by Shunju Aono; translated by Akemi Wegmuller
published by Viz; $9.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
When Shizuo Oguro turned 40, he decided to quit his job of 15 years and find himself. He now works part-time at a fast food restaurant while he tries to become a manga artist.
This is the third manga I’ve read about men suffering midlife crises. The first was Hideo Azuma’s light-hearted autobiography, Disappearance Diary, a book that recounts the two times he ran away because he couldn’t handle the stress of being a manga artist. Both times Azuma was returned to his family by the police. The second was Jiro Taniguchi’s modern fable A Distant Neighborhood. This story about a man who had grown emotionally distant from his family features a journey to his own past that convinces him to reconnect with family.
I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow is a sardonic take on midlife crises. Shizuo spends more time goofing off than writing manga. When he does write, he is all over the map. He does a story about a wandering samurai, then a story about juvenile delinquents, next a sci-fi story, etc. He’s just cranking out cliched stories, usually featuring himself as the hero. This lack of direction as a writer reflects Shizuo’s lack of direction as a person.
I’m not that knowledgeable about contemporary Japanese culture. However, I can’t help but feel this series is a slap in the face to the average Japanese businessman. Shizuo is meant to be the average Japanese male who goes to college and then becomes just another corporate cog. As someone in his 40s working a less-than-fulfilling job, I understand Shizuo’s desire to simply start over. I image it’s a universal fantasy common to most middle-aged men punching a time clock. We believe that the life experience we have now will enable us to find the job perfect for us: challenging, exciting, and giving us a deep sense of satisfaction at the end of every day.
However, Shunju Aono is using Shizuo to point out just how vacant most of are. We end as corporate cogs because we don’t have the imagination or drive to do something better with our lives. If we actually do take time to find ourselves, we discover there’s nothing inside. There isn’t some hidden genius waiting to break out. The lives we are living are honest reflections of the people we truly are.
Shizuo isn’t completely unsympathetic. He has many flaws, but there is a basic honesty and optimism about him. On an intellectual level, Shizuo knows how ridiculous he is being. Yet, on an emotional level, he feels driven to see if he really can create a better life for himself. Shizuo is awkward and vulnerable. He doesn’t have a master plan and is trying figure it out as he goes. Aono has done a great job of creating a very believable character that keeps readers interested.
There is one scene that stills leaves me speechless. Chapter five ends with Shizuo having a wrestling match with God. It reminded me of the scene in Genesis chapter 32 where Jacob does the same. In both stories, the scene just happens with no warning of what’s to come. Both men have a long, vigorous struggle that ends in a tie. Shizuo and Jacob both come to a reconciliation with their opponent. Jacob’s encounter did change him; it just took time for the change to manifest itself. Also, Jacob ends up with a lifelong limp. Since Japan has a Christian population of only 2%, I wonder if this is coincidence or if Aono was intentionally making a Biblical allusion. I’m also interested to see if the encounter will have an impact on Shizuo or if it was just a dream sequence.
Aono chose to go with a loose, almost sketchy, style of art. The book is done in pure black and white. The shading is done by pen work instead of screentones. The simplified character designs work perfectly with the storytelling. The art is a perfect reflect of Shizuo’s honesty and awkwardness as a character.
I’m not sure if I’ll keep reading I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow because I’m rooting for Shizuo to actually beat the odds and make it as a manga artist or because I know this will be a train wreck and I want to see how ugly it will get. Whatever the reason, I will be picking up the second volume. I want to know where Aono is taking the character and the story. I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow reminds me of a good independent comic. Give the book’s unusual style, each person will need to read the manga for themselves to see if they connect with Shizuo. You can read the entire book free at the Sig Ikki website.