At the beginning, a crossing of two cultures, French and Japanese, which is going to awaken many things in each one of the authors who participates in this adventure: a stay in Japan does not leave one indifferent... Eight stories from nine European authors result, in which all the exoticism of this elusive and mysterious country is depicted with imagination, humor and poetry. As if in response to these impressions of the artist-travelers, eight authors from the Archipelago portray their own Japan, the everyday one, that of modernity and that of legend. After reading this sentient collection of anecdotes and tales woven together from such different views, one desires nothing more than to visit and see for oneself some bit of the land of the Rising Sun.
Japon was a project carried out by the French Institutes and Alliances in Japan. Seventeen authors, nine French authors and eight from Japan, were commissioned to create a short story based on a city in Japan where the institutes are situated. While the Japanese authors created stories based on where they live or their hometowns, the French authors were invited to different cities in Japan for two weeks.
It was published in French on November 8, 2005 by Casterman, and later in Japan on December 20, 2005 by Asukashinsha. It was also published in English by Ponent Mon/Fanfare on September 28, 2007, in Dutch by Casterman, in Italian by Coconino Press, in Polish by Hanami and in Spanish by Ponent Mon.
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.