Editorial, MMF

Natsume Ono MMF: That’s a Wrap, Folks!

Well, it’s been a long week and a half, and we’re finished with the Natsume Ono Manga Moveable Feast – but not without some parting shots. Let’s take a look.

Jason Yadao at Otaku Ohana has a review of not simple and finds it to be a powerful work, again bring up the ties of family that others have mentioned this week:

[Natsume Ono creates] manga that are equal parts entertainment and contemplative exercise. I’ve seen this in reading Ristorante Paradiso – not enough that I feel qualified to comment fully on that book yet, but enough to know that the focus of that book, Nicoletta, comes from a family just as broken as Ian’s.

His review is the polar opposite of Jason Green’s, which I featured yesterday, but will link again, because I feel truly represents the very different perspectives of Ono’s work among the manga community.

I think I may have missed linking to a discussion between Melinda and Michelle at Manga Bookshelf in my complete archive, so to make up for that, please go read it again. Enjoy it. It is a fantastic discussion.

Last but not least, Ed Sizemore announces the plans he has for the Manga Out Loud podcast (spoiler – he’s still doing it! YAY!) and afterwards, he, Johanna Draper Carlson, Kristin, and I all have a great discussion about Natsume Ono, her works published in the USA, the works unpublished in the USA, and the MMF in general.

Let me finish by saying that this has been an absolutely fantastic (if hectic) experience. Thank you all for participating, and for being a part of the Manga Moveable Feast for Natsume Ono. I hope you all have enjoyed this as much as I have.

I’ll be back later this week with commentary on DMP’s foray into Kickstarter. For now – this is Alex, flipping the switch. Have a good night, folks.

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MMF

Natsume Ono MMF Roundup: At the Finish Line

Well, here we are. It’s been an entire week of Natsume Ono, her comics, and a discussion of her work. This weekend has given the MMF a final burst of content, so let’s get started. I will keep the MMF call up until Monday evening, so if you have any content you want me to feature, please contact me using my twitter handle @mangawidget, my Contacts page, or by using the Manga Moveable Feast Google Groups page. Now, onward to the reviews!

First, Connie at Slightly Biased Manga has a review of House of Leaves, Vol. 3 and finds a lot to like. Still, she mentions Ono’s sketchy artwork as a source of some reader’s confusion, and I can understand that. Ono is hardly the only mangaka out there who has similar looking characters, but it’s a valid complaint, especially when volume 3 features face-0nly closeups more frequently than in previous volumes. I will be interested to see how Connie likes volume 4.

Next, Johanna Draper Carlson reviews Tesoro from the standpoint of someone who isn’t an unabashed fan of Ono (that would be my standpoint, obviously) and finds quite a bit to like despite her distaste of Ono’s longer works like House of Five Leaves. Johanna’s critique of Ono is that her writing style allows her to focus on incidents and moments, and that this style doesn’t mesh well with a longer running series, but works great for a collection of short stories.  This is a very interesting review, since many of the people writing for the Manga Moveable Feast are fans of Ono, so I invite you all to check it out.

Jason Green, host of the early October Love Hina Manga Moveable Feast, has some pretty strong words for not simple:

Given the reputation of both Ono in general and the book in particular, I went into not simple with high hopes. I finished it feeling not only disappointed but, honestly, kind of gross. Withholding spoilers, the story takes several turns that feel exploitative, even more so in the context of Ian’s mercilessly downtrodden existence.

Certainly this isn’t my experience with the comic, but I can see Jason’s perspective. not simple is a miserable- the subject matter demands it be so. Still, exploitative isn’t a word I would use to describe not simple, and I don’t think it was the experience of many other reviewers in this MMF – which is a perfect example of why this digital monthly book club is so fascinating. To get another take on not simple, Jason Green is your man.

There is certainly more content out there to be found, so I will close this post tonight and look for more tomorrow. One more day until the Natsume Ono Manga Moveable Feast is on the books. Let’s finish strong, folks!

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MMF

Natsume Ono MMF Round Up: Days 2+3

Wow, this week is going fast – we’re already close to halfway done with the Natsume Ono Manga Moveable Feast. If you have content you would like to have featured in these round ups, please send me a message using my Contacts page or the MMF Google Group. I am also scanning Twitter for the #MMF hashtag, and you can tweet me up at @mangawidget (There are so many ways you can say hi to me, so no excuses!).

Yesterday we didn’t have too much in the way of content, but I did post an essay regarding Natsume Ono’s different styles and her choice between the two in series like La Quinta Camera versus the more serious House of Five Leaves.  Some reviewers have poo-poo’ed the rounded, less complex style she uses for books like La Quinta Camera and not simple, and I think that these reviewers are missing a very significant point. Check out the link for more discussion.

