Jun 4, 2016
George Asakura is the rare Mangaka I’ve found that really seems to follow a direct lineage from Kyoko Okazaki, although I don’t know enough of the history to know which one came first. That is, taking seriously broken characters and scenarios, but treating them with a high irreverent whimsy, and then tossing in really startlingly beautiful moments of art in between the carnage the characters wreck on each other. Of course Asakura doesn’t go as far as Okazaki in the depiction of the carnage – she focuses only on the romantic/sex lives of a couple of middle school kids here – but the techniques
she uses to accentuate that emotional world pushes past mere melodrama into something that reaches just a little beyond the scope of things.
It took me a while to realize exactly how crazy the paneling is. I wasn’t really aware in the first chapter, but then you get to the second chapter where there’s black all over the place. Pure black framing. After the ‘chapter 2’ page, you get black with stark white clouds haphazardly inked on.
The moment when Arai catches sight of Ruri is masterclass tempo. The last scene was less contrasting, and just a couple of guys fooling around, which then segues into Arai walking in the street with silhouettes of buildings behind him. He turns, and sees the guy climbing the trees, which is also a silhouette. The black sweeps downwards, while the frame where he squats down to get the stone matches the frame where he’s standing, so there’s a visual link. The frame slants right, then connects to the frame where he’s ready to throw. Which then sweeps the other way as Ruri takes the guy climbing the tree into her room. Then you get the part where their eyes connect, and the sly grin she gives bathed in the light tones, while he’s surrounded by pitch black, which slowly builds into the anguished monologue that he gives to himself.
Later, the moment where he meets her to confess is, again, swathed in expressionist swirling black sky, which only simmers back into normalcy when he actually confesses properly.
Ruri’s own chapter is also ridiculously expressionistic/romantic. In fact, the two Ruri chapters have such drastically different changes in scenery from the rest of the chapters which takes place in a school setting and surroundings. One of them has the lake, which is also (and I repeat myself for the thousandth time) black. The other has the winter storm and the beautiful inked trees, and frames cutting into frames, and some of the manga’s best art, and a tempo that I would seriously kill everyone’s grandmother and their newborn baby to be able to acquire.
My personal favorite chapter, art-wise, is probably Maki’s chapter. It purposely uses shoujo art (roses, flowers, glitter) to deliver a humorously black critique of escapism. It also begins in the most arresting manner, with Maki walking down the street staring at her shadow, then sweeping her gaze upwards and noting how the “white silhouette falls into the sky” (This kind of arresting opening was probably done best in Okazaki’s River’s Edge though, with her poetic description of the river sludge etc…) You can see that symbol with all its connotations when you later find out more about Maki’s life. The ending to that chapter is also the most jarring, but looking deeper it unifies much of the themes in the other chapters, about puberty and its illusions, and sometimes the best thing to do is to step-back and re-evaluate.
Now, the most mature Okazaki protégé I’ve seen is probably Moyoco Anno – especially in Hataraki Man. And no one can beat Okazaki’s swift and light art. But Asakura is just the peak of her game at everything else, that if you’re really attuned to such things, you can’t help but feel that this entire series is wholly satisfying.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9
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