Coppers: Natsume Ono

coppersThe shelf of unread books is a mysterious place. For one thing, it’s no longer just one shelf. The many, many books that I buy cannot be contained by one shelf any longer and have slowly but steadily been dribbling down to the shelf below, so that now the unread books occupy two shelves, along with the tops of all the books on the other shelves. Yes, I have one of those bookcases so stuffed with books you’re afraid to get near it for fear that it might choose that moment to collapse under the combined weight of those pages and injure you in the process.

The real mystery of the shelf of unread books, though, is that some books will languish there for years, while others are plucked up again almost as soon as they are put down, read quickly and sent to their new home on a more permanent shelf or to the give-away box. Some of the books that languish are ones that I really do want to read right away, but can’t for various reasons, like Neal Stephenson’s Reamde which is jammed onto the shelf of unread books due to its sheer length. I know once I start it, I’ll have to read it non-stop and I have to read a bunch of other things for work, leaving me sadly without the luxury of dedicating a couple weeks to a single book. Some day… 

But some, like Coppers, languish there simply because they get lost in the noise, because I get so used to seeing that spine there that I simply stop noticing it when I am selecting my next reading choice. I have no idea when I bought this book, although the copyright page says that it is the third printing, issued in 2009, so I suppose it must have been after that. That is basically all I can say about when it came to live on the shelf of unread books, where it has sat for years possibly, wedged in between the latest volume of Ooku and Lawrence Durrell’s The Black Book.

And when I started reading it, I almost put it back in its long-held position. Ono tries to tackle too much at once in the beginning of this book about cops in New York. I felt overwhelmed at the onslaught of characters, all cops working at the 51st Precinct in the Bronx. So many katakana names! And because of this rush of introductions that starts the book off, I had trouble figuring out who was who throughout. I get that Ono’s trying to give an overview of the entire precinct and the characters we’ll be encountering throughout the series at the beginning, but it just felt like too much.


Once you move past the initial introductory chapter, the book settles into a story per chapter kind of style, with each chapter focussing on a different cop introduced at the beginning of the book. The seemingly lone female cop (I didn’t see any other lady cops, but the androgynous nature of Ono’s drawings might have tricked me into thinking a lady was a man) gets a chapter early on dealing with her mother and femininity, which was both interesting and frustrating. In the sense that of course, the woman cop has to confront the issue of how to be a “proper” woman while still being a good cop, while the rest of the cops just get to be cops. But naturally, being a woman cop, you must have to deal with this kind of thing, so it did feel honest. But compared with the rest of the chapters devoted to guy cops and their career aspirations, it felt a bit sad, like even in Japanese manga, you cannot escape the fact that being a woman makes everything you do about female-ness.

sigh is right.

The art in this volume is very much that of not simple, the cartoonish characters, the big eyes, the delightfully awkward block hands. The panel layout is very cinematic, as in other work of Ono’s from this period, such as Gad Sfortunato. And like Gad, it can be confusing as she pulls you from jump to jump, through time and place with little to no explanation. It works better in this volume though, perhaps because of the association of cops with cop shows and the tense cut action of said shows. Although that said, there were still times when I had to flip back a few pages to double check exactly what was happening.


About halfway through, though, the book really hits its stride and I enjoyed each page more and more, right up until the end. The characters start to come alive and the personality quirks that seemed forced in the first half becoming charming and meaningful in the second half. Suddenly, Tyler’s desire to know the neighbourhood and the people in it makes sense, and together with his unwilling partner Aaron, you develop a respect for his style of policing. The deli next door to the precinct that seemed like a flimsy excuse for a story at the beginning becomes a believable gathering place for the cops from the precinct. The admin cop Hausmann becomes more than a shy nerd sitting at a table.

A couple of the chapter-stories take the reader to some sad places, but for the most part, these are fairly lighthearted takes on the lives of a group of cops working out of a precinct in the Bronx, with a running commentary on the importance of doughnuts. As a Canadian, I can attest to that fact. You cannot overlook the importance of doughnuts.


  1. I was personally discouraged by the first few chapters in the same way that you were. Is it try to be a police procedural? It felt like that in the first few chapters and then… suddenly, it’s closer to a feature on their daily lives. I’ve considered this as one of the “weaker” Ono titles because it’s one of those where I think her theme didn’t match her style.

    1. Now that you mention it, that is exactly what bothered/confused me about the first chapters, the way it feels like it is trying to be a police procedural but fails in many ways. The shift towards their lives rather than their jobs made me enjoy the book more, but such a major shift in focus halfway through makes for a weak title indeed. The whole thing would’ve been better if she had just decided to focus on their everyday lives right from the start, instead of changing tack halfway through.

