by Seimu Yoshizaki
published by Viz; $12.99 US
Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about the love of reading, so this series about the wonders of a magical bookstore that contains every manga ever is perfect for my bookcase. I enjoy seeing people who, if they could only find the right manga, would gain new insight into solving the problems facing them or accepting the way their world worked. It acknowledges how powerful it can be to escape into art or entertainment, regardless of whether I’ve heard of the particular series or not. Still, it adds a frisson of pleasure to the stories for me if I know something about the underpinning references.
(In many cases, there’s no hope whatsoever that I will read the manga series mentioned, because Kingyo Used Books has very wide-ranging influences and isn’t shy about mentioning series from the 1960s through the 90s, regardless of if they’re 30 volumes or more. That makes it seem that the references are chosen for their appropriateness, not for potential cross-sales, which I find reassuring.)
In this particular volume, the story that most struck me was the second, “Makeup”, in which an ambitious art student finds herself overshadowed by a fellow classmate with a bigger reputation. She’s depressed until she randomly picks up Sailor Moon and remembers how inspired she was by the determination and beauty of the Sailor Scouts. It also reminds her of the number of girls (and boys!) who loved the series and the feelings it created in them. I found this chapter especially timely, given the recent news about the series returning to print in the U.S. The idea that dressing up, even with girly makeup, works a kind of transformation is an empowering concept for many women, preparing them for whatever battle they have to face.
The first story, “Umezu Salon”, features a young lady who’s a huge fan of the horror work of Kazuo Umezu (The Drifting Classroom, Cat Eyed Boy). When a guy becomes infatuated with her, he struggles to read those manga even though he’s a scaredy-cat when it comes to horror. While the story doesn’t explain the appeal of that particular creator’s work (that’s reserved for the essay at the back), I did enjoy the portrayal of fan dedication with honor. I relate to being squeamish about scary stories, too.
Other stories feature a group of men at a zoo reading various serious about wolves and wanderers; two used book speculators falling in love; the happiness of cooking; and a wonderful piece about Japanese backpackers traveling in other countries sharing manga to remind them of home. (The titles include The Lonely Gourmet, a book I’d really like to read.) One of them becomes the owner of a lending library, and as he seeks out unreturned books, he winds up traveling further and appreciating how special his job is. The essays in the back, talking about how the rental and bookstore industries in Japan have changed, reinforce how special a place for all kinds of manga is.
Sample chapters are available at the book’s SigIkki page. (The publisher provided a review copy.)