And yet again, I have The Beguiling to thank for something fun to read. Perhaps a little indirectly since I did not pick this one up at the store (although they do have a selection of books in Japanese, this was not one of them), but rather owner Peter emailed me out of the blue one day to ask if I had read this. And I had not. And it looked pretty good. At the very least, I fell in love with the awkward bubble letters of the title on the cover; they just seemed to promise such good, somehow honest things inside. But maybe I am biased about awkward bubble letters since this is basically how I have always done them. I like the extra lines. It’s like seeing the guts of the letters somehow.
Plus what is even happening on the cover? Giant shadow person, enormous teddy bear, trees, trees, trees, random birds flapping by, high school girl ass over tea kettle. So yeah, not long after being asked if I had read it, I was busy ordering it and looking forward to figuring out what it all meant.
After reading it, I still don’t know where the birds come into it all, but I think I’ve got the rest sorted. It all starts innocuously enough, with Mina Kimura being asked out to the cinema by her boss at her part-time job at the supermarket. When she refuses, he stands before her and wordlessly rips up the tickets he had already bought. In the next panel, he fires her. So as a reader, I’m sort of primed at this point to prepare myself for a girl fighting back against a system that has wronged her kind of story.
But it turns out to mostly be a story in which weird guys do weird things to/around Kimura and she tries somehow to deal without getting hurt or having to get too involved. On her way home after being fired, her now former coworker leaps out of the bushes at her on a deserted street flashing a teddy bear sweater to teach her a lesson about street safety. And also to perv on her after his ambush sends her tumbling down a hill, at the bottom of which she has a weird conversation with the teddy bear. The coworker then tries to get her to practice defending herself from such ambushes using the teddy bear. She flees.
And runs right into the next weird encounter. A classmate on a crowded train who forces her to share a seat in the most bizarre, contortionist fashion. And from there, she bounces to a teacher who takes her on a seriously nutbar journey in the name of a supplemental lecture. A classmate who makes her push his homemade “destruct” button before leaping out a window. A younger boy with writhing, living bedhead who simply must have the lunch she just bought. A guy who thinks about nothing but how many people will show up at his funeral. Each chapter is a new incident with a new weirdo, all of which seem unconnected, just moments in Kimura’s life as she lives it. But the last chapter ties everything together, surprisingly, into a single narrative that is deeply creepy.
And given that each chapter is a self-contained incident, the volume works both as a collection of short stories and as a book. It’s an interesting approach for a younger manga artist, given the fickle nature of serialization. The bio in the back notes that this is her first serialized story, and it’s done in such a way that it could end at any time without really changing the story, but still ends up feeling like a complete story when collected into a single volume like this.
And the book is printed in a lovely chocolate (which I’m assuming the original magazine was not). Or maybe it just looks chocolate because of the lack of screen tone? I’m doubting my eyes right now. Either way, the darks are not quite black, which lends a softness that really suits the contents. And I am just going to come right out and say it: I really prefer manga that goes easy on/avoids entirely the screen tones. I know screen tone’s basically an essential for manga, but I love seeing it used judiciously to fill in an otherwise entirely hand-drawn comic like this one. Most of the shading and texture in these pages is drawn by hand, with screen tone saved for skies and shadows in parking lots. And it makes the story feel more intimate, more personal.
Nishimura also does some great things with panels, which feel very Western (although I can’t think of any examples of Western comics like this? Maybe it just feels Western because I don’t see it in manga very often?). She carves panels out of other panels, creating indents and layers within a page, revealing smaller scenes within the larger one. I also love her flat, fantastical drawing style. Everything seems not quite real, all the time.
But file this one to the “will never be published in English” folder. It’s just too non-manga, in the sense that the word is used in English. It’s magic realism in a hand-drawn style with little moments of humor and weirdness, the kind of thing you’d find at a zine fair and you’d hope that a publisher somewhere would recognize how good it was and actually publish it. But it’s from Japan and that makes it all the more of a hard sell to North American publishers. Weird just sadly does not sell. I hope it sells in Japan at least, so that Nishimura gets to draw more books. Because I really liked this one.