Japanese Cuisine introduces us to the fundamental ingredients–rice, sashimi, green tea, and dashi (cooking stock)–that constitute the soul of the Japanese kitchen. In each story we learn about the proper preparation and presentation of different dishes, as well as their history and cultural significance. The result is a moveable feast of a book, as informative as it is engaging.
The first of the heaven-sent bottles is revealed in these pages. No less gripping: the dramas of memory that unfold as Shizuku helps out an amnesiac painter, Chosuke hears from the French lady of his unrequited longings, and Miyabi meets a former classmate turned newly-rich snob for whom wires are but brands.
As I looked through my piles of manga, I realized I had more unread Viz Signature titles than I thought. I actually have more, but these were single volumes and made for quick enough reads that I could get them in. While they are two different titles in tone, they do not differ very much when it comes to my reactions to them. I am a sci-fi fan, but can I be a fan of these two titles? Read on to find out.
In a city so dismal it’s known only as “the Hole,” a clan of Sorcerers have been plucking people off the streets to use as guinea pigs for atrocious ‘experiments” in the black arts. In a dark alley, Nikaido found Caiman, a man with a reptile head and a bad case of amnesia. To undo the spell, they’re hunting and killing the Sorcerers in the Hole, hoping that eventually they’ll kill the right one. But when En, the head Sorcerer, gets word of a lizard-man slaughtering his people, he sends a crew of “cleaners” into the Hole, igniting a war between the two worlds.
I discovered Dorohedoro through the Sigikki.com site. I’m so glad it was put up there, because, based on the volume description, I would have completely bypassed this series, and that would have been a serious crime. While this volume does have violence and some gore, it also introduces some of the best characters I’ve read about in a long time.
The volume description makes Dorohedoro sound like a serious battle title, with Caiman and Nikaido hunting down and killing sorcerers and En and his sorcerers fighting back. It sounds like a slaughter fest, but that description is misleading. Caiman is searching for the sorcerer who changed him and killing any he finds. And En does call his best cleaners, Shin and Noi to put them on Caiman and Nikaido’s trail, but that’s all that’s happened so far. This volume is more about introducing the world, the characters, and what they are capable of in a fight.
Of course, even if this title had more fighting, it still would be meaningless unless it had a good cast of characters, and Dorohedoro has them in abundance! I loved Caiman from the first page. The volume starts with a sorcerer’s head in Caiman’s mouth. It’s a pretty dramatic way to introduce him, but it’s soon shown Caiman isn’t all about the drama. Unlike so many shonen characters seen nowadays, Caiman isn’t dark or depressed about his situation. He makes the best he can of it and keeps a good attitude. He also has a healthy appetite, so it’s a good thing Nikaido runs a restaurant. She’s not only Caiman’s meal ticket, she’s his friend and partner. While Caiman is the excitable type, Nikaido is more calm and cool. She keeps her head in any situation, and is capable of taking care of herself. They make a good team.
Even the bad guys in this series are likable. Fujita, the partner of the sorcerer who is first seen getting Caiman’s treatment is a lackey to En, the head sorcerer. Like all henchmen, he’s a bit of a bumbler and has bad luck. He tries to do his best, and you can help but feel sorry for him. He really looks up to Shin and Noi, En’s top cleaners. They are the efficient killers you expect them to be, but under their masks, look and act normal. I really enjoyed watching them at their dinner with En. Trying to read the menu, and looking for the expensive items since their boss was paying not only make them more human, but also entertaining.
What I really enjoy about Dorohedoro is the fact it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While we do see Caiman and Nikaido continue the search for one specific sorcerer, just as much of the book shows them at work, and taking it easy. It isn’t just about the fighting, it’s about all aspects of the characters lives, and for me, that differentiates it from so many of the other titles out there. Dorohedoro deserves its mature rating with graphic fights that send body parts and internal organs flying, and a bit of swearing, but if you can get past those two things, you will be rewarded. I’ve enjoyed this volume even after multiple reads, and look forward to reading more.
Mountaineer Shiga made a promise to his best friend following his tragic death in the Himalayas. Twelve years later and he is called upon to honor that promise. When 15-year-old student, Megumi, fails to arrive home from school her mother calls on her dead husband’s best friend for help. Shiga abandons his mountain refuge and enters the city to look for the girl. With the police investigation at a standstill, Shiga decides to go it alone. But the metropolis can be a much more hostile and dangerous ground than the mountains. What has happened to the youngster and will Shiga find her before it is too late? Multi-award winning creator, Jiro Taniguchi, builds the tension to a massive climax in this exciting drama!
