Sunday, November 30, 2008

『La Quinta Camera』 and 『not simple』 by Ono Natsume

I read these two works by Ono Natsume (オノ・ナツメ) today, and I have to admit they both irritated me. I know how well-liked they are by many readers. I myself was very attracted to certain aspects of them, which I'll elaborate below. But perhaps my expectations were too high; I couldn't wait to be done with them. The language bored me and the visual clues were just way too frustrating. I couldn't tell which characters the dialogue balloons pointed to. I couldn't even tell some characters apart from each other. One guy wears a black t-shirt on one page, and on the next page an identical guy wears a white t-shirt. Same guy? Same guy on a different day? Different guys? I can take the time to figure it out, and I was willing to do so a few times. But this type of problem comes up way too much for me. I don't want to work that hard on that level. So that's what I didn't like about it.

But here's what I liked about Not Simple: it's "cringy," to use a word that describes how I feel when I watch Jerry Springer. The stories are hard to confront. Like anything by Yamada Eimi. They're full of people treating each other in ways that make me feel complicated. I'm sort of excited by the thrill and suspense of the violence, but uneasy about it, too. And the weirdness is mostly between family members. Sorting through those feelings can be interesting in a cringy, squeamish way. So if you you like that stuff, "Not Simple" is not only an appropriate title; this manga will provide grist for your mill. But still, this grist isn't very developed. The storytelling is scattered and superficial, IMHO.

La Quinta Camera ("The Fifth Bedroom"), on the other hand, is not cringy at all. It's about a group of roommates in Italy and the string of newcomers who stay in their "fifth" bedroom. It's kind of like an episode of "Friends," but with Italian characters portrayed by a Japanese comic. That's what I like about La Quinta Camera. I like seeing Japanese artists depict foreign milieux. I liked seeing Shima Kosaku kick butt in New York and the Philippines. I admired the infusion of Hello Kitty sweetness into Marie Antoinette's 18th Century France in the campy masterpiece, Versaille no bara. But La Quinta Camera doesn't have the heft and depth of those works. It's just an Italian setting, and a superficial one. Neither the setting nor the characters offer much. I can say only that despite my impatience while reading these works, I'm still savoring Ono's drawings, as well as the concept of a Japanese manga about a group of Italian roommates. I still like thinking about that.

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