Reading Nakamura Asumiko's work has definitely been a wonderful experience. I encountered Copernicus no Kokyuu first and I found myself totally mesmerized by her unique way of story-telling! I don't think I've read a manga that explore themes of gender, sexuality, rape and abuse so vividly with a dark, deep and mysterious tone to it. It's definitely one that I do keep re-reading from time to time and it always gets me.
What CAN'T I say about this manga? (This will be a bit of a scattered review) It takes the reader literally everywhere, from Marilyn Manroe to some very dark places that at times can be very difficult to read for many. The characters in this manga are aplenty (for a Nakamura manga); it starts off taking place at the school from "Barairo no Hoho no Koro" which is a lighter story than "J" . I find that this manga, "Copernicus no Kokyuu" and "Double Mints" are some of Nakamura-san's darkest, purely because there is graphic rape scenes and many deaths. I would say that this
stands at her darkest because J is underage at the the point where he is abused and it is NOT for everyone. Though, this is a major point to start the story, ultimately we watch a character try to rise above his past in an obscure way. The artwork is breathtaking, One wonders how Nakamura-san can make such incredibly perfect lines and in her art books she does show the reader what tools she uses to create her manga. J dressed in drag is quite a beautiful thing, and the more intimate scenes are poised and incredibly emotional in many lights. If you are a typical reader of psychological, drama, yaoi, bl, mature, this is a read for you, and in my opinion it is brilliant in a "Clockwork Orange" kind of way.
It’s a rather morose tale about a person named ‘J’ – yes, that’s the whole name – who supposedly looks like Marilyn Monroe and, apparently, likes to spend time singing dressing up as a woman. The manga presents his life in a rather matter-of-fact way; that is, there’s no great point or goal. You’re really just learning about the times and struggle of J.
In that aspect, the manga does well. Initially, J comes off as this sort of ‘doll’ that seem to live mostly for attention without any real thoughts. Roughly ¼ through the manga, though, things changes
and we slowly delve into his personality and thoughts. I speak on this because this, to me, is probably the strongest point of the manga.
J feels like a real person at times. At points, you think you begin to understand him and how he works, then he does something incomprehensible. However, it’s the kind of ‘incomprehensible’ that seems like you’re getting a look under the surface of what you normally see when you look at him. That is that even though J really does come off as a complex character on the surface, there’s still an underlayer that’s still yet more of the ‘real J’.
And that, in particular, is why I believe character development is the strongest point of the manga. The author succeeds in making J look human because real people are genuinely that complex. Furthermore, although I specifically spoke of J, the author really paid much attention to nearly everyone in the manga. All the characters (save for the very side ones) feel complex.
In regards to the other aspects, I also compliment the pacing. It’s a relatively short manga but, even then, the pacing is brisk but not abrupt. You’re experiencing things at a good pace and it helps the story pick up and remaining interesting.
Are there any flaws? Arguable. Personally, I found some of the scenes in this manga to be very ‘over the top’ breaking the immersion. This next complaint is also a classic and contentious one – the ending. That is, I thought the ending didn’t fit and flow well with the rest of the manga and, actually, the chapters leading up to it were a bit disappointing too.
Still, those two could easily be ignored in favor of an otherwise good read. On the whole, I think J no Subete is a pretty good manga.
Recommended for: People in search of a manga that departs from the norm - a story set outside of Asia in the 50s/60s with a unique art style that explores some very dark subjects.
Not recommended for: The faint of heart, or people looking for a story that is light-hearted, romantic, fluffy, etc. There are a lot of aspects of this story that many people will find distasteful or unsettling - graphic sex/violence, rape, child abuse (sexual and emotional), etc, so be warned. This sort of content is put in the spotlight in this manga.
-Enjoyment (5/10): This was an extremely difficult manga for
me to rate. I can certainly appreciate its premise and the quality/direction of its execution, but I can't say that I ....enjoyed it. To be honest, this is not a manga that is meant to be "enjoyed" in the conventional sense; it is meant to be thought-provoking, to pick up a rock and look underneath at the seedy underbelly of this world. Be prepared that, if you do choose to read this manga, you will have to approach it in a different fashion, and with a different mindset, than most manga call for.
-Story (7/10): The overall framework of this manga is that of the MC recounting the gory details of his past to reporters and other people. The tone of the story fits well with that premise - I often felt like I was being asked to hold witness to a rather blunt account of all the f*cked up sh*t that happened in his life, and how it led to him becoming the person that he is. Tbh, I was not prepared for how graphic and gritty this manga is. Right from the get-go, the reader is bombarded with very graphic and generally unpleasant images of sex in various forms that are outside of societal norms. Whereas graphic sex scenes in manga are generally included to excite the reader, bring romance into the story, or create a steamy atmosphere, the scenes in this manga are very brutal, and definitely not intended for the reader to enjoy, or to convey a feeling of romance. Instead, these scenes are used to plunge the reader head-first into exploring the darker topics that most manga only skirt around.
As for the plotline and its execution, there are many parts that are not fully fleshed in, and the story often jumps around more than needed.
-Art (8/10): A very distinct style. I liked it, and felt that it fit well with the setting and story, but I can easily see how some people might dislike it. I can't quite put my finger on the reason why, but it constantly reminded me of Art Nouveau, even though the way figures are drawn in that style is quite different. Possibly because of how sinuous and sensual the drawing often look, and because J often brought Oscar Wilde to mind for me.
-Character (6/10): This manga generally focuses more on the characters' interactions with J, rather than developing them individually. J's character is very interesting and multi-dimensional, but most of the other characters (even the other main character, Paul) are somewhat flat.