Undercurrent is an excellent, mature, adult, drama. The art isn’t fancy, but the story is a good exploration of abandonment, understanding those closest to you, and living in the aftermath of losing a family member.
It’s also an insight into the way Japanese public baths work, as the story’s main setting is in one. Main character Kanae runs a public bath with her husband, when one day he suddenly disappears from her life without any explanation, leaving no clues whatsoever.
Did he die? Did he run away? There could be a million reasons for why he disappeared, and that is the true horror of such a scenario. The constant questioning, the lack of answers, the unproved possibilities always plaguing you night and day without end.
What do you do when your husband leaves the house one day and never returns? Kanae goes out of her mind with worry, she phones the authorities, hospitals; she wonders about motivations, did he cheat on her? Did he get bored of her? Did he commit suicide? She doubts even truly knowing him in the first place.
The dread of not knowing why someone disappeared one day is the ultimate nightmare, it is a never-ending hell with no resolution, and it’s explored very well with Undercurrent. There is a sad melancholy way about Kanae and her predicament that never veers into melodrama or histrionics; it’s perfectly subtle in that typically Japanese way.
Undercurrent poses this question: ‘what does it mean to understand someone?’ And it poses it in such an effective way, with multiple examples, scenarios and lots of poignant moments that are steeped in the kind of darkness human beings are capable of, and capable of surviving. There are really great revelations brought to the surface in the story, and they are executed in satisfying ways, with no shocking double-page panels or anything of that nature, they’re simply brought to the reader in a matter of fact way, which in a way is more effective.
The more Kanae tries to discover the truth of her husband's disappearence, the more a hidden truth in her subconscious rises to the surface of her mind, and its this duality and subtext that makes the manga an excellent read.
Undercurrent may disappoint the majority of manga readers, because it’s not concerned with typical manga conventions; it’s more concerned with story and drama, so you won’t see attractive character designs or wardrobes, you won’t see speed lines, action scenes, excessive nudity or fan service, and this is to be commended: Knowing what belongs in your chosen genre, and what doesn’t.
Author Tetsuya Toyoda's preoccupation with telling the story at a slow measured pace and reserved style ensures maximum emotional impact because the story and character conflicts and relationships are always at the forefront.
Undercurrent is a tense mystery, a melancholy drama, a subtle romance; it’s a quality manga.read more
The disappearance of someone close to you can be a frightening and dreadful experience, which may influence your daily life immensely, full of uncertainty: where is he? Did he hate me? Did he die? These are questions you won't stop asking yourself, and in the case of Undercurrent, it explores this theme in a satisfying manner.
The premise of the story is straightforward, Kanae coping with life after the disappearance of her husband, without any clue or hope as the reason to why. Undercurrent's main strength relies on its presentation and exploration of abandonment: uncertainty, stress, longing are many themes that are tackled. However, it is a difficult task to convey these to the reader, and in this case it was executed well, yet it had its shortcomings.
The pacing of the manga was not that satisfactory in comparison. The slice of life moments were well done, yet conveying these afore-mentioned themes were done at some bad moments, besides of not fully exploring it. The buildup of the story is another aspect that should be mentioned. The author gave the impression he was trying to have a gradual progression, yet as the story nears its conclusion, events take place at a surprisingly fast pace in comparison.
There is an interesting aspect the manga tackles: what it means to understand a person. The concept on its own makes any reader ponder whether he or she really understands her peers, and in the manga it was well shown. Another aspect is the fact that Kanae works in a "onsen" or public bath house alongside with an old lady that helps her out: the labour of maintaining an onsen is well displayed, which was a pleasant detail that enhanced to the overall setting of the manga.
The characters are rather dull and uninteresting in comparison with the premise. Readers observe Kanae's everyday life and hardships, yet little character development is to be found in her, as well as the supporting cast. This doesn't mean that human relationships are lackluster as well; these are displayed in a satisfying manner, with a supporting cast of normal citizens. However, motivations behind some actions are rather disappointing and unrealistic, yet I can understand to a certain extent some of these motives.
The art style of Undercurrent is nothing outstanding, yet fulfills its purpose well for what it is trying to convey. Characters expressions might seem off at times, in addition of characters designs rather dull at times. There certainly is a big abundance of well drawn backgrounds, which enhances the overall atmosphere it is trying to convey.
To sum up, Undercurrent was an interesting read that presented a subject anyone may ponder about: understanding your fellow peers, which can be really difficult to do at times. The themes that were presented were of intriguing nature, yet the author didn't fully managed to convey it properly. The conclusion was rather unsatisfying, as the motives were lackluster. It is certainly worth a read, as it is only 11 chapters long, in addition to presenting interesting themes a reader may have experienced or want to know an interpretation of it.
What does it mean when someone suddenly disappears out of your life? No goodbye, no letter or note and not even the slightest of clues that might give away to their existence.
Undercurrent; a solemn manga of unadorned brushstrokes and eroding lives, will ultimately pull at your heartstrings as you will witness Kanae, a woman running Japanese public bath, groping for the any tangible hope that might inform her anything about her suddenly lost husband.
This is by no means a tightly-knitted detective tale with twists and turns ready to pull your jaw. In fact, there is hardly a plot here, for with recurrent failures and perpetual disappointment, we meet a Kanae who had withdrawn from the rigorous search for her husband long time ago but still nonetheless checks out news-papers for possible suicides, watches tv and tries other such mundane attempts in a vein to assuage her tethering impulses that increasingly plummet her into the pits of anxieties and restlessness: where could he disappear? dead? Or living glamorous life while leaving his wife to rot away? These are the questions that augment the climax of Undercurrent and bring forth the crux of this stagnant narrative of piercing reality which hammers down the question; “Are those only the reasons for someone to disappear out of your life?”
And with Kanae, we too begin to think arbitrarily and see our fate unfolding the most existentially probing dilemmas. As Kanae ruminates whether it was because of her that she has lost her husband, she realizes her our own conceited self that ignorantly played a significant role in turning the dials for him. Yet Undercurrent is not merely about the reflections of our naked self and its flaws but rather about the mutual ebb and flow of humans' understanding with one another with all its ups and downs, and consequences that follow, above all of it, it is about learning to accept them in conjunction with changing oneself for better.
That said, there is also a subtle romance and building up of new relation that is employed in very palpable manner without overriding the incentive themes of the story. With its premise so ripe for melodrama and emotional breakdowns, surprisingly, we face none of those here. This is a muted panorama of deteriorating emotions. Similarly, the art style does not wow the viewer and remains non-picturesque with hardly curves serving as backdrop to the settings of the story. Characters are designed simple enough with sharply drawn outlines and minimal facial details. One might complain, the mangaka tried to have the easy way out by doing it all too simple, which couldn’t be more wrong, for the whole point of unadorned art is to accentuate the poignancy of this monotonous tale. In fact, everything about Undercurrent is aesthetically rich in very Japanese way.
This is a fleeting tale of stinging impressions that will accompany you for very long time even after its completion. While Undercurrent will not answer many of the questions it poses, it sure as hell will stay with you until you find them. read more