  2. I really wanted to read this book when I discovered Natsume Ono’s House Of Five Leaves in French. As French, I find it exotic to talk about cops in NY, you know, the powerful image of the Hollywood movies (it can’t be helped when one grew up with the movies on tv…).

    I’ve just read Danza which has been translated by Kodansha Comics and I loved the story about the cops, I guess it’s something like a pilot of Coppers. Now I hope for a translation of Coppers by Kodansha as well.

    I loved the way Natsume Ono focus not on the hollywoodian cops figures, but about their personnality and their lives. As in House Of Five Leaves, people want to know more about their colleagues/friends as they see each other everyday. As you talk about the female cop, it’s not often that Natsume Ono deals with women.

    Thanks again for all your articles.

    1. As a Canadian, I completely understand about the powerful image of the Hollywood version of New York police. I have little to no idea about the various things Canadian police have to do, but I know all about American Miranda rights. (Which is actually kind of ridiculous.)

      I haven’t read Danza and to be honest, I probably won’t. I think I want something else from Ono and these cop stories did not quite do it for me. The one thing I did really enjoy about her cops is exactly what you said, the way she turned the focus away from their jobs. The best parts of Coppers were all when a cop let down his or her guard and was a real person for a moment.

      It’s strange that Ono’s work doesn’t often deal with women, though. Do you think this comes from her past as a BL artist or maybe just the fact that she tends to draw for seinen magazines for her non-BL work?

      And thanks for always reading! One of these days, I am going to comment on all the great things you are writing about on Errances, as soon as I feel more confident in my French writing skills. (Reading is fine, but writing is always nervous!)

      1. I enjoyed Danza. Only the last story is about cops. The other are about, mostly, father and son relationship. Plus, the second story is a science fiction story, with the slow pace of Ono, it’s worth discovering. I read some critics on Manga Worth Reading if I remember, saying that Ono’s not talking about women relationship and that’s what he/she was expecting. But Why? Only because Ono is a woman mangaka, she has to deal with women relationships as Fumi Yoshinaga did in All My Darling Daughters? I think it wasn’t fair to say so since Ono’s famous about her man-man relationships. I think Danza is very enjoyable, I loved it.

        I don’t know why Ono deals so much about men. Maybe it’s just a matter of taste (she prefers dealing about men than about women?), or maybe because of her BL work as you mentioned.

        You can comment in English, there is no problem about it :). I know how much it is difficult to write in an other language. Thank you for your support anyway, didn’t know you read the blog because it’s written in French. You seem to read many languages 🙂 (Plus, you’re a Japanese translator my god).

        PS: I even don’t really know about the French cops either. But I don’t really enjoy French movies.

      2. Okay, you’ve turned me around on Danza. I’ll pick it up when I get the chance and see if I agree with you about it.

        I’m not surprised at all to hear that someone in mangaland is surprised that a woman mangaka is drawing stories with men as the protagonists. Because women are only supposed to talk about women, of course. I only wonder about Ono and men because of her history with BL. I know that est em really loves to draw men, which is why so much of her work features men. Maybe there’s something like that going on with Ono too? Although Ono’s characters are generally fairly gender-neutral looking.

        French is something I grew up with and it’s actually embarrassing how rusty my French has gotten. It’s because I devote so much time to Japanese. Oops! I keep meaning to spend more time keeping my French up, but there are never enough hours in the day. If you have any recommendations for French comics, though, please tell me! It will be good incentive to spend more time on French. And then I will feel able to comment on your blog in French!

  3. My English is pretty rusty as well !

    About French comics… I don’t read lots of them (expensive, and I have to borrow them from the library, but I bought too many comics and manga so I have to restrain myself from the library … ) and my tastes in manga are different from my tastes in US comics and from French comics…

