Oct 23, 2016
BlueKite (All reviews)
Not Simple, a title that fits the description of the story well.

I have always been a fan of works that are depressing in nature. But when I try to revisit a story, it just seems to have a less impact to me. Maybe it’s the realization that the story could have proceeded in a less tragic direction. Some just lack the essence of catharsis, making it feel like the whole story is just a misery fest for the reader. You get overwhelmed the first time but it doesn’t feel special anymore the second time around. However, Not Simple has been a very rare exception to this trend. Even after reading it for the fifth time, it still manages to widen the gaping hole it initially left within me.

The structure of the storyline is like a downward spiral, as it transitions back to the start after you reach the end. There are time skips, emphasizing only the key events while subtle implications of lesser details are still relevant story-wise. We witness the life journey of the protagonist Ian, a boy who comes from a complicated family. His childhood is no ordinary, a constant wreck to the point he’s completely desensitized. You might expect that he’s pessimistic because of his tragic backstory when in fact he’s the opposite. He is an aspiring athletic runner and strives hard for that goal. He eagerly travels across America in search for her sister. He makes a promise to a stranger he met in his journey to see each other again three years later. It’s that sense of optimism and innocence slowly being burned out as the story progresses that makes the story a real downer. Life just seems to be consistently screwing him over, like bashing him with a board sign “Your existence is a mistake”. However, he doesn’t give up easily and seeing him trying to live out his fractured life is such a bittersweet experience. Perhaps his passion for running stems from his desire to reach a destination, a place where he can really call home. In it, he seeks a confirmation that it is alright for him to exist and live with hope for the future.

The idea of broken family ties is portrayed well in the story. The father lives in Australia and the mother lives in London, they are divorced. Her sister jumps between those two areas in addition to America and always gets into trouble for the sake of making ends meet. Ian travels between those places and it symbolizes a family drifting apart, once intact but now in pieces because he was brought up to this world. In order for Ian to reach either of his parents, he needs to travel a great mile to meet them personally. This represents that his relationship with his parents are far from close, not a trace of familial love. There are noticeable efforts to make amends, re-uniting individual ties, but the cruelty of life halts that direction.

One strange thing about this manga is that it tries to be self-aware being a tragic story. Jim’s character seems out of place but he represents the reader, an observer who is given the chance to be involved. Given all he knows about Ian, there reaches a point where he can decide the outcome of the story. Does he merely observe or interfere, as the protagonist gets ultimately swallowed by misery? If he interferes, then there won’t be a tragic finale at all. The world will continue to move without everyone acknowledging Ian’s existence. If he only observes, then we are grateful for him that we get to enjoy this incredibly saddening tale of a wandering Australian boy. Ian even says at one point that Jim is his only friend which can be interpreted as the character’s awareness of the reader’s emotional attachment. Whatever the real author’s intentions are, it crafts the “story within a story” scenario well.

Overall, Not Simple is a haunting tale of hope clouded with misfortune. A conscious effort to be positive amidst the negativity captures the idea that life is indeed unforgiving. There is however a merit in a life of suffering, the ultimate test of what makes a person truly human. There is an option to be either full or void of hope in the face of demise, and seeing how it all leads to a personal decision is an emotional rollercoaster. Raw and unforgettable, Ian’s story is one that appeals universally. Life is what you want it to be, whether you are to be restrained by life’s injustices is ultimately an individual choice. At death’s door, do you think you have led a horrible life? It’s not about who’s got the most difficult life, it’s about how one accepts both the ugliness and beauty of life. A motivational message hidden within a heart-wrenching story, the manga definitely delivers.