that happens to Ian is saved for last, so the story doesn’t end on an entirely bleak note.  And the story uses all this sadness for positive ends, because the themes are ultimately about being happy with what you have and keeping your loved ones close.  It’s a bleak way of saying it, but still excellent.  I love stories like this (though I hesitate to call this “realistic,” like the works of Inio Asano), and I think this made a complete Natsume Ono convert out of me.  I am very much looking forward to her other works coming out in English (Ristorante Paradiso, Gente, and House of Five Leaves), but I have to say, I’m not sure how any of them will ever surpass the power of this story.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.