By Inio Asano. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Big Comic Spirits. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by John Werry.
This was the series that came directly after Goodnight Punpun for Inio Asano, and he’s on record as saying that he wanted to give readers something a bit lighter and easier to read after Punpun’s depresso-fest. Having read the first volume of this series, it’s… sort of correct? There’s definitely an attempt here to do a sort of Asano version of a slice-of-life series a la Strawberry Marshmallow, with Kadode and Ontan as a sort of grown up Chika and Miu, doing weird things in their day to day life. But of course this is an Asano version of slice-of-life, not actual slice-of-life, and so it’s hard not to see the grey clouds piling up bind the series. Kadode’s family life is depicted starkly but without drama (big drama is rarely seen in Asano’s works), and her attempts at relationships are meant to make the reader feel uncomfortable, I suspect, and succeed. Oh yes, and then there’s the other reason this slice-of-life is odd: aliens invaded Japan three years before, and are still hanging around.
The idea of an alien invasion that has gone on so long that it’s become part of everyday life is not unique to Asano, I believe, but usually in other cases the aliens play a major role. Here they hover offscreen in their giant mothership, occasionally sending out smaller ships to get blown up by pissed-off humans. The flashbacks to the initial invasion are played relatively seriously, but most of the story takes place once everyone is thinking “now what?”, as after that first strike not much has happened. And so life has gone back to semi-normal, allowing the kids to keep going to high school, Kadoda to continue to hit in her teacher, and Ontan to be loud, rude, and eccentric, which seems to be her entire character. There are games to play, love affairs to be gossiped about, and college choices to be mulled over. At least till a possible cliffhanger, you get the sense that “now what?” may be the point of the entire story.
There are a few flaws here, in my opinion. As I said before, Ontan does not seem to have as deep a character as Kadoda, and various scenes suggest that the author kind of wants to set the two girls up as a couple but can’t bring himself to do it. The relationship between Kadoda and her teacher is meant to be vaguely offputting and unsettling, and certainly fulfills its function there, but I also get the sense there’s a “will they or won’t they?” question that is speaking to an audience far more comfortable with teacher/student romance in their manga. Also, please try not to make your high schoolers look like they’re eight years old. On the flip side, of course, this volume is filled with what Asano does best, with evocative art (the contrast between the hyperrealistic backgrounds and the cartoony characters is excellent) and a mood that I think I can best describe as “repressed ennui”. I read an Asano book to feel things, and I certainly did with this one, even if some of those things were frustration.
If you’re an Asano fan, you should absolutely get this. If you avoided him for one reason or another, you may want to give this a try. He seems to be trying to compromise with his audience a bit, and the journey should be fascinating. Also, who could resist that cover?