David Welch at the Manga Curmudgeon explored one of his older reviews from his Flipped! column (which originally ran at comicworldnews.com, and afterwards at The Comics Reporter) – in this case, it was a review of not simple back when Natsume Ono was first being published in the US. I’m going to steal a quote here, because I think it’s so perfect for the spirit of this MMF:

There’s just so much to admire about Ono’s work – its variety, its uniqueness, the level of talent it suggests. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope that she becomes one of those creators whose popularity transcends the audience specifically interested in comics from Japan and those who are interested in well-made comics in general.

It may be wishful thinking on my part, but nevertheless, I feel that this has been the case. Many of my American only comics friends have read House of Five Leaves. My little sister, who generally doesn’t read comics devoured La Ristorante Paradiso and Gente.

Next up from this afternoon is a review of Tesoro by Kristen at ComicAttack.net. Kristen finds a lot to love about Tesoro, from the individual stories, the sketchy and spartan illustrations, and the book’s construction. Why haven’t I gotten my copy of this book yet?!?!

Finally, Ash Brown at Experiments in Manga has a review of the first volume of House of Five Leaves. Ash points out the true strength of this series lies in the interaction between Masa and Yaichi, and how their strange friendship develops.

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Editorial, MMF

Natsume Ono and A Choice of Styles

When I originally wrote my review of La Quinta Camera, I mentioned Natsume Ono’s conscious choice of style as a strong point of the book. One of the things I admire greatly about Natsume Ono is her ability to determine a specific voice for each of her written works, and varies her illustration technique with each work to match that voice. Some books like Gente and Restorante Pardiso are more expansive, more expressive, and more proportionate, and in a sense, “less cartoony,” while other works use a larger, rounder, sketchy style.

Some of the other reviewers in the mangasphere have decided that this conscious choice in style is a harmful one (at least if she is going to not illustrate in her more serious style). I disagree with this, and since this is a Manga Moveable Feast, I feel the need to address these comments as a way to discuss Ono as well as express my counter argument. A review by Snow Wildsmith at ICV2 has said that the style of La Quinta Camera makes it seem as though “the creator herself didn’t consider these characters to be overly important creations,” which not only do I find preposterous, but I also think it completely ignores the subtle intricacies of Ono’s illustration and asserts that only the most life-like illustrations can bear any critical weight.

Unlike many artists who use one voice for a majority of their work, Natsume Ono has two that she uses frequently – the more realistic, lanky, ultra-lean and long style that is evident in Ristorante Paradiso, Gente, and House of Five Leaves, and a more rounded, shorter, simplified style best expressed in La Quinta Camera. There are mixes of both – Ono’s not simple is both rounded and simplistic, but takes on some the lankiness of her other voice. These two voices play a key role in the way that Ono constructs her narratives.

I think that we can agree that La Quinta Camera has a simple art style, but it should also be mentioned that this book is less focused on the long term and developing storyline, and more interested in showing snippets of an ongoing story. This is a real slice of life, but it is generally speaking less serious in tone than Ristorante Paradiso. La Quinta Camera does not take itself quite as seriously, and its simpler artwork exemplifies that.

The simple art has a function for La Quinta Camera, and I think that is what Snow overlooked as part of her review. Just because something is more simplistic in its looks does not make it less tragic, poignant, or significant. As an example, Chester Brown, in his transition from Louis Reil to Paying For It, crushed down his fairly detailed black and white detailing into something more sparse and charged. Some might even say insectile:

(Click to enlarge)

Does this mean that Paying For It is less of a comic book, or that Chester Brown cared about it compared to his earlier work? Most certainly not – the choice of style is an artistic choice designed to create a look and feel that the artist wants to embed into the comic, just like the choices that Ono has made to differentiate La Quinta Camera and Ristorante Paradiso.

As far as Natsume Ono is concerned, yes, the imagery from La Quinta Camera is simpler than the imagery from Ristorante Paradiso. However, Ristorante Paradiso was a complex emotional grind for the main character who looked to reconnect with her estranged mother and make a name for herself in an Italian restaurant. This story demands a less whimsical attitude, and an art style that conveys the seriousness of tone that Ono wishes to convey.

La Quinta Camera is more fluid and open in its construction, and also in its storytelling. Charlotte, in the first character, introduces herself as a transient part of a story of a five-room apartment where 4 unusual men live. The story itself is as connected to the apartment as Ristorante Paradiso is to the restaurant, but the feeling is different – the people that move in and out of this apartment see into its existence like a person looks through a window, and the book follows suite, giving the reader a window into the life of these characters. The vignette-like moments are designed to do something completely different than the long form of Ristorante Paradiso and House of Five Leaves, and a different style of illustration suits that change.

While certainly I cannot fault illustration preference (I assume that many would prefer the art of Ristorante Paradiso to that of La Quinta Camera), I reject the notion that one has more heft or critical weight because it is more complex and realistic, or that an author would care less about a piece of work because of the chosen art style. Style, just like every other part of a comic, is just another piece of the story that Ono tells, and I think that the story and mood conveyed in La Quinta Camera are both beautiful and simultaneously different than those of Ristorante Paradiso. And, I think that is just how it ought to be.

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