By Jiro Taniguchi
Publisher: Ponent Mon
Age Rating: Older Teen
I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to participate in this month’s Manga Movable Feast. While I’d heard of Jiro Taniguchi and seen reviewers rave about his work, none of his titles really seemed to interest me. But once I went through a full list of his titles available in English, the first I found that looked interesting was Samurai Legend, which was drawn by him. But I wanted to read a title that he had both written and drawn for the MMF, and that’s when I came upon this title. I enjoy a good mystery, but The Quest for the Missing Girl is more than that.
The Quest for the Missing Girl isn’t strictly a mystery. It’s a character study wrapped in a mystery. Megumi’s disappearance is just an excuse to get Shiga off his mountain and involved again with her and her mother Yoriko, the widow of his best friend, Tatsuko. Tatsuko died while climbing Mt Daulaghiri, so Shiga feels some survivor’s guilt since he had turned down Tatsuko’s offer to join him on the climb. And that is really what is at the heart of this story. As Shiga searches for Megumi, he is also dealing with memories and feelings that he had pushed aside. Throughout the story, there are flashbacks about Tatsuko and Yoriko deciding to get married, Tatsuko deciding to do the one last climb on Mt. Daulaghiri, and Yoriko and Shiga claiming Tatsuko’s body, as well as a younger Megumi climbing with Shiga. There is the distinct feeling that Shiga had feelings for Yoriko as well, and that he didn’t approve of Tatsuko climbing again after promising to not to when he and Yoriko married. It’s these feelings that lead to the regret that later rules him. It takes climbing his own Daulaghiri, Oribe Element building, to finally overcome his guilt and regret.
The mystery itself is pretty standard. Shiga has to play detective, talking to Megumi’s friends, wandering around Shibuya, finding the clues and making the connections the police can’t because of Oribe’s power and status. A subplot to this is “compensated dating” that Megumi is involved in. Taniguchi gets a little heavy-handed with it, almost lecturing adults and parents that the reason girls get involved with these older men is because they feel unloved at home. But this might also be the point, since Yoriko is shown as not being aware of Megumi’s activities, other parents might not be as well, and this story can serve as a warning.
Besides Shiga and Yoriko, there are some great characters in this title. Maki, Megumi’s “bad girl” friend is nicely complex. She starts out being very annoying, but slowly opens up to Shiga, especially after he promises to become her champion as well. I really like Yoshio, the man who helps Shiga navigate the teen scene in Shibuya. He’s open and honest, and can see Shiga sincerity. I really liked who he could relate to the kids without trying to “be” one of them, and it gains their trust more than anything else. The villain of the story Takuya Oribe is shown as a manipulative, abusive man who is ultimately a coward that uses the power of his corporation as a shield. His character is definitely a damning of the way corporations, and not just in Japan, can get away with so much.
I enjoyed all the elements of this story. All of the different layers made it much better than just the mystery is appears to be on the surface. Taniguchi proves himself to be just a good as storyteller as an artist. The awkwardness between Shiga and Yoriko is almost palatable. The way they continue to be formal with each other, despite all the tragedy they have shared shows there are still unresolved issues between them, though the end gives hope that they soon will be.The art is as well done as the story. The wide variety of character designs is refreshing. I love the way he draws Shiga glaring when he gets into scrapes.
If you pick up The Quest for the Missing Girl just expecting a straight mystery, you are going to be disappointed. But if you allow yourself to look deeper into the characters, you will find a rich, satisfying story. While it does have its predictable moments, they do not in any way detract from the story. I’m glad I decided to give this title and mangaka a try. it just might lead to me reading more of his work.
From the pages of history comes the legend of the Samurai Jubei and the book he was pledged to protect. Now that book has been stolen and Jubei must retrieve it before Japan descends into bloody civil war. A tale of blood, swords and political intrigue!
Apollo’s Song follows the tragic journey of Shogo, a young man whose abusive childhood has instilled in him a loathing for love so profound he finds himself compelled to acts of violence when he is witness to any act of intimacy or affection whether by human or beast. His hate is such that the gods intervene, cursing Shogo to experience love throughout the ages ultimately to have it ripped from his heart every time. From the Nazi atrocities of World War II to a dystopian future of human cloning, Shogo loses his heart, in so doing, healing the psychological scars of his childhood hatred.
