by Hisae Iwaoka; translated by Matt Thorn, Tomo Kimura
published by Viz; $12.99 US
With the logo running sideways, I kept picking up this book the wrong way round, not only starting from the wrong end (since as manga, this reads right-to-left) but accidentally holding the book upside down at times. I thought it an annoyance until I stopped and looked more closely, and I realized just what a wonderful image it was, and how much care had been put into it.
If you hold the book with the logo readable, and unfold the French flaps, you get a lovely image of the small worker surrounded and dwarfed by the towering, crowded buildings of his landscape. Then open the cover the traditional way, and there’s the same scene, only with a girl waiting, facing the viewer, in his place. It’s this kind of quiet detail that rewards the reader’s attention. Like many of the Viz Signature/SigIKKI books, this title has more mature, subtle rewards. And the overwhelming hulks of overgrown construction contrasts amazingly with the open, outside vistas where Mitsu works, cleaning windows on the outside of the space station.
The changing planes of perspective also reflect the setting of the series, similar to the space walking required as part of Mitsu’s work. That unsettled feeling, where up and down may no longer be where they “should”, is captured in the first few chapters, as Mitsu tries to communicate with one of his customers, a girl in a kind of fishbowl and her overprotective mother. Everyone says that the upper levels (customers) and lower (workers) shouldn’t interact, but Mitsu puts his emotions first and ignores the warnings, to the point of endangering himself.
That puts him firmly in the mold of plucky young manga hero, learning more about himself as he improves at his chosen craft, but there’s much more to this story because of the unique world-building. Mitsu’s sent on vacation at one point, allowing for more revelations about society and setting as he visits a working farm. Then there’s some odd time spent drinking with co-workers, attending a festival together, and reminiscing. It’s very realistic, chatting about work, remembering co-workers, teasing each other, and sharing stories of the departed. It’s beginning to feel like Friends in space, only with more depth. As one character points out, Mitsu’s the only one who talks to his clients, making him unique in his outreach.
The distinctive appearances of the characters, stylized with large heads drawn with thin, delicate lines but an underlying solidity, is really growing on me. There’s so much to look at here that one can easily sink into this alternate world. Right now, you can read much of the book online at its website. (The publisher provided a review copy.)