Thursday, November 5, 2009

What a Wonderful World!: Ha ha ha, irony

Elsewhere: I reviewed Starr the Slayer #3 at Comics Bulletin, and the latest episode of Venture Brothers at The Factual Opinion.

Links: Brendan McCarthy! Dr. Strange! Maybe Spider-Man too! Coming next year! Awesome!

I still haven't read my copy of the Act-I-Vate Primer, so I'll probably wait to watch these videos that Michel Fiffe posted in which some of the creators did readings/reenactments of their stories, but it certainly looks cool. Notably, Tucker Stone participated in Mike Cavallaro's Loviathan, so you can see more of his "acting" "talent" if you don't get enough already with Advanced Common Sense.

This short comic by Rebecca Dart adapting a traditional ballad is gorgeous, reminiscent of Cyril Pedrosa's work on Three Shadows.

On the other hand, I don't know what the hell is going on in this longer Sam Hiti comic, but it sure is cool.

Here are some pages from a manga adaptation of Jaws. Awesome.

And now:

What a Wonderful World!, volume 1-2
By Inio Asano


For those of us who absolutely loved Inio Asano's Solanin, his newest release on these shores might be something of a disappointment, since it seems to cover the same ground (that is, young people unsure about the future), and as a collection of short stories, it doesn't provide the same satisfaction that comes from seeing characters defined and developed over the course of a longer narrative. But while it might suffer in comparison to that earlier work (which was actually published later in Japan), What a Wonderful World! is still a good read, giving Asano the chance to explore a wider variety of characters and tell some fascinating little vignettes that chronicle urban life. And he adds to the experience by interweaving the characters from story to story; sometimes a bit player in one story will get his own tale, while others might show up in the background here and there, or characters will be linked by something as simple as passing each other on the street. It's a good way to make everything feel like it's happening in a cohesive world, with everybody united by their common striving to survive, joined together by invisible authorial strings. It's one big city, and there are a million stories within it.

As in Solanin, a common theme seems to be that of depressed young people, although he covers a bigger age range here, sometimes checking in on "ronin" who are waiting to pass entrance exams before then can get into college, or looking at middle-schoolers who are in much the same situation, already beseiged with life's pressures to succeed. Other points in life's long span make their appearance as well, including fatherhood, a woman on the cusp of being an old maid, and a striking chapter in which an old man tries to reconnect with his estranged brother at the end of his life. But the majority of the tales are about youth, whether it's young adults enjoying the excitement of rock and roll:


Or a schoolgirl risking her life for acceptance from her peers:



Kids bicker about the viability of their future, or how well they're living up to their parents' expectations, or whether they're doing anything worthwhile with their life. It's a varied look at modern life, and while Asano avoids being maudlin, he seems to be emphasizing the necessity of not giving up, of finding some worth in the life you have.

And so it seems, until somewhere around the middle of the second volume, when all of all these sad/hopeful stories (which have occasionally seen the encroachment of fantastic elements like talking birds that are also death gods) take a turn for the morbid, focusing more on death and the end of life. There's a bit of the message that you should live for today, because you never know when life will end suddenly, but at the same time, there's an emphasis on continuing to move forward and not trying to dwell on one great moment in time, or live in the past. In the end, Asano's viewpoint seems complex, embracing of the full possibilities of life. But he undercuts that at the same time, showing that hope and promises don't always last. Life is a complicated thing, and millions of people end up in millions of different situations. That's the thing that Asano does so well, showing this huge, multifaceted thing that is modern life, and making it look like a beautiful jewel.

And the art, of course, is what really sells the whole thing, with Asano's delicate line gorgeously detailing a ton of different characters and bringing their emotions to life, along with the beauty of the world around them:



He nails such diverse moments as finding the inspiration to do your best in the eyes of your child:


Or a depressed, angry kid almost giving up on life, but not quite:


And he really delivers on the occasional moment of hilarity, whether it's the sun glinting past the scrotum of a hopeful young man:


Or a girl dreaming about how even frogs have it tough:


As a collection, the series works wonderfully to detail Asano's theme, and one can see how he could go from something like this to the more expansive Solanin. While this might not quite reach the emotional heights of that earlier/later book, it's still full of great moments and well-realized characters. One can see Asano's growth over the course of the books, and it should be amazing to track that development over any further releases, by which point his powers should be beyond comprehension. Now if only someone will import Nijigahara Holograph...