I first read Apollo’s Song 2 years ago, but could never get my thoughts about it to coalesce enough about it to get a review done. I decided to try again with the latest MMF. And again, I was at a loss for what to say. The story didn’t really speak to me, and some parts repulsed me. I had to give it a lot of thought to really come up with the reason why.
It really all came down to what the essence of this story is. It’s a tragedy. Anyone looking for some kind of happy ending here need not apply. In fact, I wouldn’t just call this story a tragedy, but it’s a tragedy’s tragedy. Because when you think it might not be so dark an ending after all, that little ray of hope is snatched from your fingers and trounced to death in front of you. Can you tell I’m not big on tragedies? It’s not that I don’t like them. I enjoyed the Sophocles tragedies, and with this title so strongly influenced by Greek myth, you’d think I’d enjoy it too. But I just couldn’t connect to it.
Apollo’s Song is composed of four stories essentially. Each lets Shogo experience a different kind of love. The first is about love at first sight with Shogo as a Nazi falling for a Jewish girl. The second is love that grows as Shogo and Naomi gradually fall in love despite their social differences. The third story shows the power of love, as Queen Sigma, a synthetic human who learns to love Shogo and then kills herself after he dies. The fourth story is the overarching plot in which Shogo experiences the other stories through dreams and hypnosis. By the end of this story, Shogo seems to be cured as he has fallen in love with Hiromi, the woman who has been secretly trying to heal him. Of course, this story couldn’t end well either.
Each of the stories make well-conceived, well written vignettes. I liked each of the stories when looked at by themselves. It’s when I look at the volume as a whole that I start to have problems. When I got to the end, I was left wondering, “What was the point?” My biggest problem with this title was all the killing of animals. I am a big animal lover, and can’t even watch the nature specials that show animals just struggling to survive. So seeing animals killed for showing affection really disturbed me. On this second reading, I skipped over those pages. Knowing the scenes were coming didn’t help me get past them. I understand the scenes were necessary for Shogo’s story, but it was just too disturbing for me.
The ending was so pessimistic. To me, Tezuka is saying there is no happiness to be found in love. It will aways end tragically, and humanity has no choice but to keep going through the vicious cycle of love, loss and death. There is no joy in love, and no hope for humanity to escape. I also don’t get the whole beginning and ending with the anthropomorphized sperm and egg. Is Tezuka trying to imply that love is biologically driven? The opening scene at the beginning is an interesting way to show how children are conceived, but it didn’t have any relation to the rest of the book. Apollo’s Song is about the concept of love, not its biological byproduct. Children can be conceived without love, so I didn’t see the point of opening the book like that, and then revisiting it at the end.
Even though I don’t agree with the themes of Apollo’s Song, Tezuka’s ability to convey them can not be debated. One scene that particularly stands out to me is in the second story, “No Man’s Land”. While Shogo is exploring the island, the animals keep him out of one area. He finally convinces them to let him in. What he finds is a clearing where the animals of the island mate. Shogo feels uncomfortable watching and leaves. In that scene, Tezuka does an admirable job of conveying the reverence that is felt for that clearing. I felt just as uncomfortable as Shogo.
Apollo’s Song is not a title for everyone. It definitely falls into Tezuka’s dark side, though not in the way as MW or Book of Human Insects. In those stories, the good guys are just outsmarted by the bad guys. In Apollo’s Song, Shogo never had a chance in the first place. I would recommend this title but only to those interested in tragedy and all its forms, or die-hard fans of Tezuka. Apollo’s Song is a title worth reading, It’s just not something I would want to read again.
Set in a medieval fairy-tale backdrop, Princess Knight is the tale of a young princess named Sapphire who must pretend to be a male prince so she can inherit the throne. Women have long been prevented from taking the throne, but Sapphire is not discouraged and instead she fully accepts the role, becoming a dashing hero(ine) that the populace is proud of.
Princess Knight is another landmark title by the “God of Manga”, Osamu Tezuka. While not the first manga written for girls, it is the one that established many of the themes and styles seen in later shojo manga, and inspired a generation of women to create manga as well. While I had heard of Princess Knight before, I hadn’t had a chance to read it until the one chapter special that appeared in Shojo Beat back in 2007. What I read intrigued me, so I was happy when Vertical announced it had licensed it. And I wasn’t disappointed in the least when I finally got to read it.
