What a Wonderful World 2

October 12, 2009

Inio Asano – Vz – 2009 – 2 volumes

Wow.  I like this.  I like it a lot.  It’s just… it’s overwhelmingly positive.  Even when it has no right to be.  It’s got drama, and sadness, but in the end, the characters always find something to be happy about, which is just about the best message a story could possibly have.  I know I like to read soapy dramas, but I love seeing that kind of thing balanced out here.

In the end, I think I did like these stories better than Solanin.  Solanin was somewhat positive (though very, very sad) and had character development, but I can’t help but love the number of ways these stories illustrating… well, the characters just coming to terms with their lives and being happy, even if it doesn’t seem like they should be.  Guy who just lost his part-time job and fell down the stairs?  Well, he’s still alive, and so is that stray dog he saved the other day.  Guy who died unsatisfied because he only went from job to job looking for something more to his life, rather than just enjoying it?  He comes back to life satisfied, because… well, he’s alive again, and his girlfriend forgives his fickleness concerning work, and that’s enough.  Boy whose girlfriend succombed to a disease which makes a person like a vegetable for the rest of their lives?  He still has her, and she still appreciates the cherry blossoms, and hey, he just got a new part-time job.

As one of the characters put it, the characters in the stories aren’t heroes, just background characters.  And they’re all ultimately satisfied with that.  I thought the last chapters were especially appropriate ways to end the book.  The character who experienced his own death, then was given another chance by the shinigami, the little black dog that appears in almost all the stories in this volume that seems to mourn the death of the homeless man, and the last story, with the girl who “caught a disease” and no longer responded to events in the world… that story in particular was quite touching since her boyfriend simply takes it in stride, and cares for her and does what he can anyway.  We never seem him despair or complain.  He just does what he can to make her happy, including trips out to see the cherry blossoms and dinner conversation she is completely unaware of.

There’s not much else I can say in praise of these stories.  The simple pleasure I got from always reaching the end and seeing the bright side of the situation is one that I probably can’t adequately express, but just know it was fantastic.  I am forever Inio Asano’s fan now, and will be keeping an eye out for any future work.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

What a Wonderful World 1

October 10, 2009

Inio Asano – Viz – 2009 – 2 volumes

This series consists of a pair of volumes full of short one-shot stories about the lives of average 20-somethings.  Even more than josei, this genre of stories about young people not doing anything in particular is one that is infinitely fascinating to me, and I am desperate to see more work just like this.

The first story in this volume is about an office worker who decides to quit his office job when he sees a group of his friends has (sorta) made it big in the indie music scene.  This sounds like it’s going somewhere, and I was suspicious at first, but it ends with the man deciding to go back to work when he realizes that the dream that his friends finally captured turned into reality as soon as they got it.  It’s an interesting lesson, and it was very understated in the story itself.

The fact that the story built up a music career that never actually happened made me think immediately of Solanin, a large one-volume work that shares the theme of 20-somethings not doing anything in particular.  I was very suspicious of the similarity, because they were exactly alike.  Then I realized the same artist drew them both, and felt really silly.

Between Solanin and this volume of short stories, I preferred Solanin, one of my favorites of last year.  I enjoy the themes immensely in both, but Solanin came out on top because the story had time to develop and ride through things like hope, stagnation, love, loss, and career ups and downs with the same set of characters, which made the themes that much more effective.  All of those themes are on display here, but they happen to characters I’m not as attached to, so their impact is lessened.  They are all still quite good, though.

I struggled through the entire volume to come up with connections between the stories.  They may not actually be there, but it sure felt like they either led from one to the other, or characters from one occasionally made a cameo in another.  The connections between them aren’t important at all, but the brain enjoys finding patterns, so there is another maddening layer of enjoyment to be had, should you so desire.

The stories themselves… hm.  Most are about the characters reflecting on their unremarkable lives.  Some find it lacking, but most find it lacking and then realize that it is exactly what they want, and they are very happy.  This is precisely why I love these stories, and Solanin as well.  There is no goal.  There is nothing remarkable about these people.  They are not passing their entrance exams, they are not climbing the corporate ladder, they are not conquering goals or chasing after a lost love.  They are just living their lives.  They have the same problems I do, and possess the same aspirations, which is precisely nothing.  And they came to the same conclusions I have: that it’s damn easy to appreciate what you have in life, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.

Several of the characters seem to be conptemplating suicide, but nobody actually goes through it.  Some stories play out among high school students, some are entrance exam ronin for two or three years running, some are people holding down jobs or trying to hold down jobs.  They run the gamut of themes, but they all share… well, some of the stuff I’ve already discussed.  The best thing about all of these is that they don’t rub the themes and morals in your face.  The characters quietly come to their own conclusions, most of which are not shared with the reader, but are easily interpreted.  I loved this about the stories, too.

There are some strong symbols in some of the stories, too.  In one of the first ones, a girl trying to decide if she wants to get back together with her friends/former bandmates goes home after meeting one to find that her apartment building has burned down.  She then lapses into a fantasy about her poor pet turtle stripping out of its shell and running from the building, because that’s what it had to do in the end.  The image of the fleeing turtle is kind of a powerful one, even if it doesn’t really have any strong… associations in the story itself.  The one after this is about a bullied girl who is followed around by a talking shinigami crow that insists that she wants to kill herself.  The crow only goes away when she stands up to her classmates by pulling off a dangerous and stupid stunt.  Not a traditional method of confrontation, and I’m not even sure the results are what the character wanted, but she is happy in the end.

My favorite story was the last one in the volume, called “Syrup.”  It was about three boys who had not passed college entrance exams for two or three years in a row.  After awhile, one admits that he’s giving up on his dreams of being a professional skater and is taking over his family business.  The other gets angry, and the two fight when the first insists that the second’s dreams of being a photographer are just pipe dreams.  The next day, the third boy, named Syrup (after his habit of consuming cough syrup), speaks to the photographer, telling him that it doesn’t really matter what comes of dreams, what matters is the present, and it makes no difference in the present whether or not your dreams are actually attainable as long as they’re there to aspire to.  It’s one of the healthiest views of “dreams” I’ve ever seen in a manga.  Syrup’s ultimate fate after this is deeply disturbing, however.

In short, Inio Asano comes through again with realistic portrayals of young people living life in an unremarkable way.  There is nothing heroic, adventurous, or romantic about these stories.  They just are.  It makes me want to talk at length about the escapist nature of manga, and of the entertainment value of these non-escapist stories, but I will refrain.  Just know that everything Inio Asano writes is about as close as I’ve ever seen manga get to reality, and there’s something pretty incredible about that.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.