by Seimu Yoshizaki
published by Viz; $12.99 US
This charming ode to the wonder of reading, specifically the memories that manga can create, will touch the heart of any book lover. Kingyo Used Books carries most every manga series ever. That helps them find just the right book for their customers, one that the visitors may not even realize they’re looking for.
The introductory chapter I found very sympathetic. (You can read this chapter online at the Sigikki website.) A young man enters the store, not to look for a beloved story, but because he wants to sell his manga. He downplays his interest:
I wouldn’t call it a “collection.” I’m not an otaku or anything like that.
It’s just that all the manga I bought to read on my commute has piled up.
Manga take up so much space. It’s a real pain, you know? I mean, my apartment’s not that big… and they’re not the kind of thing you read more than once.
As someone who spent time this weekend reshelving and reboxing all my manga series, I could definitely relate. Anyone who’s found their manga multiplying faster than they expected could, too. The visitor also thinks that he’s outgrown manga, that it’s something for kids, a misapprehension he’s quickly shown he’s wrong about. As he’s trying to pack his books, he finds that he keeps being sucked into re-reading the titles, another tendency we share. He ultimately finds that manga brings people together, instead of separating them, at his class reunion.
The second chapter explores the struggle of the artist. Misaki works hard to get her vision on canvas, while classmate Mudabi has effortless talent. He tries to share a beloved manga about an historic artist with her, but she resists, because she feels insignificant when confronted with how many manga there are, each made by someone else. Ultimately, her desire will carry her through, pushing her to work harder, while someone who can create without struggle will fall away, because they don’t care enough. It’s a reminder that lasting art is about dedication, not just genius.
Other chapters explain a bit more about the staff of the store, including the old-fashioned Billy Puck, boy detective inspired by a 1950s manga character. One story praises the escapism of humor, while another tackles the problem of making new friends as an adult. A housewife remembers her childhood crush on a shojo hero, and that love allows her to find someone to share her concerns. I was touched by the portrayal of how books teach us how to relate to others throughout our lives.
There’s even a whole chapter that talks about how neat Blueberry, Jean Giraud’s French historical cowboy series, is. Love of comics extends past national boundaries, and a well-drawn story can be understood even if you don’t speak the language. The last chapter is fascinating, exploring the business of arbitrage of used books. There are people who look for cheap deals, and they make money by reselling their finds to other used stores. This section explores how to balance one’s love and knowledge with business, set around an old, local manga lending library.
The art is clean, not excessively stylized, but with plenty of detail and a realistic look that carries visible emotion. The biggest problem with the series is that so many of the titles mentioned are unfamiliar to American readers. Most are culturally specific or beloved long-running manga, neither of which tend to be translated and make it over here. So we can share the characters’ love of their series only through similarities, not for the actual titles in most cases. Kingyo Used Books does have footnotes that give a brief description of what the titles were about, who they’re by, where they were published, and when. Plus, each chapter’s main focus manga gets a full page essay in the back explaining more about it.
This volume, like Finder: Talisman, is a gorgeous book about the magic of books. It’s a thought-provoking escape that refreshes the reader’s soul.
Oh, as to why people think the name is odd? “Kingyo” means “goldfish”, which explains the logo on the smocks. (The publisher provided a review copy.)