Way back when I first encountered Nakada’s work in the Popocomi anthology doujin series, I wished that she would graduate to working in mainstream manga so that I could read more of her lovely stories. And then she did! So I’m assuming now that Japanese manga publishers have been carefully but belatedly scouring this blog and my wish is now their command. I must be careful to only use this power for the publication of good manga and never bad.
Surprisingly, it was Kadokawa that took a chance on Nakada to publish her stories first online in Young Ace UP and then in the print version of the magazine. I tend to associate Kadokawa with more “manga-y” manga, more fan service and mainstream art styles than what Nakada serves up. And indeed the ads at the back of Kamome could not be more unrelated to what Nakada is doing with her art and stories. So I worry a little about what kind of a readership she’ll find with Kadokawa and if a poor response there will keep more of her work from getting published, thus depriving me of her lovely comics. But I reassure myself with the fact that she got a good enough response for them to actually put out this tanko, so fingers crossed that we’ll see more.
Because we should all want more! Nakada’s work fits so nicely in with artists like Aoi Ikebe and Sayaka Ishiyama, both in art style and the subjects she writes about. Her lines are loose and minimal with a real softness, thanks to a lack of screen tone and generous use of Copic pens. Her faces are wide and wide-eyed, and her backgrounds are more detailed than pretty much anything Ikebe does, but panels never lose that softness and the sense of space, the room she gives her stories to breathe. She tends to capture little moments—a young woman bringing her husband a sandwich, a man’s visit to the dentist triggering a memory of a boyhood crush—but she also borrows from Machiko Kyo’s bag of tricks and dips her toes into fantasy and the fantastical in everyday life.
The most obvious example of this is “Sumire”, the longest story in the collection of eight. Back when children made of static electricity lived in the lighthouse, the narration begins, letting the reader know right away that this is one of the more fantastical works in the book. The static children look like human children, but eventually their day of reckoning comes and they disappear. Or at least that’s how it looks to the children still left at the lighthouse. Sumire goes into town on an errand one day and comes across a little girl lying naked in the grass. Naturally, she is not a human child either, and the two become friends of a sort, although it’s mostly Sumire taking care of her. The way their relationship develops and deepens feels so natural, surprisingly so given that neither of them are actually human, and the culmination of this relationship is a literal physical transformation. But as with all of Nakada’s stories, there’s such a warmth between them, skillfully depicted in little moments like Sumire giving her his coat and then carefully buttoning it up for her.
It’s these little things that make me love Nakada so much. She looks to small details to give her work a depth and reality like the dripping of a faucet or a half-eaten baumkuchen in a box. Like in the title story, Yo-chan has a crush on a little girl he calls Kamome (“seagull”) because her eyebrows look just like the seagulls everyone draws, the little “v” on the pages. He walks home the same way as she does, but they never speak. And then one day, she comes into the stationery shop his cousin runs. She deliberately ignores him, but then casts a backward glance over her shoulder that sets him on fire. Later, brushing his teeth, he notices the cup on the counter, a souvenir from Guam with “v” seagulls on it, and starts grinning, a grin we don’t see but instead infer from the sudden teasing of his cousin.
Four of the stories in Kamome are the ones published in the Popocomi anthologies, which was a bit disappointing since I was hoping for a book full of new work. But those stories are all good, so I was happy to read them again in a new context. I still love the sullen protagonist of “Hakka” watching over her family’s tobacco shop, nodding off in the window, when the man she has a crush on comes to buy a stamp. But Nakada shows us that crush so subtly. The clerk spots the letter sticking out of the man’s pocket, and notes that it’s to a woman. And then she flushes after he leaves. It’s just enough that when she glares at herself in the mirror later and tells herself she’s ugly with a frown, we know why she feels that way.
Nakada includes a little commentary after each story that feature the same loving attention to detail, like the one after “Hakka” in which she informs us that while she generally doesn’t set her stories in any particular time, this one is firmly in 1989. Because that is the year stamps went up from 60 yen to 62 yen. Such a little thing and she creates a world out of it.