script by Benoit Peeters and Frederic Boilet; art by Frederic Boilet; tones by Jiro Taniguchi; translation by Vanessa Champion and Elizabeth Tiernan
published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon; $18.99 US
For this week’s Manga Moveable Feast dedicated to the works of Jiro Taniguchi, I wanted to cover something I hadn’t written about before. Scanning online lists of titles with his credit, I was surprised to come across Tokyo Is My Garden, a “nouvelle manga” selection published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon.
In contrast to Taniguchi’s adventure-oriented works, such as The Summit of the Gods or The Quest for the Missing Girl, this is a much quieter, slice-of-life book. More relevant to Taniguchi fans, he’s cover-credited, but his contribution to this volume was providing gray tones, supporting the art drawn by his good friend Frederic Boilet.
Those familiar with Boilet’s Yukiko’s Spinach will find this story similar. A Frenchman, David, loves living in Tokyo. He’s supposed to be representing a cognac company, finding new customers for them, but he’s been neglecting the work. Now, his boss is coming to town to reevaluate his position. At the same time, David is falling in love in with a new acquaintance, Kimie.
The title is a phrase with meaning similar to “I know Tokyo like the back of my hand,” indicating the protagonist’s adaptation to his adopted city. David wants to be part of Tokyo, and he knows it well, but he trades on his Frenchness all the same, whether with girls or as part of his supposed job. I found myself wondering what determines how you define yourself and what it means to be “from” somewhere.
The tones give the art substantial depth, making the locations and city scenes seem more real. Although slight in plot, it’s a very readable book, easy to follow and get lost in. I didn’t much like David, but I got a good understanding of his experience in Tokyo, enough so that I could sympathize with his plight.
There’s a certain amount of faux-autobiography here, as would be expected from a story of a Frenchman in Tokyo told by a Frenchman in Tokyo. Certain scenes, while reading, I felt that they meant more to the artist, capturing or reliving a moment from his life, than they did to the reader. (This was especially the case with the sex scenes or other panels demonstrating a fetishization of Kimie.) Still, I quite enjoyed the virtual tour of this international city. Overall, it added up to an intriguing picture, in which love for a person gets mixed up with love for a place and surprising coincidences resolve deep problems.
I also appreciated the happier ending of this volume. When Kimie discovers that David’s trying to write a novel, she remarks, “You French always write stories that end unhappily!” This book breaks from that mold. David answers back, “Not all stories can have a happy ending! Life’s not like that!”, which ignores that we sometimes read fiction to escape from life, not to relive it. (The publisher provided a review copy.)