New year, new fires to put out. My 2018 has been off to a surprisingly and unpleasantly eventful start, leaving me and my brain with little time for our favourite indulgence: reading books and writing about them. Which is all the more disappointing given the staggering amount of books we have amassed in the last couple months in the land of bookstores, aka Japan. So many books! And more than a few that I would like to be writing here about. My brain has things to say about the printed page! But for me to write something on every single book I read that I found interesting enough to say a few words about, I would have to give up my day job of reading books and rewriting them in another language. And then I would have no money to buy the books to write about. So!
Perfect is the enemy of good—isn’t that what they say? So let’s give up on the idea of writing about all the books, and just focus on writing about some of the books. This seems infinitely more doable and a good brain resolution for the new year. Some of the books is still plenty of books. And Suima-san seems like a good book to kick off this brain resolution, given that the book is basically a New Year’s resolution in and of itself.
Yoko works long hours at an ad agency, getting up early and staying up late, frequently missing the last train home and not so infrequently staying overnight at the office when there is just too much to do. As the cover obi informs us, she is an “arasa” OL who just can’t seem to make it home. (And “arasa” is one of my favourite wasei-eigo constructions, along with its companion creations, “arafo” and “arafi”, meaning “around thirty”, “around forty”, and “around fifty”, respectively. These vague expressions of age have inspired such questions as, “Is forty-five arafo or arafi?” Distilled existential angst!) So being the bullet train of a career woman that she is, she has no time for such distractions as sleep. But it turns out the world of demons has a thing or two to say about that.
The bad sleepers of our world are assigned “suima”, a word that had me wracking my translator brain the whole time I was reading this book. It can mean “sleepiness”, but also the bringer of sleep, the sandman. And it’s made up of the characters for “sleep” and “demon”, making the kanji word the perfect jumping off point for a story about corporate sleep demons bringing sleep to the overworked of the human world. Nero (“go to sleep”) is Yoko’s suima, and he is determined to make her get some real sleep. Normally, the suima from Suima Company do their jobs without being noticed by their human charges. However, Yoko is so sleep deprived that she can see Nero, and so their story unfolds from there.
I have been in love with Dake’s work ever since I first encountered it in the Popocomi anthology doujinshi. She’s mostly worked as an illustrator, but has been making inroads as a manga artist, first through indie publications like Popocomi and now through Feel Free. I thought Suima-san was her first tanko with a mainstream publisher, but it turns out she had a collection of short stories before this one, Nante Koto Nai Futsu no Yoru ni, one of the stories in which was the jumping off point for Suima-san. I’m really curious to see how many of the elements in Suima-san were in that original story and how much she came up with after the fact. It’s a strangely complete world, and Suima Company ended up being rather intriguing to me—How do they make money? What are the sleep demons getting from bringing sleep to overworked humans? Are there PowerPoint presentations detailing profit margins and midterm sleep goals? I would definitely read a sequel from the point of view of a Suima Company executive or middle manager.
Dake tells the story with compelling visuals too, but it’s clear that she’s still working to find a balance between the relatively leisurely pace of an illustration compared with the rush of a serialized manga deadline. There’s an unsettledness to the first couple chapters, as if she’s still finding her feet with the story. The art is clean with liberal tone use, but there are some wonky moments, like when Yoko nearly swivels her head all the way around in the washroom, and it can feel cluttered with detailed backgrounds in nearly every panel. As the book progresses, though, the backgrounds settle into a nice variation of detailed and not to compliment the story being told, and the wonky moments disappear.
There are even sleep lessons contained in these pages, and as a chronic insomniac and workaholic, I felt like perhaps I was destined to read this book. Dake is speaking directly to my own terrible sleep-life balance here. No spoilers from me, but I do hope that I don’t end up in [situation] that causes Yoko to reevaluate her sleep situation. Maybe I need a suima of my own to help get me on the right track. Maybe that should be my New Year’s resolution: find sleep demon, get sleep help.