As expected, I could not resist the temptation of comics on my shelf waiting to be read. I’m still working on the Murakami, but I took a bit of a breather to read est em’s Kono Tabi wa. The title is a bit of word play with “kono tabi” meaning both “this trip” and “this occasion” or “this time”. I’m assuming it’s intentional since the title story in particular seems to play on the idea of the journey and a time in life. And the title is written in hiragana rather than kanji, which would limit the meaning to just one. Another translation problem for me to play around with in my head that is probably not as interesting for you as it is for me. So!
This is the first non-Boys’ Love (BL) collection from an author known for her work in BL, with works in English including Seduce Me After the Show and Red Blinds the Foolish. I actually really like her BL work, mostly for her style of drawing, which is really quite minimal. Not a lot of backgrounds or details, but somehow she keeps everything vivid and distinct with just a few lines here, a few there. I also like how her BL is really centred on the relationships between the protagonists rather than the sexy times. I do BL translations and to be honest, I get a bit bored with the obviousness of the sexy times in so many books.
In fact, it’s in that connection that I interviewed est em back in the fall (an interview which I am thinking about posting here, although I did it as background for an article I’m writing, but I think she says some really good things about her work which readers might find interesting), which is when I heard about this book. It had just come out and she mentioned it as an example of non-BL work she was doing. So of course, I went out and found it so I could see if I like her more when she does non-BL stuff.
And I don’t think I do. Which is not to say that I like her less or anything. This book delivers what she is best at, minimalist art depicting insights into relationships between people. The six stories are really just captured moments that make the reader feel a certain poignancy or longing or sadness. Snapshots of where people go wrong with each other or where they go right and are embarrassed by it.
est em has a good handle on how people really talk. Dialogue feels so natural; I never feel like words are out of place in a character’s mouth. Like in the story “Susuki”, in a fight about the fact that family black sheep Mika is pregnant, her older sister snaps, “…we all thought you’d end up like this!” and it rings so perfectly true. It’s so hurtful and you don’t need to see the wonderfully expressive close-up of Mika in the next panel to feel how those words hurt her. Or in the title story “Kono Tabi wa”, Yumi hurries back to her hometown with her husband to see her dying grandmother, but they are too late. Later, she tells him that with her grandmother gone, she feels like she has nowhere to go home to. He says, “If you want somewhere to go home to…”, but cuts himself off, with the thought that he probably sounds too put on. And he’s right. If he had actually finished that sentence, it would have been too storybook. But wanting to say and stopping himself awkwardly is so believable.
During our interview, she told me that she was working on a piece with a centaur as the main character. Not fantasy or anything, just a centaur in our world. Given her gift for making the everyday momentous, I’m really looking forward to seeing her bring a little bit of the impossible into the equation.