In Yuichi Yokoyama's Travel, the storyline is as linear as it is sharp: it is the long, silent and crystalline description of a train ride undertaken by three men. Travel is a journey into the contemporary Japanese psyche—a brilliant, wordless graphic novel.
From what has been published in the US, it is hard to get a grasp on the Japanese art comic scene due to the very small amount. Hell, it so small that I’m not even sure whether there is anyone else beside Yuichi Yokoyama in it. There probably are more people in it, but its just that he raises the bar so high that the others are often not associated with him because their work is inferior.
For those that do not know what art comics are, the name is mostly self-explanatory. The focus of them is mainly on the art style or the usage
of that style in the radical/experimental storytelling/literary techniques in comics. So much is one or two aspects emphasized that the other neglected parts are completely negligible and almost never even surface in the reader’s mind. For those looking for a great story or characters, then don’t even bother with this genre because those are the two most neglected parts.
Unlike New Engineering, Travel is one “story”—if it even really has one. There is no real plot to it. Just three guys getting on train and taking a journey somewhere, where they get off. Practically once when they get off, it goes for 5 more pages and then stops. The plot is one of the negligible aspects of the book since it doesn’t matter where they are going or even why. The reader’s view of the characters never change throughout the entire story and it completely lacks character development—another aspect that doesn’t matter. For the majority of the story, all they do is sit and look out the window or smoke. Probably one of the main reasons why the characters don’t matter is the utter lack of words and, unlike Eisner, the alienating character designs (which is basically a black and white version of the faces on the cover seen above). All of the faces have the same look on them, with the variation kept to the external appearances such as hair, clothes, glasses, you get the idea.
Despite the lack of the story elements mentioned above, Travel is still a highly enjoyable read. What makes it so fun is how highly unique the art is. Dan Nadel, one of the editors are PictureBox Inc. (the North American publisher), describes his style much better then I ever could:
“Yuichi Yokoyama is a designer and cartoonist whose style and concerns represent a break with tradition in his emphasis on geometrical forms and immersive, fantastical geographies and characters [concerning their design rather then their personalities]. His two favorite artists are William Blake and Sol LeWitt.” (Dan Nadel, The Ganzfeld 5: Japanada! pg. 86)
On of the most notable things that must be mentioned is the lack of subjection motion (blurring of the background so the reader can focus on the character/object and create an speed up the illusion of time by breaking off a point of reference). Instead Travel takes up the American technique of motion lines that streak across the page. What is most impressive is that it is still able to maintain the fast pacing of the manga that uses subjective motion while able to keep the background static. There still are streaks across the pages that cover up some of the landscape, it reverses what moves and accurately depicts what it feels like to be in a train. You don’t move, the scenery does. Being a fan of art comics, I still haven’t come across anything this radical in motion. Though what is also very interesting is the depiction of time during the first part when the three guys are trying to find seats. In order to keep the same fast pace throughout the entire book, practically every couple of steps they take is shown, as is everything they see. Of what they see, close ups of people they pass are used to cover up the inconsistencies of time (that means the speed of which the guys are moving at (in the reader’s perspective) is inconsistent with the position they are at when they are in focus again, hope that is a good explanation).
I don’t know where to start for the art. As Dan Nadel said, it concentrates on geometric forms rather then photo-realistic details. One of the most enjoyable things is looking at the patterns in the landscapes. I don’t really know how to describe the feeling and the subtly of the patterns. They are patterns, but not in the sense that immediately come to mind. Its not like Fibanocci’s sequence where things it is set, rather these “patterns” are the repetition of the same thing over and over in a linear manner; they do not add one by one to become something different but rather are many small parts exactly the same that only change as a collective whole (yeah I know that was confusing, but the technique is so subtle that it is almost indescribable). Due to the usage of geometry, it is a very cerebral read.
My only complaint would be the lack of any literary depth. Besides the techniques used, there is no depth at all to it. How his patterns work is proof that there is potential as are the character designs. Of the designs in particular, since all of them have a similar feel, all of them seem equal and there is no one that draws more attention then the others (compare them to the character designs of, lets say Death Note, where every one is unique and thus practically compete for the reader’s attention visually). When the designs are put into the patterns (using the city scens are the example), it can emphasize how insignificant a person is. But Yuichi Yokoyama doesn’t take this route, but there is potential to. Since I haven’t read New Engineering, I wouldn’t know if he ever attempts this or any other themes. Though if he does, it would be in a very unique way though the actual message would not be very original. But as Travel says, it isn’t about the destination but the journey.
Availability: It is highly doubtable that there are any scans accessible to non-Japanese speakers due to its extreme obscurity. There might be some on Japanese websites, but getting there is the problem. PictureBox Inc. published it recently, but they only printed so many in order to break even. Amazon is running low on copies, so now would be the best time to buy it. If you are checking bookstores, completely ignore the manga/graphic novel section and go straight to the art and/or design section(s). It is still doubtable that it would be there. Plus, the cover of the book below the slipcover is one of his drawings colored. Which to say is visually staggering, bold, and worth the money. You could stare at it all day and still be impressed.
On a completely different note, I actually had the chance to meet him in person, but due to the lack of a translator we couldn’t communicate very well. Like He signed my book by sketching a symbol. What surprised me most was how old he was since he had a son about my age.
+: Groundbreaking techniques, highly abstract and unique art style; it isn’t about the destination, but the journey
— : Lack of a proper story and characters is a major turnoff for many, as are the alienating character designs and very cerebral art style
P.S.: Feedback is encouraged. This is only my third review and I am still trying to figure out how the reviews should be formatted and the relationship between enjoyment and art. Specifically if I’m going to analyze it as art, I’m still not sure whether I should score on an arithmetic way using predetermined aspects (such as art, story, characters, etc), concentrate on the aspects that actually matter, or focus on how it fulfills its potential.