Veranda wa Nankofuraku no La France: Seiko Erisawa

Veranda_ErisawaI should be sweating profusely right now or at least needing to use the air conditioner because it is mid-July in Tokyo and that is the time of year when we all melt. But it is cold (I mean, Tokyo summer cold, though, so mid twenties) and rainy, and I am wanting to find just who is responsible for ruining my summer and yell at them like they are the manager of a shitty family restaurant that I can lord myself over for no reason at all except I ordered the unlimited refill drink bar. But no one (that I can find, anyway) is in charge of the weather, and so I am left chilled and vaguely unsatisfied with the whole situation.

The good part of this endless string of cloudy and rainy days (insofar as there can be a good part; I would really like to see the sun already. I think I’m developing a vitamin D deficiency) is that I am more inclined to stay home and get cosy with a book. I’m getting a lot of reading done. Most of it is for work, sadly, so I can’t write about it because: publishing industry secrets, and some of it I don’t want to write about (like the book that purported to be about drinking alone but was really just another food manga in disguise). But I’ve come across some real treasures lately—the print re-release of Kageki Shojo season zero is amazing, with previously unpublished bonus comics and an interview with former Takarazuka top star Kaname Ouki. It’s a deliciously fat book that includes the two original volumes of Kageki Shojo before the series moved to a new publisher, and it is such a satisfying treat to hold in your hands.

Ayako Noda’s Double is also a treasure, and the only reason I’m not writing about that book is because when it comes to Noda’s work, my comments generally boil down to: You should read this. I’m one hundred percent fangirl and incapable of any kind of critical view of her work. So: read Double. It’s great and also the first time Noda has published a BL-style manga under her real name instead of her BL pen name. Does this mean she’s taking ownership of her fujoshi tendencies? Or is Double not going to be an entirely BL series? I’m excited to see where she takes this one.

Seiko Erisawa’s also been on my radar lately. It seems like she’s there every time I turn around (in the bookstore). I’ve resisted that pull so far because I don’t like bookstore shelves telling me what to do. But when I came across Veranda, I had to give in. The endorsement of Misato Konari, whose work I have recently (mostly) enjoyed, together with the “magical realism” at the end of the cover blurb were enough to make me sigh, roll my eyes, and announce to the shelf in front of me, “Fine. I will buy you.” And, friends, I do not regret that petulant decision. This collection of eight stories delighted from the very first page.

Girls_ErisawaAnd that first page made me realize what a genius Erisawa is at the short story form. In just four short panels, she shows us the relationship between a single father and a daughter, without ever explicitly stating the mother is not part of the picture. When daughter then goes outside, she encounters a foreigner who is reading a familiar book, maybe the first time I’ve seen a contemporary English book in a Japanese manga. The foreign woman’s speech is depicted as lyrically twisting lines that somehow do resemble  cursive words. There is so much story, so complete in only eight pages.

This first story, “Girl’s Survival Kit”, might be the best of the eight, but it sets the bar pretty high, so maybe it’s not fair to compare the others to this masterful tale. The second story “Little Reflector” is quite good in its own right. A boy goes to a supposedly haunted and abandoned house in the woods, only to find that it’s actually an observatory and not abandoned at all. Erisawa plays with the tension of the unknown masterfully here, teasing readers with the question of whether or not the girl in this house is actually a ghost right up until the very end.

Star_ErisawaHer art is all defined lines, neat and clean. Whether or not she actually does work digitally, it feels digital with tidy linework and tone-pasting that seems far removed from human hands.

Most of the magic realism the cover promises is slight and implied, the fantasy of a child that comes to an abrupt end when they are called back to reality like in “Yube no Ongaku”. A girl comes across an old boom box and ends up in a Pied Piper kind of role, music luring the people of the neighbourhood out, even though the machine has no batteries in it. Or in “Ichiba nite”, a school teacher busts out some ninja moves to find a key to turn morning on at a vegetable market, and then strolls out with the groceries she came for.Yube_Erisawa

The weakest story is the longest, a three-part thing that feels like it wanted to be something more, a long form story about a group of childhood friends who grew up together in an old-school shopping street that’s on the verge of being torn down. Erisawa divides this up into three sections, but even within the sections, the story feels jumpy and disconnected from other parts. If she was given the freedom to spend several books on these characters, it might all come together in a coherent way. But as it is here, it feels more like a brief insight into one of the friends and then a total one-eighty into the mind of another. That said, I enjoyed reading these vignettes because Erisawa really does have a tight handle on what makes a short story work, and the different parts of this longer story can be read as stand-alone pieces, particularly the one that focuses on the boy who enjoys dressing as a girl and his first experience with high heels.Heels_Erisawa

Erisawa knows how to tell stories, even when it’s not a story I want to read. She has a mastery of her craft that makes me want to read more of her work. And she has so much work to read! It’s the best kind of dilemma—which of her undoubtably interesting books to ready next?

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