    I haven’t read some of them, but they are supposed to be really good (and I have to read them one day):
    – Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – Publisher: L’association – exists in one volume edition – black & white graphic novel style “indie”
    – L’ascension du haut mal by David B. – Publisher: L’association – same comment – black & white graphic novel style “indie”
    – Quai d’Orsay by Christophe Blain & Abel Lanzac – Publisher: Dargaud – a 2 volumes series which is in big format and hardcover, in colours
    – Rosalie Blum by Camille Jourdy – Publisher: Actes Sud – 3 volumes, little format in colour. Seems very interesting, want to read it…
    – Lupus by Frederik Peeters – Publisher: Atrabile – exists in one volume edition, 4 volumes normal edition – A very introspective kind of science fiction. Think this one is pretty interesting for you. Black & White, very “indie” graphic novel.
    – If you like Frederik Peeters, there is also the ongoing series Amâa which is a SF series, but not so much introspective, more normal and in colors. 2 volumes now.
    – L’Immeuble d’en face by Vanyda – Publisher: La Boîte à Bulles – exists in one volume edition, hardcover. Normal edition 3 volumes softcover. Black & white. I love this author very much, she’s very inspired by manga narration but she still keeps her French style.
    – If you like Vanyda, you should/have to try Celle que je ne suis pas, Celle que je veux être, celle que je suis which is a 3 volumes series about high school student Valentine (Dargaud). I also like L’année du dragon, you have to buy the black & white and one volume edition (Carabas). The writer is not Vanyda but her friend, Duprat. But it’s also very good. Don’t buy the color edition in 3 volumes, it doesn’t suit Vanyda to be in colour.
    – If you like Charles Burns, you can give a try at Le Roi des Mouches, a 3 volume series by Mezzo & Pyrrus. Colours. Hardcover.
    – I don’t know if it’s your style, but I love Rork by Andreas. It has been published (Le Lombard) again this year, in a 2 volume edition which is a very good edition. It’s fantastic and not so easy to understand, but I love it. Very comic-inspired and beautiful. If you love this work, you can also try Cromwell Stone in one volume edition this year (Delcourt), this one is inspired by the old engraving and very Lovecraft atmosphere, in black & white. I love this author and I also buy Capricorne and Arq, two very very very long series (19 and 18 volumes when it will end, now 16 and 15 volumes).
    – Cité 14 by Pierre Gabus and Romuald Reutimann (published by Les Humanoïdes associés), you should try the one volume collecting season 1. I really want to read this one, but still haven’t bought it. Its reputation is excellent. It’s an adventure story in a retro universe (early 20th century) with funny animals, aliens, superheroes and a very old style drawing, pretty cartoony but still very French. There is a season 2 but don’t know if it has been collected in a one volume edition yet. But it will be for sure. It’s black & white.

    I think I will stop here since there is already a very long list. But it depends on what you like reading 🙂 . French comics tend to be pretty expensive sometimes, don’t be too surprised.

    1. Wow! Thanks for the great and comprehensive list! I’ve read a couple of these artists, but these are mostly new names for me. I’ll definitely be taking this list to my very awesome local comics store and seeing if they have any of these. (They have a pretty good stock of French comics from both Québec and France.) I’ll let you know what I think of them once I get down to the business of reading!

      1. Okay 🙂 . I’ve read Lupus, all of Vanyda’s works, Persepolis (I love this one), Andreas’s works (of course) and Le roi des mouches (except the 3rd volume wich has been issued a couple of weeks ago). I’m planning to read all others. If you like Peeters, you can also try Les Pillules bleues, which is more autobiographical about AIDS. It’s pretty close to Craig Thompson’s Blanket. There is also a very serious autobiographical and very well written (and philosophical) comic called Le Journal by Neaud that is very interesting too (published by Ego comme x). I don’t really know what kind of comic you might like. You’re welcome! I do hope you’ll enjoy some of them.

        Nicolas de Crécy is a very famous artist here but I still didn’t find a work of him I liked. But you can try some of him. I’ve never read Salvatore but it seems a good start to discover his works. There also is Manu Larcenet that is pretty hot with Blast and Le Combat ordinaire. Still haven’t read them though 😦 …

      2. I actually will read pretty much anything, and I love being exposed to books that I might not have picked up on my own. I also love Persepolis, so we can’t be that different in our tastes. So recommend whatever you have enjoyed or think is good and I will check it out! You’ve given me so many new things to chase after now, which makes a bookworm like me tremendously happy!

  4. I’m sorry…. I have to add one comic, which has been very praised by the critics the past year. Haven’t read it but project to one day. It’s Polina by Bastien Vivès, a very young writer coming from blog comics field. He’s very successful and this comic about ballet looks very good. it’s black & white in hardcover. His drawing style is pretty interesting. It’s a one-shot. Published by Casterman.

    That’s all, I promise 🙂

  5. Found your blog when I was looking up information about this manga. Very impressed with your write up and this blog in general. You’re very articulate!

    I run a podcast about manga called Manga Machinations and will be talking about Coppers this week. From the looks of it, we’ve covered a couple of the same manga so I’ll make sure to mention this blog as well.

    When I get a chance I will send you some suggestions you might like as well. \

    Please keep doing what you do!


    1. Welcome! Glad you stumbled upon me and my brain. And thanks for your kind words! Do send along any suggestions for books to read when you get the chance. I’m always eager for new things to read. And thanks for mentioning me on your podcast! I hadn’t heard of Manga Machinations, but I will definitely check it out. Listening to chats about manga sounds just about perfect.

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