Princess Knight tells the tale of Sapphire, a child who was meant to be born a girl, but thanks to the meddling of the angel Tink, is born with both a boy and girl heart. In her kingdom of Silverland, only men can inherit the throne. In order to keep the evil Duke Duralumin from putting his idiot son on the throne, Sapphire must pretend to be boy. But she still has girlish feelings and desires.
The first volume of this series shows Sapphire’s struggles as she must deny her true self again and again in order to protect herself and her people. Every time she is confronted by someone, such as Tink or Captain Blood, she ardently denys her feminine side. But in private moments, she still wants to indulge her girlish side, wear beautiful dresses and dance with Prince Charming. However, being a girl is seen as a weakness, and Sapphire loses all of her strength and willpower whenever her girl heart is in control. So she must continue the charade, even after her deception is revealed. To protect her mother and the people of Silverland from Duralumin, she must continue to rely on her boy heart to fight. But it seems the more she denies her true self and relies on her boy heart, the more trouble she has to deal with.
It’s after she loses her boy heart and can be her true self that things start to turn for Sapphire. The women of the castle protect her from Duralumin and Nylon. Plastic, Duralumin’s son and now king, becomes a champion not only for women to inherit the throne, but is willing to abdicate in favor of Sapphire. Prince Franz finally realizes that Sapphire is his true love, and is willing to do anything for her, even give her up to save her. That’s not to say that she doesn’t continue to have trials to overcome. Madame Hell and Venus the Goddess of love still have other ideas for her, but these are trials that will lead her to the inevitable happily ever after all fairy tales must have.
I have to say, that I was completely enchanted by this series from the beginning to end. Tezuka is able to invoke a fairy tale atmosphere with his charming characters and vaguely Medieval-Europe setting. The Disney-esque art completes the picture, giving the story a timeless air and keeps it from feeling dated. What I enjoyed most about it though, was all the action and adventure. Sapphire isn’t the type of princess to sit about and wait for her prince to come. She is fighting off Duralumin’s men and protecting the people of Silverland. When her mother is exiled to a distant island, Sapphire is in a boat, off to save her, and not demons nor pirates will get in her way. While the adventures Sapphire sets off to might seem a little out there, I thought it was perfect for the fairy tale setting. It’s a fantasy, so why can’t Sapphire be dancing at a festival in one story and be off with pirates in another?
Princess Knight is a fairy tale for modern times. The women aren’t timid or meek. Hecate, Madame Hell’s daughter, doesn’t just go along with her mother’s plans. She actively works against her. She doesn’t want to be changed the way her mother want her to. Friebe isn’t going to wait for a man to find her. She just doesn’t watch the tournament to find a suitable husband, she participates and is just as good, if not better than the competitors. It’s like Tezuka is telling girls it’s alright to have their cake and eat it too. It’s alright to dream of wearing pretty dresses and being swept up by a prince and live and work in a man’s world. It’s not one or the other.
If I had a complaint about Princess Knight, it would that I think Tezuka kept the gender-bending with Sapphire going a little too long. There doesn’t seem to be a good reason for her to keep her sex a secret from Friebe until they are about to be married. That whole part of the story felt forced and wasn’t as good as the preceding chapters. Still, I would happily recommend this title to parents and think elementary libraries and collections should include it in their collections. If there was only one fairy tale I could tell my girls when they were going up, it would be this one.
Toshiko Tomura is a genius; she has already been an established international stage actress, and up-and-coming architect, and an award as Japan’s best new writer. Toshiko is also the mastermind behind a series of murders. The ultimate mimic, she has plagiarized, blackmailed, stolen and replicated the works of scores of talents. And now as her star is rising within the world of the elites and powerful she has amassed a long list of enemies frustrated by the fact that she has built critical and financial acclaim for nothing more than copying others’ work. Neglected as a child, she is challenging the concepts of gender inequality while unleashing her loneliness upon the world as she climbs the social ladder one body at a time.
I wasn’t going to read this title. It seemed to have all the hallmarks of being another MW, and I’ve had quite enough of that. But I started paging through it, and as should be expected, got sucked into the story, and had to read it from the beginning. While it has some superficial similarities to MW, I was relieved to find the story and protagonist Toshiko, is really very different.
