Monday, January 18, 2010

Manga Monday: Not Simple

not simple
Natsume Ono


The year in manga is off to a great start with this very strong offering from Natsume Ono.  Already, I can tell you that this is going to be one strong contender for one of the best books of the year.  not simple tells the story of Ian, beginning with the end of his life.  It's a brutal opening chapter, but as Ono fills in Ian's life story throughout the rest of the book, it becomes apparent very quickly that the events that lead to his death are hardly the worst things he's been through.  It's really quite tame compared with the turmoil of his history, which includes shocking revelations and turning points that you don't see coming.  It's very depressing, and if you can say one thing about it all, it's that it really is not simple.  Ian is a strange character, kind of hard to pin down.  He's very passive, seems very naive and innocent.  Malleable I think sums him up quite nicely.  He kind of goes with what life gives him, from a very young age.  A majority of this story sees him trying to achieve a goal he's set for himself so that he can see his sister again, to fulfill a promise he made to her.  But right away, things are fuzzy, as Ian himself isn't even sure if his sister is really his mother.  His sister has always looked out for his though, something that can't be said about his alcoholic "mother" who, among other terrible things, sells Ian into prostitution to feed her habit.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg of what readers will find in the unbelievable life of this soft-spoken character.  Jim, a reporter, takes an interest in Ian and the two quickly become friends as Jim begins to write a biography based on Ian's history, and is a key figure in shedding light on several moments in his life.  I like the relationship that Jim and Ian have, and many of the secondary characters are really interesting, perhaps more interesting than the main character himself, as he has little personality beyond letting life happen to him.  And knowing how he dies at the beginning of the book, I kind of felt that it was better for him that that happen after seeing the life that led up to that moment.  Awful to say, I know, but it somehow gave me peace of mind knowing that his death was swift and he didn't have to deal with any more of the hardships he'd experienced.  A strange way to look at it, but that's how I felt.  Natsume Ono has constructed an amazing story here that brought a lot of emotions out in me.  She uses simple cartoony lines to illustrate her book, one that looks more alternative than most manga out there, and almost reads more like a graphic novel than what you'd expect picking something out of the manga section in the bookstore.  But what matters in the end is the quality of the material, and not simple is definitely "A" grade stuff.

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