I’ve long admired Ashinano Hitoshi for his slice-of-life masterpiece Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou and his landscape eye candy Kabu no Isaki. His minimalistic art style won me over with his expressive strokes which gives a lighthearted aesthetic whenever I read his works. The relaxed pacing, the simple yet insightful characters, the calm world-building, this is evident in all his manga. While this includes Kotonoba Drive, it pales in comparison to his previous works.
I can’t help but feel disappointed that this manga was short-lived. Maybe if it was extended to another 50 chapters or so, it could have fleshed out things better. The characterization is fairly weak,
leaving an unmemorable cast of characters that I could’ve been emotionally invested with. The world-building is there, but it still feels very mysterious and limited. It’s like getting a vacation in the countryside that ended prematurely. There were more places to visit, more people to get acquainted with, more mysteries to explore, more culture to experience, and so on. It didn’t really feel fulfilling at all.
Still, the manga still has its good parts. I like that it’s more surrealistic than the mangaka’s previous works. The 5-minute phenomenon the main character is experiencing daily is never given much justice, but it’s a unique thing to drive the story. I just wished I get to see more interesting variations of it that may end up playing an important role if the story was developed even further.
If you haven’t read any of the author’s previous works, then I wholeheartedly suggest giving this a read. It’s atmospheric, light-hearted, easy to read, simple: everything that makes reading a slice-of-life manga a refreshing experience. But if you feel unsatisfied like me, then I encourage you to read the author’s other works which I feel is greatly superior than this.
Kotonoba Drive is the latest series from Hitoshi Ashinano, writer of the highly acclaimed Slice of life manga Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou. Despite that, it surprisingly doesn’t have any reviews yet. Time to put that right!
In Kotonoba, we follow the laid-back everyday life of Suu, a young woman with a part time job at a spaghetti restaurant and an ability to see mysterious sights such as landscapes of the past and humanoid forms of birds and insects, but only 5 minutes at a time. Each chapter tends to focus on one of her supernatural encounters, ranging from heart-warming to melancholic to mildly creepy, but always mysterious
Suu herself is a likeable character, who fits the tone of the series well, with the innocent charm and happy go lucky attitude of your average slice of life lead, but occasionally giving off the indecisive and melancholic air of someone stuck between adolescence and adulthood, still unsure of their place in the world. There are also several recurring side characters, such as the owner of the spaghetti restaurant and Suu’s childhood friend, who don’t feel out of place but at the same time don’t get enough development to be more than one-dimensional.
The strongest part of Kotonoba is probably the art and panelling. Ashinano has really honed his sketchy, screen tone-less art style over the years, and his drawings manage to feel minimalistic while still managing to bring to life more complex things such as strong winds and the interior of a forest just with his beautiful linework and some nice use of silhouettes. The panels flow easily from one to the next, and that combined with the mostly visual storytelling and dreamy and atmospheric art makes Kotonoba an immersive and effortless read.
The only thing holding the series back is the fact that the whole manga doesn’t manage to add up to more than the sum of its individual chapters. The supernatural occurrence of the week format is immediately gratifying, but fails to flesh out any of the characters besides Suu as mentioned before, and the chapters don’t really build on themes or show any progression for Suu, leaving Kotonoba with less depth than its more famous predecessor.
Overall Kotonoba Drive is a beautifully drawn slice of life manga with a charming main character and cathartic supernatural elements, perfect for a late evening or lazy Sunday afternoon read, that I would recommend to any fan of the genre.