Maybe I’ve mentioned this before, but the thing I really love about bookstores is the sheer possibility of them. You just walk in with nothing particular in mind, and then you find something. A thing you never heard of, a thing you never expected to run across, a thing you had no idea existed. You’re just noodling around in this physical space, glancing at the displays carefully crafted by the clerks while you are still listening to a podcast with half of your mind. Maybe you just came inside to kill time while you’re waiting for the light to change. Or maybe it’s cold outside and you needed to stop in somewhere and warm up before you continued on your journey. And the bookstore is right there. Well, maybe not so much in North America, sadly, but in Japan, there is pretty much always a bookstore within a stone’s throw.
And as you’re poking around mostly indifferently, waiting for your toes to defrost, you see something that you feel like you have to get, even if you’re not entirely sure why. This is the power of bookstores and the reason that I’ll never be okay with our slow erosion of the physical bookselling space in favour of the convenience and slightly discounted prices of certain online shops. (In fact, the only online shop I buy from doesn’t discount its titles and actually partners with brick-and-mortar booksellers. And they have a point card that connects my offline purchases! The best of both worlds!) I never would have come across a series like Reportage outside of that physical, meandering space. Especially since my online recommendations are totally skewed from all the weird books I look up for work purposes. (My work on Accel World has most sites constantly pushing SAO on me…)
Reportage didn’t immediately grab me. The cover’s a bit dull, after all; just a woman’s face. But the shading around her nose reminded me of Ayako Noda’s blushy faces, and we all know how I cannot get enough of that. And then the first sentence of the blurb on the back is going on about how it’s the near future in Japan and people into romantic love are now the minority, which made me scratch my head and wonder if this is some kind of josei science-fiction deal. And then I got all excited about the idea of josei science-fiction, and well, here we are.
This turned out to not be so SF-y as all that, but it is set in the near future. And there are people who are turning their backs on the whole idea of romance. Aoe Hijiri is a reporter who was once on the terrorism beat, which is pretty busy in this future world. Terrorist attacks are a daily occurrence at this point, and Hijiri lives for the thrill of that chase. But when she’s taken off her post attached to the police, she gets tired of the job and tenders her resignation. A younger reporter under her, Enosawa, is tasked with getting her to change her mind about quitting. And of course, soon after, there’s an attack, so Hijiri rushes to the scene with Enosawa.
After the initial confusion of the attack, their managing editor assigns them to do a long-term series together profiling the victims, the “reportage” of the title, to keep Hijiri from quitting for the time being and to give Enosawa some time to get her to change her mind. In the process of reporting on the first victim, they come across Kunimura, who works with the NPO that helped out the alleged terrorist (before he was doing the whole terrorism thing, naturally), and Hijiri falls in love. Heedlessly and irresponsibly in a society where people should not fall in love. And Enosawa, herself the child of early adopters of the no-romance life, is there to bear witness.
It’s a strange premise that gives us a strange story. And I’m honestly not sure where it’s going. Hijiri is portrayed as this cool, unflappable beauty, both in action and in the art that depicts her. Which is good to establish her as this take-no-prisoners reporter, but is taken a little too far, perhaps. She seems to have only two modes—heavy lids + dispassionate observation or slightly wide-eyed in surprise, so it’s hard to get a sense of interiority with her. And given that we are mostly watching her from Enosawa’s perspective, this is maybe the point. Enosawa sees her older colleague as being untouchable in so many ways. But it makes it hard to really see where Hijiri is at after her first encounter with Kunimura or why she would fall so hard for him in the first place. It’s not until the end of volume one that we see real emotion on Hijiri’s face, when she reveals just why she’s so cut off from her own feelings.
And maybe I am answering my own questions here since it’s clear her emotional distance is completely intended. I guess I just feel like even the emotionally uninvolved have more than one heavy-lidded look on their face at all times. Otherwise, the art is perfectly expressive. People have sharp noses that took me back to older shojo styles, and Enosawa’s giant shojo eyes helped add an air of that time in the world of manga. But this hat-tip to more classic styles is balanced nicely with modern linework, a sketchiness that occasionally made me think of est em, and, of course, the little blushy nose lines that I so love in Noda’s work.
This is one of those books where I kept flipping back and forth to just look at the pages again. There’s something so compelling about Urino’s style that I can’t quite articulate. All I know is I couldn’t stop reading. I’m not sure where Urino is trying to take us, but I’m intrigued enough to go along with her for the rest of this ride.