22 Jun, 2010

Kingyo Used Books, Vol. 1

By: Sam Kusek

By Seimu Yoshizaki
VIZ, 208 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

So much of what makes manga, and really comics in general, a great hobby, is the immense amount of history behind them. Manga is such a cultural force over in Japan: partly created post-WWII to help rebuild the Japanese morale, it has become a powerful engine to help people tell their stories. Take Barefoot Gen, for example, a series that was produced by a Hiroshima survivor who wanted to portray his own experiences and anti-war views as his fellow students were protesting another war in Vietnam. Manga has always been reflective of the Japanese culture and it is safe to say that manga has permeated all facets of the Japanese lifestyle. At least that’s what Kingyo Used Books, one of the latest series from Viz’s SIGIKKI imprint, suggests…

Set in modern-day Japan, we are introduced to a little-known used bookstore that specializes in—you guessed it—manga. The book reads as a series of short stories surrounding people who have lost their way somehow, whether it be in their daily lives, in the heated intensity of a school sport or in a quest for a future goal. The store becomes a safe haven for these people, offering them a place to pour out their worries and invest themselves in books that allow them to take a step back and reflect on what is really important in this day and age. This is a wonderful theme that is carried throughout the book, making it an invigorating read and a real breath of fresh air in the current manga market.

Writing-wise, I felt that this book might be a bit too light at some moments. This is not on the part of the characters that are introduced in their short stories; I think they are all well-crafted to get their individual points across. This criticism leans more towards the cast of main characters presented as the owners, workers and friends of the shop. Be it the manga-obsessed and mysterious employee, Shiba, or the spunky assistant manager, Natsuki, I never felt as though I really got to know who these people are. What are the motivations driving them to open up this shop? Why are they so obsessed with manga? There were hints at possible further story involvement with them throughout the book but it was hard to guess if the dynamic was going to change to focus on their lives or keep the short story format.

Fortunately, the artwork is as light and breezy as the message is. Everybody is expressive and realistic; not one of the characters, no matter how important, is skimped out on. Not only that but the book sports an enormous amount of research in terms of the feel of everyday modern Japanese streets and the manga series being discussed. This realism really helps to bring the story back down to earth, making it feel as wholesome as possible.

On a whole, this is a series that has the potential to really say a great deal about the state of manga and its readership today. I think it is a brilliant time for it to come out, considering the boom that manga and anime have taken over in America and the recent decline of readership in Japan. I just hope that it delivers on its message.

Volume one of Kingyo Used Books is available now.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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