Monday, July 18, 2011

Manga Monday: La Quinta Camera

La Quinta Camera: The Fifth Room
Natsume Ono

In 2003, Natsume Ono, the creator who would later bring us such great works as not simple and House of Five Leaves, made her debut with the webcomic La Quinta Camera: The Fifth Room.  That initial work has now been collected by Viz for American audiences.  La Quinta Camera is about an apartment in Italy shared by four middle-aged men who have become good friends over the years.  The fifth room is rented out to exchange students, so the occupant is constantly changing, continuously introducing them to someone new and keeping things interesting for them.  In the very first chapter of the book, we are introduced to Charlotte, a female student from Denmark, who happens to encounter each of the men throughout the city before ending up at the apartment building where she is mistakenly placed by her school.  It was a really nice introduction to the series and its characters, but I was pretty surprised when, in the following chapter, Charlotte was no longer their roommate.  I guess from the elaborate introduction of Charlotte to these men, I assumed that it was more of a beginning to a new friendship and we would see it grow as she lived among them, but it was instead the vehicle by which we are introduced to the four roommates that permanently occupy the apartment.  Charlotte does remain in their lives after that initial meeting however, but that rotating room brings with it new and exciting people, including a few American students, as well as one from Japan.  While Ono's art is already very reminiscent of what her later work would look like, the storytelling is a little clunky.  My big issue with this stand-alone manga is that she jumps around in time with each chapter, and doesn't always orient the reader very quickly.  I was sometimes confused with what time period I was reading a story from, and who the fifth roommate was during the period (and there were even stories that took place before the four roommates had come to live together to further complicate things).  But overall, I love the atmosphere of this book.  There's such love between the characters and a nice relaxing relationship between them that I kind of felt "at home" while reading this title, like I was returning to somewhere I belonged each time I returned to it.  It always left me with a good, fuzzy feeling, and it certainly holds the promise of the amazing storyteller that Ono would quickly become.

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