A couple of months ago, I wrote a column about my affinity with Marvel comics and how tough it is for me to boycott them. However, there is an upside: Spending less on Marvel has enabled me to buy and enjoy more Manga.
There are so many series to choose from, in so many different genres– how was one to pick? At least I wasn’t a complete noob to the genre. From the mid-nineties through the early two-thousands, I partook in a number of series. But when publishers switched from monthly floppys to collected editions… And started publishing right-to-left instead of left-to-right… I said “to hell with it” and quit buying manga altogether.
Then, about a year ago– with my Marvel Boycott in full effect– I began looking for some interesting comics to read and resolved to revisit manga.
Please note: I am issuing a few SPOILER WARNINGS for the books I’ll be referring to in this column: Cross Game and 5 Centimeters per Second. If you are planning on reading these books (and I emphatically recommend them) then this column WILL spoil some major plot points. If you don’t mind spoilers and want to know why I like these books so much– then please read on.
One of the first Manga books I began ordering was Cross Game. The author, Mitsuru Adachi, was familiar to me through his work Short Program– which I read about 10 years ago in the magazine Animerica Extra.
Cross Game revolves around Ko Kitamura, the reluctant pitcher for his school’s baseball team. Ko’s neighbours– Mr Tsukishima and his four daughters Ichiyo, Wakaba, Aoba and Momiji– also play huge roles. But it is Ko and Wakaba who share a special affinity, as they were born on the same day.
Cross Game Book 1 opens with Ko and Wakaba at 11 years old and places a special emphasis on their friendship… Which is why the ending of Book 1 is so devastating. Wakaba dies in a swimming accident while away at camp.
I was completely stunned when I read this and emotionally affected by it. Adachi handles her death in such a touching and real way, that I still find it moving. I also found it hard to pick the book back up after that– as it’s a very unusual experience for me to be so affected by a “mere” comic. I did pick it up again though, and I’m very glad I did– as Adachi weaves the interplay between Ko, Aoba and the other characters with a deftness and subtlety that few other authors can match.
Over the next few books (Volume 6, published by Viz, is the last I’ve read), the years pass and Ko, his friends and the members of the Tsukishima family honour the memory of Wakaba– while moving on with their lives. When I read Cross Game, I sometimes wonder why I bother reading about people running about in capes and tights. So many current superhero comics, even a lot of the good ones, don’t really have much to say.
But I guess its healthy to have variety and to consume some things that are entertainment for the sake of entertainment. Still, I can’t help thinking that at least some of Marvel and DC’s writers are well capable of doing something more thought-provoking or profound with the superhero genre than they are doing at the moment.
The other book I wanted to mention, 5 Centimeters per Second, started out as an anime (which I haven’t yet seen) by Makoto Shinkai. It has subsequently been adapted to manga by Shinkai and artist Seike Yukiko. Last month I was looking through Previews magazine for books to order from my comics supplier. When I reached the Vertical Comics section, I thought the cover to 5 Centimeters looked pretty good.
I put a tentative order on it while I did some further checks. Normally, I read the first chapter of an unfamiliar manga online so I can verify the internal art is good and the story is decent. I read the first chapter and liked it. The story was so engrossing, I read Chapter 2… Then Chapter 3 and so on until I had finished all 11 chapters in one evening. Considering each chapter is 40-70 pages in length, it was a long night.
The story begins with Toono, a Japanese boy– who befriends a girl named Akari, who transfers to Toono’s school. They quickly become close friends. Over the course of the first chapter, its obvious they have fallen in love with each other… Which makes it even more shocking when Akari’s parent’s move to another city and the couple can’t see each other constantly as they used to. They send letters, but long distance relationships don’t work… And without even realising it, they grow apart. A year after Akari’s move, Toono visits her, but its the last time they will see each other… As Toono and his parents move to an island off the southern coast of Japan, far away from Akari.
As the years pass for Toono, he graduates college and moves to Tokyo– where he has a relationship with a girl called Risa. The relationship doesn’t work out, as he still carries the memories of Akari close. Dwelling on those memories makes it impossible for Toono to commit to Risa.
5 Centimeters deals with themes that most of us have had to deal with: Lost friendships, lost loves, moving on. One of the reasons that I couldn’t stop reading it, beyond the great writing and beautiful art, is the story chimed so much with things that had happened in my own life. I’ve never thrown a fireball at Dr Doom or punched the Joker in the face– but I have lost touch with close friends and have been so fucked up after a relationship that I’ve had to put my life back together and learn how to move on and find happiness.
The 5 Centimeters per Second manga will be released on June 26th. I can’t recommend it highly it enough– especially if you want to want to read something that feels like it really matters.
I found both of these books to be not only enjoyable but emotionally moving as well. Have you found any comics or manga that moved you?