The great thing about living on a mountain in the middle of nowhere on cat island is that said mountain on said island is in Japan, and Japan is nothing if not convenient. The closest bookstore is an hour away from me by bus, a fact which would have caused me no undue amount of concern ten years ago. But we live in the future now, friends. If I want books to keep me company up here in the wilderness, then I will have books. I will order all the books my brain desires through the magic of the Internet, and they will be delivered to me the next day by a man in a truck who somehow can figure out exactly where on this mountain I live through the magic of GPS (because, you know, Japan may excel at convenience, but it is not the greatest when it comes to connecting addresses with places).
A large number of the books in that first magical order I placed were for work—rather than dragging books I’m translating with me from Canada back to the land of their production, it’s easier to just buy the books again here and sell them to Book Off or something when I’m finished with them—but some were the next installments of series I’m following (NOZAKI-KUUUUUN!), and one was a random book that I’d never heard of before. My brain likes to mix things up.
I actually saw a tweet from the editor about the release of the first tanko in the series of this one random book, and the art reminded me of a cross between est em and Moyoco Anno. Which intrigued me. And then I saw that the series is running in Hibana, a newish magazine picking up some of the slack from the sad departure of IKKI. (It is the new home to Natsume Ono’s Futagashira and Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida.) So then I was double intrigued. Being the adventurous, not-totally-broke sort that I am, I decided I could shell out five hundred yen for a total unknown with some intriguing elements and added the book to my order.
And maybe the magic of the main character, Kao-chan, has reached off the page to bend me to her will, but I enjoyed this first volume so much more than I expected to. Noda’s art is indeed a weird mix of est em and Anno with Noda’s own personality added into the mix. The characters’ eyes and stretched out proportions (hands and feet, in particular), along with the protagonist’s big hair, very much called to mind Anno’s work, while the looseness of her lines, with the sometimes scribbled feel, are totally est em to me. It’s an interesting combination that works surprisingly well. I kind of want est em and Anno to collaborate on something now.
But Noda’s work is not as derivative as I am maybe making it sound. She takes this combination and makes it entirely her own. I am in love with her way of depicting faces, the shading on noses and cheeks that almost makes it look like everyone is blushing all the time. Plus, her faces are just so, so expressive. She never needs to spell out what anyone is feeling; it’s all right there clear as day on the page. There are some panels where proportions get a little wonky in a way that feels unintentional, but it’s never distracting.
The English title Noda has chosen is a nice tagline for the story: “Love will find you like a thunderbolt.” Kao-chan has fallen hard for Ko-chan. Fallen so hard, she abandons her other-worldly kingdom to descend to earth and be with him. But he keeps getting killed. Mostly because of her. But that’s all right because she can—and does—bring him back. Her underlings don’t much care for this development, but she is their queen and so they mostly do what they can to help.
Exactly who Kao-chan is is not made entirely clear in this first volume. She has some serious power, and she’s not entirely serious about using it. She has underlings. She makes a potted plant into a person so that she can have a friend and prove to Ko-chan that she is not some weirdo. She is meant to be doing things besides diving down to earth to have sex with some rando. But she has fallen hard for this rando Ko-chan, and so she neglects all the other things she should be doing to be with him. Which means her underlings are stuck with the unenviable task of dragging her back into their world. They are a weird bunch with a lot of story potential. There’s back story to dish out there. And a lot of back story for Kao-chan too. But I feel like Noda will not be giving us too much of that. By the end of the first book, scheming is afoot to take Kao-chan’s crown, even though we still don’t know exactly what crown she wears.
The story is goofy and sexy and serious and so much fun. If I have one complaint about it, it’s that the jacket and online synopses refer to Ko-chan as an “ossan” (not cool, middle-aged guy), but Ko-chan is hot and not even close to an ossan. Hibana needs to change the synopsis or Noda needs to change her depiction of Ko-chan. Also, Noda could make some serious cash doing BL if she turned her talents that way. She gets these characters into bed together so fast and so naturally. And sexily, of course. Wouldn’t be potential BL without the sexy.
PS. I want to translate this. Publisher friends, let’s talk!