Ian, a young man with a fractured family history, travels from Australia to England to America in the hope of realizing his dreams and reuniting with his beloved sister. His story unfolds backwards through the framing narrative of Jim, a reporter driven to capture Ian's experiences in a novel: not simple. A story within a story, a book within a book, a tale about the search for family, for an emotional home.
I read a review for this Otaku USA and really wanted to read it. Then, about a month later, it popped in the local Barnes and Nobles so of course I bought and devoured it!
not simple by Natsume Ono follows two men: One who makes the story and one who writes it. Even after reading it, I'm still not sure which one was which.
First of all, we have Ian. Ian is an Australian with a messed up family. His mother divorced his father and took him to England,even though she despised him, to get back his sister who was in jail at the
time and who had done something unforgivable. His sister, Kylie, always spent as much time as she could with Ian for she loved him more than anyone else in the world. It was a shock for her when she got out jaill to find out her father and mother had split up and that Ian was in England with the mother who hated him. I took her a while to get to England and get Ian away from his alcoholic mother and by that time Ian was already scared. He then went back to Australia to live with his father, who didn't really care about his family at all, and made a promise with his sister (who was staying to take care of her mother) that he would see her again.
The main part of the book is about him trying to re-unite with his sister. He travels to Australia, to America, to England, back to America, all the while searching for the one person who ever cared for his existence.
The other main character is Jim, the homosexual reporter who wants to make Ian's life into a novel. He first meets Ian at an interview, way back when Ian did sprinting professionaly. He is fascinated by Ian's personality. He says that he is "a person unclouded by too much thought. someone who [is] simply themselves and nothing more... That's the type of person I [want] to be." He becomes Ian's only friend and learns to understand better than anyone else.
The story is tragic. There is no happy ending. No reassurance. Ian's life sucks. No if, and, or buts about it. But this seems to be a book where the story isn't the series of events, but the character who leads them. It's melodramatic and depressing but watching the character through it all, as he keeps coming back and moving forward is beautiful and hopeful. It simply breaks your heart watching this story unfold.
The art in this manga is very refined. It contrasts the stories complex and mature themes and characters by being incredibly simple and childish. You can tell, however, that the mangaka is incredibly experienced. The paneling is easy to read and flows well. Ono, despite the simple art, takes advantage of camera angles and textless panels in a very experienced and professional manner.
The only thing I can say against this manga is that the simple art makes it harder to read emotions, but it is a rare and minor irritation.
Overall, I think that this is a beautiful manga, that any lover of slice of life manga should read.
by the way, the scores i gave this manga where:
Enjoyment: 9 (because it's so freakin' sad!)
A void, a soft gust of wind, a sole lone flower with naught but to wither away. not simple is akin to a gleeless memoriam, a sorrowful take on one life that unfortunately could not be saved.
With the spine of a story gently brittling away, not simple takes you on a journey, a chronicle detailing the life of a young man named Ian. This tale is a dejected one—every event compounded onto Ian's misfortunes. Each moment, each flash onto not simple's stage is wistful, placing heart and soul into the stiffened dialogue at play. The bastard child of his sister and his father; an abusive
alcoholic for a "mother"; and his father, a callous businessman who couldn't possibly care. Even child prostitution is but a casual topic for Ian. This irreparable lifestyle fundamentally warps his beliefs—a shadow that continuously haunts his search for happiness. But, there's a shimmering hope. Every scene you see Ian clinging to his innocence, clutching something so sweet that others can only look at him and cry out in solace.
not simple's plot is short and fleeting, but the passion behind its tale takes readers on an affectional journey. The miles each character sojourns across become a metaphor for their fleeting nature, constantly on the move and in search for that which would keep them happy. Moreover, each character becomes intrinsically wrapped with family, a motif (and overall theme) which becomes clearer upon every page. This message is a simple one, suitable to the length of the story. However, what is extraordinary is not simple's ability to render it so exceptionally—to realize unhappiness so tangibly.
