"This gentle calm and quiet is the twilight of an era.
I will probably watch the passing of this twilight age."
The stories featured in YKK are mostly light and melancholy. Readers who are used to action, sex, fanservice, violence, and/or intense drama would either be A) disappointed, or B) surprised that stories without the said elements could possibly exist and still be enjoyable.
YKK is characterized by mono no aware, a Japanese concept that describes beauty as an awareness of the transience of all things, and a gentle sadness at their passing. Entertaining old customers in a coffee shop, riding through desolate roads on a scooter, reminiscing while watching the sun set; none of these are close to being earth-shattering and yet the author somehow presents ordinary scenes in such a way that they evoke overwhelming feelings of nostalgia. Being reminded that today will be tomorrow’s yesterday, one cannot help but appreciate the present for its fleeting existence.
Ashinano’s style of writing is radically different from that of other mangaka. Rather than using the typical cliches and standards of comics and animation, the author’s style is more similar to those used by writers of literary novels and short stories. Using motifs and details to imply themes, skillfully combining images of everyday life with colloquial monologues and dialogues to produce visual and verbal poetry, it is obvious that, while YKK is appropriate for readers of all ages, it requires a mature and understanding reader to fully appreciate this work of art.
In fact, his method of implying themes through details might remind some of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The characters, the plot, and the details don’t just represent themselves as components of a work of fiction, they reflect the reality of everyday living. The characters act naturally and events unfold as they would in real life: without fanfare. This makes it easier for the readers to relate with the characters and believe in them. As the characters develop, the reader may also find their revelations relevant to his/her own life. In a sense, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou may in fact be one of the few titles which are actually worthy of being called “graphic novels”.
Ashinano’s character designs are simple yet charming. The faces of the characters are very expressive, effectively bringing out the characters’ moods and personalities. As one goes through the volumes, it’s also quite interesting to see how Ashinano’s style had improved through the years (the series ran for 12 years, after all).
What really makes his art stand out, however, is his awesome ability illustrate the setting in fine detail. Gusts of wind sweep across vast fields of grass, the lights of a submerged city continue to glow beneath the ocean waves, roads and towns once bustling with life now stand derelict and abandoned; the scenes often invoke feelings of nostalgia as if the writer and the readers had been there themselves. Later on in the series, Ashinano starts using more and more of these images to enforce or sometimes even replace the dialogue to deliver his message to the audience.
Well, it looks like it’s all downhill from this point on for anime/manga because I don’t think I’ll ever find anything close to being as good as this series. Sure, I’ll probably stumble over a few other well-written stories out there, but I really doubt it if they would be as emotional and as thought provoking as Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou.