For their thirtieth anniversary, in addition to delightful treats like a sake set designed by Natsume Ono (the sake in which was delicious, by the way), beloved doujinshi event Comitia released three books cramjammed full of comics by a few of the many artists who have exhibited at the quarterly event over the last thirty years. And all three books are massive, which meant that I had to limit myself to just one for fear of breaking my back on the train home. Volume one clocks in at just under seven hundred pages on some pretty nice paper bound quite beautifully in a sturdy cover stock featuring the covers of the different Comitia guides over the years, covered up by a lovely cream jacket with a translucent peek at the color cover below it. A pretty (and heavy) package for a whole lot of comics action. (Apologies in advance for terrible images. I can’t open the book far enough to get it to lay anywhere near flat on my scanner.)
If you are looking for some real value for your comics dollars, you could do a lot worse than the Comitia Chronicles. All of the above will only set you back fifteen hundred yen. Such value! And by shelling out those minimal yen, you will get to read a seriously wide variety of quality manga. The wide variety comes as no surprise at all, given that all the comics in this volume were pulled from doujinshi sold at Comitia during its thirty years. And having been to Comitia a few times, I can tell you that the range of manga on display is pretty incredible. Creators are grouped according to genre/subject matter, and within each section, you will see table after table after table of different takes on that overarching label. And for most of these tables, even if they’re not doing something you personally like, you have to admit that they are pretty good at what they do. Now imagine a book collecting the best of all of this, four times a year for the past thirty years, and you get a sense of what’s on offer here.
One of the standout stories for me (and one of the longest) was Moare Ohta’s “Majo ga tondari, tobanakattari” (Sometimes, the witch flies; sometimes, she doesn’t). I’d never heard of Ohta before, although he’s been serializing Teppu with Kodansha since 2008. But “Majo” makes me want to pick up some of his other work. I love the premise of it, that there are and have always been thirteen witches in this world. They’ve saved the inhabitants of Earth from alien invasions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and much more, and now they have to stop a massive asteroid that’s on a collision course with the planet. The world reveres and fears these witches, and gives them elaborate mansions to dwell in, with the ulterior motive of keeping them away from everyone else. But one of the witches, Natsuo, is not interested in locking herself away from the world. For reasons unknown, she decides to spend her time playing Othello with junior high school boy on the roof of his school.
Another highlight for me was the much shorter yuri tale “Sayonara Mutsuki-chan” by Yuki Isoya. The art work in this one reminded me a little of Takako Shimura, although with a much firmer line and busier backgrounds. Kako and Mutsu spend one last night together before Mutsu’s marriage to a man the next day. It’s bittersweet with a lot of baggage and some really touching moments, small moments that are so well depicted, like Kako nuzzling Mutsu’s neck in the bath. It’s one of those stories that’s about the feeling it creates rather than the story it tells.
I was also delightfully caught off guard by Ohmiya’s “Yomei 100 koma” (a hundred panels of life left). The title pretty much sums the whole thing up. Turns out Death is a manga artist on the side and accidentally mixed up the two jobs. So Momoko only has a hundred panels left to live. She wastes several of them in a flashback telling her friends just how the whole thing happened and then despairs of even making it to the next day when she sees the steady countdown on her cheek, the number of panels she has left that only she can see. But Death has more than one trick up her sleeve. The story has some really wonderful pacing and panelling, and some of the most effective use of empty space I’ve seen in a while.
“Party Joke” by Sawako Yamana also grabbed me with its sharp telling of a woman who keeps killing her boyfriends because of bad jokes they make during dates and then is stuck dealing with their bodies. Yumiko Shirai (a personal favourite) also has an early story in here, “touch”, and I like getting the chance to see her style as it develops. It’s hard to judge the story on its own merits, because like a few others in the collection, it’s only the first chapter in a longer story. Kenya Oba’s “Liza no Hidari Te” is another of the longer stories in the collection, all sketchy lines and watercolours, looking a bit like a Ghibli film. Thematically, it’s Ghibli-esque too. A young outcast girl finds friendship in a boy who comes to town as part of a travelling psychic show. It’s so well drawn with real, human characters and a warmth that bleeds off the page. Fuka Mizutani’s retelling of Red Riding Hood is brilliant in the way it takes an old story and adds a totally new, unexpected twist, shifting from pencils and watercolours to hard inks to make the transition between two different in-story worlds. It’s beautiful and surprisingly heartbreaking.
Basically, every story in this volume is worth reading. There were a few that I didn’t particularly like; they just didn’t hit home for me. But I loved being able to see the breadth and depth of what the world of indie manga has to offer. My one complaint is that the majority of the stories are from around 2004 and on, with a couple from the nineties and one from the eighties. I completely understand why there would be a tendency to reach for more recent work when putting together a book like this: Comitia probably doesn’t have the current contact info for a lot of the earlier creators; and those older stories are going to be entirely on paper, which is a hassle to work with in the age of digital.
But I still would have liked to have seen a wider variety of work in terms of time. Just the inclusion of the few early stories there are gave me a chance to assess the differences in manga over the past thirty years. I haven’t read the other two volumes of the 30th anniversary chronicles, so maybe this is something that gets rectified in later volumes. One thing that almost makes up for the lack of temporal diversity is the inclusion of essays by Comitia chairman (and editor-in-chief of this book), Kimihiko Nakamura, discussing and outlining the history of Comita. Plus profiles of some of the more prominent early creators whose work was too long to fit into an anthology like this, or whose work was of particular note for the development of Comitia. Basically, if you are looking to learn more about the world of doujinshi in Japan, the Comitia Chronicles are a solid and entertaining place to start.