I don’t consider myself a huge Matsumoto fan, but I also buy everything he releases as soon as I can get a hold of it. Which is definitely on the fan side of the equation. Maybe it’s just that my own love of Matsumoto’s work doesn’t even begin to compare with that of my friend and Mangasplainer Christopher Butcher, so I tend to feel not particularly fannish. After all, I didn’t start a manga publishing enterprise to publish a forgotten chapter of Matsumoto’s work. And can you really call yourself a fan otherwise? (Of course I am kidding, Please let’s not all start manga publishers. I already have too much to read and keep track of.)
Coming to Higoro after having read the original story (which you can read too over on Mangasplaining Extra with a subscription!) (Yes, I’m schilling for my friends, but honestly, the manga newsletter is great with great manga being published!) (Yes, I’m entirely biased!) felt a bit like stepping into an alternate reality. Like, I half-knew these characters and this story, but it was different from my original reality. There is still the manga editor main character, but one arm of his glasses is taped together in this parallel world and he is into manga and not trains. There is still the rosy-cheeked manga artist, but he speaks in Kansai dialect now, and his hat is more flat cap than baseball cap. And there are still trains and a café and the city, but all just slightly off from the versions in that first story I saw so many years ago.
But that story only saw one chapter to completion while this story has eight in this first volume and another volume coming out next month, so this is clearly the better reality to be living in. In this reality, Shiozawa tenders his resignation at the manga publisher where he has worked for thirty years. He then heads to a café he used to frequent regularly to meet the manga artist Chosaku, whose work he used to edit. On the train there, he calculates the number of days he’s spent on that train going back and forth between Kanda, where his office was, and the station Chosaku lives at, and comes up with an answer of 230.
This single page tells you a lot about Shiozawa and is such an incredible character study in both the text and visual information from the art. The buzzcut close up, the taped-up glasses, the way he sits ever so neatly with all his belongings carefully on his lap despite the fact that the only other person on the train is a little kid peering out the window—you can feel this guy in such a real way, like you’ve definitely met him somewhere before.
Of course, this is Matsumoto, so pretty much every page is filled with such thoughtful detail to make even minor characters seem fully fleshed out. It’s one of those books that I kept flipping back and forth in, just to drink in the details, the art, and the many, many perfect pages. Like with Sunny and Cats of the Louvre, his wife Tono Saho is credited with assisting, and her handiwork is clearly visible here, too, especially in the lanky character of Aoki, whose awkwardly long limbs remind me so much of the kids in Tono’s Twinkle. Her influence is definitely also felt in the portrayals of the women in this volume, Aoki’s new editor Hayashi, Shiozawa’s former charge Tachibana, and manga artist Kiso.
The chapter with the latter is particularly interesting because Matsumoto draws whole sections of her manga in a style that is nothing like his own work and yet recognizably Matsumoto somehow. It’s honestly fascinating. He takes us back and forth between the rather mundane world Kiso lives in and the vibrant (and violent!) world in her head, and it’s this insight into living a creative life that I found most compelling about the book.
Every character is or has been involved in the act of creation, and they are all trying to come to terms with that in their own ways, some reflecting on a life lived for manga, others looking forward to a future filled with manga, and still others just going into the office and clocking in nine to five. Because at the end of the day, this art is being made in a capitalist system and money has got to be made. There are also elements that remind me of Ozawa’s Sanju Mariko, older people in a creative industry seen as having no value being rediscovered and forging new creative paths forward.
Naturally, it wouldn’t be a Matsumoto book if there weren’t animals of some kind prominently featured, and this time, it’s a bird! (And some cats. Some exceptionally great cats.) Shiozawa might be extremely serious and tight-laced in almost every way, but he has a bird he talks to. Which talks back. A very perfect bit of magic in Shiozawa’s everyday life. The bird is a Java sparrow, which just happens to be “literature bird” in Japanese, and I very much doubt Matsumoto chose that particular bird at random. It’s like the bird is Shiozawa’s muse made external.
Honestly, I think this is my favourite thing Matsumoto’s ever done. Maybe it’s just because I am an Old and looking for Old representation, but it’s so much more interesting to me now to see people who have lived a number of years looking back on that life, reassessing it, and deciding how they want to move forward. When you’re twenty, every door is open before you, but with every choice you make, you close a door until you reach a place where you don’t really have any doors left to walk through. You just keep moving forward on the road you set out on years ago. You have to make a concerted effort to change and do something different, wrench a closed door open, and step through it into a new future of your own deliberate making. With Higoro, we get to watch someone do exactly that.
Wow, I can’t say if the art here feels lightly inspired by Moriizumi Takehito, or if the slight tweak Matsumoto made to his art for this particular work makes his own influence on Moriizumi all the more obvious. Any way, I find the similarity striking.