Monday, March 31, 2008

Manga Monday: Town of Evening Calm...

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
Fumiyo Kouno

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is a manga of three short stories, all interconnected, of postwar Hiroshima. Through Kouno's soft pencils, we see the impact that the atomic bomb had on this area of Japan after its initial destruction, as people still became suddenly ill from the poison over a decade later, and it touched the inhabitants' lives for generations. I enjoyed the first short story in this collection the best, Town of Evening Calm, where we see a young woman who is living with survivor's guilt, the phantoms of that day refusing to let her live like a carefree normal young woman. She sees her burden reflected in those around her as she observes "There's something not quite right about everyone in this town." The issue of the bomb is skirted around at first, but it doesn't take long for Kouno to focus blatantly on the subject, a focus that doesn't wane until the end of the two-part Country of Cherry Blossoms, where things kind of come full circle, tying characters and events together by the end of the book. I appreciate the aspects of the postwar bombing that Kouro explores, even when she is being anything but subtle about it. It's all very interesting and horrifying at the same time. But honestly, the characters leave a bit to be desired and I don't feel like I had much of an emotional connection to the book through them. Most of my emotional reactions came from flashbacks that shocked me with a horrible scene of mutilated bodies, or the impression of what was lost through two panels: one of a man sitting on a riverside in a bustling little residential area, then of the same man in the same place void of life decades later. I feel like this could have been a much more powerful work without the blatant narration that was trying to get a reaction out of the reader, instead illustrating it through characters more fully-realized. And then there were scenes of flashbacks at the end of the book, where I grew confused as to who was who, taking me right out of the pages, at moments when I should have been engrossed to get the full measure of the tragedy. I don't want to give the impression that I didn't enjoy this work, because I surely did. It's beautiful and quite moving in some parts. But given the overwhelming praise it has received, I was left a little disappointed. Great ideas, great stories, but it just didn't resonate with me in the end the way I'd hoped, something I can't overlook based solely on the subject matter.

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