Seventeen authors (nine from France or French-speaking countries, eight from Japan) brought together in the same book, a succession of freely created short stories about the same universe: Japan.
The French, of course, journeyed to Japan for the occasion. Each cartoonist was sent for two weeks to a different city in the archipelago (Joann Sfar in Tôkyô, Emmanuel Guibert in Kyôto, Nicolas de Crécy in Nagoya, etc.) to bring back an original creation.
The Japanese tell us about their district, the city where they live or where they originally come from (Kazuichi Hanawa's story being about the northern island of Hokkaido, Jiro Taniguchi's about the town of Tottori, etc.)
The result is often inspired, always surprising: Japan through new eyes.
"Japan" will appear simultaneously in French, Japanese, Spanish, Italian and English. Along with "A Patch Of Dreams" by Hideji Oda, it is the first step in a series of international creations with left-to-right reading direction, created for us by some of the best European and Japanese comic book artists.
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators is an internationally-published anthology that features the work of seventeen artists - nine from France and French-speaking countries, and eight from Japan. I'm not as well-versed in French comics as I am in manga, so I am not familiar with any of the European creators, but among the Japanese contributors there are names that may be familiar to manga connoisseurs: Matsumoto Taiyou (Ping Pong, Tekkon Kinkreet), Taniguchi Jiro (Aruku Hito), Anno Moyoco (Hataraki Man), and more.
This is an anthology, and like all anthologies it's difficult to rate as a whole - there are always going to be some pieces
in the collection you like more than others, and it's unlikely that every single story will appeal to you.
The art is a mixed bag, drastically different for each artist - the art runs the gamut from the detailed styles of Taniguchi Jiro's "Summer Sky" and Fabrice Neaud's "City of Trees" to the cartoonish sketches of Aurelia Aurita's "Now I can die!". Some of the stories, like Emmanuel Guibert's "Shin.Ichi" aren't even comics at all, but narratives with accompanying illustrations.
The Europeans are outsiders, and most of their stories are told from the point of view of someone on the outside looking in - For instance, Neaud's "City of Trees" is a straight-up travelogue of Sendai. Etienne Davodeau's "Sapporo Fiction" is a hilarious story about traveling with a local and misunderstanding things through the language barrier, and Joann Sfar's "Walterloo's Tokyo" recounts the author's friend's blunt and culturally insensitive observations about the people he meets in Tokyo. ("They teach three French classes, screw a Japanese girl, and think they're Francois Truffaut", he says, of fellow Frenchmen living in Japan.)
The Japanese authors, on the other hand, wrote from insider points of view: Igarashi Daisuke's "The Festival of the Bell Horses" and Matsumoto Taiyou's "Kankichi" are fantasy stories steeped in Japanese folklore, and Taniguchi's "Summer Sky" is a straighforward and very Japanese tale of unrequited love.
I've listed the stories in the collection, with comments on some and asterisks on the ones I enjoyed most:
At the seaside, Takahama Kan
The gateway, David Prudhomme
*Summer Sky, Taniguchi Jiro (Unrequited love hurts so good.)
Now I can Die!, Aurelia Aurita
Osaka 2034, Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters
Shin.Ichi, Emmanuel Guibert
*The New Gods, Nicolas de Crecy (An ode to Japan's gods of cuteness.)
Kankichi, Matsumoto Taiyou
Walterloo's Tokyo, Joann Sfar (To be honest, the art didn't blow me away. Too many speech bubbles, too cluttered, not a good way of presenting the content.)
The Sunflower, Little Fish
The Song of the Crickets, Anno Moyoco (Gorgeously illustrated, but feels like it's three pages too short.)
In Love Alley, Frederic Boilet
*The City of Trees, Fabrice Neaud (I enjoy Neaud's detailed, realistic art style, and the insightful observations he makes about his surroundings.)
*The Festival of the Bell Horses, Igarashi Daisuke (Absolutely stunning art.)
*In the Deep Forest, Hanawa Kazuichi (A really interesting. melancholy look at Buddhist beliefs in this story.)
*Sapporo Fiction, Etienne Davodeau (A very amusing story about an old man and his twin.)
Overall, I have awarded this anthology a 9 based on the stronger stories in the collection. Graded individually, the scores go as low as 4 and as high as 9. Most of the stories in the anthology are good - there are far more good ones than bad/middling ones-- and they are good enough to justify the existence of this anthology.