A new interpretation of Yamamoto Shuguro's period novel Chiisakobee, transplanting the Edo era in the original with a modern setting.
A young carpenter, Shigeji, who lost his parents and his father's building company called Daitome in a fire, swears to himself he will rebuild the company according to the words of his father, Tomezoh, "What is important for people throughout the ages is humanity and strength of will." He hires Ritsu, who has no place to go, as an assistant at Daitome. Some children from an orphanage, who lost their home, also show up at Daitome. The beaded young carpenter's decision to take over his family's business is a drama filled with the milk of human kindness.
See, I haven't read the original novel, and I'm pretty sure hardly anyone outside Japan has, so I can only base my review on what's in front of me (the manga, obviously). But even then I can't help but feel that quite a few important things were lost while trimming the story down to a short series of comic books.
By itself, the story is still pretty good. Sure, it might be an aesop, the kind that's easily seen through, but its themes, aptly summed up with "humanity and strength of will", are timeless and will always grab your attention, no matter
the era, which is even demonstrated by deliberately changing the setting to a far more modern one. And it wraps up nicely, too - at least that which seems to be the main issue, that which revolves around Shigeji, Ritsu, Yuuko and the kids. But even then, there are hints of there being more, as there are some "incidents" thrown in that are brought to light and dealt with swiftly, like the episode with the thieving boy or the one with the apprentice who left. Or even the issues Shigeji and Masaru may or may not have with each other. Incidents like that are thrown in sometimes, which make the story feel somewhat episodic, actually taking away some of the enjoyment.
Which is a shame, because much of the enjoyment comes from the characters dealing with those around them, especially with those that aren't the main cast. If that is cut away, what remains more or less amounts to insignificant characters or even gag characters, like the second-youngest girl, the one with the inflated ego, or Daitome's secretary, whose only defining trait seems to be ugliness. Still, what remains is enough to thoroughly enjoy every panel, which is why, I'm repeating myself here, it's a shame that there wasn't more space for more content.
All of this is at least somewhat remedied by the approach Minetaro Mochizuki had with his art here. You fellow readers are probably more used to pages or panels that are overloaded with art or with text, or otherwise utilizing the available space to the fullest. This isn't the case here; Mochizuki seems to be pretty lax here with filling in the blank space. Backgrounds are scarce, oftentimes it's just white space, but the things in focus are that much more detailed to make up for it. Mix that with close-up views, which also double as chapter openers, and you have a composition that takes a while to get used to, but then becomes fun to explore. Which makes me think it's a great thing to be able to read this as a comic book.
Which in turn makes me think all the more that it's a shame it couldn't be longer. Sorry, I can't stop harping on it.