Sunday, August 08, 2004

MANGA CORNER: strawberry shortcakes

Today's manga is strawberry shortcakes (though it's in Japanese, the title is in English, and all small letters like that), a 300-plus page josei (young women's) manga by Kiriko Nananan. It has nothing to do with strawberry shortcakes; instead it's a drama about the love lives of four women in their twenties. There's a manga artist and occasional bulimic who's recently been dumped; the woman who shares her apartment, who just acquired a boyfriend; a call girl obsessed with a man; and a fourth woman who apparently only works part-time, who is still waiting to fall in love. Presumably their stories will all intertwine by the end of the book, but up to page 120, which is as far as I've read, except for the two apartmentmates the four protagonists are all strangers to each other.

To be honest, while the writing is lifelike enough, I didn't find the characters or their stories compelling enough to make me want to continue reading, though if it were in English, or if I could read Japanese as easily as English, I would probably finish it. As I said, I stopped reading at page 120, by which point little had happened, aside from setting up the characters' basic situations as described in the preceding paragraph.

I originally bought this because of Nananan's distinctive artistic style. It's at once realistic, with nothing of the typical shoujo style about it, and simplified, with figures and objects usually shown only as outlines. You can see sample pages by her (not from this book) here, here, here, and here, though these pages are more stripped-down and less cluttered than the art in strawberry shortcakes. While not groundbreaking, Nananan's art is the best thing about strawberry shortcakes.

Ponent Mon, a small publisher specializing in "alternative" manga, announces a book by Nananan, Blue, in this month's Previews (listed under "Fanfare/Ponent Mon," iirc), and has Tanpenshu, a collection of short stories by her, in preparation. The reaction of some of you, upon hearing this, may be "Argh! You're always writing about these wonderful manga which we'll never see, and when you finally do write about a manga by someone who's going to be translated, you say it's not very good!" Sometimes I ask myself if I'm unconsciously biased towards titles or artists inaccessible to non-Japanese readers, and my being underwhelmed by strawberry shortcakes gave me more cause to worry. All I can say in my defense is that this was my honest reaction. And of course, the books by Nananan that Ponent Mon is publishing may be better than this one.

The book is 334 pages long and published by Shodensha. It costs 1300 yen, and its ISBN is 4-396-76292-5.

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