No wiser

So was yesterday the lamest birthday ever or what? My girlfriend left town (she said something about going to meet her sister’s new baby — whatever), and everyone left work early so I wasn’t even able to glom onto other people to do interesting things with. Instead I ended up going home alone and watching very manly movies such as Bullitt and Casino Royale while I backed up the entirety of my on-the-brink-of-failure hard drive. AWESOME.

Bullitt was especially depressing. Once I got past how nice it was to see my favorite city frozen in time and depicted in high-definition (insane film grain and all), there was the crushing realization that 1968 was nearly 40 years ago. Oh, mortality.

So in revenge for the girlfriend’s abandonment of me at such a terrible time, I drew this:

…since she gets sad whenever I draw tragic things happening to ToastyFrog. As suffering is the entire point of the character, this causes no end of heartache around here. Although I guess the joke was on me, as I had to work hard to convince her that this was a brash declaration that there’s only one true ToastyFrog and that no, this wasn’t a twisted, passive break-up message.

Ah well. Seeing as morbidity is the state of this update, have another manga mini-review — this time about a slightly somber and wholly affecting book.

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
Fumiyo Kouno | jaPRESS | ten bucks

Is there anything more depressing than stories about survivors of nuclear armageddon? Alas Babylon, Grave of the Fireflies, When the Wind Blows — they all present a very clear picture of the fact that the people who die in the flash of ground zero are very, very fortunate. Because the ones who don’t slowly waste away as their bodies fail over time, succumbing bit by bit to radiation poisoning.

Town of Evening Calm starts off as a story in the same vein, following the life of a young Hiroshima survivor named Minami, and how the guilt over the suffering she witnessed but couldn’t prevent — the charred bodies she stepped over as she searched for lost family members, the physical agony of the bomb’s early victims — affects her life ten years later. Eventually, though, Minami succumbs to the inevitable, and the story moves to the present day and takes on a less heartbreaking tone. (Of course, that changes as well once the present-day characters’ connections to Minami become clear.)

The book’s strength lies in its combination of briskness and casualness; at only 100 pages, it’s actually quite short, but the story never feels rushed. At times you sort of wonder where it’s going, in fact, and then suddenly you’re there almost without realizing how it happened. And Kouno’s artwork complements her storytelling perfectly; like the plot, the linework is loose but economical and defines the characters more effectively than you initially realize. Her style is reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s work in Nausicaa, with a similar simplicity and uniformity of stroke and the same unusual lack of screen tone. Come to think of it, didn’t Nausicaa end up getting sick from the God Warrior’s radioactive nature as well? Well then.

Town is a small, quiet tale, but it’s the sort of thing that makes you get all pissed off when someone sniffs disdainfully at the prospect of graphic novels being real literature — there’s a beautiful story here, and it’s artfully told, with all the gravity and emotion of a novel twice its length. Sometimes things just work better without a bunch of clumsy words mucking it up.

20 thoughts on “No wiser

  1. Your manga mini-reviews are quite useful to me. I love manga, but going to a store with 1000+ titles is overwhelming (besides, most of them are crap). Thanks to you, I can acually look for something specific. Something different, also. In fact, you’ll be useful in my comics page, ’cause I need manga coverage. If only you speak spanish. Damn.

    Happy birthday, by the way. I know what a bad birthday is, but don’t worry. You’ll get over it.

  2. Oh, it’s fine, I just wanted to indulge in some comical self-pity. I had a fine time despite myself. Sushi is the panacea that cures all ailments, and I’ve salvaged my computer’s drive so that it’s many times faster than it was. (And I’ve had worse birthdays.)

    Glad you enjoy the manga write-ups. I browse a lot of comic and manga blogs and try to cherry pick the handful of titles that are a notch above the usual crap and figured I should share the wealth. It’s good to know they’re doing some good.

  3. Happy Belated Birthday Parish, would’ve wished it to you sooner, but I didn’t know.

    Loved the write-up on Town of Evening Calm as well. I read a fan translation of it a while back and felt much the same way you did about it (although I’m sure there were some stylistic differences from the official version). I’ll have to see if I can find the official version around somewhere and give it a read.

    So yeah please keep up the manga write-ups – they are quite informative.

  4. Hey, happy birthday!

    For a less bleak post-Apocalyptic, heartfelt comic, you should look up Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (often translated as Yokohama Shopping Log.) It’s a serene and melancholy celebration of life after an unspecified, unexplained global disaster. Sadly, it hasn’t been licensed yet, but it’s very much worth finding the fan-tranlated version.

  5. I didn’t read the graphic novel but I understand what you mean about the weird notion of “real” literature. For it to even make sense you need to believe that the boundaries between art forms are anything but arbitrary, and also that certain forms of art have more value than others. It’s like racial discrimination applied to books.

  6. Sushi solves all. So it was said, and so it shall be!

    ((@)) — That’s the Birthday Roll. JUST. FOR. YOU. (damnation) i wanted to do an arrow but the less-than sign makes it all disappear!)

  7. Happy birthday! Geez, sorry I missed it!

    I always wondered what the motivation was for the site’s name change. But I suppose that’s a tale for another time…


  8. How is that a bad birthday?

    Seriously, though. I kinda enjoy those evenings (time for myself, and whatnot), but that can’t be right for a birthday. So happy non-birthday to you.

    Also: More Toastifer! We beg!

  9. Happy belated birthday, sport.
    Personally, I actually prefer to spend my birthday alone. I really just don’t like the attention. That and over the last couple years it’s started to feel so much less important. It’s like, yeah, I was born on this day X years ago. Whoopee. Go cynicism.

  10. I’m going to assume it was the recent Daniel Craig Casino Royale and not the old Peter Sellers/Woody Allen Casino Royale you watched. “Manly” might be a stretch for the latter version.

  11. Yeah, I’m sure Hardcore Gaming 101 is a real hit with the 1up crowd.

    “Hey guys, after we get done convincing Shoe to hire us because of the lid blowing expose on the eerie comparisons we’ve made between the Dreamcast and 360, lets fire up either some “real”rock or music we ironically like and talk about Dynamix’s work in the 80s.

  12. Oh hey, if you want truly horrific post-nuclear war film, check out “Threads”. It’s a British film and it made me blubber like a baby, something which the expectations of my gender expressly forbid – expectations which I do, in general, observe, for better or worse.

    What I’m trying to say is, man that film is harsh.

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