I’ve got… nothing to say. Huh. Who knew? Being a manga artist is pretty darn hard…
By Shunju Aono
Publisher: Viz Media/Sigikki Line
Genre: Slice of life/comedy
Age rating: T+/older teen
Price: Free to read at www.sigikki.com; forthcoming print edition will be $12.99 (review based on chapters at www.sigikki.com)
Most manga published in English is either shounen or shoujo: populist entertainment intended for an audience of teenage boys and/or girls. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but the overwhelming presence of shoujo and shounen manga, and the relative scarcity of English-translated manga for adults, encourages a constrained view of what manga is and what it can do. The Viz Signature line has been a place for manga that doesn’t fit inside those constraints since it was launched in 2005, providing a comfy home for masterpieces like Naoki Urasawa’s Monster and Taiyo Matsumoto’s Tekkonkinkreet — stories too individual, too adult, and too (for want of a less contentious word) artistic to fit in the same categories as their more commercial titles. IKKI magazine in Japan has served a similar purpose since its launch in 2003 — it’s the home of manga that’s a bit different from the norm. IKKI’s stories are not necessarily wildly experimental, but they have room to be rough, idiosyncratic, and offbeat in a way that simply doesn’t happen with more commercial magazines. It makes sense, then, that Viz has created www.sigikki.com, a website merging the purpose of the Signature line with IKKI magazine — publishing chapters of stories from IKKI online for free as a way of gauging audience reactions before taking the risk of a print edition.
All of this is a lengthy prologue by way of saying: I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow is far from the kind of thing most manga readers are used to seeing. The art is rough, unpolished, almost amateurish, more like something by Jeffrey Brown than by… well, any well-known manga artist you care to mention. And the storyline, too, is more like something from an American self-published indie minicomic than the kind of thing Viz usually publishes. The main character, Shizuo, is a 40-year-old divorced dad who’s trying to “find himself” after spending 15 years as a typical salaryman “just because”. Shizuo is fat and lazy and not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree; his elderly father berates him for not making anything of himself, while his teenage daughter looks on with detached fondness. When Shizuo takes it on himself to try being a manga artist, he finds out very quickly that it’s not something you can succeed at just by wanting to; he works hard at his stories for little reward, and has to get a job at a fast-food joint where his co-workers are all at least fifteen years younger than him. They call him “Manager”, which (a footnote assures us each time) is a nickname, not his actual title; there’s a curious combination of affection and contempt in the way they treat him.
Shizuo is pathetic, and ordinary, except in the ways that he’s a little off-kilter; he has big dreams that are so vague they can’t serve as inspiration for real-life action, but so attractive that he’d rather pay attention to them than to the boring little mess he’s made of his life. He’s a loveable loser, in short, and like Homer Simpson (and he’s a lot like Homer Simpson), he really is loveable despite being the kind of guy you’d probably hate to have as a friend. His adventures — or rather, misadventures — are both sadly hilarious and hilariously sad. I laughed out loud more times reading I’ll Give It My All than any other manga I can think of, but at the same time the funniest moments are the ones that display the vast gap between Shizuo’s abilities and his aspirations, and Shizuo has just enough self-awareness to make those moments a little bit sad.
Just a little bit, though. I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow is too low-key to be tragic, and that’s what makes it brilliant: Shizuo’s life is utterly real, with all the messy squalor and tiny triumphs that real life has to offer. I’ve read American comics like this, but this is the first manga of its kind that I’ve ever seen, and it’s top-notch. Even if you’re very happy with your sparkling shoujo and your slam-dunk shounen, give it a try (the first six chapters are free, after all). It might just open your horizons a bit.