Sora is a quiet girl who finds her niche in the high school art club. When she isn't out capturing images of the neighbourhood in her trusty sketchbook, she can almost certainly be found befriending the local cats.
Meditating on what, in this world, has most affected me and my ways of perceiving, it seems that nothing has been so influential as Bill Watterson's comic strip, Calvin & Hobbes. Being very young when first confronted with it (a few of our household's earlier collections may have actually predated me) and subsequently rereading it at intervals of perhaps 6 months or a year - never once failing to find new wisdom and humor, jokes I had missed, profundities beyond my previous understanding - the series not only directed my intellectual growth but served as a kind of gauge, measuring it. For several
years after the strip ended in 1995, I continued to dream periodically that a new collection of Calvin & Hobbes had been released. The disappointment I felt upon waking was incomparable.
You're probably expecting me to make some correlation between Calvin & Hobbes and Kobako Totan's Sketchbook, after all that. Well, I would, if I could see clearly why I am convinced one exists. Before encountering Sketchbook, I did not believe that anything in this medium could rise to the caliber of Watterson's work. Having encountered it, I still believe this. Yet I nevertheless know that Sketchbook has validated something essential; I am aware, though vaguely, of a specialness to it.
Sketchbook is, for one thing, funny. Many comic/manga series succeed in eliciting, with decent consistency, an appreciative smile, or feeling of amusement. They don't, at least in my experience, make one laugh too often - not actually laugh, not really. Sketchbook, as Andrey Biely might say, differs impressively from them all. Every individual strip, nearly without exception, managed to jolt me into what R. H. Blyth called "surprised approval" - that happy sensation of life suddenly seeming simultaneously more and less complex than previous estimates indicated, with the sinister, menacing elements of existence reduced to simple trivialities while the more joyful aspects acquire an apparent infinitude of subtle gradations, an endlessly complicated network of implications and hidden significance. In conclusion, this series is (as was mentioned) funny.
There are no throwaway characters in the main cast - I'd go as far as to say there are no nonessential characters in the main cast - but the soul of Sketchbook is its protagonist, Kajiwara Sora. It is not incorrect to call Kajiwara-san a shy, quiet girl, but realize that she is the superlative iteration of this trope. She doesn't speak rarely. She just doesn't. Ever. I am yet to detect a single piece of spoken dialogue authored by her (an aspect of her character the animation does not preserve). She manages to communicate with her friends, her brother, and cats through a combination of pantomime, written messages, and apparent telepathy. Her reticence is also perhaps not best described as mere shyness. She flees - as in, turns around and runs - from strangers, or even acquaintances in unfamiliar costume. Yet, partly because she refuses to make concessions for the sake of social expediency, there is an unmatched purity to Sora's personality, an integrity that might be impossible for real human beings outside of saints and buddhas. She assaults life head-on, confronting existence directly in a way that people of my culture, of my generation, have forgotten how to do. She does it with a dauntless spirit of fun, curiosity, invention, reverence, decency and gentleness. Because most people do not pay meaningful attention, constantly worry over useless things, fall into degradation and depravity to the neglect of what is truly valuable, and wallow in selfishness and self-pity, ceaselessly concerned with themselves and how others view them, each will have lived less by the time of his death than Kajiwara-san does in one day.
I suppose what I might've wanted to say earlier was something like this: what Calvin & Hobbes represented to me in my formative years, Sketchbook represents to me now in postadolescence. The range of what is possible in this universe is quite encouraging; the truth of how little of that promise we fulfill, quite distressing. But with Watterson next to my cereal bowl each morning, I did not need to strain to feel optimistic about humanity's potential or about its capacity for self-improvement; I could allow myself not only hope but even confidence that we were headed to some nobler, exalted place, that we would eventually be lifted from our present lamentable state to a dignified, shining enlightenment. And nowadays, with a companion like Kajiwara-san, it is so much more difficult to despair, much harder to dismiss people as vicious, unthinking beasts, and existence itself as a pointless absurdity. We are not yet beyond redemption; this world is not dying.
I have given Sketchbook a ten in every category. To do otherwise would intimate that I wished some part of it changed.
It is a personal request I am making. Please read this series.
After enjoying Sketchbook ~full color'S~ immensely, I quickly decided to jump onto its source manga, written and illustrated by Totan Kobako, expecting similar things to the laid-back, easy-going, yet intriguing and most of all humorous adaptation the anime was. Well, the manga was all of those things alright, but also a completely different affair from the anime.
Sketchbook, a 4koma comedy manga by Totan Kobako, is indeed just as laid back as its anime adaptation. The soft art style, its lack of a continuing plotline, and of course the head-in-the-clouds main character Sora all contribute to create the relaxing atmosphere the anime is known for. And
yet, the focus of the manga isn't so much Sora's view of her world and the people she knows, but more the people themselves and their (much varied) view of the world. Kobako utilizes the characters, a cast of high schoolers brought together by their involvement in the art club (the similarities pretty much end there) to present to the reader his view of the world.
With such a dynamic cast - from the bug otaku Nagisa to the penny pincher Hazuki - Kobako is able to touch upon a variety of aspects of every day life, ranging from reading street signs to going fishing, and of course, art club activities. Thus Sketchbook provides more than a few "aha" and "I do that!" moments for every reader, and through Kobako's clever wordplay and careful timing of jokes presents many "lol" moments while doing so.
The manga definitely focuses more on the comedy aspect in comparison to the anime, but also does a great job in further developing the characters in which the anime somewhat falls short due to its short length (season 2 where?). Again the various character traits and archetypes allow Kobako to explore many themes and situations, in which the side characters are used extensively, allowing the reader be thoroughly exposed to each character. As a result, characters who may have gone unnoticed in the show truly get a chance to shine in the manga (Kuga and Hazuki come to mind) and oftentimes they are the true highlights of the series, to the degree that it's perhaps inappropriate to call them "side" characters. There are no boring characters in Sketchbook, nor are there any filler characters. Each character provides a unique vantage point from which Kobako shares his witty observations about the little things that may go unnoticed in the big picture.
In that sense, Sketchbook is indeed a sketchbook upon which Kobako has laid out his sketch of the world, and to me, it is an appealing, agreeable, and accurate sketch. Of course his sketch may not be for everyone, but if you are the type who finds pleasure in the small, ordinary and simple things in life and, of course, having a few good laughs, this may just be the manga for you.