Monday, January 25, 2010

Manga Mondays - not simple and All My Darling Daughters

As I've mentioned before, I enjoy stories set during the Edo Period of Japanese history which lead me to check two manga - House of Five Leaves by Natsume Ono and Ooku: The Inner Chambers by Fumi Yoshinaga. I enjoyed both series and was impressed by their creators' work to look for more manga by the them which lead me to these two stand alone volumes. Neither of these series are part of genres that I generally care for but I was hoping that the authors' work would be strong enough to be enjoyable none the less. Did I enjoy these two series? Hit the jump for my reviews and find out.

Written by Natsume Ono
Art by Natsume Ono
Adapted by Joe Yamazaki and Anne Ishhi

not simple is about the life story of a man named Ian, his search for his sister and the twists and turns his journey takes along the way. Ono tells the story in something of a non-linear manner with the story beginning with Ian's death then jumping back in time, then moving forward from there with flashbacks during the ongoing narrative.

Ian's story is a complicated one, hence the title, and a very sad one. In fact, one of the earliest parts of Ian's story we is see is after his parents have divorced and he is living with his alcoholic mother who, as we learn later, is only raising him to get back at her daughter, who is very close to Ian. This view into Ian's life sets up a lot of the story in a variety of ways.

The most immediate one is that his life isn't a particularly good one. Bad things keep happening to Ian but they are rarely because of something he did so, in a way, it seems kind of unfair to him yet, despite it all, Ian still manages to maintain something of an optimistic outlook since he still has something to look forward either in reuniting with his sister or meeting up with a few people that he has connected with along the way. This is also what helps to keep the story from getting overly depressing despite the unfortunate nature of Ian's life.

Another thing that prevents the story from being too depressing is that the it isn't really viewed through Ian's eyes. Although Ian is the main character of the story, it does center around him, a lot of the story is told through the interaction of the characters that are connected to him. Although I find this lessened my ablility to invest in and relate to Ian as a character a little, I do think it lead to a more interesting story overall because Ian becomes more like a object in his own story rather than the main character, which isn't the way most stories are told but I did enjoy the novelty of it. Now, this is not to say that Ono's work in this regard was bad and that the novelty made for it. Ono's work in this regard is fantastic but the way she tells the story makes the reader more like an observer of Ian's journey rather than someone accompanying him along the way.

There is also some nice subtlety to Ono's story at times as well. She hints at things early in the story in way that you can see where she is going with but she never comes right out says it until later in the story. I liked this since it helped to build up the kind of "spectator" aspect of the story since, although the hints are pretty strong, you can't be certain and prevents you from connecting with Ian. This subtlety also helps with the fascinating twists and turns of the story, which were the highlights of the series for me rather than the characters.

Although the characters would normally be a draw or main focus in most other stories similar to this one, I found them to be of secondary interest compared to the actual story Ono. The characters were more like parts of a whole and the story was the most important aspect of the book. This is not to say that the characters are not interesting or well developed, they are, but the strange and compelling stories that Ono tells were all of the most fascinating parts of the book.

Although Ian's story is sad and bizarre one, Ono does end the book on a positive note, which I liked because it was both positive, as a contrast to the rest of the story, and tied back into the beginning of the book and kind of brought the story full circle.

Ono's art is wonderful and has a deceptive and elegant simplicity to it, which you can see in an online preview of chapter one of the book. There is also minimalistic quality to her work but she tells a lot with it. The characters are very expressive, particularly their faces, and Ono also does excellent work with their body language.

Although Ono's art is a more simple style with it's outward appearance, she still conveys a lot with it which is a testament to her skills as a storyteller. There are a lot of subtexts to the art, particularly with the characters, that help to re-enforce the story in ways that are not conveyed with the characters dialogue.

Verdict - Buy It. A fascinating and intriguing tale about one man's strange and unfortunate life.

Written by Fumi Yoshinaga
Art by Fumi Yoshinaga
Adaptation by John Werry

All My Darling Daughters stars Yukiko Kisaragi and is about the turn her life backs when her mother, a recent cancer survivor, marries a man who is younger that Yukiko. Although Yukiko is the main character, the series is more like an anthology of short stories that are connected to one another, usually through Yukiko one way or another.

The series is a very character driven one and Yoshinaga does a wonderful job of bringing them to life. The characters are easy to get a handle on in a short amount of time and are very engaging. They all feel like real people and Yoshinaga does not really exaggerate their personalities in cliched ways in order to create more drama. Yes, each of the characters have their own quirks and peculiarities but they are ones that you could image real people having.

The characters also work and play off of each other pretty well. This not only allows for some interesting drama in the story but there are also plenty of comedic moments as well. What makes All My Darling Daughters a treat to read is the fact that Yoshinaga not only makes the characters interesting and engaging but she also manages to balance the drama surrounding the characters very well while adding some comedy to create some lighter moments as well.

As I mentioned before, there is not one main plot line that runs through out the series but most of the stories are connected to Yukiko in one way or the other and I do like the anthology like feel of the stories. There are some connecting themes, such as parent/child relationships or youthful ideals clashing with the reality of being an adult, and characters but each story does also work well on their own, for the most part, and offer some nice diversity while still generally working with similar material. I do love the diversity combined with the sense of cohesion that Yoshinaga brought to the series.

The art is also very enjoyable. Yoshinaga is a very skilled artist who is able to convey a lot with her character work, particularly with the body language and facial that she uses with the them. Her character work only enhances the story she is telling and is so good that you can tell what the characters and thinking at times, even without the text. She also handles the comedic and dramatic moments very well and is also able to transition between the two easily. I also enjoyed the exaggerations she uses for the comedic moments a lot mostly because they are a good contrast with the way here characters normally look. Her storytelling is also great and the stories flow very well because of that.

Verdict - Must Read. A wonderful series that tells some moving stories with thoroughly engaging characters.

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Ivan said...

I don't usually pick up manga, but this post made me interest. Nice reviews.

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