A bunch of slife-of-life greatness we have here, guys.
KOE NO KATACHI/THE SHAPE OF VOICE (Yoshitoki Oima, Vol. 2-3)
After a great and harrowing first volume, the manga has settled into what seem to comprise the bulk of its narrative: the redemption and healing of former bully turned self-loathing loner Shouya. Him earning Shouko’s forgiveness and even friendship went much easier than I expected thanks to Shouko basically being an angelic person, but by introducing and re-introducing several key characters (Shouya’s new pal Nagatsuka and Shouko’s little sister Yuzuru in Volume 2, as well their old elementary classmates Sahara and Ueno in Volume 3), Yoshitoki Oima makes it clear that Shouya still has a long way to go even after the reconciliation. He has to get used again to the whole ‘hanging out and being friends with other people’ business, deal with Yuzuru’s initial distrust and Shouko mother’s outright contempt, and most crucially, develop a clean slate of relationship with Shouko that’s not mired in constant guilt and doubt.
While the narrative flow in the first volume is pretty much perfect, there’s a couple of plotting hitches this time around. Yuzuru spent majority of the second volume somehow fooling Shouya that she’s Shouko’s boyfriend, and the circumstances with Ueno is full of needless contrivances; in both cases, Oima’s (occasionally awkward) sense of humor don’t really take. However, I can forgive that as otherwise these volumes are still brimming with great moments of understated character dynamics, painfully honest view of Shouya’s headspace,and interesting future complications that the new and returning characters brought—especially the prickly and unapologetically selfish Ueno, who I suspect would have her own share of redemption by the end of this series.
I still want to see more of Shouko though, more beyond that extraordinary patient and generous facade of her. Most of her is still seen and filtered through other characters’ perspectives, and in a rare glimpse of her headspace where she blurted out misunderstood love confession to Shouya, it’s not a development I’m especially happy about. Botched confession is one of the more tired tropes in romance animango (albeit in this case it’s also an important reminder how much harder it is for Shouko, and deaf mute kids in general, to communicate properly), but my real problem with it is this whole ‘girl falling for the boy who had abused her’ business. Still, Shouya’s definitely a lot more nuanced than your typical ‘jerk with a heart of gold’ character and that moment aside, romantic development is very much understated thus far, so I’m not overly concerned.
BARAKAMON (Satsuki Yoshino, Vol. 2-3)
Barakamon returns with more warm and endearing slice of countryside life! Basically everything in these two volumes are stuff that I already saw from the anime, so I don’t get as much impact compared to the first volume (of which a lot of its content is bypassed in the adaptation). It’s still fun to re-visit classic comedic scenes like Handa’s hospital shenanigans, Tama grappling with her inner fujoshi, and of course Mature Face Naru, though. Plenty of adorable people acting adorable in their own ways; not just Naru, who’s always a given.
The third volume mainly covered a fairly important plot point, in which Kawafuji and Kanzaki—Handa’s manager and rival respectively—paid a visit to the island. I’m not quite taken by these two (especially Kanzaki, who is mildly off-putting to me), but it’s still an important development for Handa and there’s plenty of amusing moments as always. By the end of this volume, there’s also the first sighting of Tama’s brother Akki, and I’m particularly interested to see his eventual interaction with Handa as the anime didn‘t delve much into it. In general, we’re moving closer to the territory of new unadapted material, which makes me excited.
SANCHOME NO YUUHI/SUNSET ON THIRD STREET (Ryohei Saigan, Vol. 1-4)
Speaking of warm and endearing… this one isn’t just good, it’s possibly one of the greatest manga I’ve ever read.
I do have to say that I’m a sucker for something like Sunset: a contemporary slice-of-life that conveys its sense of time and place extremely well, thriving on its simple and very accessible collection of characters and mini-stories. It’s the kind of manga that makes you nostalgic for a place that you never actually live at, for a period that you never actually experience. Delving into the daily lives of various residents in the fictional Third Street of Tokyo neighborhood, Sunset deliver doses of pathos, humor, and constant jolts of mono no aware that evoked the sense of postwar melancholia, frequently spotlighting the bright smiling faces of children as the ray of light for a recovering country. Ryohei Saigan (a legendary artist who might not be well-known in international fandom but had contributed so much even beyond the field of manga) draws the kind of unassuming art and facial features that you may often see in children/gag manga, but his combination of simple dots, lines, and shapes nevertheless conspired to make constantly endearing faces and personalities among the humongous cast in this manga. When one of his characters crack a grin, I immediately want to do the same, simple as that.
As I understand it, these published volumes are a sort of Greatest Hits collection from Saigan’s long-running manga (as of this time, 63 volumes since 1974), and you can really see the amount of heart and work ethic that went into every single story. It also gave birth to three live action films and an anime series in early 1990s, although the latter only reached 27 episodes. I’m definitely looking forward to acquire more of this series, as well as discussing it in more details on this very blog.
I’ve also picked up…
SAKAMOTO DESU GA?/I’M SAKAMOTO, YOU KNOW (Nami Sano, Vol 2). I was mildly worried by the end of the first volume that Sakamoto’s brand of comedic shenanigan may eventually become stale and repetitive, as unique and amusing as it is. Well, too soon for that apparently, as this sophomore edition turns out to even be more hilarious and creative. The game of cat and mouse between Sakamoto and his best pal’s mom is a killer opening joke, and the rest of the volume plays out like an ultra bizarro version of archetypal heartwarming drama with an impossibly charismatic MC who keep touching the lives of everyone near him in the most profound way, culminating in a beautifully executed ‘calling a taxicab to stop a street fight’ maneuver in the last chapter (which is also my favorite among the many ‘put the book down and keel over in hysterical laughter’ moments I had with this volume).
MIX (Mitsuru Adachi, Vol. 4). I’m not really feeling it after the first three volumes, and the latest one didn’t really do much to change that. It’s nothing horrible, Adachi mainly set up his usual supporting pieces here; a horndog character who’s just gonna be there to repeat the same lusty joke over and over again, an uppity girl character, and an uptight rival character. But, it’s really just aping the same formula and character mould, only not nearly as good. Please surprise me with something new, Adachi.