by Fumiyo Kouno
published by JManga.com; $8.99 US
To All the Corners of the World is the story of Suzu, a young bride in Japan during World War II. The book opens with a couple of tales from her childhood in Hiroshima. When Suzu marries, she moves to Kure, a city about 12 miles south of Hiroshima. (It’s the city where the battleship Yamato was built.)
Fumiyo Kouno is the author of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, which was published by Last Gasp and received much critical acclaim. To All the Corners of the World has the same gentle storytelling found in the earlier work.
Suzu is a delightful character. She’s a bit absent-minded and clumsy, but she has a good heart. From a very young age, she showed herself an excellent artist. Sadly, it’s her domestic skills and humility that are prized instead of her talents with a pencil. She’s married at 18 to a young man working for the Navy. It takes a while for her in-laws to warm up to her eccentricities, but gradually, they come to love and accept her.
Since this story takes place during World War II, readers will expect some strong dramatic narrative. However, the narrative is as unassuming as its lead character. The book is filled with quiet moments of everyday life. That’s the point of the book; everyday life goes on even in the midst of war. Sure, war has an effect on our daily lives, but people still get married, groceries need to be bought, meals need to be cooked, children have to be cared for, etc. Suzu is more worried about the bald spot on the top of her head than whether Japan is winning the war.
At the same time, because this does take place in the Hiroshima region, it’s hard not to have the specter of the atomic bomb hanging over everything happening. There is a subtle anti-war message here. We know Suzu’s life and family will be devastated when the bomb drops. You can’t help feeling that Kouno is telling us that normal everyday life and its seeming trivialities are what gets destroyed by war. That’s the real tragedy, war’s effect on the common people.
Kouno’s artwork is as warm and gentle as her storytelling. She’s very adept at conveying subtle emotions. She’s also a master of slapstick comedy. There are several moments of Suzu being clumsy that are laugh-out-loud funny. Not to mention, the wonderful two-page spreads of the countryside. You can tell Kouno realy loves rural landscapes. It’s a book you can easily flip through just for the art itself.
To All the Corners of the World is a heartwarming story of a young bride. Anyone who liked Kouno’s first book will surely enjoy this one as much. It’s a greatly relaxing read. The events are small and emphasize the bonds of family. It’s a shame that it’s not available in print form. This would be a perfect book to lend to friends that want to sample manga. It’s certainly well worth the price to become a member of JManga.com. You can see preview pages and read an interview with the author there.
So let’s talk a little about Jmanga.com itself. Johanna has already given you an excellent overview of the website and its content, so I’ll discuss the purchasing and reading experiences.
Jmanga.com has several free previews available. Howvever, not all books have previews available, so be sure to click the PREVIEWS tab at the top of the site. These samples range from the first five pages of the volume to the entire first chapter. How much of a preview you get is governed by the publisher. In their apps, Viz and Yen Press have set a standard of making the entire first chapter available for preview, and other publishers need to follow suit. Five pages isn’t enough to really convince someone to buy your book.
As Johanna pointed out, there are currently a lot more books listed than are available for either previews or purchasing. The contents are publisher-driven. Some publishers were ready with a nice selection for JManga’s premiere, while others are slowly rolling out their books. Looking at the titles listed, there is a nice variety of books. Hopefully, more genres will be added later. I’d love to see some mahjong and golf manga added.
To be able to purchase either chapters or books you have to set up an account with JManga and give them a credit card number. It’s very quick and easy to do, but I would like to see PayPal as a secondary payment option. I suspect the credit card requirement is so they can use that for age verification. Based on the genres listed, adult material will eventually be available through the website.
The Flash-based viewer is very nice. It has a simple interface and good high-resolution images. There is a control panel in the bottom right-hand corner. You can select from one of three viewing options: two pages per screen, single page, or panel-by-panel (although there are some books that don’t have the panel-by-panel option). Once nice feature is that when you come to a two-page spread, the view automatically shows the full illustration regardless of the viewing mode selected. If you are in one-page or panel-by-panel, the view will return to that mode when you advance to the next screen.
There is a zoom option, but it has a problem. When you enlarge a page to be bigger than the screen, there is no up or down option to let you adjust which part of the page you’re viewing. The page always stays centered. This means the top and bottom of the page become unviewable. So if the font in a top or bottom panel is too small to read, you’re simply out of luck.
There is a bookmark feature, but it’s not well labeled, and it only works as long as you stay logged into JManga. The bookmark icon is a gear, which most programs use to indicate settings. Also, the time I really want to use a bookmark is when I have to leave the site and come back later. So it doesn’t make sense for JManga’s viewer to erase all bookmarks when you log out. Hopefully, this will be corrected in the future.
Other people have commented on Twitter about the translation quality. I didn’t have a problem with any of the pages I read. However, I tend to be forgiving of awkward and poorly chosen phrases. Those with a more sensitive ear to language might find the editing a bit uneven. I did notice that the author’s preface to volume 1 of Devil King by Takao Saito was not translated. I hope they will go back and correct that oversight.
The price is a little high; $4.99 would be more in line with other digital comic content. However, there is a lot of material that has not been available in print in the U.S. I have to confess that some of the more exotic titles like Anesthesiologist Hana, Ekiben Hitoritabi, and Gokudou Meshi have me curious enough to pay the $8.99 for the first book.
Overall, I like JManga, and I think it’s off to a solid start. There are some minor problems, but that can be expected. I’m hoping that JManga will develop apps for e-readers and cellphones. I’m not a fan of reading manga on a computer or laptop. However, that’s not a priority. I’d like for them to focus on getting all the current listed titles online. In the end, I hope JManga lives up to its potential. I’m certainly rooting for them.