On the surface, Yuki from MW and Toshiko do seem to have a lot in common. They are both sociopaths that use anything or anyone to get their way. They have their own agenda and will kill anyone that stands in their way, showing no remorse. But just below the surface lies the one thing that makes a big difference between these two; their motivations. Yuki didn’t start out as a sociopath. Circumstances beyond his control helped to make him into the monster he eventually became. The effects of the poison gas and disregard for life made him into a killer. Toshiko was born with her abilities and used them to their fullest. She does not kill for the pleasure of seeing someone die. She kills those who could be of a threat to her. She does it out of a perverse sense of survival. The contrast of Yuki and Toshiko could be framed in the nature vs nurture argument. Yuki is a product of his environment while Toshiko is an example of survival of the fittest. I like to use the analogy of Godzilla. Yuki is 1954 Godzilla, a man-made monster who turns on his creators. Toshiko is Heisei/1990’s Godzilla, a force of nature who doesn’t hold any real malice toward anyone, but is just doing what she must to survive.
And surviving is what Toshiko does best. Even though insects are used as the analogy for Toshiko’s abilities, it really looks like evolution to me. She goes into a new environment, adapts to it, and uses her new skills to move on to a new environment. Her acting skills allows her to blend into any social situation. Her time married to the CEO taught her to be shrewd and calculating in her inevitable destruction of him, though for a while it seemed that she had met her match in him. But nothing is taboo to Toshiko. She will do anything and everything to make sure she stays on top. She is the ultimate survivor, and as a result is the least human.
But even Toshiko has a kink in her armor. That kink is Mizuno, the designer she stole a design from. His story becomes a counter balance to Toshiko’s, as he struggles in the wake of Toshiko’s betrayal. He is the most human character just as Toshiko is the least. Instead of doing whatever it takes to move ahead, Mizuno accepts his the low paying job he has to take, and marries a woman who looks like Toshiko on the outside, but is nothing like her on the inside. But Mizuno truly loves her, and proves it by throwing away his life to avenge her, something Toshiko could probably never understand. Toshiko is portrayed as not needing anyone, but at the end, we get a glimpse that she isn’t completely invulnerable to feelings as the news of Mizuno’s fate seems to upset her. Even though she seems unable to show it, Mizuno may have really gotten to her.
The Book of Human Insects is another great thriller from Osamu Tezuka. The story was much easier to read than MW, as it was not anywhere as disturbing or outrageous. Toshiko was a much more sympathetic character than Yuki, especially at the end. She never appears to kill out of pure folly, and only does so to protect herself. She truly is an embodiment of nature; taking what she needs to live, and only killing to protect herself and survive. Definitely pick this volume up if you get the chance. The cat and mouse between Toshiko and Kamaishi, the steel executive, is worth it in and of itself, but the whole volume is a compelling read.
Hikari Hamura, nicknamed Picasso because of his natural artistic abilities, survived a horrible accident, but his friend Chiaki wasn’t so lucky. Suddenly, Chiaki appears in front of him and tells him in order to keep living he must help the people around him. Can Hikari save people with his sketchbook and a 2B pencil?
I read the first chapter of this series when it was previewed in Shonen Jump. While I liked it, I didn’t run out and buy the first volume when it came out. It wasn’t a “must have” at the time. But with an MMF coming up featuring Usamaru Furuya, I thought Genkaku Picasso would be the most accessible of his available titles. I definitely enjoyed the full volume more than the just the first chapter. There is some dark imagery, but it is balanced with plenty of light moments and a bright resolution for all the people Hikari and Chiaki help.
What makes Genkaku Picasso work so well are its characters. Furuya has created a quirky lead with a cast of characters to match. Hikari Hamura, aka Picasso, so named for a spelling error and his love of drawing, is a fun yet endearing lead. He is a bit of an introvert, and reacts with some hostility to his classmates. He has a nervous habit of chewing on his thumbnail, but has a real talent for art and greatly admires Leonardo Da Vinci. His only real friend is Chiaki, a childhood friend who likes to read while Picasso draws by the riverside. We don’t get to know Chiaki too well, as she is killed in the first few pages, but their bond of friendship is strong. Chiaki cares for Picasso, but not romantically so. She seems more like a big sister than a love interest.
