by Koji Kumeta; adapted by Joyce Aurino
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.99 US
I know I don’t get half the jokes in this densely humorous cultural satire, but I get enough of them to still enjoy it. (As David Welsh points out, the translator, Joyce Aurino, goes above and beyond.) And I love the unique look of the spiky, flat, well-designed art.
I’m impressed by how the girl students all have the same face, but with hair shapes and a few accessories, he creates different characters, reminiscent of their personality quirks. Everyone here is defined by their quirks, including the teacher protagonist, whose depression-based suicide attempts have thankfully declined.
The many references can be overwhelming, but reading the endnotes that explain them serves as an education. The situations are ridiculously unrealistic — the teacher’s sister, who envies his life of poverty; striving for the lowest possible cultural minimum; the idea of previewing a trip by going but not doing anything; retired officials in cushy sinecures; obsession over popular fads; how to prove you are yourself — but it’s the way in which everything is taken so far beyond the everyday, past even exaggeration into a whole new world, that entertains me. Because at its core, it’s based on key observations of human nature, warped for our enjoyment. That makes us all like him and his students.
I especially enjoyed the story with the guy who could turn anything into a children’s book. Plus, it included lots of penguins in a non-sequitur gag. In Kumeta’s art style, their heads are perfect circles with patches of black and white, making them oddly resemble crosses between bowling balls and yin/yang symbols.
I do wish, given how often I flip back and forth between manga and notes, that page numbers were used much more often.