Each character is so dolefully a result of their environment. A once enflamed romance is now all withered away; both mother and father see others and do not give so much as a glance towards their fallout children. The loving sister as well is in prison for dire needs to take care of Ian. Each experience within this life is a wicker, passing so ephemerally from Ian's grasp. The work also adds an alternative perspective. The reporter named Jim becomes ever so fascinated by Ian's life, so much that he aims to write a memoir of him. Every one of Jim's actions is just the same as Ian's—sorrowful, analytical, and expressionless. Always wearing slate black in style, Jim's presence stays ever so distinctive, placing readers into his shoes as much as one would consider Ian alone.
What dances so mournfully into this atmosphere is Natsume Ono's impassioned hand. The paneling is wonderfully imaginative, with speech bubbles constantly defying panel lines, and diagonals slashed across non-conventional layouts. The vertical diagonals place the focal point less on the storytelling in so much as on the characters themselves. This flocks attention toward each character's lanky poses and vapid inscrutable faces. Shadows as well take a heavy effect onto dispersing this melancholy so acutely; Ono regularly crafts opposites in tonal shading. This fastens the minimalist artwork with a subtler depth beyond what most works attempt to express using even more tools.
Natsume Ono's iconic character designs take its place here again, always the same with cylindrical eyes and clean charcoal outlines. The minimalism in Ono's artistry persists as a fascinating juncture. Panels often span expressions and slow rigid movement, lacking dialogue page after page. This gives many of the characters a subtle rueful expression, surveying the atmosphere with pensive thoughts and unspoken aversion. It's bleak in taste, like crying out for help in a forest with no one to hear.
Just an hour or two is all it takes to complete not simple. This is a beautiful story, like a melancholy that can only (and fervently) clasp its passion. not simple subdues readers and places them in utter despair, offering a slight shimmer of light with a humble message at its end. Page for page, this journey is certainly not one to miss.
"What I really want...is to feel the warmth of the people who should be closest to me." - Ian, "not simple".
"not simple" is a manga whose title should be taken only semi-literally. The main character Ian is a complex individual whose respect of life's subtleties tends to have a major effect on those around him. However, at the same time he is also very much a simple individual, a person who is simply looking for that one thing which so many of us take for granted; that being, family. This yearning makes Ian very much conflicted, however, his interactions and advice to those around him,
allows him to seek some sort of solace in the fact that he can help others.
Only one reporter known simply as "Jim" in the manga, ever realizes just how complex and fascinating the personality of Ian is, and his revelation causes him to become fascinated with Ian, prompting him to write a novel about the young man's experiences. However, Jim slowly begins to take a liking to Ian, eventually becoming one of the few people that Ian could ever call a "friend".
The interesting thing about "not simple" though is that, while the manga does focus on Ian and his journey to find his family, the other characters end up sharing the center stage with Ian- beginning to realize the errors of their ways when they come into contact with him. Consequently, the character development is incredible. There are not very many characters in the manga, but this serves as an advantage to the story, giving those characters chances to realize how they have been living their lives and sometimes exposing their faults in the process. Because of this then, some of the characters end up leading happier lives in the end. However, whether or not the same can be said about Ian...well, you have to read the manga for that answer.
The manga artist (Natsume Ono) does an incredible job of illustrating the scenes within the manga. To show this, one only needs to think of this- during the majority of the time when I was reading the manga, I kept on mistaking it for a novel, mostly because of how well I was able to imagine each and every frame within my own mind. That may just be me though, since I have found that with many of the manga's that I have read, that I can never "feel" the story as much as I can when reading a normal novel. In fact, for the majority of the manga, I thought that I was playing the part of Jim- observing Ian silently from the sidelines, wanting to help but powerless to do so. Ono's usage of facial expressions and angles were the main reason for making me feel this way, and frankly, I have never read or seen anything quite like it. Its somehow unique, but in a way that I cannot quite understand.
Ian's story is one that I feel should be told to as many people as possible. Far too many people forget just how important their families are and how much they should truly mean to them, even if your family does have issues- they are still YOUR family, and nothing can ever replace that fact. They may effect you in ways that you wish they didn't but in the end, there is something so beautiful about family, so human. And while its humanity may very well make it flawed in some ways, there will always be something fundamental and glorious about "home" and nothing can truly change that fact. This is essentially what I think one should take from "not simple".