Picasso beings to develop a circle of friends as he starts helping his classmates. The first classmate he helps is Sugiura, a popular boy who liked to tease Picasso, but after his help becomes more friendly with him. Akane, the girl Picasso helps next, not only becomes his friend, but also develops a sort-of crush on him. Of course, Picasso isn’t too happy about this change, but he seems to accept it, as Sugiura and Akane start eating lunch with him, and are usually the ones who take him to the Infirmary when he dives into a picture and can’t move or speak.
The pictures that Picasso draws of his classmate’s hearts are often dark, and sometimes disturbing. Though, the images can also be misleading. Manba’s picture wasn’t of anything he desired, but rose from his concern for Kotone, who he also has a crush on. Akane’s picture I found to be the most disturbing, but that has more to do with my love of animals. I can’t believe any animal would be treated like that for any reason. Anyway, the chapter still has a good ending, but it’s one I can’t read over.
The darker imagery is balanced by the more light-hearted moments, most of which are at Picasso’s expense. His inability to interact with his classmates, which often results in him asking blunt, inappropriate or completely off base questions based on the pictures he draws puts him into a lot of awkward situations. I don’t usually like seeing characters in awkward situations, but Picasso causes his own problems. One scene that particularly struck me was after helping Sugiura, he felt happy that he could help someone, and then immediately felt down because he was going to have to do it again. It’s these short, quick moments that are true to the character that make them funny rather than some attempt at humor.
I admit to being a bit put-off by the art at first,especially Picasso’s lips. It looked like he was wearing lipstick, and it bothered me. But once I got past that I could better appreciate Furuya’s work. Picasso’s “heart” sketches are great, and I really liked the detail he put into Picasso’s practice sketches. It really shows his potential, and makes his “heart” sketches that more believable.
Genkaku Picasso is different from other shonen titles but in a good way. The characters are odd but entertaining, and watching their interactions so far has been fun. The problems Picasso and Chiaki have to solve are realistic and different from the usual teen problems that other manga tend to focus on. It’s this difference that really makes Genkaku Picasso stand out. I will definitely be picking up the other two volumes of this series.
I wasn’t going to read No Longer Human. I’m one of those people who hears “literary classic”, and my brain shuts down. I’ve never been big on the drama and tragedy that usually permeates these kinds of books, but I’m making an effort to “expand my horizons”, so I decided to at least give the first volume a chance. What I found was a compelling human drama that didn’t feel like homework at all.
No Longer Human, written by Osamu Dazai, originally took place just after Japan’s defeat in World War II. Furuya takes this story and updates it for the 21st century, making it relatable to modern-day readers. He starts the title with a great hook. While he is surfing the internet for ideas for his next manga, Usamaru Furuya stumbles onto a link to Yozo Oba’s “Ouch Diary”, a blog about his life. This was a great way to start out the story since it’s so believable. Web surfing can lead to some strange places, and the fact that he gets sucked in in spite of himself was another great touch.
I think the choice of setting the story in modern times was the right one. It makes what Yozo goes through more relevant to the audience. While the themes of the story may be universal, a setting from over 60 years ago can make it too far removed to grab the reader. The original story will still bring in readers, but modernizing it will bring in more.
Furuya also does an excellent job of portraying Yozo’s emotions. At the beginning, Yozo doesn’t know what emotions really are, or what it means to feel them. He doesn’t understand what it means to be human and Furuya shows this by depicting Yozo as a puppet. He dances on the strings to fit into whatever situations he’s in. When he tries to commit suicide with Ageha, he is shown as a doll breaking apart. It’s after this incident that he starts to understand emotion and is no longer depicted that way.
In some way, these first two volumes show Yozo maturing backwards emotionally through the women he meets and lives with. When he’s with Ageha, he ready to give up on life, thinking there’s nothing left to experience or live for. When he lives with Shizuko and her daughter Shiori, he gets a taste of what being married could be like. And, when he runs away to Mama, he can finally be a teenager. She acts like a real mother figure to him, one he doesn’t seem to have ever had. When he meets Yoshino, he acts like a schoolboy with a crush, which really shows his emotional growth. Before, he looked at women as objects to have sex with, not understanding, or even trying to understand their feelings. With Yoshino, he doesn’t seem to feel that way at all.
