Coming to terms with the fact the majority of content from Japan that is published in English is written for children takes a little while. The content for children and young adults is by far the most popular content that is localized. And by and large, the content for adults which is brought to the US by the few small publishers willing to take the risks generally isn’t profitable. It’s a labor of love. And books that are adult oriented are a cherished and treasured thing. One of my favorite “labors of love” is a collection of short stories written by Kan Takahama.
Short story collections are a hard sell to the manga market, which now is favoring continuity and editorially driven content like Naruto and Bleach. Despite low sales, Monokuro Kinderbook is remarkable collection of fiction. Her stories explore the ideas of death, sexuality, youthful ignorance, and the occurrence of events mundane among those that are world changing. Her stories stare into the face of darkness; they do not overcome it, but they observe it, record it. They see a world covered in darkness, and do not flinch.
Unique among manga published in English, Takahama’s illustrations are blurry, sometimes sketchy. Like the strangeness of memories gone by, and the clarity of those memories that are recent, Takahama deftly uses changes in style and illustration to convey mood, time, and the fogginess of the past. There is a smolder in her work that is rarely seen in the US. In facial expressions and in body language, you can see the awkward tensions, the sorrow, even the sexual desire of the characters in Monokuro Kinderbook. Her pacing and paneling are simple and effective. Gone are speed lines and screen tone, but in their place is clarity of artistic vision. Perhaps it is that clarity (or maybe the lack of clarity?) that makes Monokuro Kinderbook so fascinating.
Earlier this year I discussed micropublishers and their place in the publishing spectrum. Fanfare is the very definition of a manga micropublisher. Coupled with Ponent Mon, a Europe-based publisher, they have been bringing the works of artists like Jiro Taniguchi to the USA and the UK for some time now. Monokuro Kinderbook is a lovely book, and it is obvious that a high amount of care and attention to detail has been put into printing. This collection of short stories is a fascinating addition to Fanfare‘s collection, and a book that I recommend to all adult manga readers. It offers a unique perspective, and a subtlety to its readers not found in the market today.
For Fans Of: Lost in Translation, Ian McEwan’s Saturday, Jiro Taniguchi
Final Verdict: Highly Recommended (for adult audiences)