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.