Momoko Tenzen is very popular, but based on Seven, it’s hard to see why. Seven tells the story of an abandoned boy discovered by a bar owner at the age of twelve and given the name “Nana” — “Seven”, and of Mitsuha, an itinerant writer who meets Nana while searching for his long-lost brother Nanao. There is a backup story concerning exactly what did happen to Nanao, and a follow-on tale that shows how Mitsuha and Nana get on once they’ve started travelling together.
And I find I have very little to say about any of it. None of it is offensive or stupid or ugly; I don’t much like Tenzen’s drawing style, since she goes in for wispy, indistinct figures and vague, low-detail backgrounds, but it’s easy enough on the eye. The story is coherent and makes a certain amount of emotional sense, but again, there’s an air of vagueness about it that makes it frustrating and unengaging. We never learn much about where the characters’ emotions are coming from, or about concrete details of their lives; Tenzen hops around from scene to scene in a slightly confusing way, as if she had no interest in what connected one scene to the next, and only cared about the high points of the characters’ interactions. This doesn’t really work for me. Much though I find that it’s the high points I revisit over and over again in my mind when I read a manga I really enjoy, those high points only gain their power from the context they’re embedded in, and when the context is as fragmentary as this, it makes for a choppy and unsatisfying read.
Worse still, the characters are as indistinct as the backgrounds; Nana’s characterization can be summed up in two words (“tortured waif”), and while there are hints of him having a Dark Past, those hints never lead anywhere and never amount to anything. Mitsuha, meanwhile, doesn’t even need two words because he doesn’t even register as strong a presence as Nana. His sole purpose is to rescue Nana from the loneliness he is in at the beginning of the book, and he does that, but although Tenzen makes a great effort to instil some sympathy for Nana’s anxiety and suspense, it’s very hard to care about such underwritten characters.
On the whole, Seven is disappointing. The wispyness of Tenzen’s art is reflected in her writing, and that’s a shame; there are hints of something interesting here, but the lack of concrete detail prevents those hints from adding up to much. Perhaps Tenzen’s other work accounts for her popularity; Seven certainly doesn’t.