Thus, in the end I really enjoyed this manga, its themes and its motifs shine gloriously and are of the type that everyone should be very much familiar with. However, at the same time they may very well be alien to the reader, since many people have lost touch with what the word, "family" truly means, and that my friends, is what makes "not simple" so beautiful. It reminds us of a meaning which has been somewhat lost in today's rough and tumble world, and yet, it still presents us with hope.
Not Simple, a title that fits the description of the story well.
I have always been a fan of works that are depressing in nature. But when I try to revisit a story, it just seems to have a less impact to me. Maybe it’s the realization that the story could have proceeded in a less tragic direction. Some just lack the essence of catharsis, making it feel like the whole story is just a misery fest for the reader. You get overwhelmed the first time but it doesn’t feel special anymore the second time around. However, Not Simple has been a very rare exception to
this trend. Even after reading it for the fifth time, it still manages to widen the gaping hole it initially left within me.
The structure of the storyline is like a downward spiral, as it transitions back to the start after you reach the end. There are time skips, emphasizing only the key events while subtle implications of lesser details are still relevant story-wise. We witness the life journey of the protagonist Ian, a boy who comes from a complicated family. His childhood is no ordinary, a constant wreck to the point he’s completely desensitized. You might expect that he’s pessimistic because of his tragic backstory when in fact he’s the opposite. He is an aspiring athletic runner and strives hard for that goal. He eagerly travels across America in search for her sister. He makes a promise to a stranger he met in his journey to see each other again three years later. It’s that sense of optimism and innocence slowly being burned out as the story progresses that makes the story a real downer. Life just seems to be consistently screwing him over, like bashing him with a board sign “Your existence is a mistake”. However, he doesn’t give up easily and seeing him trying to live out his fractured life is such a bittersweet experience. Perhaps his passion for running stems from his desire to reach a destination, a place where he can really call home. In it, he seeks a confirmation that it is alright for him to exist and live with hope for the future.
The idea of broken family ties is portrayed well in the story. The father lives in Australia and the mother lives in London, they are divorced. Her sister jumps between those two areas in addition to America and always gets into trouble for the sake of making ends meet. Ian travels between those places and it symbolizes a family drifting apart, once intact but now in pieces because he was brought up to this world. In order for Ian to reach either of his parents, he needs to travel a great mile to meet them personally. This represents that his relationship with his parents are far from close, not a trace of familial love. There are noticeable efforts to make amends, re-uniting individual ties, but the cruelty of life halts that direction.
One strange thing about this manga is that it tries to be self-aware being a tragic story. Jim’s character seems out of place but he represents the reader, an observer who is given the chance to be involved. Given all he knows about Ian, there reaches a point where he can decide the outcome of the story. Does he merely observe or interfere, as the protagonist gets ultimately swallowed by misery? If he interferes, then there won’t be a tragic finale at all. The world will continue to move without everyone acknowledging Ian’s existence. If he only observes, then we are grateful for him that we get to enjoy this incredibly saddening tale of a wandering Australian boy. Ian even says at one point that Jim is his only friend which can be interpreted as the character’s awareness of the reader’s emotional attachment. Whatever the real author’s intentions are, it crafts the “story within a story” scenario well.
Overall, Not Simple is a haunting tale of hope clouded with misfortune. A conscious effort to be positive amidst the negativity captures the idea that life is indeed unforgiving. There is however a merit in a life of suffering, the ultimate test of what makes a person truly human. There is an option to be either full or void of hope in the face of demise, and seeing how it all leads to a personal decision is an emotional rollercoaster. Raw and unforgettable, Ian’s story is one that appeals universally. Life is what you want it to be, whether you are to be restrained by life’s injustices is ultimately an individual choice. At death’s door, do you think you have led a horrible life? It’s not about who’s got the most difficult life, it’s about how one accepts both the ugliness and beauty of life. A motivational message hidden within a heart-wrenching story, the manga definitely delivers.