Things seem to be looking up for Yozo by the end of volume 2. He has a home where he is accepted unconditionally, and he seems to have found true love. The words at the end though seem to hint at more bad times to come. After he has started to rise up, it seems that Yozo is destined for a fall. But while the words are ominous, it’s Furuya’s panels on the last page that really gives meaning to the darkness in them. The last panel almost makes you shudder at the implications.
No Longer Human is a classic in the truest sence of the word. It tells a story that is not only universal, but also timeless. The feelings and experiences of Yozo can be found in any time period and any society. Dazai’s story is compelling on its own, but Furuya’s art just drives home the story that much more. His imagery adds so much to the words and expresses what words alone can’t. I can’t recommend this title more highly.
Masterless samurai Akitsu Masanosuke is a skilled and loyal swordsman, but his naive, diffident nature has more than once caused him to be let go by the lords who employ him. Hungry and desperate, he agrees to become a bodyguard for Yaichi, the charismatic leader of a group calling itself “Five Leaves.” although disturbed by the gang’s sinister activities, Masa begins to suspect that Yaichi’s motivations are not what they seem. And despite his misgivings, the deeper he’s drawn into the world of the Five Leaves, the more he finds himself fascinated by these devious, mysterious outlaws.
I love historical dramas, especially those set in Japan, so it should be little surprise that I like House of Five Leaves. But after reading the first two volumes, I find there is much more here than just seeing the characters in Edo-period costumes. House of Five Leaves is a character drama, with Masanosuke as the focus to introduce us to an interesting group of individuals.
Let’s look first at the focus. Masanosuke is not your typical samurai. He has a strong sense of honor and the skills one would expect from one born in the samurai class. It’s his demeanor that makes him so different. He is very shy and doesn’t have a lot of self-confidence. He walks slouched over, making himself appear smaller than his true height. He doesn’t like confrontations, and when faced with an audience, he gets stage fright and runs away. This last trait may have a lot to do with why he is like he is.
So it’s little wonder that he looks up to Yaichi, a man with a lot of self-confidence, and who can talk himself out of a confrontation. He moves through the world with an ease that Masa envies. He is also a very private and mysterious man. No one in the group knows much about him, and that just intrigues Masa even more. By the same token, Yaichi is amused by Masa’s seemingly contradictory nature. He chooses Masa at first because he knows his nature and honor will keep him from reporting their activity. But the timid samurai quickly intrigues Yaichi, who then tries to get Masa to join their gang.
While Masa fence-sits about joining, he is slowly drawn in, both by Yaichi’s machinations, and by others in the gang. Okate, a beautiful woman who has known Yaichi for a long time, is kind and patient with Masa. Umezo, the owner of the izakaya where the gang hangs out is gruff toward Masa at first, but warms up to him slowly, though his daughter Okinu likes him from the start. Matsukichi is the loner of the group and isn’t too impressed with Masa, though he goes along with Yaichi’s decision. An unofficial member of the gang, Goinkyo, helps out by letting them hide their hostages on his farm. He also helps out Masa, letting him stay with him when he falls ill, and tries to warn Masa away from Yaichi and the gang’s activities.
But even as Masa is drawn in by his new “friends” so it seems members are drawn to Masa. Both Umezo and Goinkyo tell Masa about their connection to each other, and why Umezo continues to work with the gang even though he doesn’t need the money. Both comment on how they talk too much when telling it all to Masa. Neither intended to tell Masa so much, but there just seems to be something about him that makes people want to unburden themselves. Perhaps it is the same thing that Yaichi finds so fascinating about Masa.
I really enjoyed these first two volumes. The characters are interesting, and the mystery around Yaichi is intriguing. Just like Masa, I want to find out more about him and his past, as well as that of the rest of the gang. I really like Masa too. He isn’t arrogant like many of the other ronin seen in Edo. And he likes cats, so he has to be a good person. The old Edo setting
Ono’s art is very distinctive. The facial expressions of her characters are very revealing. It’s easy to tell what they are feeling or in some cases thinking. I really like the way she does the eyes. They can be big, or droopy. They can really define a character. She also has a knack for making older men look rather attractive.
House of Five Leaves isn’t a story filled with action or intrigue. It’s a slow-moving story with a lot of talking. But don’t think for a moment that’s a bad thing. The characters are engaging and the historical setting just adds to their charm. Add an immersing story and you’ve got a gratifying reading.